Cotton rises as U.S. exports recover from 2-week decline
* U.S. exports nearly double week-over-week
* But certified stocks pressure prices, help keep cotton range-bound
NEW YORK, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Cotton prices rose on Thursday, as strong U.S. export numbers helped relieve concerns that recent high prices would deter demand from China, the world's largest consumer.
The most-active May cotton contract on ICE Futures U.S. rose 0.58 cent, or 0.7 percent, to settle at 82.79 cents per pound.
U.S. weekly export sales of the fiber nearly doubled in the week ended Feb. 7 from the previous week, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed on Thursday. The strong recovery after two weeks of declining exports alleviated concerns of waning demand from Chinese buyers, though the volumes remained five percent lower than the previous four-week average.
Weekly export sales reached a total of 185,700 running bales, after two previous weeks of data indicated a slowdown from Chinese buyers.
China topped the list of purchasers in the most recent week of data.
Earlier the fiber's price declined for two days this week, which prompted some buying. Speculators have been behind a recent bull run and have been supporting prices near seven-month highs.
"Buyers have been there, waiting to buy" when prices start to flag, said Peter Egli, director of risk management for Plexus Cotton Ltd, a British-based medium-sized merchant.
But prices have been unable to retest 84 cents a lb, thanks to record global supplies and commercial traders happy to sell at the high levels, and while prices rose on Thursday, they failed to register steep gains.
"We may just meander here for a while," Egli said.
The recent run-up in prices, with cotton up more than 9.0 percent since the start of the year, has transitioned into a sideways market. Last week, fiber posted its first weekly loss so far this year, as hefty supplies pressured prices. Even after Thursday's, prices were poised to register a second weekly decline.
"The cert(ified) stocks are going up, there are reasons the market won't go higher right now," said Egli.
Exchange stocks rose to well over 221,000 480-lb bales on Feb. 13, the highest level since May 2011. Another 72,000 awaited USDA approval on Thursday.
Those stocks may not be delivered against the March contract. The 1.77-cent premium of May to March may be enough for merchants to make a profit after paying the financing and warehousing costs to keep the cotton for future delivery.
The spot March contract inched up 0.2 cent, or 0.2 percent, to settle at 81.02 cents a lb.
(Reporting By Chris Prentice)