USDA report lifts most U.S. live cattle futures

Aside from Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) spot February live cattle futures, remaining contracts drew support on Monday from last week’s bullish biannual cattle inventory report, analysts and traders said.

Friday’s data showed tighter cattle numbers ahead with the U.S. cattle herd at the smallest in 61 years after drought drove feed costs to record highs last summer.

CME live cattle spot February settled down slightly on cash cattle price caution.

Also, some traders exited the contract to avoid likely deliveries. Monday was the first notice day for cattle deliveries against the spot month that will expire Feb. 28.

CME spot February live cattle closed at 127.075 cents per pound, down 0.025 cent. April ended up 0.1 cent to 132.275 cents and June finished at 128 cents, 0.25 cent higher (all figures US$).

Investors wait for cattle in the cash market to change hands. Cash cattle last week moved at mostly $122 to $124 per hundredweight (cwt), feedlot sources said.

Wintry weather in the western Plains reduced the movement of livestock to market, which is viewed as supportive for cash cattle prices.

Packers may curtail plant operations in the coming weeks to get a grip on elusive margins and cushion the recent fall in wholesale beef prices.

"The long-term cattle supply situation is positive for the market. But shorter-term, we continue to have problems with beef demand and margins are deep in the red," said U.S. Commodities analyst Don Roose.

On Monday, packers slaughtered 115,000 head of cattle, 11,000 less than a week earlier and down 8,000 from the same period a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

USDA showed the price for wholesale choice beef Monday at $182.74/cwt, up 18 cents from Friday; select cuts gained 39 cents to $179.01. put the average beef packer margin for Monday at a negative $86.95 per head, compared with a negative $48.10 on Friday and a negative $33.55 on Jan. 28.

CME feeder cattle also closed mostly firm. March futures was pressured by lower prices for cash feeder cattle in the most-watched Oklahoma City market.

The tighter cattle supply outlook underpinned deferred feeder cattle contracts.

March finished down 0.325 cent/lb. at 148.875 cents. April closed up 0.275 cent to 152.4 cents and May settled 0.5 cent higher at 155.2 cents.

Most hogs slide

Spot February hogs settled up 0.425 cent/lb. at 88.075 cents due to its close proximity to the CME’s lean hog index at 88.41 cents.

Remaining contracts sagged in anticipation of lower cash hog prices as packers attempt to recover lost margins, said traders and analysts.

Also, hogs that backed up on farms during last week’s cold snap are coming to market, which could further pressure cash prices in the near term, a trader said.

The average hog price at the most-watched Iowa/Minnesota market on Monday was at $87.78/cwt, $1.39 lower than on Friday, USDA said.

The average pork packer margin for Monday was a negative $8.15 per head, compared with a negative $10.15 on Friday and a negative $5.30 on Jan. 28, according to

Most-active April ended at 88.35 cents, 0.4 cent lower, and June closed 0.4 cent lower at 97.1 cents.

— Theopolis Waters writes for Reuters from Chicago.

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