Cattle prices have been on a downward trend since the 2014 highs. August feeder cattle, as we’ll discuss specifically, are trading at $143 per hundred weight(cwt), last year they were at $194 and at $182 the year before that. Over the last ten years there have only been two significant periods under our current prices. We’ll examine the placement and marketing numbers as well as the choice vs select spread as it relates to the domestic demand we believe will drive prices seasonally higher through the end of the summer.
The cattle market finally made a meaningful and perhaps lasting, high late last year. The market has pulled back to bottom and base approximately 20% off last year’s highs. March’s rally in the cattle market was easy to forecast based on the dominance of commercial trader buying as the market pulled back in January and February. You can see the February and March Commitment of Traders (COT) buy signals on the included chart. Now that we’re up to speed, it appears that this rally is losing its fundamental support ahead of some seasonal weakness.
There are three markets in the meat futures sector with enough volume and liquidity to attract both hedging and speculative activity. These are the lean hog futures along with the feeder and live cattle markets. The live cattle market is best thought of as cattle on the farm while feeders are the cattle that have made the journey from the farm to the feedlot for fattening prior to slaughter. We’ve written extensively on the broad nature of global supply and demand fundamentals within these markets and included links to our previous research at the end. This week, however, these three markets appear to be setting up for a classic trading opportunity.