LIVESTOCK-U.S. live cattle futures end firm, led by rising beef prices

By Julie Ingwersen

CHICAGO, Jan 25 (Reuters) - U.S. live cattle futures closed higher on Monday as support from strong wholesale beef prices and expectations of firm cash cattle prices overshadowed pressure from bearish data in a monthly cattle report released late Friday, traders said.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange April live cattle futures settled up 0.425 cent at 122.950 cents per pound.

Boxed beef cutout values continue to strengthen, with choice cuts up $3.91 at $226.73 per cwt on Monday afternoon and select cuts up $2.87 at $216.21, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Packer margins for cattle are hovering around $300 per head, according to Denver-based livestock marketing advisory service LLC, fueling expectations of strong cash trade this week after market-ready cattle traded at around $109 to $110 per cwt last week.

"The packer continues to make good margins and beef continues to move aggressively," said Don Roose, president of Iowa-based U.S. Commodities.

The USDA late on Friday reported U.S. cattle feedlot placements for December at 101% of a year ago, above an average of analyst expectations for 97%.

The larger-than-expected figure pressured cattle futures in early moves, but traders soon shifted their focus to rising beef prices.

The USDA's cattle-on-feed report "pushed us down early. But it's a look backwards, almost a month old, so we didn't pay as much attention to it," Roose said.

However, CME March feeder cattle futures ended modestly lower on Monday, finishing down 0.300 cent at 143.850 cents per pound as corn futures rallied, signaling higher feed costs.

CME lean hog futures edged higher, with the benchmark April contract settling up 0.475 cent at 76.625 cents per pound. The spot February contract rose 0.700 cent to 70.625 cents per pound.

A winter storm crossing the Midwest on Monday lent support, threatening to slow the movement of animals.

After Monday's close, the USDA's monthly cold storage report showed U.S. Dec. 31 frozen beef stocks at 534.297 million pounds, up 11% from a year ago, and frozen pork belly stocks at 30.715 million pounds, down 54% from this time last year.

(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen)

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