Cotton Market Update for the Week Ending February 16, 2018

The week ending February 16 saw ICE cotton trend lower.   Trading this week continued in high volume and decreasing open interest — reflecting some long liquidation.  The latter was also evident from a continuing reduction in the hedge fund net long position, week over week.   Fundamental news this week included excellent export sales which were in keeping with the expected demand response to lower prices (and adding to the already high seasonal pace of total commitments)Chinese cotton futures declined this week, while world prices were more mixed.

Mar’18 cotton on the ICE settled the week at 75.72 cents per pound.  The May’18 and Jul’18 contracts settled 144 and 240 points higher, respectively.  These futures spreads are improving but still not quite that needed to cover the cost of storing cotton, e.g., May’18 would need to exceed Mar’18 by at least 150 points.  There remains no strong market signal to store 2017 bales in hopes of higher prices, except for contingency purposes (what an economist would call “convenience yield”).

The old crop contracts remained inverted above Dec’18 which settled at 75.62 cents per pound on Friday February 16.

A sample of option prices on ICE cotton futures saw some changes from the previous week because of the decline in the underlying futures.  On Thursday February 15, in-the-money 73 call options on Jul’18 ICE futures were worth 6.17 cents per pound;  almost-in-the-money 79 calls on Jul’18 were worth 2.96 cents.  An at-the-money 75 put option on Dec’18 cotton cost 3.96 cents per pound on Thursday, while deeply out-of-the-money 65 put on Dec’18 cost 0.75 cents.

This market is being supported by evidence of improving demand fundamentals, and a shrinking, but still substantial, chunk of speculative buying.  The fundamentals are supported by continuing strong pace of U.S. export commitments and the eventual influence of large mill fixations.  But there is also a risk to see futures weaken or even crash if the hedge funds get spooked by some risk-off event, and/or if seasonally high U.S. exports turn out to be more of a front-loaded pattern of what USDA has already been expecting.  Remember, the current fundamental picture painted by USDA still implies price weakness by virtue of a large year-over-year increase in ending stocks.  In the short run, the potential for a price reversal is also there because of the fickle fuel of speculative buying that underlies the rally since November.

Given all these uncertainties, growers should consider taking advantage of the present (or future) rallies, and protect themselves from sudden sell-offs. Forward contracting, immediate post-harvest contracting, and/or various options strategies can be used to limit downside risk while retaining upside potential.  In hindsight, contracted 2017 bales could have been  combined with call options on the deferred futures contracts.  New crop put spread strategies to hedge the 2018 crop are a straightforward approach.  I have also heard of bale and acre forward cash contracts being offered in West Texas on competitive sounding terms, e.g., 2.5 cents and 3.5 cents off Dec’18, respectively.  While similarly competitive to early 2017, I understand the discounts for low micronaire are higher in these recent offerings.

For further analysis and discussion of near term price behavior, click on the menu above entitled “Near Term Influences”.    Longer term price behavior is more influenced by fundamental supply and demand forces, which is discussed above under the “Market Fundamentals and Outlook”  menu tab.

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