At the end of 2013/14, international cotton prices were around 80 US cents/lb and have continued falling in the first two months of the new season. Given the predicted 1.8 million tons of surplus cotton production and changes in China's cotton policy, prices are unlikely to rise to the levels seen in the last two seasons.
With the fall in prices, world cotton consumption is forecast to rise nearly 4% to 24.4 million tons with more of the consumption occurring in the latter half of the season as the market becomes more certain about the size of the new crop and can better determine an appropriate price for cotton. While cotton's absolute volume of consumption is likely to grow, it will probably not gain back much of its market share as it takes time for the market to adjust. The price volatility observed in 2010/11-2011/12 is not forgotten, and other competing fibers' market shares have been growing.
In 2014/15, 33.8 million hectares were planted with cotton, up 3% from last season due to higher international cotton prices in 2013/14. World cotton production is forecast up 1% to 26.2 million tons. With greater incentive to improve yield and quality due to the new policy, Xinjiang, the largest cotton-producing region in China and the province where the trial subsidy is being implemented, is expected to have a bigger harvest than last season, and China's overall production is projected at 6.4 million tons in 2014/15. India expanded cotton area by 5% as the delayed monsoon encouraged farmers to switch to cotton, and with yield closer to the 3-year average, production is likely to reach 6.6 million tons, making India the world's largest cotton producer 2014/15.
Harvested cotton area in the United States could reach 3.9 million hectares as plentiful rainfall reduces the abandonment rate this season and production is forecast at 3.7 million tons, up 30% from 2013/14. Although some flooding has occurred in Pakistan recently, impact to the cotton crop has been minimal, and production is projected at 2.1 million tons in 2014/15.
While China imported much of the surplus production in the last three seasons, this season it has announced that it will not provide additional quota in 2015, beyond the required 894,000 tons, as it has in recent seasons. The restriction on imports next season was likely implemented to help reduce the large government-held cotton stocks given that China's consumption is expected to exceed production by around 1.5 million tons. Though some mills still hold additional quota for 2014, China's imports are forecast to fall 36% to 2 million tons, and world imports would decline 11% to 8 million tons. Imports by the rest of the world, notably Southeast Asia, are projected to increase 2% to 6 million tons.
Cotton prices dropped to the lowest in almost five years as China moved to limit imports, signaling an expanding global glut that's cutting costs for T-shirts and jeans.
China, the world's largest importer and grower, said recently it will restrict shipments for 2015. Futures tumbled 27 percent this year as rains boosted prospects for crops in the U.S., the top exporter. Lower prices can help improve profit margins for Hanesbrands Inc. and Carter's Inc., the maker of children's apparel that said lower cotton costs will show up in next year's clothing line.
Slowing demand from China will leave more supplies with world inventories already at an all-time high. Global production will exceed consumption for a fifth straight year, boosting stockpiles by 6 percent to a record 106.3 million bales by July 31, 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture data.