Hedge Funds Betting That OPEC-Led Oil Rout Is Near End

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OPEC Supply
Fuel tanks stand at the PT Pertamina fuel depot in Jakarta, Indonesia. OPEC, responsible for about 40 percent of the world’s oil supply, kept its collective output target at 30 million barrels a day. Photographer: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg

Hedge funds are betting that the oil-price crash is close to ending.

Speculators boosted their net-long position in West Texas Intermediate crude by 14 percent in the week ended Dec. 2, the most in 20 months, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Short bets contracted by 15 percent as long wagers expanded 4 percent.

Oil’s collapse accelerated after the 12-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries decided Nov. 27 to maintain output levels, underscoring the price war in crude. Oil tumbled into a bear market in October and reached a five-year low last week as the U.S. shale boom added to a global glut at a time of weakening demand growth.

“A lot of people are betting that the selloff is overdone,” John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund that focuses on energy, said by phone Dec. 5. “We haven’t seen these levels in years. They represent extreme value to some folks.”

WTI slumped $7.21, or 9.7 percent, to $66.88 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange in the period covered by the CFTC report. Prices extended declines today, dropping $2.79 to $63.05, the lowest settlement since July 2009. Brent oil slid $2.88 to $66.19 in London, the lowest close since September 2009.

The price floor is now at about $60 or even less, companies including Deutsche Bank AG, BNP Paribas SA and Petromatrix GmbH said at the end of last month.

OPEC Supply

OPEC, responsible for about 40 percent of the world’s oil supply, kept its collective output target at 30 million barrels a day. WTI plunged a combined 10 percent that day and the next.

“There is a case for the longer-term investor that sees a discount in current prices,” Harry Tchilinguirian, BNP Paribas SA’s London-based head of commodity markets strategy, said by phone Dec. 5. “If your investment horizon is indeed long term, oil prices will be reversed higher.”

Shares outstanding of the four biggest U.S. exchange-traded funds that follow oil prices, including the United States Oil Fund and ProShares Ultra Bloomberg Crude Oil, increased to 86.9 million on Dec. 4, the most since January 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Investors added $98 million into the four funds in the first four days of the month, following a $559.85 million inflow in November that was the most since June 2012.

“People are thinking that we’ve hit the bottom and it can only go up,” Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts, said by phone Dec. 5. “$70 is the new $100.”

Lower Forecasts

Banks including BNP Paribas and Barclays Plc cut their price forecasts after the OPEC decision. BNP reduced next year’s WTI estimate to $70, from $88, and Barclays to $66, from $85.

U.S. crude output reached 9.08 million barrels a day in the week ended Nov. 28, the most in government data started in 1983.

Saudi Arabian Oil Co., the state-run oil company, offer Asian customers the biggest discount on its benchmark crude in at least 14 years, heightening speculation the country is lowering prices to defend market share. It also reduced prices for all grades sold to U.S. refineries.

U.S. Output

Net-long positions for WTI jumped by 22,365 to 184,374 futures and options. Long positions rose 4 percent to 256,667. Short bets dropped to 72,293, according to the CFTC. Even with the gains, the net-long position is still about half of what it was in June.

Speculators have misjudged markets before. They increased the net-long position by 8.7 percent in the week ended Nov. 11, only for prices to drop 16 percent since then.

In other markets, bullish bets on gasoline increased 8.2 percent to 43,022 contracts. Futures tumbled 11 percent to $1.8116 a gallon on Nymex in the reporting period.

Regular gasoline at U.S. pumps dropped 1.7 cents to an average $2.668 yesterday, the least expensive since October 2010, according to AAA.

Bearish wagers on U.S. ultra low sulfur diesel narrowed 9 percent to 20,345 contracts. The fuel sank 10 percent to $2.1544 a gallon in the report week.

WTI tumbled to $32.40 in December 2008 from a record $147.27 that July, prompting OPEC to cut quotas by 2.46 million barrels a day.

“A lot of people thought that once the market dropped so dramatically, it didn’t have that much further to go,” Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at the Price Futures Group in Chicago, said by phone. “It’s almost like a sense of denial of what’s going on.”

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