‘Cliff’ fears drag on U.S. live cattle futures

Cash expectations cushion futures' fall

U.S. live cattle futures slumped as hope fades that the government would resolve the nation’s debt crisis before the year-end deadline, sending the stock market down sharply.

Consumer worries about going over the ‘fiscal cliff’ could dent domestic and global demand for expensive U.S. meats, said traders and analysts.

"Investors are skittish about what’s going on in Washington. The only thing that kept us from breaking more than we did was talk of a possibly higher cash cattle trade this week," a trader said.

Cash cattle bids surfaced in Kansas at $124 per hundredweight against sellers who priced their animals at $128 to $129, said feedlot sources. Nebraska live-basis cattle were bid at $123 versus $129 asking prices, they said (all figures US$).

There were no cash bids reported in Texas where feedlots priced cattle at $129 or more, one feedlot manager said.

Last week, cash cattle in the U.S. Plains fetched mostly $126.

Cash could draw support from fewer animals available for sale this week. But, packing plants will be closed at least one day next week for New Year’s, limiting their need for supplies.

Packers may also curb spending given their poor margins and signs that wholesale beef prices may top out soon.

The price for wholesale choice beef Thursday morning was $194.31 per hundredweight (cwt), up seven cents from Wednesday, and select cuts gained four cents to $179.23, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

HedgersEdge.com put the average beef packer margin for Thursday at a negative $57.55 per head, compared with a negative $50.85 on Wednesday and a negative $44.50 on Dec. 20.

CME live cattle spot December closed 0.5 cent per pound lower at 128.85 cents. Most-actively traded February ended at 133.05 cents, 0.725 cent lower.

Feeder cattle futures fell with the lower live cattle market and technical selling.

January closed 0.8 cent/lb. lower at 151.275 cents. March was down 1.125 cents to 153.75 cents.

Hogs bow to Wall Street, cash sentiment

CME hogs dropped in response to the Wall Street selloff and lower cash hog price sentiments, said traders and analysts.

Investors also played it close to vest before USDA’s quarterly hogs report on Dec. 28 (Friday).

Packers have all the hogs they need for this week’s slaughter, and plants will be dark New Year’s Day, said traders.

They said processors are less likely to raise bids for hogs in the near term while operating their plants in the red.

And hogs are on the move to packing plants in the eastern Midwest after some farms were briefly snowed in by Thursday’s winter storm before heading to the Mid-Atlantic region.

USDA data Thursday morning showed the average hog price in the most-watched Iowa/Minnesota market up 27 cents/cwt from Wednesday to $80.83.

The average pork packer margin for Thursday was a negative 90 cents per head, compared with a positive 75 cents on Wednesday and a negative $2.10 on Dec. 20.

CME hogs for February settled 0.425 cent/lb. lower at 87.025 cents. April ended at 90.95 cents, off 0.525 cent.

– Theopolis Waters writes for Reuters from Chicago.

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