U.S. March pork stocks set new high, chicken soars as bird flu spreads

By Theopolis Waters

CHICAGO April 22 (Reuters) – Ballooning supplies and tepid demand again pumped U.S. pork stocks to a record high in March while snowballing avian influenza cases landed more chicken in freezers, industry experts said following the agriculture department’s monthly cold storage report on Wednesday.

Record pork storage and mounting competition from cheaper chicken could mean lower prices for both for shoppers through the summer grilling season, experts said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture cold storage report for March showed pork inventories totaled 668.6 million pounds. It was a record for the month that topped the previous March high of 657.3 million in 2008, and followed February 2015’s 686.1 million lb. monthly record.

Delayed pork shipments remained an issue even after the West Coast dock worker dispute ended in February, analysts said.

Separate recent government data showed February pork exports at 377.3 million lb., down 10 percent from a year ago.

Furthermore, heavier hogs and the fewer piglet deaths from Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus produced more pork at much lower prices at wholesale.

March pork output rose nine percent from a year earlier to 2.025 billion lb., based on Allendale Inc. estimates.

End users tend to store pork when wholesale prices fall over a long period of time, said independent market analyst Bob Brown.

Chicken inventories last month totaled 751.9 million lb., surging 160.3 million from March 2014 to their biggest year-over-year increase for the month since 164 million in 2008.

Leg quarter stocks at 188.7 million lb., which represents roughly half of U.S. broiler exports, posted their largest amount on record, surpassing December 2005’s high of 176.7 million lb., said Brown.

U.S. broiler production is expanding as less-costly feed produces larger flocks of heavier birds, said analysts.

Trade issues, the strong U.S. dollar and the bird influenza outbreak have hurt chicken exports, they said.

China, South Korea and South Africa are the three markets completely closed to the United States and account for roughly about $36 million of trade per month, said Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council.

The council estimates that 37 countries have imposed some type of regional ban on the industry, ranging from the entire state to the affected county within the state.

“It’s impossible to measure the impact of trade restrictions at regional levels because most our (U.S.) companies have facilities in more than one state, so they may shift their supplying production to another facility,” said Sumner.

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