CME: Meat Trade Data Good/ Bad for Protein Markets

13 April 2012, at 10:41am

US - Latest data (February) on US beef, pork and poultry trade contained a mix of both good and bad news for US meat protein markets, write Steve Meyer and Len Steiner.

Below is a brief recap for each species:

Pork: On the face of it, the pork export data continued to show higher volumes compared to a year ago. Total pork exports for the month were reported at 151,248 MT, almost 20,000 MT or 15% higher than the same period a year ago. However, the year over year increase masks the fact that shipments to China/Hong Kong, which drove much of the price appreciation last fall and winter, have pulled back sharply (see chart). Combined with steady to weaker exports to Japan and S. Korea, this has proved to be negative for pork prices in recent weeks. Exports to China/Hong Kong in February were a total of just 21,425 MT double what they were last February but less than half of the volume that was exported during Q4 of the year. Indeed, coming into the new year many analysts, us included speculated as to whether the pace of exports to China would be sustained. For the moment, it appears Chinese buyers have opted to pull back after aggressively sourcing in the US market last fall. Chinese buys in the second half of 2012 will depend greatly on the state of the Chinese corn crop this year. One positive for the market was the strong growth in pork exports to Mexico. US pork exporters shipped 37,450 MT to this market in February, 28% more than a year ago. It makes you wonder about the state of domestic ham demand that ham prices have continued to slump this year despite big export volume to Mexico, the biggest export ham market.

Beef and veal exports in February were estimated at 59,990 MT, 8% lower than a year ago. Exports to a number of markets registered declines compared to a year ago. Shipments to Japan were down 9%, Mexico was down 10%, Canada was down 8% and South Korea was down 35%. The US Census data for February beef exports is significantly different from the weekly USDA beef export survey. The weekly survey results implied total beef exports of fresh/frozen beef cuts for February at 67,940 MT, about 8,000 MT more than the official statistics. Keep in mind that the weekly export data does not even include exports of processed/cooked beef, making the overstatement in exports even bigger. It is likely that the mismatch has to do with some reporting issues in the weekly survey, which have led to big week to week swings in the data. Still, the discrepancy between the weekly and monthly reports is important for trade. Yesterday cattle futures were buoyed by reports that weekly beef shipments remain very strong. And yet, this apparent strength in beef trade numbers has yet to show up in the monthly official statistics, which through the first two months of the year peg US shipments down 6% from prior year. Beef imports in February were up sharply and year to date import volume is 25% higher than a year ago, driven largely by a 146% increase in beef imports from Australia.