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Sept. 14, 2019, 10:09 a.m. EDT

Lean hogs rally as China exempts pork from additional tariffs on U.S. goods

China’s move comes as African swine fever continues to kill off its hog herds

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By Myra P. Saefong, MarketWatch

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China’s pork prices reportedly rose 46.7% in August, compared with a year earlier

Lean hog futures rallied on Friday following Beijing’s decision on Friday to exempt pork from additional tariffs on U.S. goods.

China’s decision followed a spike in its pork prices, as the nation continues to struggle with the decimation of its hog population that continues to suffer from African swine fever.

Futures prices for lean hogs in Chicago rallied on Thursday and Friday, with the front-month October contract  up 3.3 cents, or 5.2%, to settle at 66.47 cents a pound on Friday. That was the contract’s highest finish since Sept. 4, according to FactSet data. Prices also tallied a gain of 4.7% for the week.

The decision from the Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council in China followed the U.S. decision to make adjustments to the additional tariffs to be imposed on Chinese goods on Oct. 1, Xinhua New reported Friday .

President Donald Trump announced late Wednesday that he will delay implementing higher tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods for two weeks. In a series of tweets, Trump said the tariff hikes—from 25% to 30%—that were scheduled to take effect Oct. 1 will now go into effect Oct. 15.

The market has seen “speculative buying on the idea that China will be buying more U.S. pork in the future,” John Payne, senior futures and options broker with Daniels Trading told MarketWatch. Still, “the report that China will exempt pork from additional tariffs doesn’t mean that they are lifting tariffs.”

It’s also important to note which contracts are moving, he said, pointing out that the rise in the October contract has been lagging behind gains in the December contract.

The more active December lean hogs contract reached the limit gain in Chicago Friday, settling up 4.5 cents, or 7%, at 68.70 cents a pound.

“The idea that China will buy more pork is pricing the futures higher in the months behind the front month. The U.S. has plenty of hog/pork to meet this demand in the short term,” said Payne.

Prices for the most-active lean hog contracts have climbed by more than 9% year to date, down from double-digit percentage gains seen earlier this year when concerns over African swine fever (ASF), a contagious disease that is nearly 100% fatal for domestic and wild pigs, were at their peak.

ASF has “decimated China’s hog population,” said Ned Schmidt, editor of the Agri-Food Value View report. It seems that China sees imports as an answer to its pork shortage, and the U.S. “is one great source.”

China’s pork prices rose 46.7% in August, compared with a year earlier, according to a Tuesday report from the South China Morning Post , citing recent consumer price index data. That was almost double the 27% rise witnessed in July, the report said.

The record high hog prices in China, along with the tariff exemption and solid U.S. weekly exports sales to China have fueled the move higher in hog futures, said David Maloni, executive vice president of analytics at ArrowStream, a foodservice supply chain technology company.

Markets see all of this as a sign that a “tipping point is near, where China will tighten the world pork supply due to the decimation of their hog herd by African Swine Fever,” said Maloni. He expects the U.S. hog and pork prices to see volatility going forward.

Meanwhile, Payne said that China imported more pork from the U.S. in July than at any point since the 2000s.

But the problem for U.S. prices is that the “hog herd here has grown drastically as well,” said Payne. so the “trade is tied between a massive U.S. hog herd and a cash prices that [do] not seem to have a lot of room to rally,” without massive exports and this story out of Asia, he said.

Payne said he doesn’t see much upside for lean hog prices above the low 70s cents per pound in the December futures contract.

What would cause prices to “really jump” would be a reduction of the old tariffs on U.S. pork, which were implemented during the Obama administration and remain in place, he said.

“We believe hogs are a buy at some point, but it’s not like buying a stock or even a commodity like corn,” said Payne. “You can’t store a live animal. Weights and slaughter are risky; supply is available. We need someone to buy it, and buy it soon.”

Myra Saefong is a MarketWatch reporter based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter @MktwSaefong.

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Myra P. Saefong is on the markets team in San Francisco. She has covered the commodities sector for MarketWatch for more than 10 years. She has spent the...

Myra P. Saefong is on the markets team in San Francisco. She has covered the commodities sector for MarketWatch for more than 10 years. She has spent the bulk of her years at the company writing the daily Futures Movers and Metals Stocks columns and has been writing the weekly Commodities Corner column since 2005. Myra has been with MarketWatch since 1998 and holds a master’s degree in English literature.

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