Call the Market
Navigating the Cattle Market Through the Holidays
It's natural for everyone to check out of the markets during the holiday run between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But given how quickly the markets can change in today's environment, they still require some attention during the holiday lull and through the end of the year. Given that the market is sitting nice for a rally through the final days of 2022 and well into 2023, cattlemen have too much at stake to be passive participants in the marketplace.
There are several key factors to monitor through the year's end -- fat cattle prices and volumes purchased; feeder cattle prices and corn trends; and boxed beef values, along with throughput.
First, I think it's incredibly important to monitor fat cattle prices and the volume of cattle sold through the negotiated cash cattle market week in and week out from now through New Year's. Packers have historically used the holiday run between Thanksgiving and Christmas as a time to either let the cash market sit idle and pay it little to no attention, or as a time to gather inventory and get cattle on the books while some feedlot managers are asleep at the wheel while trying to juggle the stress of the holidays along with usual feedlot tasks.
Nevertheless, if not careful, packers can skillfully use this time period as an opportunity to buy cattle through the cash market and commit the cattle to the deferred delivery option, which allows them to disregard the spot cash market come the first of the year, and more importantly, gain leverage in the cash sector.
Second, with the bullish turn that the feeder cattle market has made this week thanks to Friday's (Nov. 18) supportive Cattle on Feed report, it will be important to monitor feeder cattle prices and any changes in the corn complex. The latest Cattle on Feed report showed there were 6% fewer feeders placed in October 2022 than a year ago, which is consequently the smallest number placed during the month of October in the last 26 years. If the live cattle market continues to trade positively and the corn sector continues to chop sideways, then the feeder cattle market could see more interest build in its complex as buyers have more options.
November 18's bullish Cattle on Feed report undoubtedly helped spark momentum in feeder cattle sales early in the week. At Joplin Regional Stockyards in Carthage, Missouri, on a run of close to 12,000 head, feeder steers traded steady to $3.00 higher, and feeder heifers traded steady to $4.00 higher. The feeder cattle market's upside potential rests on the shoulders of what the corn complex does; but if inputs get more expensive, buyers will be skeptical of buying. That makes it critical for cattlemen to monitor both feeder cattle and corn prices through the year's end.
Last, but not least, it is crucial cattlemen keep an eye on both boxed beef prices and throughput because the two are tied hand in hand right now. Packers know, as well as cattlemen and feedlot managers, that front-end supplies are thin and will only get sparser as the market heads into 2023. The most recent World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report shared that beef production for 2022 was raised by 211 million pounds as aggressive throughput on fed cattle, combined with heavier carcass weights, contributes more beef to the market. Adversely, for 2023, beef production was decreased by 90 million pounds as the market expects few cows to be slaughtered and there to be tighter fed cattle supplies. Packers will manage throughput levels to protect their margins -- if boxed beef prices begin to wane, then slowing down throughput could be a way they manage their need to chase after the cash market.
The holidays are a wonderful time to love and cherish family, spend quality time with one another and reflect upon the year past. However, with an opportunity lingering for cattlemen to finally gain the upper hand in the market, it's also important to check in on the market over the span between Thanksgiving and the New Year.
I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas!
ShayLe Stewart can be reached at ShayLe.Stewart@dtn.com
Cattlemen are eager for supply and demand mechanics to swing their way, but the market isn't completely free of hurdles as bearish concerns about the U.S. and global economies loom. Hear DTN Livestock Analyst ShayLe Stewart's thoughts on the 2023 cattle market at the all-virtual DTN Ag Summit on Dec. 12-13. Full details available at www.dtn.com/agsummit
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