CHICAGO, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Chicago Mercantile Exchange cattle futures ended mostly lower on Thursday, with several key contracts notching new contract lows on nagging worries about the spread of coronavirus and its impact on global economic growth and demand for beef.
Commodity funds, which had recently built up a sizable net long position in live cattle futures, actively liquidated those positions amid a broader flight from risk by investors as global stocks and oil prices tumbled and U.S. Treasury yields hit record lows.
Cattle traders are worried that the spread of the virus, which has infected around 80,000 people worldwide and killed more than 2,700, could dent consumer beef purchases and slow restaurant traffic.
Those demand concerns, coupled with adequate supplies of market-ready cattle, have already dragged down cash market prices this week as fed cattle traded at $115 per cwt at southern Plains feedlot markets, down $5 from a week ago.
“Ready cattle numbers are declining but they are still the highest since 2013. So the packer has more cattle to work with but the question remains whether he can sell the beef. This coronavirus suggests maybe not,” said Alan Brugler, president of Brugler Marketing & Management.
CME April live cattle ended down 1.875 cents at 110.475 cents per pound after setting a contract low of 109.350 cents earlier in the session. June 2020 futures and the April and June 2021 contracts also posted life-of-contract lows.
Feeder cattle futures were also mostly lower, even as corn prices fell. April feeders settled down 1.900 cents at 134.075 cents per pound.
Lean hog futures were also down sharply as pressure from tumbling outside markets overshadowed good weekly pork export sales and shipments data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA reported a net 38,922 tonnes of pork sold for export last week, an 11-week high. Exports of 42,547 tonnes, including 15,701 tonnes to China, represented the seventh straight week of shipments above 40,000 tonnes.
CME April lean hogs were down 2.600 cents at 62.550 cents per pound and June futures were down 2.350 cents at 78.050 cents.
Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Tom Brown