The current allocation of certified stocks, and a lot more cotton futures information, can be found on the ICE futures website under “Featured Reports”. Certified stocks represent mostly merchant inventory that is in position to be delivered against short futures positions, i.e., delivered by those holding short futures contract. The level of certificated stocks in delivery point warehouses is reported daily by the ICE. As the chart above shows, certificated stocks can fluctuate a lot. Those fluctuations can have various meanings. A declining certified stocks level can be an indicator of increasing commercial demand. Conversely, when certificated stocks are rising, it may reflect a lack of demand for U.S. cotton in the export market.
A high level of certificated stocks (e.g., over several hundred thousand bales) represents a greater credible threat of physical delivery of cotton against long futures positions held past First Notice Day. Therefore a potential side effect of low certified stocks is that it might have encourage speculative funds to take larger long positions with less chance of a getting caught in a long squeeze situation and/or getting stuck taking delivery of physical cotton. With low potentially deliverable supplies, the fund sector may feel like it has more room to push the futures market higher (and further from the cash market) provided it has enough time to eventually exit that long position.
The drop-dead date for funds holding long positions is First Notice Day (the 5th business day before the end of the previous month before contract expiration). Those dates are indicated on the chart above as red dots on the blue line. That is the day when sellers of futures contracts notify the exchange of intended deliveries of physical cotton against their short futures positions. Generally, the people in that position are big cotton merchants, who are also the people who certify most cotton.
The certified stock level level has been fluctuating a lot in recent years. The peak of an upward move in early July, along with rising futures prices, suggested the possibility of delivery of remaining tenderable old crop bales in lieu of commercial sales. However, in July the level of certified stocks collapsed, from over 40,000 bales to under 6,000 bales as of September 17. The pattern then repeated itself with a rapid and large buildup of stocks, peaking at over 120,000 bales in November, which then started declining with the winter-time rally in ICE futures. The level has bottomed out in January and has recovered around 100,000 bales for the last several weeks.