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Cotton prices are up, is there much more upside?

We’re coming to the end of the US cotton growing season and the crop is being harvested. Indications are that the yield is likely to be lower, but the quality is up. Around the globe, other areas are also seeing lower production due to pandemic-related disruptions along with the usual weather disturbances.

Cotton – Commodity Analysis

Cotton futures are seeing some of their biggest surges in years, and that could mean higher clothing prices in the months to come. It’s currently the latest surge in the raw materials market and follows price swings in commodities like lumber. Sugar and Wheat are also on the rise and could be the next to spike.

The price of lumber saw a big spike this spring, nearly quadrupling before returning to normal levels in the summer. The ramifications of a price spike in a commodity like lumber go all the way to things like house prices, which were up 30% due to increased material costs. The pandemic is still affecting the supply side of a lot of commodities with a shortage of labor and bottlenecks in supply chains causing prices to inflate, and according to the Fed Chair Powell, these higher levels of inflation are set to remain longer than expected. The bearish cross for lumber occurred when prices found a lower low and the daily 50 SMA crossed below the daily 200 SMA. The 200 period moving average is now likely to cap lumber prices from rising further.

Cotton has a large global appeal and is particularly vulnerable to unforeseen events both natural and man-made. This year heatwaves are affecting crops in the United States, which is the biggest exporter of raw products.

Cotton is a seasonal and produces one crop a year and, in the US, the 2021 grow is being harvested right now. The US Department of Agriculture, reports states 62% of the crop is rated good or excellent this year, compared to 40% a year ago. Whereas in India, which is another major cotton exporter, expectations are for lower production due to pink bollworm infestations, excess rain in some places, and a smaller planting area overall.

This season’s price run-up in part reflects diminished expectations about the 2021 crop, but it won’t be confirmed until the process wraps up in November. A rebound in global harvested area and a forecasted record yield is expected to contribute to a rise in cotton production of 120.3 million bales in 2021/22 and a higher yield could cap the prices and stop them from reaching $2.00 per pound like in 2011.

The chart above for cotton shows that price action has been pushing higher making impulsive moves since September and with the 20, 50, and 200 moving averages all pointing higher there is a chance we get another higher high, as momentum often leads price. As per the lumber chart, if we were to see the price action collapse below the rising trend line, this could be a signal of a much deeper correction about to occur. With a measured move to the downside coming in around $0.80 per pound.

The Dec'21 ICE cotton futures were mostly sideways for the week ending Friday, October 22, with a big swing occurring on Thursday. In last Friday's settlement, the price per pound was 108.26.

The Commitment of Traders (COT) data shows a 48% increase in net long speculative positions between September and October this year. Three weeks ago, managed money open interest was increasing but last week’s levels were down more than 50%. With hedge funds withdrawing it appears that current levels are seeing the speculative longs booking profits and commercial shorts seeking to lock in prices.

Cotton fundamentals remain strong with the high internal cotton prices in China and their inventory replacement policy following strong cotton auctions, continuing to stimulate large US export sales to China. The high CC Index price is a signal for the Chinese authorities to start cashing in on some of their reserves. Due to the strength of demand, auctions were extended through the end of November.

As part of former President Donald Trump’s trade embargo with China, US companies are not allowed to import clothing and other products made of cotton from the Xinjiang region, which is where most of the country’s cotton comes from, due to concerns over how the country was treating its Uyghur minority population. President Joe Biden has continued the policy so as a workaround, plants there have been buying US-grown cotton, making goods, then sending them back to the US.

Inflation is permeating through all aspects of daily life and the price of clothing is on the rise. The August Consumer Price Index showed a 3.4% uptick in apparel costs, a price rise largely in line with current core inflation. But the increase in cotton prices could send that notably higher in the next month’s CPI report, especially when transport costs including shipping and energy are factored in.

So far, in the current climate of higher prices for many consumer products, manufacturers and retailers have been able to pass along some of the increases to consumers. At some level, the consumer will reject higher prices but that may be some time off as wages are increasing and household levels of savings are still high, meaning there is cash at hand.

The consensus is that we won’t see $2.00 per as per 2011 as cotton is abundant and demand is not rising exponentially, therefore we should be wary of buying the top and be looking out for a peak in prices. The weekly chart shows strong momentum, but the last few weeks cotton has been trading within the first weeks of October's price range. A break below that week’s low of $1.0354 per pound would signal a bearish move.

For those looking to follow the hedge funds out of the speculative longs and to try and get in on an early decline in price, back to value, using the H4 chart and waiting for a breakout of the current consolidation pattern may be a good trade. I favour a breakout and retest of the wedge and a more conservative short could be for the swing low that formed on the 13th of October to break. But until we get a lower weekly and daily low, the trend is firmly to the upside, and therefore fighting the trend could be costly.

Something else to consider is that retail trader sentiment is still very bearish, which could mean that there is a push higher to stop these participants out. A move back to an even level or a flip to most traders being bullish could be a timing signal that the market is ready to go lower on a break of a significant low.