Hog Futures Slide, Cattle Mixed

Lean hog futures slid Friday as traders booked profits on gains made this week.

April lean hog futures fell 0.9 cents, or 1.2%, to 69.050 cents a pound at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the third consecutive day of decline. Prices still ended the week up higher after advancing on Monday and Tuesday.

Traders sold as underlying strength in hog futures appeared to falter, with cash sales, wholesale pork prices and slaughter numbers trending down.

But some are bracing for a boon to the hog market as a bird flu outbreak in China, which is thought to be among the largest in years, severely depletes poultry supply and creates an opening for U.S. pork exports.

The live cattle futures trade was mixed Friday, with traders facing pressure to sell as prices edged towards a year high. CME April live cattle futures closed up 0.1% at $1.19325, marking an advance of 1.725 cents for the week.

Futures have gained around seven cents in less than five weeks as a rally in beef prices encouraged packers to buy more cattle on the cash market while their margins are good.

But beef prices last year peaked on March 17, and some analysts say they may do the same again soon. Boxed beef rose over a dollar to $2.22 a pound Thursday, though packer margins slipped. The HedgersEdge processing margin index fell to $117.05 a head, the lowest this week.

Grain and soybean futures were mixed Friday as traders tested appetite for buying in a quiet session.

Corn and wheat futures both locked in small gains while soybeans slid. Analysts said prices are at bargain levels after all contracts shed significant value in a sell-off the previous week, though pessimistic indicators continue to weigh on the market.

But trading volume fell notably from Thursday, as “market participants focus on NCAA brackets and green beer,” said Doug Bergman, director of the agricultural trading desk at RCM Alternatives.

Corn prices gained last week on the back of strong demand, though global stockpiles remain high. U.S. exports came in above expectations while China, which already has large supplies of the grain, was rumored to shopping for American corn. May corn futures rose 0.4% to $3.67 1/2 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Wheat futures ended Friday’s session up 0.1% at $4.36 1/4 a bushel, with weather concerns about the U.S. crop encouraging traders to buy the grain in case of disruption to the harvest.

A weaker dollar and rising crude oil prices also helped support higher grain prices.

Soybean prices, however, resumed a decline started the previous week after a small bump yesterday. Soybean farmers are facing what is expected to be a challenging year as large Brazilian and Argentine harvests challenge the U.S.’s competitiveness. CBOT May soybean futures fell 0.2% to $10.00 a bushel.

Crude futures settled slightly higher Friday, following a turbulent period when resilient output from the U.S. and uncertainty over OPEC’s commitment to production cuts kept investors cautious.

U.S. crude futures settled up 3 cents, or 0.06%, at $48.78 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent, the global benchmark, was unchanged at $51.74 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.

While oil prices haven’t regained the ground they lost during the previous

week’s dramatic selloff, they have steadied, posting a 0.6% increase this week and snapping a two-week losing streak.

Gasoline futures rose 0.47 cent, or 0.29%, to $1.5989 a gallon. Diesel futures rose 0.42 cent, or 0.28%, to $1.5085 a gallon.

Natural-gas prices rose Friday, as lingering cold weather continued to raise the prospect of greater demand.

Natural gas for April delivery settled up 4.6 cents, or 1.59%, at $2.948 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The move higher comes after steep losses on Thursday.

Many market participants are looking past a slightly smaller-than-expected withdrawal from storage reported in federal data on Thursday, anticipating that frigid temperatures and snow this week may result in an unseasonably large withdrawal in next week’s data. Natural-gas stockpiles now stand 9.5% below last year but are still well above the five-year average.

Natural gas is used in half of all U.S. homes for heating, making winter weather a primary driver of demand and price.

Net bullish bets on gold by hedge funds and speculative investors fell to the lowest level since the beginning of the year, according to CFTC data. Bullish bets outnumbered bearish bets by 49,835 contracts in the week ended Tuesday, down from 93,893 the previous week. Investors have been fleeing from gold as expectations for a rate increase mounted in March, but prices rebounded after the Federal Reserve meeting. Gold rose to a two-week high in its largest one-week gain since February 3, closing at $1,230.20 a troy ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Investors poured money into government bonds and dividend-paying stocks Friday, pushing major indexes to weekly gains.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 19.93 points, or 0.1%, to 20914.62 on Friday, while the S&P 500 fell 3.13 points, or 0.1%, to 2378.25, and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.24 point, or less than 0.01%, to 5901.00. U.S. stocks ended the week higher, with the Dow industrials up 0.1% and the S&P 500 gaining 0.2%.

A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.