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Japan-Update

US beef wholesale prices soar in Japan on fatter demand

American consumers hog supply, squeezing exports

About 40% of Japan's beef imports come from the U.S.

TOKYO -- Prices of American beef used in meals like beef bowls and shabu-shabu hot pot have jumped in Japan amid strong demand here and a soaring appetite for the meat in the U.S.

Wholesale prices of American short plate cuts came to around 755 yen ($6.70) per kilogram in late June, up 34% on the year. Price increases that began at the end of last year have accelerated since spring to stand roughly at a high recorded in April 2015, just prior to a plunge caused by Hong Kong's beef import ban. With U.S. production struggling to keep up, prices likely will remain high for the near future.

About 90% of beef produced in the U.S. is sold domestically. More producers of items such as hamburgers, which typically use cheaper Australian beef, are lifting their ratios of American beef, encouraged by robust consumer spending, according to trading companies and other sources.

Yet Japanese beef consumption also is strong. The country's three major beef bowl restaurant chains boosted existing-store sales year over year for May.

The "use of beef became more widespread in restaurant industries in the U.S. and Japan" starting in 2015 as excess supply made beef a relative value compared with pork, said Sojitz Foods' beef department.

Furthermore, the U.S. beef supply has hit a low as producers and meat processing companies rushed to sell their large stocks, anticipating that such heavy supplies could bring a price drop later in the year. Shipping cattle for slaughter before they were fully grown exacerbated the current shortage.

Beef bowl restaurant chain Yoshinoya Holdings predicts an increase in Southeast Asian beef imports due to economic growth. And if "high prices continue, restaurants may switch to using pork starting in the fall," a major meat wholesaler said.

Prices were expected to soar even higher with American beef exports to China set to resume after a long hiatus. But estimates show that only 5-10% of U.S.-produced beef complies with Chinese rules, so the impact likely will be limited.

China requires U.S. beef to be traceable and free of growth hormones, a document released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this month shows. But growth hormones are used commonly in the U.S., and enormous stock numbers make it difficult to trace each cow's birth farm.

(Nikkei)

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