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Cash cattle trade was slow all week, with only a couple of days having much volume at all. Wednesday and Thursday saw higher numbers, compared to stagnant trade on Monday and Tuesday. Steers sold around the $105 mark all week, and dressed purchases sold for about $165. Formula cattle have continued to see higher premiums, trading more in the high $170s range.

“The cash cattle market is shaping up to be an utter standstill in the South this week,” ShayLe Stewart, DTN livestock analyst, commented in her Thursday afternoon column. “Southern feedlots are serious about their asking prices and aren’t willing to budge without getting at least $108. Meanwhile the trade in the North this week was disappointing as prices fell $3 to $5 softer than a week ago, but a lot of those cattle were extremely heavy and feedlots didn’t want to run the risk of carrying those cattle over the next two holiday-shortened weeks.”

Futures traded mostly sideways all week, but the live cattle contracts found some support Thursday afternoon. The December contract closed at $109.35 and the February contract at $114.46, about a dollar short of the week prior for each contract.

Boxed beef prices have traded steadily downward for the last month, but found some support Thursday afternoon, encouraged by the futures markets. The Choice cutout closed Thursday at $209.51 and the Select cutout at $193.70, several dollars down from the week prior, respectively.

USDA released actual slaughter numbers for the week ending Dec. 5, and it was the highest number since COVID-19 started impacting slaughter capacity, at 669,457 head. Steer carcass weights have also increased a pound to 922 pounds, a new record, and likely thanks to the mild feeding weather lately.

Packer profits were down drastically for the week ending Dec. 11—however, this is largely due to the fact that they were so high a week prior to that. The latest packer margins number is at $332.54, compared to $490.36 two weeks ago, according to the Sterling beef profit tracker by Sterling Marketing.

The latest Cattle on Feed report projections are optimistic, and are likely deterring 2021 contract sales. “It would seem that the futures market is focused more on improving fundamentals of 2021 and less on the tail end of months of bearishness due to the backlog of cattle that are now mostly gone,” commented market analyst Cassie Fish in The Beef.

Feeder cattle contracts scaled minimally higher all week, but were able to find some additional support. The January contract settled at $140.97, a little over a dollar higher than the week prior, and the March contract closed at $142.60, a little over $2 higher from the week prior.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index stayed consistent all week, but managed to close a little higher on Thursday at $137.19. The corn contract soared, settling at $4.33, over 10 cents higher than the week prior.

Regardless, Stewart remarked, “As the spot January feeder cattle contract moves closer and closer to $142, the market will begin to feel some pressure, but given the phenomenal support seen over the last week and an anticipated bullish Cattle on Feed report, the market may be able to keep with its upward progression heading into 2021.”

Colorado: Winter Livestock in La Junta sold 3,322 head last week. Compared with the prior Tuesday: All weights of steer calves under 700 lbs. sold mostly steady except 450-500 lbs. sold $2 lower. Heifer calves under 600 lbs. sold mostly steady, with instances of $5 higher on 450-500 lbs.; and 600-700 lbs. sold $2-3 lower. Feeder steers over 700 lbs. sold steady to $1 higher. Feeder heifers over 700 lbs. sold $2-3 lower. Benchmark steers averaging 786 lbs. sold between $133.50-142.75, and averaged $136.68.

Missouri: Joplin Regional Stockyard in Carthage sold 4,044 head last Monday. Compared to the prior week, steers under 650 lbs. sold steady to $5 higher; over 650 lbs. sold steady; heifer calves under 600 lbs. sold steady to firm and over 600 lbs. sold steady. Snow south of the market did lead to a lighter number of receipts. A group of benchmark steers weighing 777 lbs. sold between $131-142, averaging $137.85.

Nebraska: Bassett Livestock Auction in Bassett sold 2,185 head last Wednesday. Compared with the prior week, 500-700-lb. steers traded unevenly steady and there were no comparable offerings for heifers. Demand was good with several buyers and high internet bidding. Benchmark steers averaging 711 lbs. sold between $148.75-155.25, and averaged $154.72.

New Mexico: Roswell Livestock Auction in Roswell sold 1,454 head last Monday. Compared to the prior week: Steer calves under 600 lbs. sold $1-4 higher; calves and feeders over 600 lbs. sold steady to $1 lower. Heifer calves under 600 lbs. sold $3-5 higher; there was no accurate comparison over 600 lbs., but a much higher undertone on 700-800 lbs., though quality was much more attractive. Benchmark steers sold between $128-128.50, averaging $128.23

Oklahoma: Oklahoma National Stockyards in Oklahoma City sold 11,000 head last week, for their last sale of the year. Compared to the prior week, feeder steers and heifers were lightly tested, however a few trades were sold steady to $1 higher. Steer and heifer calves sold $3-5 lower than the last sale’s sharply higher market. Benchmark steers averaging 769 lbs. sold between $129-142, averaging $138.40.

South Dakota: Hub City Livestock Auction in Aberdeen sold 2,785 head last Wednesday in their last feeder cattle sale of 2020. Steer calves 450-500 lbs. sold $8-10 higher; 501-700 lbs. sold $1-5 higher. Heifers calves 400-650 lbs. sold $2-5 higher with instances $8-10 higher on 500-550 lbs. and 600-650 lbs. Benchmark steers averaging 734 lbs. sold between $141-148, and averaged $144.96.

Wyoming: Torrington Livestock in Torrington sold 2,863 head last Wednesday in their last feeder special of 2020. Compared to the week prior, steer calves under 550 lbs. traded steady. Steers calves over 550 lbs. traded $3-6 higher. Heifer calves traded unevenly steady throughout the day. Benchmark steers averaging 751 lbs. sold for $144. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor

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