Tag: Opportunity

Knife edge market

This time of year, has typically been one of great volatility as the northern hemisphere commences harvest. This can easily be seen in the current market, where the weather is the major driver. The market stays on a knife edge, where every new piece of information is propelling the market.

The past week has been quite exciting in the grain market. The USDA release weekly crop condition reports, which has shown the lowest good/excellent condition since 2006 at 45%. This in combination with continued poor weather across the US has led to all futures contracts experiencing strong rallies of around 2-4% (figure 1).

The fear in the marketplace is largely centred around high protein wheats, due to deteriorating crop condition of spring wheat. This can be seen clearly in the ascent of the spread between the CME soft red winter wheat (SRW) and MGEX hard red winter wheat (HRW). The HRW contract is high protein with protein specs of 13%. In the past two months, the spread has increased dramatically (figure 2) to 180¢/bu on the spot contract. If there is a shortage of protein around the world, this could be some stronger local premiums for export protein.

In the past week, the WASDE and ABARES crop reports were released, however had little in the way of surprises. They do however each contain positive insights, and are discussed in more details on the following links:

Global wheat stocks have fallen and risen
The average ABARES

At a local level, the dry weather continues to paint a bleak picture for much of the country especially SA/WA. This has resulted in continued strength of APW basis levels in Adelaide & Port Lincoln (figure 3), which since harvest have remained quite stagnant.

Next Week

The US crop condition report is released this weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised to see spring crop conditions deteriorate further.

The recent rally has provided some good pricing opportunities to capture some strong basis around the country. It is worthwhile to consider your marketing options, one of which could be the sale of physical and the purchase of call options to continue to have exposure to the futures market.

Retail beef has found a peak

It doesn’t matter how tight cattle supply is, beef still lies on a demand curve, where consumers will eat less beef as prices rise. While Australian beef prices are largely governed by export markets, the domestic consumer is still our largest single market for beef. This week we take a look at the latest retail meat values, and what this might mean for cattle prices.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) recently released their retail meat price indices, which Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) convert to average retail values for the quarter. Figure 1 shows the latest retail meat prices, which shows beef and lamb prices easing marginally.

Retail beef prices peaked in the December quarter, hitting 1939¢/kg retail weight, but eased 1% in the March quarter, to sit at 1920¢ (figure 1). Compared to its major substitute, lamb, beef remains at a strong, but not unusual premium. For the last 18 months beef has ranged between a 22 and 25% premium to lamb at a retail level, which is the highest level in 9 years.

There is precedent for beef to move to a stronger premium to lamb, which has been as high as 38% back in 2000. Similarly, we have recently seen beef at just a 4% premium to lamb, back in 2011 when lamb prices has a serious rally.

Retail chicken prices gained 1% in the March quarter, but remains exceptionally cheap compared to beef, and to a less extent lamb. In the September 16 quarter, beef was at a 265% premium to chicken, and this has eased marginally to 257% in the March quarter. Chicken continues to take market share from the more expensive meats, but it’s promising to see retail beef prices managing to maintain high premiums.

Figure 3 shows that easing saleyard prices in the March quarter might have helped retail prices ease a little. However, looking at indices of the retail and saleyard prices, we can see that saleyard prices remain expensive relative to retail values over the long term.

Key points:

  • Retail beef prices eased marginally in the March quarter, but remain historically high relative to other meats.
  • Saleyard cattle prices have fallen further than retail values, which may provide a little support.
  • There is still a lot of room for saleyard price to fall without retail values moving, so there may not be much relief for consumers.

What does this mean?

Beef prices remain expensive relative to other meats at a retail level. Cattle prices remain expensive relative to retail values. This means cattle prices have plenty of room to fall. If saleyard price move back to 25% of the retail price, it puts the trade steer indicator at 480¢/kg cwt.

It seems unlikely retail beef prices will fall in a hurry. Even during the very cheap cattle prices of 2012-13 beef prices only edged lower, so hopefully, for producers, the 450-500¢ level might be the bottom of the range of beef prices over the coming years. Consumers are not likely to get much relief at the checkout however, and export markets will have to soak up any extra supply that comes through.

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Cattle prices worse than last year, but who’s complaining?

It hasn’t happened to the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) yet, but we have a few slaughter categories which have moved below year ago levels. It’s been a while since producers were getting less money than the year before, in fact it’s been three years, but is anyone complaining?

It’s been nearly two months of cattle prices tracking sideways, as just as the market seemed to avoid the usual autumn decline, the winter rally is taking it’s time to appear.

Figure 1 shows the Victorian Heavy Steer Indicator, which is a pretty good proxy for slaughter cattle on the east coast. Since 2015 there hasn’t been a week when the Vic Heavy Steer was lower than the previous year. In fact, we had to go back to February and March 2014 to find a time when the Vic heavy steer was lower than the year earlier. At that time the Indictor was at 310-320¢/kg cwt, just 5-10¢ below 2013 values. This week’s price was 557¢/kg cwt.

So is anyone complaining about prices? We can see from figure 1 that producers with heavy steer might be disappointed they didn’t sell a month ago, with the Vic Heavy Steer down 30¢ in that time. This equates to around $105/hd on a 350kg cwt steer, which hurts a bit.

In terms of the trade, if these steers were bought back 18 months ago, the EYCI was 600¢/kg cwt. Convert to live weight and add a bit of basis, and they might have cost around $1,000/hd at 300kg lwt. Selling this week as heavy steers they would have returned $1,950/hd. We’re not sure anyone is complaining about a $950/hd gross margin.

the week ahead

Seasonality suggests cattle prices are due to rally, and Matt’s analysis earlier this week on processor margins suggests there is room for slaughter cattle to begin their winter appreciation. Young cattle prices remain strong, as restocker and feeder demand is still robust enough (figure 2). We might see slaughter cattle rise without young cattle for a start. Although the very dry weather outlook for the next 8 days suggests we might be waiting a bit longer yet.

Buyers take a breather

A reduction in lamb yarding this week along the East coast was met with broadly softer saleyard prices suggesting that buyers took a bit of a spell. The Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator off a fraction, down 4¢ (or 0.6% lower) to 666¢/kg cwt. National Mutton a little softer, with sheep throughput holding firm, to see a fall of 11¢ (a 2.1% decline) to close at 511¢.

East coast lamb throughput dropping 15.9% on the week to register just over 157,000 head at the saleyard. Although yarding levels remain above levels recorded at this time last season and well clear of the five-year average so with that in mind prices remain at fairly good levels – figure 1.

Marginally softer moves for mutton in SA, Victoria and NSW as both sheep throughput and slaughter along the East coast trekked sideways – figure 2. In contrast WA mutton dragging down the national figures with a 10.2% fall to close at 441¢/kg cwt. Interestingly, Victorian lamb slaughter remaining persistently high for this time in the season (figure 3) suggesting Southern processors are getting their fill despite the relatively high prices.

The week ahead

A fairly dry forecast for the week ahead will limit price moves to the topside, while the looming winter tightening in supply and firm export demand should keep prices supported on any dips. The most likely scenario in the coming week is for continued price consolidation at these levels.




China wades back in despite higher A$

Increased demand this week from exporters noted as Chinese buyers resume their activity, undeterred in the face of a higher A$. The EMI creeping back above 1500¢, up 28¢ to 1506¢ and gaining 31US¢ to 1146US¢. The Western markets resumed auctions this week and activity participated in the rally, making up for lost time with a 63¢ rise to see the WMI at 1567¢, up 58¢ in US terms to 1192US¢.

Price gains for most categories of wool noted, although the medium fibres leading the charge higher with gains of 50-65¢ noted for microns between 20 to 23 mpg in the East and 90-110¢ gains for similar wool in the West. The rally in finer wool limited to a 15-50¢ range in all three centres.

Interestingly, the medium fibres displaying a more robust price movement this time around with the 21 micron reaching levels in AUD terms not seen since the middle 1988. Indeed, in May 2016 when the 21-micron hit 1535¢ in the South the 17 mpg was trading above $23 and the 19 mpg was above $19.5. This week with 21 mpg at 1549¢ the 17-micron unable to climb above $22 and 19-micron can’t crack the $19 level.

Some whispers around the traps that if the Chinese step away again the fine end could be in for a quick correction. Although, the prospect of higher US interest rates later this year could continue to play into wool grower’s favour. This week the US Federal Reserve lifted rates and because this was highly anticipated it had limited impact on the A$. However, any sign that the US will move to a more tightening bias or indications of more frequent potential future rate rises in the US could see the A$ come under reasonable pressure again, pushing it back toward the 70US¢ level. A relatively softer A$ now compared to back in 2011/12 helping to keep wool prices competitive overseas, despite the high local prices – figure 3.

The week ahead

Next week on the Eastern centres have sales are scheduled, with Fremantle taking another recess, to see 24,376 bales on offer – figure 2. Clearly, supply in the favour of the growers at the moment and will continue to support prices in the short term. The key on whether the prices surge or consolidate will be how aggressive the demand is from Chinese buyers.