February cattle reached their highest price levels since December 2nd on Friday and went on to post the highest close since November 9th, as a wave of positively received news culminated with sharply higher cash cattle prices. February cattle closed up 582 points for the week. News that Nebraska cash markets traded up $6.00-$7.00 on the week to $125.00-$126.00 were widely seen as a positive factor for the market. Thursday's USDA Cold Storage report showed frozen beef stocks on November 30th at 437.56 million pounds, which was up 6% from last month and up 1% from last year. Stocks normally increase by about 2% during the month of November, so the 6% jump is widely seen as a negative development. Many traders also saw a drier and warmer trend in the weather forecast for the plains as a negative factor for cattle prices, but there is still a threat of another winter storm in the extended outlook. The estimated cattle slaughter came in at 128,000 head Friday and 9,000 head for Saturday. This brought the total for last week to 598,000 head, down from 642,000 head the previous week but up from 545,000 head a year ago. The longer-term supply outlook remains positive with traders expecting a 4% to 5% decline in slaughter levels into 2012. Boxed beef cutout values were up 68 cents at mid-session Friday, and closed 82 cents higher at $192.42. This was up from $189.75 the prior week, and is the highest beef market since December 1st.
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