ICE cotton falls on profit-taking, posts 1st weekly gain in 3 weeks

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* Fiber notches 2-percent weekly gain in choppy trade

* Demand for U.S. bales picks up during last week’s price drop -USDA

* Exchange stocks rise to highest since late July -ICE

NEW YORK, April 17 (Reuters) – ICE cotton eased in heavy trading on Thursday as investors booked profits ahead of the weekend, with the fiber notching its first weekly gain in three weeks.

The most-active July cotton contract on ICE Futures U.S. closed down 0.23 cent, or 0.2 percent, at 92.34 cents per lb.

The second-month was up 2 percent on the week after a string of volatile sessions.

ICE soft agricultural commodity futures and options markets will be closed on Friday, April 18 for the Good Friday holiday.

“We had a little bit of profit-taking ahead of the long weekend” as the market digested the previous day’s rally, said Sharon Johnson, a cotton specialist with KCG Futures in Georgia.

U.S. shippers sold 84,700 running bales of upland cotton during the most recent reporting period after exports fell the previous week due to high prices.

The sales report was “very supportive,” said Louis Rose, an independent cotton trader and consultant at Risk Analytics in Tennessee.

The spot May contract fell 0.87 cent, nearly 1 percent, to finish at 90.17 cents a lb. The contract is due to expire in three weeks.

Certified stocks climbed to nearly 282,100 bales on Wednesday, up from 278,000 previously to the highest since July, the most recent exchange data compiled by Reuters showed.

China’s imports last month were down 58 percent from a year ago, though cotton bulls noted the world’s top consumer is still on pace to import more than forecast.

Beijing is unwinding a stockpiling program launched in 2011 that has driven voracious demand for foreign fiber and pegged a floor under the global market.

The plans for overhaul have ignited worries over sharp drop in global demand. Indian raw cotton exports are projected to plunge 20 percent next year, according to industry officials. (Reporting by Chris Prentice)

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