In what may be a good indication of the nascent economic recovery, this year's Fourth of July barbecue is shaping up to be the most expensive ever.
Days before America's favorite grilling holiday, the price of retail ground beef has sailed to an all-time high of nearly $4 per pound, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; sirloin steak, another popular, but more expensive, cut, is setting its own record at about $7.60.
The price spikes come as U.S. unemployment numbers are improving, the economy is growing and consumer confidence is such that even a beef-cattle shortage that has nosed up retail costs hasn't meaningfully hurt demand.
"I think that we have kind of underestimated the U.S. economy," said Joe Hofmeyer, a market analyst at Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota-based CHS Hedging, a unit of farming cooperative CHS, which advises farmers and other commodity producers on how to curb their exposure to changing agricultural prices. "We now have unemployment that's the lowest prior to the recession, and that's allowing us to have a consumer that can take this on."
That notion, Hofmeyer added, is "the only way I can explain" the continued demand for beef, which is typically the most expensive protein source on the market, in the face of record prices.