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LIVESTOCK-CME lean hogs end mixed, nearbys up on China export hopes

Karl Plume

CHICAGO, May 2 (Reuters) - U.S. lean hog futures ended mixed on Thursday, with nearby futures contracts building on strong gains in the previous session on expectations that China would soon sharply accelerate imports of U.S. pork.

Deferred contracts were pressed down by active spread trading that featured buying of June futures and selling of October and December.

The hog market remained keenly focused on U.S.-China trade talks, which U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called "productive" following meetings in Beijing this week. The talks are to resume next week in Washington, where some observers say a deal announcement is possible.

China is expected to substantially increase pork imports this year as its domestic hog herd has been thinned by African swine fever. But U.S. shipments remain impeded by steep import Chinese tariffs, imposed as part of a trade war between the two countries.

"If these tariffs indeed go away, like the trade is now firmly believing, and we settle this dispute with China, the market is sensing that very large shipments of pork will begin," said Dennis Smith, a broker for Archer Financial Services.

Many traders also expect goodwill purchases of U.S. goods, including pork, to be part of any trade deal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Thursday that 16,100 tonnes of U.S. pork was sold for export last week, down almost 60 percent from the prior four-week average. The sales included only a small amount sold to China.

But shipments of pork were on the rise, with 26,400 tonnes exported last week, up 2 percent from the prior four-week average, USDA data showed.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) June lean hogs settled 1.525 cents higher at 92.750 cents per pound. Spot May futures were down a penny at 86.100 cents, anchored by current cash hog prices that are in the low 80s.

Live cattle futures continued a recent slide as actively traded June futures dropped for an ninth straight session on technical selling and liquidation of long holdings by commodity funds.

Poor weather in large sections of the United States has also dampened demand for meat for outdoor grilling.

CME June live cattle futures settled down 0.200 cent at 113.675 cents per pound, its lowest since Dec. 4. August cattle ended down 0.800 cent at 110.175 cents per pound.

August feeder cattle were down 1.325 cents at 147.900 cents and September was down 1.800 at 148.500 cents.

(Reporting by Karl Plume; editing by Diane Craft)