Hogs Prices and Outlook - Little Expansion, But Little Profit as Well for Pork Producers

By Chris Hurt, Extension Economist, Purdue University - In his latest Outlook report, Chris Hurt says that the nation’s breeding herd continues to exhibit small amounts of expansion.
calendar icon 31 July 2006
clock icon 9 minute read
Chris Hurt
Extension Economist
Purdue University

Little Expansion, But Little Profit as Well for Pork Producers

However, pigs per litter and marketing weights have each been growing at a rate around ¾ of a percent per year. This means that even small increases in farrowings can result in two to three percent increases in pork production as is expected in the coming 12 months.

Specifically for the coming 12 months, pork production is expected to grow by 1.8 percent. About 1.4 percentage points of this increase is from a larger U.S. pig crop and .3 percentage points is from larger imports of Canadian hogs. Weights are expected to only be up by a modest .1 percentage point. The very small expected increase in carcass weights is due to much higher corn prices which are expected to be about 50 cents per bushel higher in the coming 12 months compared to the past 12 month period.

Hog prices over the coming 12 months are forecast to average $44.50 on a live weight basis which is about $2 lower than the past 12 months. While hog prices are expected to be $2 per live hundredweight lower, profits are expected to drop by around $4. This of course means that production costs are anticipated to be roughly $2 higher. However, the best news for pork producers is that the industry is still projected to show some positive returns through the first-half of 2007, but margins may be close to zero this fall and winter. In addition, summer weather could still have impacts on corn and meal prices and therefore costs of production.

The Numbers

Numbers from the Hogs and Pigs report are shown in Table 1. The breeding herd was up 1.4 percent. Indiana led the way with a 20,000 head increase in the past year and South Dakota producers added 15,000 head to their breeding herd. States that increased by 10,000 head included: Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska. Farrowing intentions for this summer were unchanged from last year, and fall farrowing intentions were up a modest one percent.

Pigs per litter continue to set new records and averaged 9.06 pigs for the first-half of 2006. A longer-term picture of the changes in pigs per litter is shown in Figure 1. After rapidly increasing in the early and mid-1990s, there was a “leveling off” in the rate of increase from 1998 to 2002. However, since that time the trend has accelerated once more. The U.S. industry has the potential to continue to increase the rate. Canadian producers average about 15 percent more pigs produced per sow per year, a portion of which comes from higher pigs per litter. In addition, the largest farrowing operations in the U.S. have weaning rates about seven percent higher than medium size units.

The number of market hogs was fractionally higher in the report, but this was generally a smaller increase than expected prior to the report. The number of pigs that will come to market primarily in July and August were unchanged from last year and the fall supply should be about one percent higher than last fall.

Supplies and Prices

Estimates of pork production are developed in Tables 2, 3, and 4. Over the coming 12 months, pork production is expected to increase by 1.8 percent as a result of larger pig crops in the U.S. and some increase in live hog imports from Canada. Higher corn prices are expected to keep marketing weights from moving up much. Carcass weights averaged 200.4 pounds in the past 12 months and are only expected to rise to 200.7 pounds in the coming 12 months with corn prices about 50 cents per bushel higher. Soybean meal prices on the other hand, will help moderate hog production cost increases and are expected to be about $30 per ton lower in the coming 12 months compared to the previous 12 months.

Hog prices had a surprising upward surge this spring moving from the high $30 in early- April to the higher $50s by mid-June. This is shown in Figure 2 on a carcass price basis with prices moving from near $50 (carcass) to $77. Also shown in Figure 2 is the average increase over the past four years (2002 to 2005). You can see that the seasonal increase this year was much larger than the average of the previous four years.

Why did this surprising surge occur this year, and does it mean hog prices will be higher than expected for the rest of the year? Remember, it takes time to get all of the needed data to answer such a question, but here is what we have so far. During the last three weeks of June, pork supplies were two percent below year-previous levels rather than about one percent above that had been the predominant volume for much of the year. This gave rise to market speculation that hog numbers were smaller than thought, and thus higher prices. However, in early July, slaughter numbers returned closer to expectations. The best reading at this point is that the spring and early summer price surge was unusual and that prices will return closer to expectations. If so, this means weakening prices for much of the rest of 2006.

Third quarter prices are expected to average in the $45 to $48 range. This means a transition will occur from prices in the high $50s in early-July to the mid-$40s by the end of September. For the fall and winter quarters, prices are expected to average in the low $40s with winter prices about a dollar higher. Some improvement is anticipated into the spring of 2007, perhaps pushing prices to $46 to $48 on average. Specific point estimates from the models are shown below and in Table 5.

Implications for the Industry

The most important implication is that hog production is expected to remain profitable over the coming 12 month period as shown in Figure 3. With lower hog prices this fall and winter and higher cost, returns will be near “breakeven.” Yet, improving hog prices in the spring and summer of 2007 are expected to push the industry back into a short period of small profits. Overall however, producers should expect a period of tight margins beginning this fall and extending through 2007 and early 2008.

The two largest threats to hog returns right now may be the potential for even greater increases in corn prices, and the potential loss of pork exports with reopening of the Asian beef market. The larger of these two appears to be corn prices and the uncertainty of summer weather. Current forecast for above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation for the mid-July pollination period are concerns. In addition over the next year, rising corn utilization from ethanol means a close-to-normal crop is needed to avoid price rationing in coming months.

Growth in corn demand for fuel likely means that the era of low corn prices is coming to a close. For the eight crops from 1998 to 2005, the average U.S. farm price of corn was $2.05 per bushel. Periods of low corn prices are generally positive periods overall for livestock users (of course 1998/99 was an exception for hogs). Crop producers received compensation from both the market and from government support. Livestock producers had abundant corn and this helped to keep food prices more moderate. In the upcoming era, corn producers will see much less support from the government and more from market prices. Livestock producers will be caught in a transition period as higher corn prices are not immediately reflected in higher meat prices. But over time, higher corn prices will be reflected in higher meat prices and livestock producers will be able to cover the higher costs of production. The higher corn price era will also mean that taxpayers will provide much less support to crop farmers, but pay higher food prices.

One message for the pork industry is to be looking for a period of much higher corn prices that will not be compensated for in the form of cheaper meal or DDG prices. The period of adjustment to higher corn prices could take a couple of years, and then hog prices will rise sufficiently to cover the higher corn costs. Also keep in mind that corn prices would be expected to be much more volatile in coming years, with price swings potentially being dollars per bushel from year to year, especially around short production years.

Another implication is that DDGs from ethanol plants will be abundant and most likely cheap. Given the enormous supplies thrust on the feed industry, DDGs may be priced near the price of corn (on a per pound basis). Recommended inclusion rates are current around 10 percent (except sow diets can be higher). Cheap DDGs could well push these inclusion rates higher. So, producers will want to be working with their nutritionist and/or feed company to see how to best utilize this newly abundant feed product.

It’s probably time to fill every inch of space with corn as the last of the relatively cheap corn may be available late this summer and fall. With ending stocks of over 2.0 billion bushels, basis levels should be weak and futures premiums for next spring and summer are large. This means that ownership of cash corn from now through harvest will likely pay handsome dividends for hog producers.

Further Information

To read the full article, including graphs click here. (PDF)

July 2006
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