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U.S. livestock: Live cattle end higher on gains in cash

Chicago Mercantile Exchange live cattle futures closed higher in thin trading on Friday supported by stronger cash cattle prices, traders said.

Beef packers this week paid $132 per hundredweight (cwt) for cattle in the U.S. Plains, up $1 from last week’s trade, feedlot sources said. U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed some sales at $133/cwt in Nebraska, up $2 from the previous week.

Cash cattle prices have hovered at or near record levels in recent weeks. Longer term cash prices should find support from the small U.S. cattle herd and high beef prices.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Friday morning wholesale beef price, or boxed beef, was at $202.98/cwt for choice cuts, up 43 cents from Wednesday. Select cuts rose eight cents to $190.28/cwt. USDA was closed on Thursday’s holiday.

“The beef market is on fire. It is going up by leaps and bounds,” said Joe Ocrant, Oak Investment Group president.

The strength in the wholesale beef price is driven by grocers building up beef inventories after the Thanksgiving holiday, Ocrant said.

Traders have their eyes on the six- to 10-day weather forecast for the U.S. Midwest and Plains regions as extreme cold and wintry weather is expected there.

“Weather projections look extremely cold. If that is the case we could see weight come off these animals as they come into slaughter,” said Domenic Varricchio, commodities broker at Schwieterman, Inc.

Cattle weight gain can slow in cold weather as they eat to stay warm rather than to gain weight.

December cattle futures settled up 0.375 cent at 133.475 cents/lb. February cattle settled up 0.15 cent at 134.25 cents.

CME feeder cattle followed live cattle futures higher. Weak Chicago Board of Trade corn futures also lent support.

January feeder cattle settled up 0.15 cent at 165.475 cents/lb., while March settled up 0.525 cent at 165.675.

CME livestock futures traded in truncated sessions on Friday, closing at 12:15 p.m. CST.

CME hogs end mixed

CME hog futures settled narrowly mixed in light trading.

Front-month December traded at more than a four-cent premium to CME’s lean hog index of 80.97 cents which pressured the contract.

“That index is the biggest weight (on futures), they have to come together in three weeks,” Varricchio said.

Strength in the cash hog market lent some support to hog futures.

Cash hog prices, as reported by USDA in the closely watched Iowa/Minnesota direct market, jumped $3.24 on Friday morning to $83.24/cwt.

Hogs in the U.S. Midwest traded steady to $1 higher as packers booked supplies for next week, hog brokers said.

Some traders anticipate softer cash prices in coming weeks as record heavy hogs create ample pork in the meat pipeline.

Continued concerns regarding the spread of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), a fatal piglet disease, lent some support to deferred-month hogs. The disease could reduce hog supplies in 2014.

December hog futures closed down 0.125 cent at 85.675 cents/lb. February hogs closed up 0.1 cent at 90.575 cents.

— Meredith Davis reports on U.S. ag commodities for Reuters from Chicago.

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