* USDA says weekly export sales rose, but shipments ease
NEW YORK, Feb 16 (Reuters) – U.S. cotton futures ended mildly mixed on Thursday, as participants kept rolling March positions into later-dated contracts, especially May, now the benchmark.
March cotton on ICE Futures U.S. closed at 92.45 cents per lb, a 0.05 cent decline, and set a small range of 91.80 to 92.80 a lb.
March volume came to a paltry 5,685 lots by the close of the exchange session.
Small participants were rolling out of long March positions into May, July or December contracts before the Feb. 23 delivery date.
New benchmark May futures settled at 93.71 per lb, a 0.23 cent gain. The range ran from 92.65 to 94, also tiny, and set a double bottom with the previous session low.
May’s volume was robust at 11,581 lots just after the close.
May’s open interest is now highest and about double that of March contracts. On Wednesday, open interest in March futures fell by 9,166 lots, while May contracts rose by 3,662 lots, July by 1,246 and December by 725 lots.
Also, as prices traded around 93 cents, some of the foreign buyers that had entered the market at 90 cents seemed to head back to the sidelines.
Prices fell last week, and brokers said a slew of export buyers were waiting to grab cotton at the lower levels.
This week’s export sales figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were deemed strong by brokers.
“Sales were high, but shipments were off a little bit, but we had a marketing year high last week in shipments. When prices went to 90 cents we did some export business,” said Keith Brown, broker at Keith Brown and Co. in Moultrie, Georgia.
USDA reported the week’s export sales of cotton reached 108,000 running bales with 65,200 bales sold for new crop. Shipments were 308,700 bales.
Analysts said shipments usually peak in March.
Open interest in cotton, an indicator of investor exposure in the market, dropped 3,529 lots to 186,141 lots as of Feb. 15 ICE Futures U.S. data showed.
On Wednesday, trading volume jumped to 30,597 lots from 26,048 lots traded on Tuesday, exchange data showed.
(Reporting by Carole Vaporean; Editing by David Gregorio)