The end of a strong run for New Zealand's beef export trade is looming as the United States continues to ramp up production and as the market faces increased tariffs in Japan.
Japan, New Zealand's fourth biggest market for beef and its most lucrative - has raised its import tariff on frozen product to 50 per cent from 38.5 per cent until the end of March next year in response to import levels breaching pre-set levels.
Frozen beef accounts for about 70 per cent of New Zealand's beef exports to Japan.
"When you have those two issues together on the supply side, it can make it a bit more challenging for the market place, even with robust demand across most major markets," ANZ rural economist Con Williams said.
"I don't think the market is going to fall out of bed, but we will see moderation after the good run that we have had over the last three of four years," he said.
US beef farmers have been playing catch-up after production there took a hit in 2013 and 2014 in response to drought and poor profitability for cow-calf operators at that time.
AgriHQ said the outlook for beef prices is weakening in the US, the largest market for New Zealand beef, after a United States Department of Agriculture report showed cattle numbers at a nine-year high as farmers rebuilt their herds.
Rival exporter Australia, which has a free trade agreement with Japan, has increased supplies, and a rise in the New Zealand dollar is hurting margins, AgriHQ said.
"Sentiment in the US towards imported beef has turned negative, largely on the belief that US domestic prices will weaken in the next few months," AgriHQ analyst Reece Brick said in a report.
"Importers are very reluctant to buy on the current market, with exporters reporting very limited interest over the past fortnight," he said.
This view is predominantly driven by weaker beef futures as well as production forecasts which paint a picture of increased supplies through the back-end of this year, Brick said.
The price for standard grade 95CL imported bull beef dropped to US$2.27 a pound this month, from US$2.38/pound last month, according to AgriHQ data.
The price for imported 90CL cow meat slipped to US$2.18/pound from US$2.20/pound. Still, prices remain above year-earlier levels with 95CL last year at US$2.25/pound and 90CL at US$2.10/pound.
AgriHQ's Brick said the rising value of the kiwi dollar was "an extra thorn" in the side of exporters, with the local currency recently hitting its highest value against the US dollar since May 2015.
In Japan, beef imports in the year to June at the highest level for the country since 2003, Brick said.
This means New Zealand exporters will be forced to find alternate markets to divert product into, he said.
ASB Bank senior rural economist Nathan Penny said the Japanese tariff change was likely to put a spanner in the works for local beef prices.
The average beef export price in the Japan market for the September 2016 year was almost 20 percent higher than the next-best market, and around 45 percent higher than prices in the US, he said.
Australian beef is exempt from the tariff hike on the back of its trade agreement with Japan, so New Zealand and the US will bear most of the brunt of the increase, Penny said.
In Australia, the national beef kill is continuing back towards its five-year average at a steady pace as the country rebuilds its herds following droughts.
-- with BusinessDesk