October 18, 2019 / 7:03 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-USDA says pork sales data may include old deals, vexing traders

(Adds details from USDA)

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO, Oct 18 (Reuters) - U.S. Department of Agriculture pork export sales data issued on Friday for Oct. 4-10 included “a significant quantity” that might have been sold in previous weeks, the agency said, after traders and analysts questioned the accuracy of the weekly report.

Traders have been paying close attention to U.S. sales as a devastating outbreak of a fatal pig disease in China, the world’s top pork consumer, has tightened global meat supplies. The delayed disclosure that Friday’s report may have contained sales from prior weeks shook some traders’ confidence in USDA data, the reference for the U.S. farm sector.

The report showed U.S. sales of 292,161 tonnes for 2019, a high for the year, including record-large weekly sales to China and Mexico. Sales to Mexico, the largest export market for U.S. pork, surged to 132,381 tonnes from 2,692 tonnes a week earlier, prompting skepticism among traders.

The USDA did not provide details about the size of sales from previous weeks that were included in the latest report. It also did not reveal which countries bought the previously unreported pork.

The USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service said in an e-mailed statement that officials sometimes find exporters who are not reporting sales to the agency and then include their previous sales in the weekly report. The agency said it would start to include a statement with the report when it contains large quantities of previously unreported sales.

Traders said the agency should have made it clear immediately that sales in Friday’s report were not all from Oct. 4-10, because the market is particularly sensitive to export demand.

“For them to throw this data out there is just irresponsible,” said Altin Kalo, agricultural economist for New Hampshire-based Steiner Consulting.

Underreporting pork exports could help keep U.S. hog futures prices lower than they otherwise would be.

An official from Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington told Reuters on Tuesday that the agency had identified shippers who were not reporting pork sales, though he did not say why.

“I think we have been able to perhaps add some additional reporters who weren’t in the system before, and hopefully that will kind of give us a holistic view of as much of the export activity as possible,” the official said. (Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Richard Chang and Daniel Wallis)

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