Who are the real cotton speculators?

The WSJ (and the InterContinental Exchange, for that matter) always seem so quick to jump on financial speculators as the cause of price rises in any given commodity. Cotton prices more than doubled from Dec 2009 to Dec 2010, and have risen another 20% in 2011.
The top cotton-futures exchange is clamping down on speculation amid soaring demand that has sent prices up, threatening losses for mills, commodity merchants and apparel producers.

... Over the past year, the number of cotton contracts outstanding has grown by 21%, aided by an influx of hedge funds and small speculators.
ICE is apparently worried, although I can't tell how much of this is journalistic dramatization.
In response, ICE on Thursday said it will increase its scrutiny of big positions from now on.
"Increase its scrutiny," huh? A pretty threatening step!

A few maxims for analyzing commodity price spikes. First, always look to supply and demand first. Second, as Paul Krugman reminds us, speculators can't sustainably increase prices without actually withholding physical supply from the market, so if inventories aren't increasing, be skeptical.

What do we find in this case? First, the supply-demand picture looks tight, as the WSJ itself acknowledges:
Low global stocks of cotton and growing demand, particularly from China, have caused concerns of shortfall in the fiber this year. Rains in Pakistan and India, the second-biggest grower, and recent floods in Australia have fed fears of a shortage.
Second, there is actually cotton hoarding going on at scale - by cotton farmers in China (via Krugman). That is physical speculation (seems morally reasonable when it's farmers doing it, and incidentally not subject to ICE position limits). Finally, political uncertainty makes commodity markets jittery, and Egypt is a major cotton exporter. I think there might be something going on there.

P.S. Egypt is indeed a major cotton exporter, but I was surprised to learn that in 2004, Benin, Mali, Syria, and Greece exported comparable volumes, and FAPRI doesn't even track Egypt for cotton. Based on price per ton from FAOSTAT, Egyptians do the high-end stuff.

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