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Livestock Price Outlook - October 2005

by 5m Editor
21 November 2005, at 12:00am

By Chris Hurt, Extension Economist, Purdue University - In his latest Outlook report, Chris Hurt says that the year ahead appears to be one of continued profitable returns for hog producers with average prices near $47 on a liveweight basis, and estimated average costs of production in the very high $30 to low $40s for farrow-to-finish operations.

Chris Hurt
Extension Economist
Purdue University

Happy Days For Hog Producers Continue

The U.S. breeding herd is nearly stable, with anticipation for a modest 1 percent increase in farrowings this winter. Pork supplies for 2006 are anticipated to be up about 2 percent overall, but with only a 1 percent increase in the first-half of the year, and a 3 percent increase in the last-half.

The biggest threats to hog returns in 2006 appears to be a more rapid build-up in the breeding herd than is now reported and a resumption in U.S. beef exports that will moderate the growth in U.S. pork exports. Avian influenza (AI) will likely continue to be a world-wide concern in 2006. This will serve to reduce international shipments of broiler meat and to reduce broiler consumption. Both of these will encourage more pork trade, but the magnitude of the impact will depend on the spread of (AI), the media attention given to it, and if the virus is able to mutate to be spread from person to person. These two factors suggest that pork exports may be about the same as this year, following growth rates exceeding 2 percent per year in both 2004 and 2005.

The U.S. breeding herd could (and likely will) sustain a growth of as much as 3 to 4 percent a year from now. With a fairly stable breeding herd in Canada, this will increase supplies such that hog prices would drop to near breakeven levels by late 2006 and into 2007.

However, in the longer-run, the pork output per sow is expected to grow at 2.0 to 2.5 percent per year, while consumption may only increase at 1.9 to 2.0 percent per year. If so, this would mean that the U.S. breeding herd would have to return to a modest reduction in size over the rest of the decade. That rate of decrease might be something like .5 percent per year.

Corn is cheap, and hog producers will want to own as much cash inventory as possible this fall, even storing outside in covered piles if necessary. Soybean meal prices are expected to have little upside potential this fall and winter with growing use of soybean oil for fuel generating more soybean meal; more distillers dried grains (DDGs) from ethanol production being substituted for meal, especially in cattle rations; a potential for much larger South American production (compared to the last two years); and a surge in U.S. bean acres in 2006. Late October lean hog futures appear to provide forward pricing opportunities near price levels predicted in this report.

The Numbers

The inventory of all hogs and pigs remained unchanged in September. The breeding herd was up only .2 percent and the market herd was unchanged as well. Hogs that will be market ready in October and November were up about 1 percent, while those to come to market in December through February were down .5 percent. Sow farrowings were unchanged in the summer and are expected to be unchanged this fall. Farrowing intentions for the winter quarter are up 1.4 percent, finally reflecting a modest expansion. Overall the breeding herd remains extremely stable. States where the breeding herd is above year-previous levels include Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota, each up 2 percent, and Missouri was up 3 percent. Notable declines in the breeding herd included North Carolina, down 1 percent and Nebraska, down 3 percent.

Pork Supply and Prices in 2006

Pork production this fall is expected to be about 1 percent higher than in the final quarter of 2004 as a result of somewhat more hogs in the 60 to 179 pound weight range reported in the September survey (Tables 1, 2, and 3). Weights are expected to be about .5 percent higher. The supply of pigs in the first half of 2006 will come from the under 60 pound weight group and from fall farrowings, each of which are expected to be about unchanged. Thus the .7 percent increase in anticipated pork supplies in the first-half will be as a result of more pigs per litter and higher weights. In the last-half of 2006, pork supplies will be up about 3 percent. These supplies will be drawn from this winter’s farrowings where producers have indicated intentions to increase over 1 percent and the spring farrowings which may be up nearly 2 percent.

Prices in 2005 will average close to $50 on a liveweight basis. This is down from $52.51 for the 2004 average. These prices are liveweight equivalents from 51 to 52 percent lean carcasses. Prices this fall are expected to average in the mid-$40, and then move higher for an average in the mid-to-higher $40s in the winter. The highest prices next year will likely be in the spring and early summer. The spring quarter average prices are expected to be in the very high $40s with some daily highs at or somewhat above $50. Summer prices may be in this range as well. By the fall of 2006, some added buildup in pork supplies is expected to be underway with prices dropping back into the low-to-mid-$40s. For 2006, prices may average about $47 compared to near $50 in 2005.

Positive Returns Continue

The year of 2006 should be another profitable one for pork producers as shown in Figure 1. Returns above costs for farrow-to-finish operations are estimated to be $7 to $9 per live hundredweight this fall through next summer. Returns in the fall of 2006 are expected to be more like $5 per hundred-weight given the expected expansion of production and somewhat higher feed prices. It is unusual for profits to extend this long without a more substantial expansion phase. The industry turned to profitability in the second quarter of 2004. If current projections of favorable returns through 2006 hold, this will be 11 consecutive quarters of profitability. The last time the industry was able to sustain profits for this long was 1985 to 1988.

One question is why have hog producers been slow to expand? Several factors may be at play. First, since the major financial losses in 1998 and 1999, the breeding herd in the U.S. has been in decline as sow numbers dropped from about seven million to only six million now. All of the sow expansion since that period has occurred in Canada where numbers increased by one-half million sows. Of course many of the pigs from those sows found their way to the U.S. as SEW pigs. From 1998 to 2003 the value of the U.S. dollar was strengthening relative to the Canadian dollar, making it more advantageous to sell pigs and hogs in the U.S. However, in the past two years the Canadian dollar has strengthened relative to the U.S. dollar, greatly reducing the incentive to increase sows in Canada and ship pigs to the U.S. When asked why they are not expanding, producers have several thoughts. They relate the devastating financial experiences of 1998 and 1999 as a factor that they still consider. In addition, many see much higher building costs as a constraint, as well as rising interest rates and the uncertainty over the ability of pork exports to remain at lofty levels. Of course, environmental concerns and the related site selection issues often are mentioned as well.

Should U.S. Producers Expand?

As discussed in the previous section, all of the expansion in farrowing in the past five years has occurred in Canada. Most of the Canadian industry is now at a stand still with regard to expansion. This is a good time to ask the question if U.S. producers should be looking to expand.

In general, I think the answer is yes. However, the growth in the number of sows needs to be kept at a moderate level because sow productivity is rising so rapidly. Aggregate demand for pork is rising due to population growth in the U.S., improved consumer attitudes about meat consumption, and growing export interest.

Let’s first look at the changing productivity of the U.S. breeding herd since 1990 as shown in Figure 2. In the U.S., the carcass pounds sold per breeding herd animal has increased from 2,230 pounds in 1990 to 3,490 pounds in 2005. This is a compound annual rate of 3 percent per year. That means we could produce the same amount of pork with 3 percent fewer sows each year. If demand were only growing at 1 percent per year, then we could meet annual pork needs with 2 percent fewer sows each year.

The source of the U.S. sow productivity gains over this period have come from four identifiable sources. First, the farrowings per year have increased from 1.67 to 1.93. This accounts for about 1 percent of the 3 percent overall impact. Secondly, pigs weaned per litter have increased from 7.88 to 9.03, another 1 percent. Third, carcass weights have increased from 179.7 pounds to 199.2 pounds, an average increase of .7 percent per year. Fourth, all other factors have contributed about .3 percent per year. The largest of these is growth in importation of live pigs from Canada for finishing in the U.S.
How much growth has there been in production/consumption over the 1990 to 2005 period. As shown in Figure 3, that rate of growth has averaged only 2.1 percent per year (compound rate). The source of this growth is as follows: U.S. population growth 1.2 percent per year; export growth .7 percent per year; all other factors, including improved domestic preferences for pork, .2 percent per year.

Thus, sow productivity has grown at a faster rate than demand/consumption increases. With Canada increasing sows as well in the past five years, the number of sows needed in the U.S. has dropped.

Do U.S. sow numbers need to drop or increase in the future? As indicated earlier, the growth of Canadian sows has slowed or even stopped for now. The components of U.S. sow productivity growth are expected to slow somewhat as well. The rate of growth in the number of farrowings per year will probably slow as most of the U.S. herd has now been put into an accelerated reproductive cycle. In addition, weaning ages, at least for some firms, is headed back up. Pigs weaned per litter appears to be remaining near trend rates of increase. Pigs per litter is an important economic variable, so the rate is likely to continue to trend higher. Weights are also near trend, and the rate of increase is expected to continue. Thus, longer-term, productivity growth may be in the 2.0 to 2.5 per cent per year range.

What about the rate of consumption expansion. Domestic consumption is growing near the rate of population increase, that’s now closer to 1 percent per year. Let’s assume domestic preferences continue to provide a .2 percent annual increase. So, domestic increase in consumption may be about 1.2 percent per year. What about exports? They have expanded by over 2 percent per year in 2004 and 2005. But we know that is excessive. So a return to the average growth rate since 1990 of .7 percent seems reasonable as an assumption. If so, this would mean a consumption growth rate of 1.9 percent per year.

In conclusion, a sow productivity growth rate of 2.0 to 2.5 percent per year may exceed the pork consumption growth rate of 1.9 to 2.0 percent per year. This implies that U.S. sow numbers would need to decrease up to .5 percent per year over the next five years, or about 2.5 to 3.0 percent in total. However, since the industry is in a profitable period, an expansion of 3 to 4 percent in the next year would bring prices down close to the breakeven mark (breakeven as used here means covering full costs of production including all labor and a return to equity capital). Thus, while it appears the industry will undergo a modest expansion in the short run, the long-run seems to suggest little need to be expanding the U.S. breeding herd as long as sow productivity can outpace consumption growth.

Implications for the Coming Year

The coming year should be one of continued profits, but not as large as in the past 18 months. While hog prices since the spring of 2004 have been surprisingly robust, this was in large part due to the extraordinary growth in export demand. Pork export demand has been positively influenced by restrictions of U.S. beef exports and potential for opening beef exports in 2006 would likely dramatically slow the growth of pork exports.

The U.S. industry could likely consider a modest breeding herd expansion of three or 4 percent in the coming year, assuming the Canadians keeping their herd fairly constant. This level of expansion would tend to bring profitable prices down to levels which are closer to breakeven. In the longer run, however, it appears likely that sow productivity growth will outpace consumption growth, so that a modest decline in U.S. sow numbers will continue through the end of the decade.

On the feed management front, corn is cheap this fall with relatively weak futures prices and very weak basis levels. Cash corn prices are expected to be at their lows in very late October and early November. Ownership of as much corn inventory as possible should be considered. This may include use of temporary storage space, or even storage outside in covered piles. Of course most will use the corn stored outside as soon as possible.

Purchase of meal for delivery through March also seems prudent, although meal still has several potential bearish market forces to deal with. First, high energy prices are causing the crushing industry to look toward soybean oil for blending as bio-fuels. A greater emphasis on crushing for oil content implies a greater excess of meal production and a negative tone to meal prices. Secondly, growing supplies of DDGs from ethanol production will continue to reduce soybean meal use in 2006, particularly in cattle rations. Third, a South American crop of at least average size will be generally negative to meal prices in the winter and early spring. Fourth, expect to see more soybean acreage in 2006.

Lean hog futures in late October are priced near price levels anticipated in this report. This means they are acceptable, but not outstanding. In addition, historical seasonality shows that lean hog futures have tended to be at their lowest levels from September through early November. Seasonally, futures have tended to improve from early November into December. Of course, there is no assurance that lean hog prices will follow the historical pattern in any given year, including this one.

Even though the odds favor some improvement in futures prices over the next several months, those who must have price protection will find that lean hog futures will provide profitable returns through next summer.


Source: Farm.Doc - October 2005