Oil Bulls Lose Faith in Recovery as Russia Adds to Glut

Oil Producers Moving to Balance Production, Demand
  • Russia boosts output to post-Soviet high in September
  • Hedge funds cut net-long positions for first time in 6 weeks

Hedge funds trimmed bullish oil bets for the first time in six weeks, losing faith in a swift recovery as Russia boosted output to the highest since the Soviet Union collapsed.

Speculators reduced their net-long position in West Texas Intermediate crude by 9.1 percent in the week ended Sept. 29, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Longs dropped from a 12-week high while shorts increased. Investors also trimmed their bullish bets in European benchmark Brent.

U.S. crude output is down 514,000 barrels a day from a four-decade high reached in June, Energy Information Administration data show. The number of rigs targeting oil in the U.S. dropped to a five year low, Baker Hughes Inc. said Oct. 2. WTI traded in the tightest range since June last month as China’s slowing economy and the highest Russian output in two decades signaled the global glut will linger.

"The U.S. producers are the only ones doing their part to reduce the global glut," John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund, said by phone. "Other countries, such as Russia, are pumping at full tilt. The cutbacks by shale producers here aren’t going to have much impact, especially given the slowing global economy."

WTI decreased 1.3 percent in the report week to $45.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It advanced 72 cents to close at $46.26 Monday.

Ample Supply

U.S. crude stockpiles, already about 100 million barrels above the five-year average, may swell further. Stockpiles have climbed during October in eight of the last 10 years as refiners slow operations to perform seasonal maintenance.

Russian oil output rose to a post-Soviet record last month as producers took advantage of the weak ruble to push ahead with drilling. The nation’s production of crude and condensate climbed to 10.74 million barrels a day, 1 percent more than a year earlier and topping a record set in June, according to data from the Energy Ministry’s CDU-TEK unit.

Production of crude and condensate reaches 10.74m b/d
Production of crude and condensate reaches 10.74m b/d

China has failed to reverse an economic slowdown with five interest-rate reductions since November. The country’s growth will slow to 6.8 percent this year, below the government’s goal of 7 percent, according to the median of economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg. China is the biggest crude-consuming nation after the U.S.

Investors pulled $393 million in September from United States Oil Fund, the largest U.S. exchange-traded product that tracks crude futures, the biggest withdrawal since April.

"There’s been nothing to bring the retail investor in to put money in commodity funds," Rob Haworth, a senior investment strategist in Seattle at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, which oversees $128 billion of assets, said by phone. "The managed money has been positive about the market but things look grim. We’re at a tough time for oil on a seasonal basis as well."

In London, money managers cut their net-long position in Brent by 4,362 contracts to 169,457 in the period to Sept. 29, data from the ICE Futures Europe exchange showed on Monday.

Other Markets

In other markets, net bullish bets on Nymex gasoline increased 3.8 percent to 17,239. Futures declined 3.8 percent in the period covered by the CFTC report to $1.3632 a gallon. Net bearish wagers on U.S. ultra low sulfur diesel rose by 11 percent to 31,263. Diesel futures slipped 2.2 percent to $1.4976 a gallon.

To investor Jim Rogers, oil holding near $45 a barrel in the face of bearish news is a sign that prices are poised to recover.

“When there’s bad news and something doesn’t decline, it usually means it’s at a bottom and will be turning,” Rogers, who correctly predicted a commodities rally in 1999, said in an interview in Singapore on Thursday.

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