LIVESTOCK-U.S. hog futures hit 17-1/2-year low, cattle sink as virus measures disrupt markets

CHICAGO, April 3 (Reuters) - U.S. hog futures fell on Friday to the lowest point since late 2002 on tumbling pork prices and slowing slaughter rates as measures to control the coronavirus pandemic shuttered schools and restaurants and sent U.S. unemployment rates soaring.

Cattle futures also dropped as wholesale beef and cash feedlot cattle prices plunged as scores of restaurants and food service companies, a major outlet for beef, remain closed across the country.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) live cattle notched their steepest weekly percentage drop in nearly two years while lean hog futures notched a 31% weekly decline, the steepest on record going back more than 41 years.

The U.S. economy shed 701,000 jobs in March, abruptly ending a historic 113 straight months of employment growth.

More than 1 million people have been reported infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and more than 54,000 have died, including more than 6,000 Americans, according to a Reuters tally.

“Everybody is just fear, fear, fear right now,” said Jeff French, analyst with Top Third Ag Marketing.

“Packers are starting to slow the kill chain and we cannot back up animals right now ... The packers just have nowhere to go with the meat.”

CME April lean hog futures ended down 4.475 cents at 40.225 cents per lb, the lowest for a spot contract since October 2002. Most-active June settled at 48.325 cents, down by the expanded 4.5-cent limit.

April live cattle were down the 4.5-cent limit at 88.325 cents per pound, while actively traded June futures finished at 80.850 cents, down 2.225 cents and the lowest for a June contract in 11 years.

May feeder cattle futures ended at 111.650 cents a pound, one of five contracts that ended down the expanded daily limit of 6.75 cents.

The trading limits for all three commodities will remain at their expanded levels of 4.5 cents on Monday for live cattle and lean hogs, and 6.75 cents for feeders. (Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)