CHICAGO (Dow Jones)--Chicago Mercantile Exchange live cattle closed mostly firm Thursday on cash cattle price optimism, buy stops and spreaders who bought October and February and sold December.

Lean hogs posted a flat-to-firm finish. Feeder cattle settled higher while pork bellies closed lower.

Live cattle vacillated at first after recent longs pocketed profits while market shorts covered positions in anticipation of this week's cash cattle price outcome.

A light number of cattle so far this week moved at $78 to $82 per hundredweight. Packer bids elsewhere hold at $81 against stubborn $84 to $85 asking prices. Fed cattle last week brought $79 to $82.

Also, a few traders also tweaked positions ahead of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's monthly cattle-on-feed report on Friday at 3 p.m. EDT. The following are analysts' estimated averages and range of estimates for the upcoming report:

Average Range of estimates of estimates On-feed in Oct. 100.3 99.0-101.2 Placed in Sept. 105.5 102.6-109.4 Marketed in Sept. 97.8 96.0-99.3

Meanwhile, several distant cattle months earlier slipped due to Chicago Board of Trade corn that unraveled in overnight trading that seeped into Thursday's session.

However, front-month cattle ultimately trended upward after October cleared this week's highs, which tripped buy stops. Modest buying interest provided December support that fizzed when the contract neared Wednesday's high of 85.85 cents.

Friday could bring pre-weekend position squaring and traders maneuvering before the federal government's cattle numbers. Some believe cash cattle may not change hands until after the release of Friday's cattle report.

Market participants will monitor Thursday evening CME statistics for potential deliveries before spot-October expires on Oct. 30.

October live cattle settled 55 points higher at 83.80 cents, and December closed up 7 points at 85.65 cents.

Feeder cattle ended firm on more buying after futures' jump on Wednesday and buy stops. Live cattle's run up and CME's rising feeder cattle index inspired bullish feeder cattle traders.

Spreaders also bought January and sold November.

October feeder cattle settled up 40 points at 94.12 cents, and November closed up 45 points at 94.60 cents.

Pork Complex

CME lean hogs settled flat to firm on buy stops and sporadic short covering. Some traders worked December/June bull spreads while others bought February and sold December on spreads.

Profit-taking upended lean hogs at first, which caused December and February to set off sell stops. Both contracts were already overbought chartwise and at bearish premiums to CME's hog index before the open.

Furthermore, prospective longs clung to the sidelines as they tried to figure out how to trade December that some argue has no connection to near-term market fundamentals. December on Thursday spent its first full day as the lead contract after October expired Wednesday.

Meanwhile, CBOT corn's tumble left far-month hog buyers flatfooted.

Nonetheless, lead hog contracts snapped back after shorts covered previously held positions. Subsequent advances ignited a spate of stops that nudged December and February to 2 1/2-month highs.

Deferred hog contracts later followed suit due to a smattering of speculative buying tied to the U.S. stock market that fluttered around the 10,000 mark throughout the morning.

Bullish and bearish hog traders agree that near-term fundamentals may have little bearing on spot-December because the contract's expiration is two months away.

However, market participants conceded that they will keep watch on late-Thursday's pork cutout price and monitor possible generally steady cash hog bids for Friday.

Both sides are expected to settle their business affairs on Friday before the weekend.

Those in the hog pit who trade CME live cattle eagerly await USDA's monthly cattle survey on Friday.

December hogs ended up 22 points at 54.47 cents a pound, and February finished up 45 points at 60.70 cents.

February pork bellies closed 105 points lower at 82.25 cents on profit taking and sell stops. Lack of sufficient buying interest and chart-related selling after February fell through key technical support exerted added spot-month pressure.

Other belly months were unquoted.

-By Theopolis Waters, Dow Jones Newswires; 312-341-5778;