Steiner and Company produces the Profit Maximizer report on behalf of National Pork Board based on information we believe is accurate and reliable. However neither NPB nor Steiner and Company warrants or guarantees the accuracy of or accepts any liability for the data, opinions or recommendations expressed.
- Hog slaughter last week was less than expected, in part because heat and big slaughter before Labor Day resulted in tight spot hog supply. Slaughter may remain below year ago levels next week but eventually it is expected to jump over 2.5m head later in the month and into October.
- Belly prices remain under pressure and are expected to drift lower in the next couple of months. Retail features that drove sales in July and August have ended, just as pork supply is expected to seasonally increase.
- Picnics have been steady in the near term but robust export demand is expected to underpin prices in Q4.
- Pork loins continue to benefit from the high price of competing products, be this chicken breasts or ground beef. This should underpin prices in the near term, but ample supply and seasonal demand will present more headwinds in Q4.
- Pork exports were seasonally lower in July, a function of lower production and limited freezer supplies. Outstanding pork export sales are +40% above year ago levels, implying a notable increase in exports in the fall as slaughter picks up.
Pork Markets Were Well Supported Last Week but Will Face More Headwinds as Supply Seasonally Moves Higher and Demand Uncertainty Persists.
Last week’s hog slaughter totaled 2.234 million head, which was about 40,000 fewer than our initial expectations. This decline in slaughter is not unexpected, as Labor Day falls at the same time every year, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to commercial operators. Additionally, there were some issues with product shelf life affecting order flow. Some end users reduced their orders leading up to the long weekend but the expectation is they will increase them afterward. This situation creates short-term volatility in the product market.
On Friday, the pork cutout price reached $4.1 per hundredweight (cwt), representing a 4% increase compared to the previous week. The most significant gains were seen in bellies, which rose by $11/cwt (10%), followed by hams, up $3.9/cwt (4%), and ribs, up $4.6/cwt (4%). This increase is due to processed items seeing the most significant gains as processing plants resumed production to cover needs in a thinly traded market. The true test for the hog market and product prices will likely occur in the second half of the month when slaughter returns to full production. Last year, hog slaughter during the three weeks following Labor Day week averaged 2.509 million head.
Recently, hog slaughter has been about 1.5% higher than the previous year. Assuming a more conservative 1% increase, we can expect weekly slaughter in the next three weeks to reach 2.53 million head per week. As shown in the chart on the right, we haven’t seen this level of slaughter since last winter. The year-over-year increase in slaughter has been offset so far by lower hog carcass weights, which averaged 1.9% below the previous year for all barrows/gilts coming to market in the five days ending September 7. Although hot temperatures in the Midwest contributed to lower weights, weights are expected to increase as cooler temperatures arrive and fresh corn is incorporated into daily rations.
Cutout futures currently indicate a relatively orderly decline into the fall, aligning with the seasonal trend of recent years. On a positive note, pork remains competitively priced at both retail and foodservice levels compared to beef and even chicken. Boneless chicken breasts and boneless pork loin currently at the same price versus $320 for 85CL ground beef. Ham prices and picnics have benefited from strong export demand. The decline in belly prices is reflected in lower Oct/Dec futures. However, a challenge that is harder to quantify is the impact of reduced sales to California and Massachusetts. These may become more concerning as we approach October and the winter months.
Pork Exports Seasonally Decline in July but Are Expected to Rebound in the Fall
Pork exports in July were about 5% higher than last year but lower than earlier in the year due to limited supply and high prices. The California decision on Prop 12 eligible product further limited exports, encouraging suppliers to hold on to frozen inventory. Despite this, total pork shipments in July increased by 5%, with Mexico being the top market, accounting for nearly 40% of all shipments. Year-to-date pork export shipments were 9.5% higher than last year, consistent with the USDA forecast for 2023. August shipments are expected to be 10-12% higher YoY, with pork variety meat exports increasing by 7% despite a 6% decline to China.
Steiner Consulting Group produces the National Pork Board newsletter based on information we believe is accurate and reliable. However neither NPB nor Steiner and Company warrants or guarantees the accuracy of or accepts any liability for the data, opinions or recommendations expressed.