Stronger, higher, the moon?

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Author: Adrian Ladaniwskyj

The 2021 cattle markets have opened at a relaxed pace in terms of volume; however, prices have risen energetically, with the EYCI well and truly breaching the all-time record set in November 2020. This has possibly been spurred on by the eyewatering prices set in the weaner sales in the first week of the year. Medium cow prices have started 2021 with what looks like an attempt to jump over the moon, and it’s no surprise that feeder steer prices have opened the year strongly.

Yardings for the first week of 2021 opened at miniscule levels compared to the close of 2020 in December, due to few saleyards being in operation in the post-Christmas and new year break.

Overall, MLA reported that only 5,230 head of cattle were yarded for the week ending 8th Jan 2021, a figure that is down 87% compared to the first week of Jan in 2020, but one must be mindful that yardings numbers at the start of the year are not particularly comparable as saleyard and NRLS reporting recommencement dates can differ year to year.

Slaughter numbers increased 41,660 from the previous week, with total slaughter reaching 67,510 head for the week ending 8th Jan. This is 43% below the level seen during the same period in 2020. The EYCI put on an additional 1.2% from the prior week to close at a new all-time record of 842¢/kg cwt. The EYCI closed 2020 in mid-December at 814¢/kg cwt, meaning that the indicator has already put on a solid 3% for 2021.

 To put this into perspective, the EYCI is 63% above where it was at the start of 2020, where the EYCI was at 516¢/kg cwt level. Most of the categories opened 2021 on a strong note compared to the December close of 2020, with feeder and heavy steers the biggest winners on the board on a cents per kg basis.

But the medium cow indicator took the prize for the largest proportional rise, adding over 9%. Vealers spiked in price also, but volatility in that market is nothing unusual. The standout that bucked the trend however came from unexpected quarters, with the restocker indicator opening the year weaker.

Feeder steers leaped out of the blocks to rise 27¢ (6%) to end the week at 443¢/kg lwt. Interestingly, this is significantly lower than we observed at the Victorian weaner sales last week, where heavier steers consistently fetched well north of 450-500¢/kg lwt – so despite the impressive rise, the indicator may have some catching up to do as reporting saleyard yarding’s increase and more data enters the fold.

Heavy steers also roared into 2021, booking a solid 27¢ (8%) rise on the closing prices of 2020, finishing the week at 378¢/kg lwt. Processor and medium steers also put on respectable increases, at 10¢(2%) and 15¢ (4%) to respectively finish up the week at 415¢/kg lwt and 384¢/kg lwt.

Medium cows put on an astounding 24¢ (9%) to begin 2021 at a very strong 283¢/kg lwt. Similarly, vealers added a huge 52¢(13%) to start the year at 458¢/kg lwt. Vealers haven’t been higher since mid-November 2020, but wild swings in this indicator are fairly typical. The restocker index somehow missed out on the action however, opening the year 4¢(1%) weaker at 515¢/kg lwt.

While the Aussie dollar only advanced 0.2% in the last week, to 0.776 $US; since mid-December last year, it has risen more than 2%. The latest reported US 90CL frozen cow prices were relatively steady in $US terms, only falling 2¢, however, weakness in the USD over the period has meant that the price in Aussie dollar terms has copped a beating, falling 4%, to 616¢/kg swt.

The week in cattle 15 Jan 2021
East Coast cattle slaughter
BOM weather chart

The week ahead

In a turn of the fortunes, from the more recent dryness; Queenslanders are receiving the bulk of the rain for the coming week, which should help to maintain restocking appetite for young cattle. As yardings increase as we settle into 2021, we should see the data behind the indicators become more robust and reflective of the market.