Hello, I'm Sid Sprecher. Mark Pearson is off this week. In a holiday shortened trading week, Stock indices moved cautiously higher.
Despite a resurgence in consumer confidence, Wall Street remains nervous about the ability of the American consumer to spend during a shorter than normal Christmas retail season. It's the hope consumers, armed with lower interest rates and deep discounts, will respond. Retail sales account for two-thirds of the U.S. economy. Also worrisome to the financial community is the continued reluctance of businesses to expand.
But the economic picture may be clearing a bit, especially on fronts affecting the Rural American economy.
The labor dispute on the West Coast that idled shipping last month may be ending. In an agreement announced by the White House the longshoreman will receive substantial increases in wages and pension benefits. In exchange shipping lines and port operators will be able to adopt new technologies like optical scanners, remote cameras and global positioning systems. Keeping West coast ports open has become increasingly important to both western and grain belt agriculture. The movement of grain and oilseed to Asia via unit train through western ports has steadily increased in the last 20 years.
The importance of that movement isn't lost on American farmers, many of whom are wrapping up lengthy autumn harvests. On the eve of thanksgiving 97 percent of the U.S. corn and soybean harvests have been complete.
The tardy pace this year has vented some of the historic harvest price pressure. In addition to watching the American harvest, traders these days, more than ever, are keeping an eye on the South American crop.
It is spring in the Southern Hemisphere and while a record number of soybean acres is expected, planting is behind the normal pace. At the first of the week 67 percent of the seed was in the ground, compared to an average of 71 percent.
While grain and oilseed traders keep an eye on multiple hemispheres, American meat producers are beginning to recover from a market weighed down by ample supplies of all meat.
Surging holiday demand for beef and the lowest October placements of cattle into feedlots in 20 years pushed cattle prices beyond 70 dollars per hundredweight. Many analysts think finished cattle will be in tight supply for the remainder of this year and in the first half of 2003. Producers hope beef demand will pull other red meat prices higher.