Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) live cattle futures closed higher on Monday on a technical short-covering bounce after the steep slide of prices on Friday and the market showed a lack of momentum to the upside, traders said.
"We opened higher, turned down on liquidation and then bounced back so everybody is waiting to see where we go from here," said Jim Clarkson, a broker for A+A Trading Inc.
"The showlists (number of market ready fed cattle) are down substantially this week but the market still looks ugly to me."
CME February cattle were up 0.425 cent per pound at 126.875 cents and April cattle were up 0.225 cent at 130.35 cents (all figures US$).
Some position-squaring was noted after cattle futures tumbled on Friday following the U.S. government's projection of a big increase in beef production this year and on lower-than-expected prices for cash cattle.
Although the cattle futures market ended firm on Monday, traders and analysts said the market trend lacked conviction.
"Boxed beef continues to work lower and I think people just aren't spending money, that's doing it (weighing on cattle futures). It's more of a demand issue than oversupply issue," said Jack Salzsieder, analyst for K+S Financials.
"There's a lack of money flow into commodities from funds and when that happens markets usually go down."
Wholesale boxed beef prices had fallen sharply late on Friday but showed a partial recovery by Monday with choice carcasses up 0.27 cent/lb. at $182.39 per hundredweight (cwt) but select carcasses were down another 0.54 cent/lb. at $179.08.
"It was a disappointing technical close on Friday and fundamentally cash cattle in the Plains only trading steady was disappointing," said Dennis Smith, a broker for Archer Financial.
Some relief to the market followed the passage of a major winter snowstorm in the U.S. northeast that had kept consumers indoors, away from the retail meat counters and away from dining out at popular steak houses.
Also hopes for an easing of Russian meat import restrictions led to some support for cattle futures. Senior U.S. officials on Monday called on Russia to immediately restore market access for U.S. meat products.
However, the head of Russia's consumer safety watchdog told Interfax on Monday the Russian ban on U.S. beef, pork and turkey imports coming into effect this month is likely to last for a long time.
Deliveries on the February contract totaled 15. Rosenthal Collins Group issued the deliveries and ADM Investor Services stopped the deliveries.
Average beef packer margins on Monday were estimated at a negative $75.95 per head, down from a negative $61.45 on Friday and up from a negative $86.95 a week earlier, according to HedgersEdge.com.
Feeder cattle futures turned down in the nearby contracts on waning demand for young cattle to place on feed but deferred months were up on falling Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) corn futures.
The lower corn prices and outlooks for a record U.S. corn crop this year that could drop prices further helped encourage increased demand for feeder cattle due to the potential for lower feeding costs.
CME feeder cattle for March were down 0.2 cent/lb. at 144.8 cents and April was up 0.425 at 148.625.
Hog futures mixed amid uncertainty
CME hog futures were mixed with nearby months firm on spreads due to short-covering amid oversold technicals and deferred months fell on poor profit margins in the hog feeding business.
Traders said there was a good deal of uncertainty in the hog futures market and many were adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
"We're at a discount to cash, everyone thinks cash will fall this week so they're just waiting to see," Clarkson said.
Cash hogs around the U.S. Midwest traded 50 cents to $1/cwt lower on Monday as poor packer margins limited demand, dealers said.
Dealers expect a softer market this week as packers continue to lower their bids due to sinking cash margins.
Average pork packer margins on Monday were estimated at a negative $13.70 per head, up from a negative $15.35 on Friday and down from a negative $8.15 a week earlier, according to HedgersEdge.com.
CME February hogs were up 0.45 cent/lb. at 86.9 cents and April was up 0.25 at 86.375.
-- Sam Nelson
covers the futures markets in Chicago for Reuters.