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Cotton: roller coaster or launch ramp?

With old crop cotton futures topping 80 cents and new crop futures hanging around the mid-70 cent range, cotton producers everywhere are asking the same question, “Should I hold out for bigger bucks?”

Market analysts are quick to cite an old marketing adage that seems apropos for the situation — if you like the price enough to increase your plantings, then you should like the price enough to lock it in.

They advise farmers to at least lock in a portion of their crop at current prices. One reason is simple and time-proven — good prices usually don’t last very long.

“There is a strong seasonal tendency for prices to work lower from the middle of March until the middle of May,” said Mike Stevens with Swiss Financial Services. “While we’ve been above 80 cents a number of times over the last decade, we usually don’t stay there for very long. I don’t look for a repeat of the February (2010) bull run because of that historical tendency to trade lower.”

Another reason is that there is a lot of pressure being applied at the high end of the price range for cotton. Noted Stevens, “I do think the market could rally up to 83 cents, but a lot of the buying now is taking place at 76 cents.”

History also suggests that now is a good time for producers to start putting in price floors. Texas A&M University Extension professor emeritus Carl Anderson points out that the 10-year average high for the December contract is about 74 cents. “We are now above or at 74 cents. It’s time to watch this market and figure out how you want to price your cotton crop. We’re not sure if we’re going to get this market through the 79-80 cent barrier.”

The signals from the market are very clear to economist and market analyst O.A. Cleveland. “The current market does need to back off to get some export business done. But it does look like we’re going to have a two to three year market that we’re going to be very pleased with. My position hasn’t changed from last month. Plant cotton, plant cotton, plant cotton. But you need to become fairly aggressive on your pricing at 75 cents and above.”

While King Cotton may be in for a wild ride this season, remember that the price chart for cotton is more likely to resemble a roller coaster than a launching ramp. The experts say cotton futures could trade in a range from 65 cents to 85 cents.

And the experts say don’t let runaway optimism get in the way of good sense. As to reports that cotton could reach that magic number that is music to the bull’s ear, Cleveland was firm in his response. “Dollar cotton, it’s not going to happen. Period.”


TAGS: Cotton
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