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Hedge Funds Cut Bets in Longest Retreat Since 2008: Commodities

Hedge funds cut bullish commodity bets for a sixth straight week, the longest slump since the depths of the global recession four years ago, on mounting concern that economies are slowing.

Money managers lowered combined net-long positions across 18 U.S. futures and options by 17 percent to 772,512 contracts in the week ended Nov. 13, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Holdings have tumbled 38 percent since Oct. 2 in the longest retreat since August 2008. Investors turned bearish on copper for the first time since August.

Commodities are little changed this year as weaker growth and more supply will mean surpluses in sugar, aluminum and zinc, according to Morgan Stanley. U.S. industrial production unexpectedly declined in October, while applications for jobless benefits rose to the highest since April 2011, separate reports showed last week. The 17-nation euro-area’s economy tumbled back into recession last quarter for the second time in four years, official figures showed Nov. 15.

“I am not bullish on commodities,” said Martin Murenbeeld, the chief economist at Toronto-based DundeeWealth Inc., which manages about C$100 billion ($97 billion) of assets. “I don’t think we are going to see improvement in the world economy for some time as there are too many problems.”

2012 Returns

The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index of commodities has gained 0.9 percent this year as the MSCI All-Country World Index of equities advanced 8 percent and the dollar rose 1 percent against a basket of six major currencies. Treasuries returned 2.8 percent, a Bank of America Corp. index shows.

Production at U.S. factories, mines and utilities dropped 0.4 percent last month, Federal Reserve data showed Nov. 16. Economists projected a 0.2 percent gain, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey. Gross domestic product in the euro bloc slipped 0.1 percent in the third quarter after a 0.2 percent decline in the previous three months, the European Union’s statistics office said.

U.S. oil output rose for a 10th week to 6.71 million barrels a day, the most since May 1994, the Energy Department reported Nov. 15. Copper inventories monitored by exchanges in New York, London and Shanghai have climbed for three weeks to the highest since May. Supplies will exceed demand in cotton, nickel and lead this year, Morgan Stanley said in a Nov. 12 report. Barclays Plc expects the glut in aluminum to expand 29 percent next year.

$681 Million

Money managers added a net $681 million to commodity funds in the week ended Nov. 14, with gold and precious metals accounting for $732 million, according to Cameron Brandt, the director of research at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based EPFR Global, which tracks money flows.

Exports from China rose 11.6 percent in October from a year earlier, the fastest pace in five months, the Beijing-based customs administration said Nov. 10. The nation is the world’s biggest consumer of cotton, soybeans and pork. The U.S. is the largest crude oil and corn user, and Europe accounts for about 18 percent of global copper demand, Barclays estimates.

China will probably increase its spending on infrastructure and the country’s economy is showing signs of stabilization, including in the housing market, Andrew Harding, the chief executive officer of London-based Rio Tinto Group’s copper unit, said in New York on Nov. 14.

China Policies

“Demand for commodities will depend a lot on what policies China adopts and the growth in the economy,” said Peter Jankovskis, who helps oversee $3 billion of assets as co-chief investment officer at Lisle, Illinois-based Oakbrook Investments LLC. “We could see some pro-growth policies.”

The S&P GSCI rallied 11 percent in the third quarter as the Fed announced open-ended purchases of $40 billion of mortgage debt a month and policy makers at the European Central Bank agreed to an unlimited bond-purchase program. China approved a $158 billion subways-to-roads construction plan in September.

“The bullish effects from dovish ECB and Federal Reserve announcements have clearly been exhausted,” Societe Generale SA analysts said in a report Nov. 12. The S&P GSCI fell 6 percent since Sept. 13, when the Fed unveiled its plan.

The U.S. faces a so-called fiscal cliff of $607 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts in 2013 if Congress should fail to act.

“If we get out of this with a moderate recession, I would say the price is very cheap,” former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan told Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop” with Betty Liu on Nov. 16.

Copper Bears

Speculators are now betting on a decline in copper prices, holding a net-short position of 826 contracts, the CFTC data show. A week earlier, the funds held a net-long position of 2,077 futures and options.

Crude-oil bets tumbled 18 percent to 100,021 contracts, the biggest cut since May, and those on heating oil dropped 12 percent to 26,065 contracts, the lowest since Sept. 25.

A measure of 11 U.S. farm goods showed speculators reduced bullish bets in agricultural commodities by 22 percent to 415,498 contracts, the biggest decline since Nov. 22, 2011. Corn holdings fell 14 percent to 202,853 contracts, the lowest since early July.

Speculators more than tripled their net-short bets in cotton to 19,327 contracts, the most bearish position since May 2007. The U.S. Department of Agriculture boosted its outlook for global inventories by 1.5 percent to 80.27 million bales on Nov. 9, forecasting the biggest glut ever.

“The quantitative easing story pushed commodities higher, and it was the fallacy of market participants to expect prices to continue to gain as there are too many uncertainties,” said Michael Shaoul, the chairman of New York-based Marketfield Asset Management, which oversees about $3.5 billion of assets. “I continue to remain bearish on commodities.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Debarati Roy in New York at droy5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Stroth at sstroth@bloomberg.net

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