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LIVESTOCK-Feeder cattle dip to contract lows on rising feed cost, sluggish beef demand

P.J. Huffstutter

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CHICAGO, May 16 (Reuters) - U.S. feeder cattle futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) dipped to new contract lows on Thursday as a rally in Chicago Board of Trade corn futures this week continued to signal rising feed costs and U.S. beef demand remains sluggish.

Cattle futures also faced headwinds from U.S. Department of Agriculture news on Thursday that U.S. net sales of beef for 2019 were 16,900 metric tonnes for the week ended May 9, down 30 percent from the previous week and 22 percent from the prior four-week average.

But feeder cattle futures were able to end the day slightly higher, thanks in part to technical buying, traders said.

August feeder cattle ended the day up 1.05 cent to 143.325 cents per pound and September feeder cattle ended up 1 cent at 144.225 cents.

Live cattle futures also closed modestly higher on Thursday, continuing to narrow their discount to the cash market.

CME June live cattle futures settled up 0.800 cent at 110.475 cents per pound and August live cattle rose 0.975 cent at 107.950 cents per pound.

Cash cattle traded in Nebraska near $117 per cwt on Thursday, one trader said, steady for this week and down about $3 from last week. However, feedlots are now wrestling with whether they may be forced to accept lower bids of $115, given the weakness in the cash market, say traders.

"The feedlots are full and we have big supplies ahead of us," said Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities.

Meanwhile, U.S. lean hog futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) rose for a third day on Thursday, supported by ongoing expectations of increased demand for U.S. pork as African swine fever spreads in China's hog herd and elsewhere, traders said.

China's sow herd is being closely watched by the global livestock market, as an epidemic of incurable African swine fever kills millions of animals in the world's top pork producer.

CME June lean hog futures closed up 0.400 cent at 92.225 cents per pound on Thursday, while July lean hogs rose 0.475 cent to settle at 92.400 cents.

But traders said gains were capped by news that China had canceled 3,247 tonnes of U.S. pork - the biggest cancellation in more than a year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data released on Thursday.

USDA also reported Thursday that U.S. net sales of pork for 2019 were 10,500 tonnes for the week ended May 9, down 52 percent from the previous week and 55 percent from the prior four-week average.

China's cancellation came during the week ended May 9. Earlier this year, China canceled sales of 53 tonnes in the week ended Feb. 28, sales of 999 tonnes in the week ended March 21, and 214 tonnes in the week ended April 18, according to USDA data.

"The cancellation pressured the trade," said Dennis Smith, commodity broker with Archer Financial Services.

Meanwhile, hogs in the Iowa and southern Minnesota cash market rose by 70 cents on Thursday afternoon. (Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter Editing by James Dalgleish)

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