Iowa Public Television


Pre-Report Cattle Gains Raise Questions

posted on December 3, 2004

The CEO of the nation's fourth largest beef processor says he's optimistic the industry can rebound from last winter's Mad Cow scare. John Miller of the National Beef Packing Company cites the expected reopening of the Japanese market as one reason.

National Beef's profits for the fiscal year that ended in August were less than half of the previous year's totals. The company also asked its lenders to renegotiate its terms of debt.

National Beef's predicament is typical of the kind of havoc that descends from Mad Cow. Its impact on markets is widespread and, as we learned this week, not always in ways that seem obvious.

Pre-Report Cattle Gains Raise Questions The good news last week was that test results on a cow suspected of having bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or Mad Cow disease, were negative. But that announcement has triggered suspicion this week that the results may have been leaked to certain traders at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange before the news was made public by USDA.

Sharp gains occurred in live cattle futures prices just ahead of the November 23rd announcement. In fact, front-end December futures jumped $2.60 that day, even though trading at the MERC ended some three hours before USDA announced the test results.

The gain didn't exceed the daily limit but did represent a 3.1 percent advance on the day.

According to Dow Jones, an official with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said his agency routinely monitors "unusual" market moves ... and has stepped up its surveillance of live cattle futures following the discovery last winter of the country's only confirmed case of BSE. There was no indication that any deeper investigation is under way.

Tags: agriculture animals beef cattle livestock Mad Cow markets meat news