U.S. cattle futures eased on Monday, with live cattle shedding 2 percent and feeders dropping for the fourth time in the last five sessions in a technical selloff, traders and analysts said.
Investors continued to take profits on long positions as cattle declined from their more than one-year highs on May 4. Expectations that wholesale beef prices were nearing a seasonal peak has weighed on futures and cash cattle in the last week.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said choice-grade beef was up $1.71 to $249.40 per cwt, the highest in about 22 months. Rising retailer demand for meat ahead of the U.S. Memorial Day on May 29 - the unofficial start of summer outdoor grilling season - has buoyed beef prices for more than a month.
"The bottom line is that trade is obviously questioning the length of time cash beef can hold up at current prices," Allendale analyst Rich Nelson said.
Chicago Mercantile Exchange June live cattle finished down 2.725 cents at 122.450 cents per pound, settling at the lowest levels since April 28. August live cattle nearly fell by their 3.000-cent daily price limit, settling 2.975 cents lower at 118.800.
CME August feeder cattle declined 2.550 cents to 149.275 cents per pound.
There were fears that cash cattle could fetch lower prices for the second straight week at U.S. Plains feedlots, in what could signal a seasonal top in cattle markets.
But China on Friday said it could start importing U.S. beef by mid-July for the first time since 2003, boosting futures. "Commodity markets have been known to live or die by the word 'China,'" INTL FCStone said in a client note.
Hogs Narrowly Mixed
Lean hog futures were narrowly mixed in bear-spreading, with nearby contracts declining and deferred months rising slightly. Most-active June hogs settled 0.700 cent lower at 77.250 cents per pound and July ended down 0.250 cent at 78.350.
Cash hog prices in the top market of Iowa and southern Minnesota were up 60 cents at $69.94 per cwt, the USDA said after the closing of futures trading. Wholesale pork gained 68 cents to $83.97 per cwt.