Grilling for the Fourth? Burger costs reach 3-year low

While wholesale prices have fluctuated this year, ground beef at the grocery store remains near the cheapest since 2014. 

With beef this cheap for the Fourth of July, you might as well invite the whole neighborhood over for burgers.

Thanks to a boom in supply, retail-beef prices are low enough to compete with pork and poultry. Americans spent $803 million on beef, the most popular U.S. Independence Day meat, in the two weeks near the Fourth of July holiday last summer, a Nielson report shows. The celebration is the nation’s top grilling day of the year, with 87 percent of consumers expected to barbecue, according to Weber-Stephens Products LLC.

U.S. beef production is rising for a second straight year, helping to boost meat and poultry output to the highest ever. While wholesale prices have fluctuated this year, ground beef at the grocery store remains near the cheapest since 2014. And hedge funds are signaling they expect prices will remain low. They’ve cut their wagers on a rally for cattle futures to the smallest in 11 weeks.

Bigger supplies are “a big part of beef prices,” David Anderson, a livestock economist at Texas A&M University in College Station. “And here we are at the holiday, so go grill something. I have some steaks that look really good in the freezer.”

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On the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, cattle futures for August delivery fell 4.4 percent in June to $1.163 a pound. That was the third loss in four months for the most-active contract.

American beef production is expected to climb 4 percent this year to 26.292 billion pounds, the highest since 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. The gain comes as feed has stayed cheap for livestock producers, with corn futures falling for four straight years through 2016. Pork and chicken output will both reach records.

Higher output is helping to keep ground-beef prices low at the grocery store. Retail costs have stayed cheap even as wholesale costs climbed, signaling that consumers will likely enjoy lower bills for the next year and a half as production keeps expanding, said Chris Hurt, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Wholesale beef is up 11 percent this year to $2.2473 a pound. By contrast, retail ground beef is unchanged since the end of last year at $3.559 a pound as of May, down 4.3 percent from 12 months ago, Bureau of…

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