LIVESTOCK-Live cattle futures gain as slaughter rates, beef exports rise

By P.J. Huffstutter

CHICAGO, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Chicago Mercantile Exchange live cattle futures continued to rally on Thursday, holding to a nearly six-month peak in prices, as exports to China also grew, traders said.

China was a big buyer of U.S. beef in the latest week, with sales of 1,927 tonnes for the period through Aug. 6, the most since 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But a weekly U.S. government report showed that pork export sales to China were a net negative 8,978 tonnes after cancellations. That was the smallest weekly total since mid-May.

Beef slaughter rates continue to increase, traders said, and meatpackers are paying more for cattle due to the strength of the beef market. Demand and prices normally are higher heading into Labor Day, a major U.S. holiday for consumers to barbecue at home.

Prices for choice cuts of boxed beef rose $1.83, to $210.92 per cwt, while select cuts increased by $1.51, to $197.50 per cwt, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

CME October live cattle rose 0.575 cent to settle at 110.150 cents per pound, the highest price since March 4. September feeder cattle slipped 0.300 cent to 144.950 cents per pound.

Profit margins for beef processors continued to increase on Thursday, to $249.55 per head of cattle from $246.65 a day earlier, according to Denver-based livestock marketing advisory service HedgersEdge.com.

Traders said they would be closely watching for increased interest in U.S. meat exports in the coming days, after China on Thursday identified a Brazilian processor of chicken and pork as the source of chicken wings that tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

In the pork market, CME October lean hogs settled 0.750 cent higher at 52.350 cents per pound. (Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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