Chicago | Reuters — U.S. live cattle futures closed narrowly mixed on Thursday, with the benchmark April contract inching higher as strong wholesale beef prices continued to support the market, traders said.
Chicago Mercantile Exchange April live cattle settled up 0.075 cent at 122.7 cents/lb. (all figures US$). But front-month February futures ended lower, down 0.45 cent at 116 cents/lb., as traders waited to see where market-ready cattle trade this week in the cash market.
Feedlot operators were asking $114-$115/cwt for market-ready cattle in Kansas and Texas, traders said, while a few bids were quoted at $112. Fat cattle traded last week at around $110/cwt.
“There are still expectations for higher (cash) prices,” said Doug Houghton, analyst at Brock Capital Management. But he noted: “You’ve already got futures at a premium to cash, so there is some downside risk in the near term, if the cash does not come up as much as expected.”
Still, beef prices have been rising all month, supporting packers’ profit margins, and that trend continued on Thursday. Choice cuts of beef rose $2.33, to $231.99/cwt, and select cuts were up $1.89 at $220.88, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
CME feeder cattle futures closed mostly lower, with benchmark March down 0.275 cent at 139.8 cents/lb.
Hog futures closed mixed. Most-active April settled up 0.075 cent at 76.375 cents/lb., hovering just below a life-of-contract high set on Tuesday at 77.6 cents.
Front-month February hogs ended down 0.625 cent at 69.95 cents, pressured as traders rolled long positions forward ahead of the contract’s Feb. 17 expiration. Deferred contract months ended lower as well.
Weekly export data appeared supportive. USDA reported export sales of U.S. pork in the week ended Jan. 21 at 52,855 tonnes, with Mexico and China the biggest buyers.
— Julie Ingwersen is a Reuters commodities correspondent in Chicago.