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LIVESTOCK-Cattle, hog futures firm as U.S. stimulus plan fuels optimism

By Julie Ingwersen

CHICAGO, March 8 (Reuters) - Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) live cattle futures firmed on Monday, recovering from a seven-week low hit last week, on optimism that the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill will spur the U.S. economy and bolster demand for meat, traders said.

CME April live cattle futures settled up 0.325 cent at 119.350 cents per pound, with June up 1.150 cents at 119.150 cents a pound.

CME April feeder cattle futures settled 0.650 cent higher at 139.675 cents per pound.

Traders shook off pressure from expectations of lackluster cash cattle trade this week and softening wholesale beef prices.

"The market is trying to push through that, and look more toward this stimulus. And, we are getting closer to grilling season," said Don Roose, president of Iowa-based U.S. Commodities.

After the stimulus bill won U.S. Senate approval on Saturday, President Joe Biden said he hoped for quick passage by the House of Representatives so he could sign it and send $1,400 direct payments to Americans.

Hog futures also firmed on hopes that the COVID-19 relief bill would spur consumer demand.

Most-active CME April lean hog futures ended up 0.125 cent at 87.300 cents per pound on Friday, hovering below a life-of-contract high of 90.675 cents on Feb. 25.

Optimism about export demand for U.S. pork lent support as China, the world's biggest pork consumer, struggles to stamp out African swine fever in its massive hog herd.

China imported 1.6 million tonnes of meat in the first two months of the year, customs data showed on Sunday, up 27.6% from the same period a year earlier.

China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said it will crack down further on illegal production and sales of African swine fever vaccines. Industry insiders believe that use of illicit vaccines has caused a new, chronic form of the disease that is more difficult to detect.

Meanwhile, Canada's Olymel LP began to gradually reopen its Red Deer, Alberta, pork processing plant on March 4 after a temporary closure due to COVID-19 infections, a spokesman said.

(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen; editing by Richard Pullin)

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