Steiner and Company produces the Profit Maximizer report on behalf of National Pork Board 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.


  • Higher pork exports in Q1 resulted in a 1.7% decline in domestic availability despite higher slaughter/production.
  • Lean hog futures have declined in the last two weeks on a slowdown in fresh pork demand and disappointing performance of processing pork items.
  • Higher prices for pork bellies contributed to the increase in the value of the pork cutout in Q1. However, belly prices need to increase another 25-30% to justify summer futures levels.
  • Ham prices took a step back in the second half of April as sales to Mexico slowed down. Lower slaughter and a new round of sales booked with Mexico could provide some support for prices in May.
  • Loin prices, especially product going to export, have been robust so far. Expectations are for sales to stay well supported through June.
  • Pork trim, both 42CL and 72CL, normally move higher in the summer on lower slaughter, seasonal grilling demand.

Full Report

Pork exports have been a key driver in the market so far this year. In March total exports were 621.1 million pounds, almost 13 million pounds (+2%) higher than a year ago.  Mexico remains the top market, taking 196.4 million pounds in March, a 32% share. Those exports were down 28.4 million pounds (-13%) from a year ago. But, exports to Mexico in Q1 were still higher than the previous year. The reduction in exports to Mexico in March was offset by higher exports to South Korea, which saw an increase of 27.4 million pounds (+47%) y/y. China was not a factor in March, taking 34.3 million pounds, 10.3 million pounds (-23%) less than a year ago. Exports to the Caribbean were also disappointing, down 8.9 million pounds (-23%) from a year ago.

Trade numbers need to be viewed in the broader context of production and supply availability. Pork production in Q1 was 7.094 billion pounds, slightly higher than a year ago.   However, total exports in Q1 at 1.802 billion pounds were up 134.2 million pounds (+8%) while imports during the quarter increased just 13.7 million pounds. The net result is that there was a shortfall of almost 100 million pounds in Q1 (-1.7%) vs. the same period a year ago. The decline in supply availability came at a time when both retailers and foodservice operators saw pork as a more competitive product, especially fresh pork items such as loins and butts.

Implications for the market going forward: If the USDA quarterly survey of hog and pig operations was correct, then hog slaughter in late spring and summer should be up about 1.5% to 2% from a year ago (Dec-Feb Pig crop was up 1.9%). Will hog carcass weighs remain under last year? Maybe, but it would depend on forward premiums and weather. In our view, exports remain a key factor for the market going forward. We don’t expect China demand to be a factor. And US exporters are facing more headwinds in some Central American and Asian markets due to increased competition from Brazil. So it will be as important as ever to track weekly export sales and shipments.

Cold Storage Data Points to More Limited Supply Going into Spring, but Situation Varies Depending on the Item

The supply of meat protein in cold storage at the end of March continued to decline and at just a little over 2 billion pounds it is 10% lower than the five-year average. It is also the lowest end of March supply since 2014. As we have noted in the past, a number of factors tend to impact the supply of meat protein in cold storage, be this export demand (less product needs to be staged), limited capacity and high cost of storage (interest rates) or lower overall production. While all of these factors have played a role, the reality is that the lower supply in cold storage could add to market volatility and presents more upside price risk going into the high demand time of year.  

The Supply of Pork in Cold Storage at the end of March was Estimated at 464M, down 13.1% y/y.

Current supply is near the multi-decade lows of March 2021. The supply of pork in March increased 1% from the previous month but from a relatively low base. The more bearish number in the report was the increase in belly inventories, which jumped 18% from February. The m/m increase in March far surpassed the average build of 6% in the last five years. As the chart to the right shows, current belly inventories are on the high end of the range for the last 20 years. On the other hand, several other pork items are tight going into the lower supply time of year. Ham inventory was down 18% from a year ago, with the depletion in part reflecting the early Easter. Pork trim inventory was down 16% y/y just as processors are entering the high demand time of year. Fresh pork has been moving far better than expected, with loin inventory down 7.6% y/y. The drawdown in March was 8% vs. 7% five-year average.

Price Chart


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.