Earlier this month Japan partially lifted its two-year ban on U.S. beef imports. But U.S. Meat Export Federation officials estimate it will be at least three years before shipments return to their pre-ban levels of approximately 300,000 metric tons annually. U.S. producers are eager to re-establish a foothold in what had been their most lucrative export market prior to the ban. But American beef faces an uncertain future in Japan. A survey conducted earlier this month by a Japanese news agency revealed 75 percent of respondents are unwilling to consume U.S. beef. Nevertheless, the latest USDA Cattle on Feed report reveals the U.S. herd is getting larger.
As expected, this week's cattle on-feed report revealed substantial expansion. According to USDA, the total number of cattle on-feed -- a nose count of all animals in feedlots with 1000 head or more -- was 103 percent of last year, November placements - young cattle just put into feedlots -- were 117 percent, and November marketings -- those animals sold to packers-- were 104 percent of last year.
The placement number, at 117 percent represents the largest late-fall addition to feedlots since 2000.
Many traders regarded the report as being neutral. With the market already trading on private estimates, cattle prices posted a slight gain for the week. But the bigger question is what kind of impact the expanding herd will have on prices this summer.