CHICAGO (Dow Jones)--Short-covering and Friday's bullish U.S. Department of Agriculture cattle report rallied Chicago Mercantile Exchange live cattle Monday.

Live-cattle traders responded favorably to Friday's USDA monthly cattle-on-feed survey. The data quoted a much smaller March cattle-placement figure than expected and showed the April 1 feedlot population at a six-year low.

Brisk wholesale beef movement and still-profitable beef packer profit margins contributed to futures' advances and generated confidence about this week's cash-cattle price prospects.

Processors bought cash-basis cattle last week mainly at $99 to $99.50 per hundredweight. The bulk the fed cattle the week before sold for $98 to $100.

The U.S. government's Monday afternoon boxed-beef price data, which tracks wholesale beef values, showed choice cuts increased an extra $1.38 per hundredweight, and select items tacked on another $0.64.

Operating margin index for beef packers for Friday was plus $45.50 per head, compared with plus $46.25 Thursday, as calculated by

Spreaders bought August live cattle and sold June and December. And some traders bought December and sold April on spreads.

Spreads consist of the simultaneous trade of two or more contracts with the intent to capitalize on the price differences between them.

Spot-April live cattle closed up 0.30 cent, or 0.3%, at 99.52 cents a pound. Most-actively traded June finished 0.67 cent higher, or 0.7%, at 95.50 cents.

Feeder cattle at the CME ended higher on short-covering and live cattle's upturn. Spot-April and nearby-May were at discounts or in line with the exchange's feeder-cattle index, which lured would-be bulls.

Also, April and May tripped buy orders after both months surpassed key technical-resistance impediments.

Nearby-April feeders ended up 0.80 cent, or 0.7%, at 113.00 cents. Most-actively traded May closed 1.17 cents, or 1.0%, higher at 113.75 cents.

Pork Complex

Technical damage after Friday's CME hogs' debacle and uncertainty about near-term market fundamentals exerted additional futures pressure Monday.

Lean hogs begin the morning mixed after follow-through selling from Friday's steep market fall ran into short-covering and the notion that last week's board losses were unwarranted.

However, insufficient buying interest and low volume allowed most-actively traded June to drop beneath Friday's low and under the 20-day-moving-average support level. July followed suit after it gave up 10 and 20-day-moving-average support turf.

And despite stronger-than-anticipated cash-hog quotes, some believed wholesale pork price weakness late Friday was a sign that retailers might be reluctant to buy fresh pork at current prices.

Nonetheless, speculative buyers were chomping at the bit to buy lean hogs on breaks due to impressive pork packer margins and reduced hog supplies at a time when cooking outdoors is starting to heat up.

Traders sold June and July and bought May on spreads. Other spreaders sold July and bought August.

Nearby-May settled at 86.82 cents a pound, down 0.57 cent or 0.7. Most-actively traded June closed 0.90 cent, or 1.1%, lower at 84.27 cents. July finished 1.22 cents, or 1.4%, lower at 84.72 cents.

Pork bellies at the CME finished mixed due to leftover selling versus short-covering.

CME's weekly belly-storage report will be released Tuesday after 5 p.m. EDT.

Spot-May finished down 0.15 cent, or 0.2%, at 95.10 cents. Nearby-July closed up 0.25 cent, or 0.3%, at 97.00 cents.

-By Theopolis Waters; Dow Jones Newswires; 312-347-4965;