U.S. lean-hog futures finished just below unchanged Wednesday, held back by uncertainty ahead of this Friday's quarterly government hog supply report, which some expect to be somewhat bearish on hog supplies. February lean hogs lost 0.1 cent, or 0.1%, to 87.45 cents a pound at the CME. April hogs slid up 0.17 cent, or 0.2%, to 91.47 cents a pound. Pressure in deferred contracts may be coming from worries that the USDA's quarterly hogs and pigs report due out Friday may indicate smaller sow liquidation than was expected during the peak of drought concerns.
Live-cattle futures finished narrowly higher Wednesday, supported by expectations of higher cash market prices to come in early January, as supplies of fed cattle tighten. December live-cattle futures settled up 0.17 cent, or 0.1%, to $1.2935 a pound at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Most-active February futures gained 0.55 cent, or 0.4%, to $1.3377 a pound. As the end of 2012 approaches, industry experts see a trend of selling of grain positions and buying in live-cattle futures.
U.S. wheat futures prices hit a fresh six-month low Wednesday, closing down 2% on a combination of technical selling and investors shedding risk. Traders cited profit-taking by managed funds and light holiday-season volume, sending March wheat futures at all three U.S. exchanges to new lows. The March contract ended down 19 1/4 cents, or 2.4%, at $7.74 1/2 a bushel at the Chicago Board of Trade. Kansas City Board of Trade March wheat dropped 20 cents, or 2.4%, to $8.24 1/2 a bushel, while MGEX March wheat finished down 12 1/4 cents, or 1.4%, at $8.69 a bushel.
US grain and soybean futures fell on end of year speculative profit taking and liquidation. Technical weakness and a general risk off trading mood weighed on futures throughout. Wheat led the declines, as the absence of fresh export demand despite recent price declines failed to encourage investor buying. With futures yet to settle, CBOT March soybeans is down 17 1/4c at $14.18 1/2/bushel, March corn is down 11c at $6.93 1/4, and March wheat is down 19 3/4c at $7.74.
Crude futures ended Wednesday 2.7% higher after concerns about Middle Eastern stability returned to the forefront, along with a solid report on U.S. housing prices. Crude futures settled up $2.37 to $90.98 per barrel, the highest settling price since Oct. 18. Brent futures gained $2.27 per barrel to $111.07. Low trading volumes are accentuating price movements, analysts said. Front-month reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled at $2.816 a gallon, up 6.5 cents. Heating oil settled $3.051 a gallon, up 4.9 cents.
Natural gas futures rallied in thin holiday volume Wednesday, as traders were encouraged by forecasts calling for below-normal temperatures in the coming weeks, likely boosting gas demand. Natural gas for January delivery settled 4.6 cents, or 1.4%, higher at $3.392 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract, which expires at the close of trading Thursday, got a boost as meteorologists called for a drop in temperatures in the coming weeks, signaling a likely boost in heating powered by natural gas.
Gold futures settled near the unchanged mark Wednesday, propped up by hopes for a more-successful round of talks on the so-called "fiscal cliff" in the U.S. and speculation about more monetary easing in Japan following elections there. The most actively traded gold contract, for February delivery, rose $1.20, or 0.1%, to settle at $1,660.70 a troy ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold trading was muted for a second session Wednesday, with London's gold-trading hub closed for the Boxing Day holiday. Trading in both London and New York was closed Tuesday for Christmas. This week's two days of low-volume trading have pushed the price just 60 cents from Friday's settlement.
Stocks fell for a third straight day on Wednesday, dragged lower by retail stocks after a report showed consumers spent less in the holiday shopping season than last year. The Dow Jones Industrials fell 24 points to close at 13114. The Nasdaq lost 22 points to close at 2990. The S&P 500 closed at 1419, off 6 points.