LIVESTOCK-US feeder cattle futures rally from six-month low
* Weaker corn, short covering lend futures support * Feeders' climb lifts live cattle from session lows * Feb hogs firm into expiration, others fall on cash By Theopolis Waters CHICAGO, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Chicago Mercantile Exchange feeder cattle futures closed higher on Thursday, as they bounced back from a six-month low earlier in the day on technical buying and later short-covering, traders and analysts said. Traders and analysts attributed the rebound to weaker prices for corn that could help reduce input costs for feedlot operators. Early-session losses dropped CME's feeder cattle Relative Strength Index (RSI) to 27.71. A market is considered technically oversold with an RSI below 30. "This thing was oversold and needed a good bounce," said R.J. O'Brien floor manager James Brooks. March ended 1.325 cents per lb higher at 142.675 cents. April closed at 146.225 cents, up 1.275 cents. Both contracts recovered after tumbling to contract lows of 139.175 and 143.075 cents, respectively. The market's recovery on Thursday halted an eight-day skid caused by the lower live cattle market and extremely poor feedlot margins that reduced demand for younger cattle. LIVE CATTLE UP WITH FEEDERS CME live cattle finished higher amid short-covering after feeder cattle futures erased morning losses, analysts and traders said. Live cattle market advances beat back initial selling tied to lower cash cattle prices. Lukewarm domestic beef demand and disappointing exports also pressured futures at the start. Cash cattle sales appear to be done for the week at $123 per cwt, $2 lower than a week ago, feedlot sources said. Despite the number of cattle available for sale being down 17,000 head from last week, increased cattle weights suggest producers were not current in moving cattle to market, said KIS Futures Vice President Lane Broadbent. U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed beef exports last week at a net 7,300 tonnes, mostly to Canada, compared with 9,700 tonnes the previous week. USDA put the wholesale price for choice beef on Thursday at $183.53 per cwt, down 15 cents from Wednesday; select cuts gained 28 cents to $179.60. Packers avoided spending more for cattle by trimming slaughter rates, which could help improve their margins and boost wholesale beef values. From Monday to Thursday, packers slaughtered 472,000 head of cattle, down 4,000 from a week earlier and 10,000 less than a year ago. A few packing plants will be idle on Monday for the Presidents' Day holiday. An estimated 104,000 cattle were processed during the holiday a year ago, according to USDA. HedgersEdge.com put the average beef packer margin for Thursday at a negative $69.25 per head, compared with a negative $73.95 on Wednesday and a negative $65.70 on Feb. 7. FEB HOGS RISE, OTHERS DOWN CME spot February hogs, which expired at noon CST, settled up 0.200 cent per lb at 87.675 cents. It finished at a modest discount to CME's lean hog index at 88.96 cents. Lower cash hog bids and sluggish wholesale pork demand pressured remaining hog futures contracts, analysts and traders said. April, the new lead contract, ended at 84.325 cents, down 1.475 cents. June closed down 1.450 cents to 92.700 cents. Pork plants are less eager to buy hogs at higher prices given their unprofitable margins and inability to move fresh pork, despite expectations for increased ham demand for Easter. "Demand is killing everything," said independent hog futures trader Bill Cipolla. USDA showed the average price for hogs in the most-watched Iowa/Minnesota market Thursday at $82.48 per cwt, $1.54 lower than on Wednesday. The average pork packer margin for Thursday was a negative $16 per head, compared with a negative $9.50 on Wednesday and a negative $16.35 on Feb. 7, said HedgersEdge.com. Packers processed 1.678 million hogs from Monday to Thursday, 2,000 less than a week earlier and 4,000 fewer than for the same period a year ago, according to USDA. Monday's holiday could reduce that day's hog slaughter by about 50,000 head, an industry analyst said.