May 3, 2018

Alerts & What’s Trending


The Asparagus market has finished the transition from Mexico to Peru, but supplies out of Peru are limited, and Quality is poor due to spreading and dehydration. Quality issues are expected to last for the next 2-3 weeks. Out of Salinas, Romaine and Romaine Heart are seeing good supplies with good quality. Supplies are beginning to tighten on the Iceberg and is seeing signs of a gapping due to the cooler weather. Green and Red Leaf, and Butter Lettuce supplies are lower than usual due to quality issues. Elsewhere, the Roma and Round Tomato Markets continue to experience good supplies and quality out of Florida and Mexico; Grape Tomato pricing has increased due to overall quality issues but is expected to decline after the Mother’s Day holiday. The Yellow and Zucchini Squash Markets out of both the East and West are seeing very low volumes, and pricing has increased due to colder weather. Supplies are expected to pick up and two weeks and pricing should begin to decline as volumes ramp up. The Blueberry Market continues to slightly decrease with improved supplies out of Florida, Georgia, and California, and Strawberries are in peak supply in California, now through the end summer and overall quality is good.


The spring wheat planting season remains behind with just 10% in the ground as of April 29th. This compares to the five-year average for the date of 36%. Planting is anticipated to pick up substantially in the coming weeks, but some acreage could be switched to soybeans. Wheat prices are overdue for a short-term correction lower.  International sugar prices have found some modest support as of late. Higher crude oil prices are driving better sugar demand for ethanol in Brazil. This may underpin the sugar markets at least in the near term. But, ample world supplies should eventually temper that upside potential for sugar.


The butter market remains firm due in a large part to solid export demand. March 31st butter stocks were slightly larger than the previous year and the biggest for the date since 1993. Further, European milk output should seasonally expand which may also temper export demand for U.S. butter. These factors suggest that the upside in the butter markets may only be modest from here. March 31st cheese stocks were 5.2% greater than the previous year and a record for the date. However, the cheese inventory build from January through March was the second smallest since 2012.


Beef output last week fell .5% but was .8% larger than the same week last year. Year-to-date cattle slaughter was 2.1% better than 2017. Beef production in the coming months is forecasted to be much stronger than a year ago. Beef prices have begun to seasonally rise as retailers aggressively feature beef, especially grinds. Total wholesale beef sales over the last four weeks were 10.1% more than last year. However, boneless beef stocks on March 31st were .9% larger than 2017, the best build for the month in five years. This factor along with strong beef output and heavier cattle weights may temper the upcoming seasonally rally for the ground beef markets in the coming weeks.


Pork production last week decreased 3% but was 3.7% bigger than the same week a year ago. Hog slaughter was the lowest in three weeks. Notable year-over-year pork output gains are anticipated to persist in the coming months. March 31st pork stocks were 12% more than 2017 with belly (188%), picnic (29%), ham (7%), loin (9%), and trim (41%) holdings all above the prior year. This factor and big pork output gains makes the various pork markets susceptible to only a modest upward seasonal move into the summer, despite solid exports.


Chicken output for the week ending April 21st fell .2% from the prior week and was 2.9% more than the same week last year. The six-week total of chicken production was up 1% from 2017. Chicken producer spot margins last week were the worst for the week in four years due in part to rising corn and soybean meal prices. If this trend persists, it could slow expected year-over-year output gains later this year. March 31st chicken stocks were 14% larger than 2017 with breast (5.4%), leg quarter (23.3%), thigh (11.9%) and wing (5.3%) holdings all above the prior year. It was the first time in 13-months that wings had a year-over-year increase. Since 2013, the average move for the ARA chicken breast index during the next three weeks was up 7.5%.


The snow crab leg markets remain historically inflated. World supplies are limited due to the smaller Canadian and Alaskan harvests and not expected to greatly improve in 2018. This year’s Newfoundland (17%) and Gulf of St. Lawrence (44%) snow crab quotas are both substantially below 2017 and multi-year lows. This should underpin snow crab prices.


After setting an 11-month high in January, the natural gas market is currently pricing 24% below (that high) despite U.S. natural gas stocks being 29.1% below the five-year average for this time of year. Natural gas prices usually rise during May.

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