U.S. live cattle gain on grain market uncertainty

By Christopher Walljasper

CHICAGO, April 29 (Reuters) - U.S. live cattle futures gained on Thursday, as mixed grain trade offered some relief for feed costs, while strong beef demand continued to support prices, traders said.

CME's June live cattle futures added 0.600 cent to 116.050 cents per pound, while August feeder cattle futures gained 0.975 cents to close at 149.875 cents per pound.

Beef demand remained strong, with choice beef cutouts adding $1.26 per cwt. to $293.76, while select cuts gained $0.79 to $279.79, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Export demand was also strong, as the USDA reported net sales of 23,600 tonnes, down 4% from the previous week, but up 22% from the prior 4-week average.

Even as consumer demand for beef strengthened, higher meat prices were not translating to better cash cattle trade, said Altin Kalo, economist at Steiner Consulting Group.

"It doesn’t matter how strong beef demand is, if the packer has already covered their needs for cattle for the week and you’re a feedlot that has over-finished cattle," he said. "you have no choice but to lower your asking prices in order to get your cattle scheduled."

Cash cattle trade was light in Kansas and moderate in parts of Nebraska and Texas, with cattle going for $118-$119 per cwt. The USDA said.

Cattle slaughter will need to continue at a high pace to wear down producer supplies, Kalo said.

"It’s going to take some good slaughter weeks," he said. ". There’s just no margin of error. All it takes is for one plant to go down a few days, and you're back to square one."

Meanwhile, U.S. lean hog futures eased as the cash market softened after climbing for nearly three months.

The CME's lean hog index, a two-day weighted average of cash prices, eased to $107.01 per cwt. its first step lower since February 3, 2021.

CME most-active June lean hogs lost 2.400 cents to 106.725 cents per pound.

Pork exports sales of 35,600 tonnes were down noticeably from the previous week, but up 59% from the prior 4-week average, the USDA said. (Reporting by Christopher Walljasper in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio)

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