2/25 – The USDA is just about back on schedule with reporting. In Friday’s Cattle on Feed Report, the USDA said new placements onto feedlots in Dec 2018 were down 1.8% vs. Dec 2017. However, the Jan 1st feedlot inventory at 11.7M head was still 1.7% above a year ago. Heifers on feedlots are up 6.2% from a year ago and now comprise 37.7% of total feedlot inventories. That exceeds the 36% threshold that historically indicates ranchers are liquidating enough breeding stock for the cattle herd to begin contracting. In last week’s Livestock, Dairy && Poultry Outlook, the USDA again reduced beef production to 2.6% growth in 2018, and a projected 2.8% for 2019. However, beef exports will also be cooling from an 11.5% average growth rate in 2017 && 2018 to just 2.4% in 2019. USDA says cattle prices will average $117.12/cwt in 2018 and $118.50 for 2019.