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‘Way Too Much Pork’ Makes Trade War Bite U.S. Hog Markets

Lydia Mulvany and Michael Hirtzer
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‘Way Too Much Pork’ Makes Trade War Bite U.S. Hog Markets

(Bloomberg) -- Trade concerns are starting to make all other factors in the hog market look obsolete.

Futures have tumbled to the lowest since March. That’s as African swine fever decimates China’s pig herd in an unprecedented global supply disruption. Even though the Asian nation is importing huge amounts of meat, American producers are losing out to rivals in Brazil and elsewhere because of Donald Trump’s trade war. What’s more, the U.S. president’s threat of additional tariffs is sparking concerns that a deal to end the spat is even further away.

China just made its biggest-ever cancellation of American pork, scrapping a purchase of 14,700 metric tons, data showed on Thursday. The Chinese government has asked its state-owned enterprises to suspend purchases of U.S. agricultural products, people familiar with the situation said.

U.S. farmers had built up their hog herds in anticipation of more exports to meet the Chinese supply gap, but if trade tensions continue to run high, they could instead be facing a massive domestic glut.

“China is just fighting back -- they canceled all that business, and that just has the market reeling,” said Dennis Smith, senior account executive at Archer Financial Services Inc. in Chicago. “We’ve got way too much pork if we can’t get a big export program going.”

Hogs in Chicago tumbled 17% in the week ended Friday, the biggest loss for rolling most-active futures since last July. Meanwhile, a measure of historical 30-day volatility is surging.

“This market is truly the Wild West,” analysts at CommStock Investments said in a report.

American pork producers are losing $1 billion annually because of the trade war, David Herring, president of the National Pork Producers Council, told a House Agriculture subcommittee in July. The dispute with China is costing producers $8 per animal a year, he said.

Investors are fleeing. Open interest is near a four-month low reached in July. The measure of contracts outstanding had surged in May to the highest since 2013 as China’s swine-fever woes built up expectations of bigger American exports. About a quarter of U.S. pork production is typically destined for shipment, making the market particularly sensitive to trade disruptions.

Some funds seem to have used recent price declines to lock in returns from bearish wagers. In the week ended July 30, money managers held a hog net-long position of 39,964 futures and options, up 19% from a week earlier, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data showed Friday. The figure, which measures the difference between bets on a price increase and wagers on a decline, mainly reflected a 12% drop for short-only bets.

The aggregate number of short and long positions slid 1.8%, the biggest drop in eight weeks.

“Everyone is reacting day by day,” moving along with Trump’s Twitter feed, Smith said. “Nobody is trading it.”

(Updates with China suspension of U.S. agriculture purchases in third paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Lydia Mulvany in Chicago at lmulvany2@bloomberg.net;Michael Hirtzer in Chicago at mhirtzer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Attwood at jattwood3@bloomberg.net, Millie Munshi, Patrick McKiernan

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