February cattle found support late last week as outside market forces turned positive and the US stock market turned from sharply lower to sharply higher just before Friday's opening. An 8-year high in beef prices and ideas that the market will need to absorb smaller production ahead were also seen as supportive factors. Weekly U.S. beef export sales for the week ending November 17th came in at 11,100 metric tonnes, compared with the prior 4-week average of 15,025 metric tonnes. Cumulative sales for 2011 have reached 800,700 metric tonnes, up 27.6% from last year's pace. The estimated cattle slaughter came in at 127,000 head Friday and 43,000 head for Saturday. This brought the total for last week to 565,000 head, down from 636,000 head the previous week and down from 579,000 head a year ago. Beef production for the week was estimated at 437 million pounds, which was down 11.5% from the previous week but also down 3.8% from last year. Boxed beef cutout values were down 90 cents at mid-session Friday and closed 84 cents lower at $196.23. This was up from $195.39 the prior week.
Beef prices are thought to have been well supported during recent weeks and rose to a new 8-year high on Wednesday. Average dressed steer weights for the week ending November 12th came in at 852 pounds, down from 857 pounds the previous week and down 0.6% from a year ago. Weights are under last year and under the 5-year average, which some traders feel will help keep tonnage down. Beef production for the same week came in at 484.7 million pounds, down 5.7% over year ago. On top of tighter beef supply ahead, the market also faces less poultry production. The November 1st chicken flock is estimated at 50.17 million birds, which is the lowest since December of 1996.