Although too few to trend, negotiated cash fed cattle prices bounced higher on Friday at $120/cwt. on a live basis in the Southern Plains and at $119-$120 in Nebraska. Also too few to trend, dressed prices in Nebraska were at $190.
The five-area direct weighted average steer price through Thursday was $11.36 higher than the previous week at $111.40/cwt. The average price in the beef was $19.90 higher at $179.30.
Cash price strength helped lift Cattle futures.
Live Cattle futures closed an average of 62¢ higher, (15¢ higher to $2.87 higher in spot Jun).
Feeder Cattle futures closed an average of 41¢ higher.
Choice boxed beef cutout value was $16.60 lower Friday afternoon at $434.32/cwt. Select was $18.34 lower at $419.06.
Corn futures closed mainly fractionally mixed.
Soybean futures closed 1¢ to 2¢ higher.
Major U.S. financial indices closed higher Friday, after a volatile trading session, amid mixed economic data.
On the one hand, U.S. retail and food services sales plummeted 16.4% in April, compared to the previous month, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales were 21.6% less than the previous April and worse than traders expected.
On the other, the closely watched Index of Consumer Sentiment from the University of Michigan edged higher month to month in May, up 2.6% to 73.7, but 26.3% below the previous year.
Pressure also included more political sabre rattling between the U.S. and China.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 60 points higher. The S&P 500 closed 11 points higher. The NASDAQ closed 70 points higher.
Beware kneejerk reactions.
That comes to mind as rhetoric grows for the government to mandate that beef packers buy a minimum percentage of their weekly needs in the spot cash market. Keep in mind that’s also equivalent to mandating that cattle feeders, collectively, sell a certain percentage of cattle in the cash market each week.
First, it was something called the 30-14 movement, advocating that packers be forced by the government to buy at least 30% in the cash market each week and that those cattle be delivered within 14 days.
Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced a bill that would require packers buy at least 50% in the cash market each week, for delivery within 14 days.
Few would argue the value of deeper cash trade for the purposes of price discovery, especially in some regions, some weeks. Cash prices are rarely reported in Colorado, for instance, due to confidentiality rules attached to Livestock Mandatory Reporting (more later).
For perspective, over time, on average and nationally, figure 20-25% of all fed cattle trade in the spot cash market. Again, the percentage is miniscule in some regions some weeks.
Debate continues over just how much sustained cash trade in a particular region is required for effective price discovery. According to pioneering research conducted by Stephen Koontz, agricultural economist at Colorado State University a few years back–Price Discovery Research Project (PDRP)–the percentage varies by region.
The primary reason cash trade thinned over time is the increased use of what are termed alternative marketing arrangements (AMAs) for fed cattle. Think here of things like formulas and forward contracts.
In turn, there are several practical reasons more cattle feeders favored marketing more fed cattle via AMAs over time. Chiefly, it has to do with reducing transaction costs and the ability to differentiate cattle–and be rewarded or discounted–relative to specific packer demands.
AMAs enabled the price incentives to differentiate beef products. In fact, some would say this ability to pull more beef through the system, more in line with consumer demand, was the cornerstone for turning the corner on consumer beef demand in the U.S. That was in about 1998. Before then, domestic consumer beef demand declined an average of 1% per year for two consecutive decades.
Add it all up, and Koontz says, “The use of forward contracts benefits those that use them $15 to $25 per animal. The use of formula arrangements benefits those that use them $25 to $40 per animal. Mandating the use of the negotiated cash market will have negative economic consequences commensurate with these amounts and to the extent of the mandate.”
That’s from a recent letter Koontz wrote to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). He clarified his position and research after some in the pro-mandate movement tried using his research to defend their stance.
“My research does examine the impact of declining negotiated cash trade on price discovery in regional and national fed cattle markets. And, it also attempts to make recommendations as to the needed volumes of cash trade for minimal and robust price discovery. But, my work does not recommend, and I do not support,
a mandate of a given percentage cash trade,” Koontz says. “The main issue I have with the policy proposal is that it would cost the cattle and beef industry millions and possibly billions of dollars per year. This is known from research in which I participated.”
The research Koontz refers to is the aforementioned PDRP, as well as the congressionally mandated USDA-GIPSA Livestock and Meat Marketing Study (2007), which examines price discovery and AMAs. He was lead economist for that study.
Bottom line, Koontz says, there are many ways to increase the volume of cash trade and cash trade data without government mandates. He outlined some of those in his PDRP. Some state organizations are exploring these alternatives and variations of them.
“While the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) believes and supports increasing price discovery through this greater volume of negotiated trade, we cannot support a government mandate,” explained Paul Defoor, TCFA chairman, in a recent letter to Congress. “Conversely, we are actively working to achieve a similar outcome through free market mechanisms.
“One such concept is a new marketing cooperative that puts small and large producers on equal footing to achieve the common goal of robust negotiated price discovery each week. Secondly, we have examined the viability of a ‘bid the grid’ concept on the transparent Fed Cattle Exchange Platform. Additionally, we are exploring options with an existing marketing cooperative that was created by TCFA in 2000, Consolidated Beef Producers, to increase negotiated trade.”
Likewise, Koontz explains some state associations are looking at ways to pay market makers for providing cash trade, which is a public good. Those who trade in the cash market enable price discovery. Those who trade cattle outside of the cash market benefit from the discovered cash prices–it’s typically the root of AMAs–but do nothing to help discover the price or reward those who do.
“Many asset markets do this (market makers),” Koontz says. “Industry participants work together to create and compensate a pool of cash market traders that are discovering price, are good at this service, and willing
to do it within their business model and for the benefit of the industry. It is one means to solve the public good problem of not enough quality price discovery. It would be less costly than a mandate and open to changes in how the industry does business in the future.”
Far as that goes, adjusting the rules of the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act–up for reauthorization this fall–would provide more cash trade data. If interested, you can read the specifics of those guidelines below.
“Joint research by Kansas State and Iowa State Universities shows that expanding the reporting regions would reduce the incidence of non-reporting, due to confidentiality,” Koontz explains. “…many of our price reporting problems are due to the confidentiality requirements that were not part of the original act.”
“Any solution must not restrict an individual producer’s freedom to pursue marketing avenues that they determine best suit their business’ unique needs,” said Todd Wilkinson, in response to the bill introduced by Grassley and Tester. He ranches in South Dakota and serves as Policy Division Chair for NCBA.
“Government mandates, like that being proposed by Senator Grassley, would arbitrarily force many cattle producers to change the way they do business,” Wilkinson explained. “We will continue to work toward a more equitable solution and invite Senator Grassley, and other lawmakers interested in this conversation, to join us in the search for an industry-led solution based in free market principles.”