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LIVESTOCK-Cattle futures retreat as coronavirus surge stokes demand worries

By Karl Plume

CHICAGO, Nov 18 (Reuters) - U.S. cattle futures fell on Wednesday as rising coronavirus infection rates stoked concerns about potential supply-chain disruptions and reduced demand for beef as health restrictions shutter restaurants and discourage travel.

U.S. stocks dove on Wednesday as investors weighed surging COVID-19 infections and mounting shutdowns against encouraging vaccine developments.

An April plunge in cattle futures to decade lows during the first U.S. coronavirus spike remains fresh in traders' minds.

"The whole livestock complex is concerned about another shutdown," said Craig VanDyke, analyst with Top Third Ag Marketing. "It's a problem for the protein sector."

Chicago Mercantile Exchange December live cattle dropped 0.675 cent to 110.650 cents per pound, while actively traded February futures fell 0.425 cent to 113.150 cents per pound. January feeder cattle tumbled 2.425 cents to 137.300 cents per pound.

Wholesale beef prices remain firm, but investors fear the rise could be short-lived.

"They're loading up right now, tying to store as much as they can and then see what happens. If there's a slowdown in the chain, they'll then still have product to move," VanDyke said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said the choice boxed beef cutout jumped $2.12 on Wednesday to $235.84 per cwt, the highest since June.

Disappointing cash cattle sales at central and southern Plains feedlot markets added pressure to futures.

A small number of cattle traded at Plains feedlots at $110 per cwt, steady with the top trades last week. Firm packer bids earlier in the week had initially fueled hopes that cash prices would be higher this week.

Lean hog futures ended mixed on Wednesday as traders weighed potential COVID-19 disruptions, export prospects and weak cash hog and pork prices.

December lean hogs settled at 65.800 cents per pound while actively traded February ended at 65.900 cents per pound, both up 0.275. Deferred contracts were down as much as 0.550 cent.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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