It's big news (at least for people who follow NASCAR) when Jimmy Johnson spots Jeff Gordon a big lead and then wins four in a row to reel him in and put himself on the cusp of his second straight championship. Even the non-NASCAR person can appreciate the tenacity and dedication it takes to get that done -- or should I say: "get 'er duuuuun!"?

The comeback of U.S. pork exports will probably never make such headlines -- but it's been no less remarkable. Whether the U.S. pork industry can overcome the final obstacles to set a 16th straight record remains to be seen, but the performance of the past few months and the economic forces now at work suggest that it will happen.

Figures 1 through 4 show year-to-date performance through September for pork and pork variety meats in terms of both quantities and values. The quantity graphs represent actual product weights. In order to put some space between the lines for the smaller markets, I have changed the formats of these graphs to use the left-hand axis for the world total and the right-hand axis for the individual country numbers.

Some important details from the graphs and the September data released by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service last week are:

  • Pork exports in September were 8% larger than last year. China led the September year-over-year growth in both tonnage (+4,521 tons) and percentage (+154.2%). The combination of China and Hong Kong took pork muscle meat product shipments that were 157% larger than one year ago and were actually our third-largest market (behind Japan and Canada) in September. Shipments to Japan were 2,307 tons (8.6%) larger this year. Taiwan (-65.8%), Mexico (-35.7%) and Korea (-28.6%) saw the largest declines in September shipments.

  • The value of pork exports in September 2007 was 10% larger than last year. China was once again the leader with the value of shipments nearly tripling over one year ago. The combined value of shipments to Hong Kong and China was 223% of the level of last September.

  • Pork variety meat exports were 6% larger than one year earlier in September. China (+176%) and Hong Kong (+150%) were again the growth leaders. Mexico remains our largest market for pork variety meats, though shipments there were 9.2% lower in September and are 16% lower year-to-date (YTD).

  • The value of variety meat exports was larger than one year ago, but the gain was not as large relative to quantity growth as was that for pork muscle cuts. Variety meat export value grew by 6.1% in September vs. one year ago and the growth was led by China and Hong Kong. A decline of 12.1% in the value of variety meat exports to Mexico underscores, I think, the difficulties we have had there this year. Not only were our shipments reduced, but so were the prices at which those shipments were made.
The graphs show year-to-date data for all of our leading markets. It is obvious that China-Hong Kong has been the big positive this year while Mexico and, to a lesser degree, Korea, Taiwan and Canada, have been disappointing. While quantities have been lower, the value of exports has been consistently higher than last year and, as I have pointed out before, it is value that eventually drives hog demand.

Readers should note how much ground we have made up over the past few months. For January-July, pork exports were down 4.9% from last year and the value of those exports was up only 4.7%. Those numbers improved in August to -3.3% and +5.9%, respectively. The January-September data have them at -2.2% and +6.3%.

I think the numbers will continue to grow and will both end up positive by year's end. Record-large slaughter, lower wholesale prices and a dollar that continues to weaken all suggest that foreign buyers should be very interested in U.S. pork. Those factors should drive quantities higher, but don't expect value growth to keep pace. Value growth slowed notably in September and may actually stop as we get into the fall months. But it will still be up for the year when Dec. 31 rolls around. And, the lower prices that cause value growth to slow will help volume growth set another record.

Canada's pork exports, through August, are 3.6% lower than one year ago. Mexico is the big negative for Canada. Australia and New Zealand are the big growth markets for Canada thus far in 2007. Interestingly, Canadian shipments to China were down 3.5% at the end of May, but were up 15.6% YTD by the end of August. China's tying of their currency, the yuan, to the U.S. dollar puts Canada at a disadvantage in the Chinese market.




Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.
e-mail: steve@paragoneconomics.com