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Markets Continue to Feel Unsettled

Economic anxiety is still threatening consumer purchasing power and though a robust international appetite has kept product moving offshore, the balance between supply and demand feels precarious.

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The United States sent a record-setting volume of dairy products abroad in May. Then, after adjusting for a shorter month, it bested that record in June.

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The bulls and bears squared off in Chicago this week, and the dairy markets lurched this way and that as the two sides fought for control. By Wednesday and Thursday, the bears won the upper hand, fueled by news that the U.S. economy contracted in the first half of the year, and that the Federal Reserve hoped to tamp down inflation by raising interest rates yet again.

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After seven months in the red, U.S. milk production exceeded year-ago volumes in June, topping June 2021 by 0.2%.

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U.S. inflation accelerated to 9.1% last month, reducing Americans’ purchasing power at the fastest rate since 1981. The dairy markets suffered too.

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Prices for dairy commodities moved lower both at home and abroad as the markets sort through supply and demand dynamics. Concerns about economic cooling, inflation, and the resulting impact on dairy demand seems to have been sufficient to push back on pricing.

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CME spot butter leapt 9.5ȼ to $3.01 per pound. That’s the highest spot butter price since 2015. The other spot products also climbed, however milk futures struggled.

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Red ink flowed on LaSalle Street this week as the trade reckoned with the fact that, although milk production continues to shrink, cheese abounds. Ongoing concerns about demand also pressured the markets.

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Concerns about demand have been simmering near the surface for several months. This week, rising interest rates and a plummeting stock market brought the anxiety up to a full boil.

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The butter market illustrates the conundrum that besets much of the dairy complex. Stocks are relatively low and production is falling seasonally. Milk and butter output are not rising anywhere that matters. U.S. butter is much cheaper than foreign product, so trade is further eroding supplies.

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In Europe the high costs of physical expansions, additional labor, replacement heifers, and feed costs, when coupled with market uncertainty, creates a risk level that prevents widespread expansion. The same factors are hampering milk output on this side of the Atlantic as well.

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