In this weekly Commodities Watch column, John T. Barone, president and commodities analyst for Market Vision Inc., offers a snapshot of the state of commodities for restaurants.

The number of cattle marketed from feedlots to processors in August, at 1.88 million head, was 3.7 percent below a year ago and the second lowest number for the month since the USDA began tracking these numbers in 1996.

Even so, cattle marketing still outpaced new feedlot placements in August, which were just 1.79 million head — a higher-than-expected 10.9-percent decline from a year ago. As a result, Friday’s USDA cattle report showed feedlot inventories at 9.88 million head, a decline of 7.2 percent from a year ago.

Better pasture conditions, lower feed costs and easing drought in some areas have slowed the pace of cattle moving to feedlots. Smaller feedlot inventory is why the USDA is forecasting Q4 2013 beef output to fall 4.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 and the first half of 2014 to decline 5.4 percent compared to the year-earlier period.

Cattle futures, at $125.95/cwt, have been steadily higher over the past two months. The April 2014 contract is trading at $132.75.

Contact John T. Barone at jbarone@mktvsn.com.