Livestock Price Outlook - July 2005

By Chris Hurt, Extension Economist, Purdue University - In his latest Outlook report, Chris Hurt says that after pork production was up five percent in May and June, there was concern that expansion was well underway in the U.S. However, producers told USDA, as reported in the June Hogs and Pigs report, that was not the case.
calendar icon 8 August 2005
clock icon 12 minute read
Chris Hurt
Extension Economist
Purdue University

Hog Expansion Fears Laid to Rest For Now

Pork production in the coming 12 months is estimated to be up less than one percent. With growing pork exports, declining pork imports, and a growing population, per capita supplies will actually tighten. However, greater marketing margins and weaker domestic demand are expected to result in lower prices.

Prices over the last 12 months averaged $53.80 for 51-52 percent carcasses converted to a liveweight basis. In the next 12 months prices are expected to be more modest averaging about $47. The highest prices will likely be this summer in the very high $40s or low $50s and again next spring. Lows are expected this fall and winter in the lower-to-mid $40s.

Costs over the next 12 months are estimated at about $42. Thus profit margins are expected to be around $4 per live hundredweight. The biggest cost uncertainty involves concerns over the size of the 2005 corn and soybean crops and prices. Each 10 cent change in corn prices impacts costs by about $.50 per hundredweight and each $10 per ton change in soybean meal prices impacts hog production costs by about $.35 per live hundredweight. To push costs up to $47, a level which would be near breakeven, would require $3.00 December corn futures and $270 December soybean meal futures.

The Numbers

The breeding herd increased by only .7 percent over the past year. This was somewhat surprising given the level of profits which reached an estimated average of $37 per head over the past 12 months. The breeding herd appears to be very stable in most states right now. Farrowings from the spring quarter were unchanged. This is consistent with the inventory of pigs under 60 pounds which was the same as a year ago. Market hogs that mostly were marketed in June were up one percent (180 pounds plus category) and the July supply of market hogs was registered as up one percent as well (120-179 pounds).

However, for the period August to November, market hog supplies are projected to be about equal with year ago slaughter. Thus for the August to November period increased domestic pork production will be due to the potential for heavier weights. With feed prices increasing, those weights may only be slightly higher. Hog slaughter for this winter and the spring of 2006 will come from the summer and fall pig crop. USDA reports that producers indicate their summer and fall farrowings will be the same as year-ago. If so, larger pig crops will be a function of increased pigs per litter which are trending higher at about ½ of one percent. Overall, this means slaughter from domestic production will be only modestly higher for the coming 12 months compared to the same period a year earlier.

Canadian Supplies

The large growth in the Canadian industry has been a supply concern in the U.S. However, the tide toward increasing imports from Canada seems to be reversing this year. Live hog imports from Canada are down. Imports of live animals for 2005 through mid-June were down about 10 percent for young animals that were to be finished in the U.S. while imports of market hogs were down 17 percent. The reduction appears to be related to increased slaughter capacity in Canada, and to the strength of the Canadian dollar which makes it less valuable to sell hogs in the U.S.

Less pork is coming from Canada this year as well. It appears that the Canadian pig crop will be nearly stable this year after sharp increases for several years. Even with more slaughter capacity in Canada, the U.S. has imported nine percent less pork from Canada in 2005. This implies that Canada is exporting more pork to non-U.S. countries. Thus, the combination of fewer live hogs as well as less pork imports are helping to reduce U.S. supply pressure.

Pork Exports Remain Strong

One of the features of strong demand in the past year has been remarkable growth in pork exports. The stimulus for this growth has been the restrictions on U.S. beef exports and the relatively weak U.S. dollar that enhances foreign buying power. In 2004, pork exports increased by 27 percent and represented 10.6 percent of all pork produced in the U.S. Japan led the way with 921 million pounds of pork imports from the U.S. This is an 85 percent increase since 1998 as shown in Figure 1. Mexico is our second largest customer and purchased 536 million pounds in 2004. Exports to Canada measured 232 million pounds in 2004 an increase of 84 percent since 1998.

For the first four months of 2005, pork exports are up again by 24 percent over the same period the year before. Astonishingly, out of every eight pounds of pork produced in the U.S., one of those pounds is now consumed in a foreign county (nearly 13 percent of production).

Leading the increase so far this year are exports to Canada which are up 19 percent. Exports to Japan are up 19 percent as well. Mexican imports are unchanged this year, after the enormous increase of 54 percent last year.

Why Hog Prices Went Over the Cliff

Hog prices have been surprisingly weak since early May when hog prices on a liveweight basis reached the high $50s. By early July, prices had declined a full $10. The data is not yet available to sort out the exact reasons, but early bets are on two culprits. First, pork production in May and June was up about five percent. This was composed of about three percent larger slaughter numbers and two percent heavier weights. This led analyst to expect larger market hog supplies in the June report, which did not materialize.

The second, factor is likely related to retail pork prices and marketing margins. The most recent data at this writing is for May of 2005 when retail pork prices were 13 cents per pound higher than in May of 2004. While this would reflect improved consumer demand (higher retail pork price at a time when there was greater pork supplies) why would pork producers get lower prices than last year? The answer appears to be in the marketing margins which were very low last year. A low marketing margins means that more of the retail value goes back to producers. In 2004 low marketing margins meant hog prices to producers where surprisingly high. This year, a return to more normal marketing margins will tend to depress producer prices.

Now back to May 2005. Retail prices were up 13 cents per pound, but marketing margins were up 19 cents per retail pound. Thus, the farmers’ price was about $3 per live hundredweight lower in May of 2005 compared to 2004, and almost all is due to the wider marketing margins. It is likely that a similar pattern will be repeated in June and for the rest of 2005 and 2006.

The information for 2005 in Figure 2 is only for the January to May 2005 period. It is likely that the producers’ share by the end of the year will be closer to 28 to 30 percent range. If producers’ share drops back below the trend line in 2006, it is increasingly likely that 2006 will be a poor price year.

Figure 3 shows the good and bad price years back to 1994. A smiling face denotes the higher price years and a facial frown the poor price years. The pattern of two bad price years and then two good price years is quickly recognized. The first year of the two bad price years has been the most severe. In 1994, 1998, and 2002 live prices were below $40. Does this pattern mean that hog prices are in for a disaster in 2006? The answer is unknown at this time, but the most recent Hogs and Pigs report is that there is not a sufficient increase in the breeding herd to cause this to happen in the first-half of 2006. Anticipated Supplies and Prices

With little growth in domestic supplies, and reduced imports of live animals from Canada, pork production in the U.S. is expected to show very small increases in the 12 months ahead. Supplies in the last-half of 2005 and the first quarter of 2006 are expected to rise by only one percent with production in the second quarter of 2006 close to unchanged. Continued growth in net trade (exports minus imports) and growth in population mean that per capita availability will actually be down over the coming year. However, wider marketing margins are expected to cause hog prices to be lower than they were in the same period a year earlier.

Prices this summer are expected to average in the higher $40s which is 16 percent lower than last summer. Fall prices are expected to drop to the low-to-mid $40s with winter prices moving back somewhat above $45 on average. Without further increases in the breeding herd, spring prices in 2005 may once again climb back toward the very low $50s. Quarterly production numbers and prices are provided in the table below and in Tables 4 and 5 in the statistical appendix

Will Costs Get Out of Control?

Dry weather is threatening corn and soybean yields in a wide area including southeastern Missouri and Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Prospects for normal yields are fading quickly in this region. Offsetting these declining crops are excellent and improving crops in most of the remaining major production areas west of the Mississippi River. I have a weekly national corn and soybean yield estimate based upon USDA’s weekly crop condition forecast. These estimates are available by 5pm each Monday afternoon at This is a general indicator and should not be used as a precise estimate. USDA provides their first objective survey of corn and soybean yields on August 12.

Starting from a base of December corn futures of $2.50 and soybean meal futures of $220 per ton, estimated costs of production range from about $41 per live hundredweight this summer and increase to $43 by next summer. Given the hog price forecasts in this report, profits would be expected over the next 12 months. They would average about $4 per live hundredweight over the next 12 months but range from near $6 this summer to as little as $2.50 this fall. In contrast, over the past 12 months, estimated profits approached $14 per hundredweight.

With an anticipated profit margin of $4 per hundredweight, could higher corn and meal prices extract all of the profit potential? Most of you know that the answer is yes, but those odds are under 25 percent, at least at this writing. Each 10 cent change in corn prices impacts costs of hog production about $.50 per live hundredweight. For meal, each $10 per ton change equates to about $.35 per hundredweight on costs. Since weather is the major driving force for corn and beans, it is likely that price changes of the two will be highly correlated over the summer. Thus to have costs increases wipe out my current anticipated profits would require about 50 cent higher corn prices and $50 higher meal prices. For corn, this means the 2005 crop would have to be reduced by about 1.75 billion bushels from normal or about 23.5 bushels per acre. Those odds seem remote even with heat and dryness creeping toward the western Corn Belt in coming weeks. At the close of trading on July 6, the options market was putting the odds of a 50 cent increase in December futures at about 19 percent.

Soybeans and meal prices would seem to have a greater potential to rise by $50 per ton given the tightening old crop situation, reduced number of planted acres, continued strong export sales from the old crop, potential for soybean rust, and declining prospects for new crop yields. As of the close on July 6, using the December meal futures, the options market was suggesting the odds that December meal futures would rise by $50 or more was 22 percent, while a rise of $100 or more was still a measurable 7 percent.

Summary and Implications

No expansion yet is good news for pork producers. Hog prices had been depressed going into the June Hogs and Pigs report given increased pork production in May and June which convinced some that expansion was moving forward. The June report will provide the foundation for some recovery of hog prices this summer and especially for better pricing opportunities in the fall and winter.

The hog market has several factors that will support prices including, no expansion, small imports of live hogs from Canada, increasing pork exports and reduced imports. These factors mean that per capita domestic supplies will tighten in the coming 12 months. On the bearish side, marketing margins are larger which means that producers receive lower prices for hogs and a smaller share of the retail dollars spent on pork.

With the first native BSE case in the U.S. announced on June 24, prospects for reopening of beef exports have been dimmed. This remains positive for the pork industry as foreign countries will continue to buy more U.S. pork as a partial substitute for U.S. beef. Profit prospects are going to be greatly diminished and are estimated at about $4 per live hundredweight in the next 12 months compared to near $14 in the past 12 months. This potential is threatened by dry weather primarily in the eastern Corn Belt which could still reduce yields and increase prices of corn and soybean meal. However, market based odds of corn and meal prices increasing enough to choke off profits in the next 12 months are currently less than 25 percent, however, this can change daily, so stay attentive to weather conditions and forecasts.

As in past reports, I continue to feel that the U.S. has an opportunity to grow the sow herd here rather than in Canada as has been the case since 1998. This is based on the relative weakness of the U.S. dollar and the leveling out of sow expansion in Canada.

Source: Farm.Doc - July 2005
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