Pig outlook: Lean hog futures bears reappear

calendar icon 1 May 2022
clock icon 7 minute read

The pig traders’ perspective: Lean hog futures are under selling pressure this week and ended near three-month lows on eroding technicals and concerns over demand. The contra-seasonal nature of the latest declines probably spurred selling since it’s common for hog prices to gain this time of year. US demand is being crimped by elevated beef and pork prices, which may prompt some consumers to switch to cheaper chicken. Pork export demand this spring likely will fall well short of year-ago levels, in part due to China scaling back purchases after recovering from an African swine fever outbreak. Nevertheless, seasonally reduced hog supplies will be meeting improving grilling demand for most pork cuts in the coming weeks, so a bullish reversal in hog futures can’t be ruled out.

Latest US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports, and other news

US pork exports improve

USDA Thursday reported US pork net sales of 31,500 MT for 2022 were up noticeably from the previous week and up 19 percent from the prior 4-week average. Increases were primarily for Mexico (21,600 MT, including decreases of 300 MT), Japan (3,600 MT, including decreases of 100 MT), Canada (2,100 MT, including decreases of 400 MT), South Korea(1,500 MT, including decreases of 200 MT), and Colombia (1,100 MT, including decreases of 200 MT). Exports of 29,900 MT were up 6 percent from the previous week, but unchanged from the prior 4-week average. The destinations were primarily to Mexico (13,200 MT), China (3,800 MT), Japan (3,200 MT), South Korea (2,900 MT), and Colombia (2,000 MT).

China to buy more pork for state reserves

China will buy another 40,000 MT of frozen pork for state reserves on Friday to support domestic prices for hog producers saddled with poor margins. This will be the sixth round of pork buys for state reserves.

African Swine Fever vaccine update

The U.S. pork industry has been focused on developing a vaccine for African swine fever (ASF), investing public and private funds to protect domestic herds from the deadly disease. Some updates, according to NPPC:

USDA announced an ASF vaccine candidate passed an important safety test required for regulatory approval as it does not revert to its normal virulence. This moves the vaccine candidate one step closer to commercial availability and testing in Vietnam.

NPB is investing $930,000 of Pork Checkoff funds in four different studies that include validating vaccine types, tracking efficacy or effectiveness, and ensuring viability for commercialization.

Genvax Technologies received a $145,000 grant from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research to develop a self-amplifying messenger RNA vaccine for ASF. Genvax contributed matching funds for a total investment of $290,000.

Purdue University received a $1 million grant to create a rapid test for ASF. The grant was awarded by the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program.

USDA: 2022 food price inflation forecasts already at 14-year high

USDA forecasts for consumer food price inflation were increased again this month, with all food prices now seen rising 5% to 6% (4.5% to 5.5% in March) and grocery store prices expected to rise 5% to 6% (4.5% to 5.5% in March) while the forecast increase in restaurant prices was held at 5.5% to 6.5%. Taking the midpoint of USDA’s forecast ranges, all food price inflation would be the highest since it was 5.5% in 2008 with food at home (grocery store) inflation also the highest since 2008 when it was up 6.5% from the prior year. The 20-year average for food price increases at 2.4% for all food, 2.9% for restaurant prices and 2.0% for grocery store prices means the current outlooks are for costs that are at least double those averages.

Changes versus month-ago levels. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food increased 1% from February 2022 to March 2022, and food prices were 8.8% higher than in March 2021. The food-away-from-home (restaurant purchases) CPI was 6.9% higher than March 2021 while food at home (grocery store) prices were 10% higher than one year ago in March. Factors causing the increased food price inflation, according to USDA, will be upward price pressures from the Ukraine conflict but downward price pressure from recent increases in interest rates by the Fed. “The situations will be closely monitored to assess the net impacts of the concurrent events on food prices as they unfold,” USDA said.

Meat, other prices increase

While US wholesale beef prices decreased by 3.6% in March 2022, USDA noted retail beef prices increased by 1%. “Wholesale pork prices, along with port congestion, contributed to a 1.4% increase in retail pork prices in March 2022,” USDA said. Their outlook is for beef and veal prices to rise between 6% and 7% in 2022 (3% to 4% prior), with pork prices seen rising 4% to 5% (3% to 4% prior) and other meat prices are expected up 3.5% to 4.5% (2.5% to 3.5% prior). USDA initially expected beef and veal and pork prices to be up 2% to 3% in 2022. Retail poultry prices are seen up 7.5% to 8.5% in 2022 (6% to 7% prior) in part as cold storage data indicates historically low stocks of frozen poultry. USDA initially expected poultry prices up 1% to 2% in 2022. Fats and oils prices are predicted to increase between 8% and 9% in 2022, up from their prior expectation those prices would increase 6% to 7%. Those prices were expected to be up 1.5% to 2.5% in USDA’s initial outlook. Dairy prices are now seen up 6% to 7% in 2022 compared with 2021, up from 4% to 5% in March. USDA started its 2022 expectations for dairy product prices to be down 0.5% to up 0.5%.

More food price forecast hikes ahead

Given that food price inflation on a monthly and annual basis has not eased, look for USDA to continue increasing their forecasts ahead. In 2008, the last time food price inflation was as high as the midpoint of the current outlook, USDA increased their forecasts each month in March, April and May, with a final increase in August. Similarly, their outlook for grocery store prices increased in March, May and August.

For 2022, USDA has already increased its forecast for all food price inflation in February, March and April, after starting from a level of 2% to 3% in July 2021. For grocery store prices, the current 5% to 6% increase is from increases in February, March and April after the agency initially expected grocery store prices to increase just 1.5% to 2.5%.

For restaurant prices, USDA’s 5% to 6% forecast is up from an initial expectation for increases to be 3% to 4%, with the forecast range rising in January, February and March.

History suggests USDA may arrive at its final outlooks for all food and food at home prices in August. But that would depend on food price inflation data not continuing to build as we move through the balance of 2022. Typically, USDA’s forecasts for all food and grocery store prices stay steady in September-December. Restaurant prices, however, are subject to later upward revisions with the final increase coming in November or December.

USDA allows more packing plants return to faster line speeds

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on Friday announced it approved the Clemens Food Group pork packing plant in Coldwater, Michigan, to run faster line speeds under a one-year trial program. The agency now has let four plants operate with faster harvesting line speeds, which could increase packing capacity and alleviate supply issues in the face of strong pork demand, according to NPPC.

Background. FSIS established the line speeds program last November, after a provision in USDA’s 2019 New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) was struck down by a U.S. District Court in March 2021. Nine pork packing plants that had adopted the NSIS — six of which were operating with faster line speeds — were allowed to apply for the program, under which they need to collect data on the effects of the faster speeds on workers and share it with USDA and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The information could be used to formulate a new regulation for allowing plants to run faster line speeds. According to Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes, if six plants are in the program, the aggregate impact on U.S. pork harvest capacity will be a 3.6% expansion. After one year, that would translate into an increase in live hog prices of 6%.

The next week’s likely high-low price trading ranges:

June lean hog futures--$105.00 to $115.00, and with a sideways-lower bias

July soybean meal futures--$420.00 to $453.00, and with a sideways bias

July corn futures--$7.75 to $8.50, and a sideways-higher bias

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