While not necessarily unexpected, the more bearish prognosticators were exonerated Friday with the most recent USDA Cattle-On-Feed report pegging the May 1 inventory at 9% more than a year earlier (11.6 million head). That inventory is 11% higher than two years ago and is the largest for the period since the series began in 1996.

April placements were 2% below last year (2% above 2004), while fed cattle marketings for the month were down slightly from a year earlier (5% less than in 2004).

That news came after the week's trade, though, which saw recent rains and improved pasture prospects boost stocker cattle and calf prices as much as $5/cwt. According to USDA's Ag Marketing Service, yearling prices jumped $2-4/cwt. last week, buoyed at least in part by tight yearling supplies and higher futures prices on the week. Likewise, when the fed-cattle trade broke on Friday, feedlots pressed buyers for another $1-$1.50 compared to the week prior ($79-$79.50).

For the next several months, corn promises to play a more pivotal role in cattle prices. USDA's first supply and demand outlook for feed grains this year (www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/wasde/latest.txt) estimates the corn crop at 10.55 billion bu., 5% below last year. Total estimated corn supply at 12.8 billion bu. is down 3%, partially offset by beginning stocks.

On the other side of the net equation, corn usage is projected to climb 6% to a record 11.6 billion bu. For perspective, domestic corn use for ethanol grew 34% last year (2.15 billion bu.) and exports increased by 6% (also 2.15 billion bu.).

The estimated ending stocks of 1.1 billion bu. are half of a year ago.

Sum it all up and USDA's initial report estimates corn prices in 2006-2007 to range from $2.25 to $2.65/bu., compared the 2005-2006 range of $1.95 to $2.05.

If USDA's estimates are close, and if it's true that a 50ยข increase in the bushel price of corn (relative to same fed-cattle price) lowers the price of a 550-lb. steer by $7.50/cwt., you'd think buying leverage for calves might pick up a notch.

The summary below reflects the week ended May 19 for Medium and Large 1 -- 500- to 550-lb., 600- to 650-lb., and 700- to 750-lb. feeder heifers and steers (unless otherwise noted). The list is arranged in descending order by auction volume and represents sales reported in the weekly USDA National Feeder and Stocker Cattle Summary:

Summary Table State Volume Steers Heifers Calf Weight 500-550 lbs. 600-650 lbs. 700-750 lbs. 500-550 lbs. 600-650 lbs. 700-750 lbs. OK 30,900 $127.65 $118.90 $106.90 $115.45 $105.51 $96.64 TX 24,000 $122.49 $111.02 $106.45 $115.22 $100.17 $92.49 MO 21,400 $128.36 $120.57 $108.88 $118.29 $109.09 $97.18 KY* 17,800 $114-124 $105-115 $91-1005 $106-116 $93-1033 $83.50-935 KS 10,500 $122.522 $121.57 $107.31 $122.11 $106.58 $103.02 SD 10,000 $122.172 $121.57 $109.81 $113.632 $109.24 $105.46 AL 9,100 $115-125 $106-113 $97-1064 $111-120 $97-107 $92-1014 TN* 7,600 $118.48 $108.93 $98.33 $109.90 $99.04 $95.514 AR 7,600 $121.96 $111.73 $101.77 $111.36 $105.34 $95.98 GA*(***) 7,300 $105-123 $95-114 $86-99 $96-125 $88-109 $90-1014 FL 5,200 $105-117 $100-1112 ** $87-112 $92-1132 ** MS* 4,400 $105-1151 $95-1053 $85-95 $95-1051 $84-953 ** NE 4,300 $133.58 $122.82 $111.42 $120.60 $114.50 $104.02 Carolinas* 4,200 $104-122 $92-1133 $85-975 $97-118 $80-118 $75-965 CO 3,200 $128.51 $115.44 $100.26 ** $91.55** $89.14 LA*ND 3,200 $104-122 $96-1162 ** $95-118 $98-1152 ** NM* 2,500 $114.252 $109.17 $102.68 ** $107.802 ** VA 2,500 $120.00 $112.19 $108.504 $110.35 $111.162 $100.214 WA* 1,700 $116.132 $114.10 ** ** $106.47 ** MT 3,200 $126.73 ** ** $110.772 ** $102.35

* Plus 2 ** None reported at this weight or near weight (***) Steers and bulls NDNo Description 1500-600 lbs. 2550-600 lbs. 3600-700 lbs. 4650-700 lbs. 5700-800 lbs. 6750-800 lbs. 7800-850 lbs.