Summer hog futures posted the largest one-day loss in almost two weeks, raising questions whether “sticker shock” over rising pork prices may sidetrack an eight-month rally.

June lean hog futures traded in Chicago fell 0.75 cent to 84.3 cents a pound today, after earlier rising to a contract high of 85.85 cents. Today’s high is also the highest price for a most-active CME hog futures contract since April 1997, according to Bloomberg News.

Hog futures prices have almost doubled from lows around 43.575 cents a pound since mid-August as the U.S. herd shrank and pork supplies tightened. Prices have also gained on beliefs pork demand is recovering from the recession and an export drop-off last year stemming from the H1N1 virus outbreak.

Meat buyers “appear to be in a notably better mood than they were a year ago,” analysts Steve Meyer and Len Steiner said in CME Group’s Daily Livestock Report today.

“Plenty of challenges remain but, at least for the moment, a sense of normality appears to be returning in the marketplace, with retailers and foodservice operators preparing for the warmer weather and the return of grilling season,” Meyer and Steiner wrote.

Some buyers, however, are experiencing “sticker shock,” the analysts said, amid a surge in pork and beef prices in recent months and an outlook for even higher prices going into summer.

Wholesale loin prices averaged 86.21 cents a pound yesterday, up 27 percent from a year ago, according to USDA data.

An improving outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry adds to bullish sentiment in livestock markets, Meyer and Steiner said. The National Restaurant Association last week said its performance index for February reached the highest level in 27 months.

However, U.S. unemployment, at 9.7 percent in March, provides a dose of reality, Meyer and Steiner said.

High unemployment “should temper some of the high flying expectations for the U.S. restaurant industry,” and meat prices, in 2010, the analysts said.

In CME trading, selling by speculative commodity funds weighed on June lean hog futures, even as firmer cash prices supported the April contract, floor brokers said. The speculator selling reflected both liquidation of long positions and new short positions, brokers said.

June hogs are still up 13 percent from a close of 74.65 cents Feb. 1.