Beef export volumes down in line with tight cattle supply

Beef export volumes down in line with tight cattle supply


Is our lower beef production masking dropping global demand?


AS a 'new normal' emerges for the food service game with the easing of lockdown measures around the world, cattle producers will be keeping a keen eye out for signs of impacts on the value of Australian beef exports.

The latest government beef export volumes show a 7 per cent decline year-on-year, in line with expectations given slaughter levels are tracking 9pc down year-to-date.

The drop in exports for May is due to reduced cattle availability rather than the flow-through of a drop in global consumption, analysts say.

More telling will be the next round of export value figures, with lower beef production out of Australia perhaps masking decreasing global demand.

"We are now moving into assessing the economic consequences of the virus on the beef sector and how quickly things are rebuilding," Rabobank senior analyst Angus Gildey-Baird said.

"We may see a situation now where consumers are not willing to spend a lot on high-priced protein and there will need to be discounting to keep volumes moving."

Meat & Livestock Australia's market intelligence manager Scott Tolmie said there would likely be shifts in consumer behaviour as doors open again in the food service business.

He touted trends like a greater focus on cleanliness, cashless and contactless systems, more ghost kitchens - that is cooking facilities set up only for delivering meals - and increased automation in food preparation.

"We may see restaurants becoming more hybrid and things like meal kit subscriptions - activities that started during lockdown will perhaps now continue and create a new normal," Mr Tolmie said in MLA's On the Ground podcast.

Beef export volumes are expected to continue to decline for most of 2020, perhaps edging up slightly towards the end of the year.

The May figures showed the United States continued to take reduced year-on-year shipments for the fourth month in a row, down 12pc on May 2019.

The figure for the US was, however, up on April, which Mr Gidley-Baird said reflected the big constraint on US production in early May when meatpackers were shut down by virus outbreaks and extra imports were sought to fill the gap.

China continued to be a solid customer, with exports here up 6pc year-on-year.

"China is probably further advanced in terms of covid recovery," Mr Gidley-Baird said.

"It will be a slow road but we should see volumes gradually increase from here, with African Swine Fever protein shortages sitting behind that."

Japan took its first year-on-year hit since January - taking 12pc less than May 2019 and back 1pc on April figures.

NAB agribusiness economist Phin Ziebell there were a number of elements at play as far as Australian beef exports were concerned at the moment.

They include the restrictions around China, which has suspended four big Australian processing plants from accessing its market, along with the Australian dollar's return to pre-coronavirus levels last week which meant previous currency gains were being eroded for exporters.

Processor capacity in the US, Brazil and Canada - countries which look to have limited prospects for virus containment - was also a big unknown, he said.

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