Stock prices may have fallen unexpectedly, but nowhere to the levels of yesteryear.

While all the signs suggested more of the same high prices, the exit of China from the mutton market in tandem with the coronavirus outbreak has sent prices south.

Independent Whanganui livestock commentator, trader and farmer David Cotton said things were not nearly as bad as some chatter down at the saleyards suggested.

"Things can change quickly down on the farm, especially over this period of the year with short kill weeks at the works, no rain and now China exiting the mutton market at the same time the coronavirus arrives,"Cotton said.

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"China took 80 per cent of our mutton last year, but what has happened now has caused substantial changes to the livestock market - it's easy to feel you glass is half empty at the moment.

"However, when you analyse the figures and compare them to five or six years ago it's actually a glass half full situation. You only have to turn on the TV or read the many reports in the media to think things are bad, but are they really as bad as what they are suggesting? I don't think so."

Turning back the clock to compare the prices during the first week of February in 2014 and 2015, Cotton said farmers are, in fact, way better off today.

"Lamb, for instance, was $5.70/kg in 2014 and $5.25/kg in 2015 - at the same time this year lamb is $7.15/kg and mutton is $4.80/kg while it was $3.45/kg and $3.10/kg back then. The store market is also better today with a 32kg lamb fetching $2.75/kg, while they were selling for $2.10/kg and $2.50/kg in 2015 and 2014 respectively.

"Interest rates were six per cent in 2014, 5.5 per cent in 2015 and 3.4 per cent today.

"Things are not as bad as some would first think, they're just not as good as they were eight weeks ago. I acknowledge kill space is tight right now, but in my early career meatworkers were going on strike and kill space was non-existent, interest rates were 20 per cent, ewes had no value and, in fact, you received a bill to kill them and store lambs were under a $1 a kilo.

"All markets go up and down so I think it's timely to remember to concentrate on what you have control over at times like this and value the relationship you have with your stock agent, works buyer and bank managers - it's times like this they come to the fore,"Cotton said.