Despite strengthening financial markets, a stronger dollar and fundamentals pressured commodity markets overall last week. That pressure caught up with livestock and leaked into the cattle complex, which was devoid of a spark in wholesale cutout values. The crux of it was only minimal cash-fed cattle trade at prices steady to $1 lower.

Last week was tough on the egos of unweaned, bawling calves. They sold $5 lower and as much as $12 lower at auction, according to the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

"Trading is still active on longtime-weaned calves, but most producers with the luxury of feed, forage and facilities for added value have either forward-contracted their calves or plan on holding them until after a hard freeze," say AMS analysts.

Yearlings traded unevenly steady.

"The fall run is now underway and the amount of management behind calf offerings is much more indicative of their selling price than is quality or condition," AMS analysts say. "This is especially prevalent in the Southern Plains where the stress of the long, hot summer has now been accompanied by wide temperature swings (up to 60° within a 24-hour period), dusty pens, and the separation from their mothers, which is more than many of these tender calves can stand.

"Plus, Southern feedlot and growing yard pen space is very limited, with even abandoned and bankrupt facilities holding nearly three rounds of feeder-cattle supplies, not to mention a fair number of thin cows destined for slaughter once they put on some weight and the herd sell-off slows down.

"Corporate and major commercial feedlots farther north also have a larger than normal inventory of lightweights, but the more numerous independent lots and farmer feeders are pushing their bids for true yearlings or hard calves to hit the handsomely forecasted spring fed cattle market."

In the meantime, high feed costs are accelerating economic losses in the feedlot.

Earlier this month, the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) estimated breakeven selling prices for fed steers later this year at $128-$130/cwt.

"So, based on LMIC slaughter-steer price forecasts ($115-$118 average in the fourth quarter of 2011), red ink will continue on feedlot closeouts for at least the balance of this year. Feedlot losses will likely average well over $100/steer in September through December of this year," LMIC analysts say. "Those large feeding losses will spill over into feeder-cattle prices, which will likely erode into the fourth quarter of this year. Despite high feedstuff costs, tight feeder-cattle supplies and year-over-year increases in fed-cattle prices will keep feeder-animal prices above a year ago this fall."

LMIC projects steers weighing 700-800 lbs. to average 15% more than a year ago. That's an increase of $16-$19 in the Southern Plains, but would represent a $3-$4 decline from the third quarter to the fourth.

On the calf side of the ledger, LMIC projects fourth-quarter prices for steer calves (500-600 lbs.) to be 12% higher than a year earlier. That translates to an increase of about $15 higher in the Southern Plains.

The summary below reflects the week ended Sept. 16 for Medium and Large 1 – 500- to 550-lb., 600- to 650-lb. (calves), 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 42,000 $138.46 $138.72 $134.28 $125.94 $129.12 $126.19
MO 36,300 $142.23 $137.29 $133.82 $128.27 $129.41 $126.84
KY* 23,400 $127.87 $125.38 $122.35 $119.03 $112.93 $117.50
NE 18,800 $151.08 $139.79 $139.18 $132.47 $131.01 $129.33
Dakotas 16,400
SD
ND

$142.772
**

$142.98
$137.714

$137.36
$134.62

$133.572
**

$133.57
**

$128.95
$128.15
AL 15,800 $123.83 $117.57 $111.45 $113.79 $110.42 $105.78
TXa 15,800 $138.78 $141.84 $138.65 $126.80 $122.88 $115.92
KS 12,600 $152.52 $139.64 $135.69 $128.81 $130.10 $128.89
IA 12,200 $157.86 $145.43 $141.29 $141.99 $133.44 $129.31
GA*** 11,800 $108-128 $108-124 $104-112.50 $100-119 $97-109 $96-104
NM* 9,200 $131.89 $131.98 $134.29 $124.48 ** **
FL* 8,800 $105-126 $108-120 $107-117 $102-114 $98-112 $98-106
MS* 8,000 $114-125 $120-126 $103-1165 $104-1161 $95-1103 **
Carolinas* 7,900 $105-128 $105-124 $102-118 $94-124 $90-115 $85-106
AR 7,800 $126.90 $124.13 $122.314 $114.71 $112.48 $110.384
TN* 7,400 $129.68 $120.71 $114.48 $115.59 $107.07 $101.97
VA 5,300 $128.51 $122.59 $122.31 $116.67 $111.56 $108.48
MT 5,000 $154.60 ** $125.526 ** $121.10 $115.79
CO 4,200 $138.34 $128.96 $134.31 $124.26 $125.172 $121.99
WY 2,900 $144.21 $134.854 $134.95 $132.50 $126.83 $125.34
WA* 2,400 $129.14 $125.78 $124.84 $1192 ** $115.507

* Plus #2
** None reported of the same quality at this weight or near weight
(***) Steers and bulls
(?) As reported, but questionable
NDNo Description
1500-600 lbs.
2550-600 lbs.
3600-700 lbs.
4650-700 lbs.
5700-800 lbs.
6750-800 lbs.
7800-850 lbs.
8850-900 lbs.

a The Texas Department of Agriculture suspended its Market News Program August 31, 2011. Rather than 23 weekly sales, Texas coverage represents four sales—Amarillo, Dalhart, San Angelo, and Tulia Texas—reported by USDA federal reporters.