Readers periodically inquire about the year-to-date slaughter and production numbers in our weekly Production and Price Summary table. We pull those data directly from USDA reports that use DAILY data, not the weekly data that most of us use. As we have pointed out several times, the weekly and daily data are quite different this year.

USDA’s monthly Cattle On Feed report, released on Friday, indicated feedlot inventories 2.8% lower than one year ago and almost precisely in line with the average of pre-report estimates. Figure 1 on page 2 shows the key numbers from the report. May 1 inventories of cattle in feedlots with capacities of 1000 head or more were 10.822 million head, 2.8% lower than last year. Analysts had, on average, expected 3% fewer cattle in feedlots. April placements numbered 1.6 million head, 4.2% more than last April’s 1.536 million. Analysts had expected this number to be somewhat larger (the average estimate was +6.3% from last year), so this number may be a bit bullish for fourth quarter live cattle futures. April marketings were pegged at 1.871 million head, 6.9% lower than last year and just over 1% lower than that average of analysts estimates. This difference is not likely significant from a market standpoint.

May marks that 13th consecutive month in which feedlot inventories have been lower than one year before. The May 1 figure of –2.8% is the smallest year-on-year decline, however, since the –1.4% of April 2008. As can be seen in Figure 2 on page 2, this year’s placement pattern has been almost identical to the 5-year-average pattern. Furthermore the monthly numbers approaching year-ago levels is more a statement about the placement declines of 2008 than about any creeping increase in cattle numbers. The sharp reduction of average placement weights from March’s 721 lbs. to 708 in April suggests a deeper penetration into available feeder supplies. The 6.5 lb. reduction from last April is the largest year-on-year decline in average placement weights since January 2008.

USDA’s Cold Storage report, also released Friday, indicates that stocks of frozen meat and poultry grew by 4.6% in April to 2.299 billion pounds. That total is 2.2% larger than one year ago. Stocks of pork, chicken and turkey grew by 3.5%, 4.4% and 12.5%, respectively, during April. Beef stocks fell to 410.9 million pounds, 3.5% lower than at the end of March and 1.3% lower than last year. Figure 3 on page 2 shows historical levels of inventories for all four species and total meat and poultry.

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