Chicago Mercantile Exchange live cattle settled up their 3.000 cent per pound daily price limit on Thursday, fueled by short-covering following stronger-than-expected cash prices, said traders.

Fund buying and futures' discounts to this week's cash returns enhanced market gains, they said.

June and August closed limit up at 127.425 and 124.700 cents, respectively. Live cattle's limit will expand to 4.500 cents on Friday.

Market-ready, or cash, cattle on Thursday in the U.S. Plains brought $135 to $137 per cwt, up from $132 to $133 a week ago.

"I guess we found out packers needed more cattle than we thought," said Domenic Varricchio, a broker with Schwieterman Inc.

Impressive profits allowed packers to pay more for cattle for delivery next week - the first full week of production after Monday's Memorial Day holiday, a trader said.

He said people are surprised that beef cutout values are hovering well above $200 per cwt, despite retailers planning to feature more less-costly pork and chicken for summer grilling demand.

Thursday morning's average wholesale beef price was up 4 cents per cwt to $245.58 from Wednesday. Select cuts dropped $1.08 to $217.10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

The average beef packer margins on Thursday were a positive $163.25 per head, up from a positive $147.00 last week, as calculated by HedgersEdge.com.

Live cattle future's limit-up move drove CME feeder cattle up their 4.500-cent limit.

August feeders ended limit up at 157.075 cents per pound. CME's feeder cattle limit will increase to 6.750 cents. 

Hog Futures Finish Lower

Profit-taking and Thursday morning's lower cash price undercut CME lean hogs, said traders.

Some investors sold June futures, which will expire on June 14, and simultaneously bought deferred months in a trading strategy known as bear spreads.

A few market participants sold bearish lean hog contracts and at the same time purchased bullish live cattle futures.

June closed 1.000 cent per pound lower at 80.925 cents. July ended 0.900 cent lower at 82.125 cents, and earlier spiked to a new contract high of 83.525 cents.

Thursday morning's average cash hog price in the western corn belt was $73.01 per cwt, $2.02 lower than on Wednesday, the USDA said.

A few processors might have enough inventory for an expected big Saturday slaughter, a trader said. But highly profitable packer margins, tight supplies and good pork demand suggest processors will again compete for supplies soon, he added.