Hog futures in Chicago fell from an 8 1/2-month high Tuesday in what some traders and analysts say appears to be a sign the market’s recent rally has run its course and prices will drop further this month.
Heavy snowfall across much of the Midwest this week is expected to slow animal shipments to slaughterhouses, leading to a supply backup, said Jim Burns, an independent hog trader at CME Group. Additionally, Burns cited speculation South Korea may buy less pork in coming weeks after stepping up purchases following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the country’s livestock herd.
“I’d hate to call for a top” in hog futures, Burns said, “but today’s action makes you think it might be.” The “big elephant in the room,” Burns added, is how much U.S. pork South Korea may buy.
In today’s trading, April lean hog futures on CME Group fell 0.85 cent to 93.15 cents a pound, after reaching a life-of-contract high of 94.55 cents yesterday. February hogs fell 2.175 cents to 85.075 cents.
Yesterday, February hogs touched 87.6 cents, the highest price for a contract closest to expiration since mid-May. Also yesterday, June futures hit a contract high at $1.01.
South Korea is expected to boost pork imports after a foot-and-mouth outbreak forced a widespread cull of the nation’s livestock herd. About 2.5 million pigs, or a quarter of South Korea's herd, have been slaughtered to contain the outbreak since the disease was first reported November. South Korea will also drop a tariff on U.S. pork imported through June.
In November, South Korea imported 19.4 million pounds of U.S. pork, up 54 percent from October but down 28 percent from November 2009, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. South Korea was the fourth-largest foreign buyer of U.S. pork in 2010.
How much U.S. pork South Korea may purchase this year isn’t clear. While the outbreak has contributed to recent gains in hog futures, which are up 6.4 percent this year, some analysts say prices have risen higher than justified by supply and demand fundamentals.
Dennis Smith, an analyst with Archer Financial Services in Chicago, said February hog futures may slip as low as 80 cents before the contract expires later this month, noting concern over a lack of recent strength in wholesale loin prices.
February and April hog futures “have too much of a premium to cash,” Smith said in an e-mail today. “Without some real solid pork fundamentals, it appears the front end of the hog market has finally topped. Look for a downward correction against the uptrend likely starting today.”
On cash markets in Iowa and Minnesota, hogs averaged 77.67 cents a pound on a carcass basis earlier today, down 1.58 cents, according to USDA reports.
CME hog futures are still up about 32 percent over prices a year ago, and may have further upside, some other analysts say.
Today’s declines largely reflect some traders taking profits on long positions that made money as prices rose last month, said Jim Wyckoff, who analyzes chart patterns. The longer-term up-trend remains intact, Wyckoff said.
Bullish traders are “still strong, even if prices pull back a bit more this week,” Wyckoff said in an e-mail. He is president of JimWyckoff.com, a market analysis Web site.
For bullish traders, the next upside price objective is to push April futures above chart resistance at 96 cents, Wyckoff said. Bearish traders are aiming to send prices below “solid” technical support at 90 cents, he said.