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Lean hog futures - will rising output prompt a 2015 decline?

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Lean hog futures declined in 2014 in Chicago, albeit by a modest 5% on a front contract basis to a little over 81 cents a pound.

Indeed, they have ended each of the last five years within a range of 6 cents.

However, the stability in year-end prices disguises sharp volatility in between, with values hitting a record 133.80 cents a pound in July, as investors have attempted to reconcile dents to US production from PEDv (porcine epidemic diahorrea virus) with resilient demand for pork.

Will hog prices stage a fresh rally, lifted by demand for pork, which looks cheap compared with beef? Or will producers' efforts to exploit high prices by raising output end up undermining futures?

Paragon Economics, Steiner Consulting

"The number of pigs saved per litter is the wild card supply variable for the pork industry in 2015.

"Last week's US Hogs and Pigs report was clear that the breeding herd has expanded and that we are seeing - and will see - more litters from that herd.

"But how many pigs will survive from each of those litters? The number of PEDv (porcine epidemic diahorrea virus) breaks in sow herds still appears to be low relative to last year.

"PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) incidence has risen per normal this fall but still doesn't appear to be much worse than last year's unusually low rate. The September‐November litter size was back to its pre‐PEDv level."

Rabobank

"Lean hog futures are expected to ease in 2015, as US pork production recovers. We forecast 3% production growth, following the outbreak of PEDv in late 2013 and early 2014.

"The US breeding herd has expanded by nearly 2%, and farrowing from September through February is to be up 4% from the prior year's levels.

"Since the first cases of PEDv emerged in April 2013, hog producers have become better equipped to cope.

"Some natural immunity has built up, and two PEDv vaccines, which have had some success in reducing the impact of the virus on infected farms, have become available."

Societe Generale

"Signs point to a continued rebuilding of pork supplies as producers take advantage of lower incidences of PEDv, lower grain prices, and high beef prices.

Societe Generale lean price forecasts, 2015

Q1: 87.04 cents a pound

Q2: 97.58 cents a pound

Q3: 93.29 cents a pound

Q4: 88.31 cents a pound

Prices: quarter average, front Chicago futures contract

"Given the current price relationship between beef and pork, however, we expect lean hogs to find some support in the spring and summer of 2015.

"If the very high price relationship between beef and pork persists into the spring and summer months, we expect lean hog prices to rebound as consumers begin shifting between meats."

University of Illinois

"US pork production is expected to increase from 22.66bn pounds in 2014 to 23.62bn pounds in 2015.

"Exports are expected to increase from 5.1 to 5.3bn pounds, while imports decline modestly to 900m pounds.

"Domestic pork supplies are projected at 46.6 pounds per capita in 2015, up from 45.3 pounds in 2014.

"The average price of hogs was near $64 per hundredweight in 2013 and $76 in 2014. An average near $65 is expected for 2015, with highest prices in the first half of the year."

By Agrimoney.com

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