Numerous new cases of avian influenza were discovered this week, including Iowa's largest egg producing facility with 3.8 million hens. The count for affected chickens and turkeys is now over 8 million in the Midwest, with the hardest-hit being the states of Iowa and Minnesota, where Governor Mark Dayton just declared a state of emergency.
Experts are concerned that the disease is being transmitted by migratory wild birds, which could accelerate the disease's spread.
So far, the disease has impacted less than 0.1% of the nation's flock of nearly 9.5 billion chickens and turkeys, but if the disease continues spreading, analysts warn that it could cut into meat and egg supplies. US grain farmers would be affected as well, as the poultry industry is a major source of demand for corn and soybeans, two crops already under pressure due to weak demand.
Meanwhile, speculators have been buying cattle and hog futures aggressively, expecting more demand for beef and pork if poultry supplies dwindle.
Corn prices fell Friday to $3.64 per bushel, the lowest level since November. Prices have been dropping due to last year's bin-busting corn crop and tepid foreign demand, which has led to a surplus of the grain. This week's additional fifteen cent plunge came as traders began focusing on this year's crop, which is being planted ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, the mounting concerns about bird flu have encouraged even more selling in the corn market.
Longer term, if there is a weather problem with this year's crop or if demand picks up, prices could certainly rebound, but the outlook has been grim for US corn farmers in recent weeks.
Silver Loses its Luster
Silver prices dropped to a five-week low on Friday morning, falling to $15.55 per ounce. The market is under pressure as the Chinese economy continues showing signs of slowing; silver is primarily used as an industrial metal, making it sensitive to global growth expectations.
Meanwhile, other investments in the United States have been faring better in recent weeks, as stock and bond futures have been gaining value, making silver less appealing in the near term.
Conversely, some silver investors are eager to buy the metal as it nears $15 per ounce, a price that has held the market numerous times in the past few months.