Pricier pork chops helped halt a three-day slide in Chicago hog futures. Still, some traders are loath to load up their plates as the summer winds down.
Lean hog futures for August delivery rose 0.5 cent to 81.7 cents a pound today, while October futures rose 0.775 cent to 74.075 cents. Prior to today, the October contract tumbled as much as 8.6 percent from a contract high of 80.075 cents Aug. 2. The August contract expires Friday.
Futures bounced back today amid strength in the wholesale pork market, particularly for loins, which are cut into chops, traders said.
Primal loins yesterday surged 5.12 cents to 99.43 cents a pound, a two-month high, according to USDA data. Loins reached $1.01 a pound earlier today, the USDA said.
While pork prices remain strong, some traders and analysts are already waving goodbye to this summer’s hog market rally. Pork supplies probably will increase because hog slaughter typically climbs from a summer lull starting in late August, analysts say.
Additionally, pork prices are too high in light of unimpressive demand, said Jim Burns, an independent trader in CME Group’s lean hog futures pit.
“The trend is down,” Burns said today. “We just don’t have the demand. We had the shortage aspect of it, but we didn’t have the demand to sustain it.”
“We’re going to be killing more and more hogs in the weeks ahead, and we have more meat coming down the pipe,” Burns said.
Burns said he expects October futures to decline another 5 cents or so. “We’re going to put a ‘6’ in front of it,” he said. “I think we’re going to see 69 cents” a pound.
A Midwest heat wave that discouraged hog shipments contributed to lower slaughter in recent weeks, but the trend may be turning. Monday’s U.S. hog slaughter totaled 404,000 head, up almost 18 percent from 343,000 a week earlier, according to USDA data.
Early- to mid-August “almost always marks the ‘last hurrah’ of the summer hog rally,” livestock analysts Steve Meyer and Len Steiner said in a report yesterday.
Bob Short, senior livestock analyst with broker PFGBest in Chicago, sees strong chances for a “normal” hog market sell-off during late-summer and fall as slaughter increases. That could send futures prices down another 20 percent to 25 percent from current levels, he said.
Strapped consumers may balk at rising supermarket pork prices, Short said. Additionally, many retailers are preparing for the new school year, meaning pork won’t be promoted as much as it was earlier in the summer, he said.
“We’ve got awfully high prices with back-to-school shopping coming,” Short said. “Psychologically, we’re waiting for more bad news to come.”
Retail pork prices have risen much of this year because of tighter hog supplies. In June, retail bacon reached a record national average of $4.046 a pound, according to government data. Boneless pork chops averaged $3.867 a pound in June, down from a five-year high of $3.895 in May.
Strong exports and tight supplies may still underpin hog prices, analysts note. If wholesale pork prices continue higher, futures could rebound 2.5 cents to 3 cents, Short said.
The direction of the hog futures market in coming weeks is “going to depend on the product market,” Short said. “The bearish scenario is coming. Now you’ve got to show the market more bearish news, or it’s going to bounce.”