U.S. livestock: Hogs climb on strong pork exports, wholesale prices

Packer margins, wholesale beef prices support live cattle futures

Chicago | Reuters — U.S. lean hog futures rose on Thursday as bullish weekly U.S. pork export data and rising wholesale prices overshadowed worries about a slowdown in the U.S. hog slaughter pace backing up hog supplies, traders said.

“You’ve got a combination of export sales being strong (and) the wholesale market trading very firm as well because of tighter supplies,” said Altin Kalo, agricultural economist for Steiner Consulting.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange benchmark June lean hog futures settled up 3.425 cents at 58.95 cents/lb. (all figures US$).

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported export sales of U.S. pork in the week ended April 23 at 50,300 tonnes, a three-week high. China was the top buyer, booking 35,138 tonnes, while actual pork shipments to China totaled 20,683 tonnes, the most in five weeks.

Domestically, the U.S. pork cutout jumped by $9.99 on Thursday to $100.72/cwt, according to USDA, underscoring the impact of a drop in the daily hog slaughter as meat plants shutter due to the coronavirus infecting workers.

“We continue to lose slaughter capacity in the livestock sector as packers try to figure out labour (problems) amid the coronavirus outbreak,” Arlan Suderman, INTL FCStone’s chief commodity economist, wrote in a note to clients.

Slaughterhouses killed an estimated 288,000 hogs on Thursday, up from 266,000 on Wednesday but down from 361,000 head a week ago and 469,000 a year ago. Similarly, the daily cattle slaughter, at 80,000 head, was down from 84,000 a week ago and 123,000 a year ago, the USDA said.

CME live cattle futures closed higher, buoyed by soaring wholesale beef prices and robust packer profit margins.

The CME June live cattle contract settled up 1.675 cents at 85.95 cents/lb. and the August contract rose 1.325 cents at 92.1 cents. But CME August feeder cattle futures fell, with most-active August settling down 1.95 cents at 126.5 cents/lb.

USDA reported export sales of U.S. beef in the latest week at 9,400 tonnes, down 16 per cent from the previous week and 43 per cent from the prior four-week average.

Cash cattle trade has been very thin so far this week, with USDA reporting a few live trades at $95/cwt in the Texas Panhandle, compared to the previous week’s cash trend of $95-$100.

— Julie Ingwersen is a Reuters commodities correspondent in Chicago.

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