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U.S. cattle slip amid cash caution

U.S. live cattle futures fell on Wednesday as cautious investors awaited trading in this week’s cash markets, said analysts and traders.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) October and December live cattle drifted below their 10-day moving averages of 123.54 and 126.35 cents per pound, triggering light fund selling (all figures US$).

Spot October closed down 0.2 cent to 123.075 cents/lb. and December settled down 0.35 cent, at 126.025 cents.

Live cattle initially slipped on profit-taking after recent gains, a trader said. Wednesday’s quiet session also reflected nervousness about cash cattle as packers work to improve their margins by cutting slaughter rates, he said.

Packers bid $121 per hundredweight (cwt) for cattle while sellers priced their animals at $125, said feedlot sources. Cattle traded at $123 last week and analysts predict steady to lower prices this week.

The average beef packer margin for Wednesday was a negative $32.75 per head, compared with a negative $44.95 on Tuesday and a negative $38.50 for Sept. 26, according to HedgersEdge.com.

So far this week, packers processed 372,000 cattle, down 4,000 from a week earlier and 23,000 less than a year earlier.

Thinly-traded CME spot October feeder cattle settled at 145.3 cents/lb., down 0.075 cent, weighed by the weaker live cattle market and by spreading out of that month into deferred contracts.

Feeder cattle futures drew some support from higher cash feeder cattle prices at the closely watched Oklahoma City market and from weak corn prices, which could improve feedlot demand for younger cattle.

November feeder cattle closed up 0.3 cent to 146.8 cents/lb. and January finished 0.425 cent higher at 149.575 cents.

Hogs mostly lower

Aside from October hog futures, which rose on support from higher cash hog value, other contracts were lower on profit-taking and spreading pressure, traders and analysts said.

"A little better grain prices mean hogs will stick around a little longer and that’s unwinding those bear spreads," said Citigroup futures specialist Sterling Smith.

CME October hogs closed 0.875 cent/lb. higher, at 80.025 cents.

Most-actively traded December ended 0.975 cent lower at 75.875 cents and February finished down 1.25 cents, at 81.75 cents.

Wednesday morning the average hog price in the closely watched Iowa/Minnesota market was $80.87/cwt, up $1.85 from Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

From Monday to Wednesday, the hog slaughter totaled 1.299 million hogs, 10,000 fewer than a week earlier but 20,000 more compared with a year earlier.

HedgersEdge estimated the average pork packer margin for Wednesday at positive $6.35 per head, compared with positive $3.15 on Tuesday and a positive $8.05 for Sept. 26.

— Theopolis Waters writes for Reuters from Chicago.

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