Slaughter is at annual highs, while retail demand for fresh pork has yet to kick in. Ham prices have eased as Christmas orders have been filled.
- Product markets continue to hold a soft undertone, in part because slaughter at nearly 2.6 million head is near annual highs while retail demand for fresh pork has yet to kick in.
- Ham prices have eased a bit as Christmas orders have been filled. Demand from Mexico, a key export market, has also declined in the last two weeks, probably because buyers are looking to take advantage of the seasonal price decline in the second half of December.
- Pork trim prices have also declined, which is not unusual for this time of year. Processor demand declines due to holiday-shortened production. Tight spot supply, lower freezer stock and lower slaughter in Jan/Feb should keep trim prices above year-ago levels.
- Pork belly prices have struggled to gain traction due to the large supply already in the freezer and high weekly slaughter. Prices are expected to move higher in Q1.
Ham Market Likely to Ease Lower in the Near Term but There Is Plenty of Uncertainty for Prices/Supply in Jan/Feb
Hog slaughter has not reached 2.6 million head/week so far this year. It is unlikely that will happen in the next two weeks. Last year weekly slaughter surpassed 2.6 million head/week in five of the eight weeks of October/November. 2019 weekly slaughter was routinely at 2.7 million head/week during this period, hitting a record of 2.8 million head during the second week of December 2019. Hog slaughter is expected to remain limited through next year. However, we should get a better idea of the supply outlook when USDA issues its quarterly inventory estimates at the end of next week (12/23).
What This Means for Retailers and Processors
For retailers, the ham market has been very difficult to navigate the last six months. We think the supply situation is unlikely to fundamentally change in Q1. In the near-term, ham prices will probably decline as they usually do in the second half of December. Because the Christmas and New Year holidays this year are over the weekend there will be lower slaughter the following week. The ham primal value on Friday was at $86/cwt. That is the lowest price since mid-November and comparable to prices earlier in the spring. We could see prices break by $80 in the next two weeks.
Processors will run reduced production in the near term due to the holiday. They will be back in full force in January. With limited ham inventory, the pressure will be on them to ramp up production and be better prepared for Easter (April 3, 2023) than they were for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Sales to Mexico have declined recently, which could also leave the excess bone-in product. Net pork sales to Mexico for the week ending December 1 were just 3,242 MT and for the week ending December 8 were 9,881 MT. This compares to average net sales of 13,434 MT/week during October and November. Last year pork export sales to Mexico averaged 20,410 MT/week in December.
Demand and Pricing Outlook
The slowdown in demand is resulting in more ham boning and thus more pork trim available. The price of 72CL pork trim briefly dropped under $80/cwt before rebounding. Ham prices will continue to hover in the $90/cwt area through Jan/Feb. Hog slaughter will continue to decline at about 100k head per week from current levels. We also think that Mexican buyers are aware of the seasonal effects and are waiting in the wings to get needs covered. That is why exports to Mexico are lower.
Steiner Consulting Group produces the National Pork Board newsletter based on information we believe is accurate and reliable. However neither NPB nor Steiner and Company warrants or guarantees the accuracy of or accepts any liability for the data, opinions or recommendations expressed.