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LIVESTOCK-CME hogs lower as rally pauses; cattle firm, weather in focus

By Julie Ingwersen

CHICAGO, April 8 (Reuters) - Chicago Mercantile Exchange lean hog futures closed mostly lower on Monday as softening cash hog prices sparked a round of profit-taking after Friday's contract highs, traders said.

"Cash prices stopped moving higher at a rapid clip, so everyone is taking a step back," said Altin Kalo, agricultural economist for New Hampshire-based Steiner Consulting.

Most-active CME June lean hog futures settled down 0.825 cent to close at 98.150 cents per pound, pausing after a month-long rally lifted the contract to a peak of 99.825 cents on Friday. April lean hogs settled down 0.425 cent at 78.600 cents.

Expectations of increased U.S. pork export demand tied to African swine fever in China's hog herd continued to underpin the market, especially after China reported a new outbreak of the highly contagious hog disease.

Traders were looking ahead to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's weekly export sales report on Thursday for evidence of fresh sales.

"Everybody knows China's hog numbers are down. The only way for us to truly measure that is out of (U.S. export) demand," said Steve Georgy, president of Allendale Inc.

"We've been disappointed now for the last three weeks, expecting to see big sales," Georgy said, noting that the USDA reported U.S. pork sales in the week to March 28 at 10,800 tonnes, about half the previous week's total.

CME live cattle futures ended higher in range-bound trade as brokers waited to see how a winter storm headed for the U.S. Plains and Midwest at midweek unfolds.

Forecasts called for the storm to drop 6 to 12 inches of snow, with a few local amounts of 18 inches, on parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Commodity Weather Group said in a note to clients.

"As we get closer to this storm, is it rain or snow, or what? That is going to be the primary focus as we go into this next couple days," Georgy said.

Cattle feedlots in parts of the Plains have already been struggling with poor weather and muddy conditions for weeks.

"They keep getting hammered. It's tough to keep weights on, and it seems like it's going to get tougher," Georgy said, adding that lighter-weight cattle could restrict beef supplies and support cattle futures.

April live cattle futures finished down 0.250 cent at 125.800 cents per pound while the actively traded June contract rose 0.225 cent at 120.575 cents.

April feeder cattle futures settled up 0.575 cent at 146.725 cents per pound while May feeders rose 0.350 cent at 150.575. (Reporting by Julie Ingwersen Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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