Oil Speculators Make `Easy' Bearish Call at 85-Year Supply High

Bold Call: Barclays Thinks Oil Will Be at $85 in 2020
  • Money managers increase bearish wagers by most since July
  • U.S. crude supplies have gained 5% in past four weeks

Hedge funds placed the most bets on falling oil prices since July as rising piles of crude dashed hopes of a near-term recovery.

Money managers’ short position in West Texas Intermediate crude jumped by 18 percent in the week ended Oct. 20, the largest surge since July 21, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. That pulled their net-long position down by more than 16,000 contracts of futures and options.

Crude stockpiles in the U.S. rose 22.6 million barrels in the past four weeks to the highest October level since 1930, even as producers have idled more than half their drilling rigs in the past year. A global surplus of crude could last through 2016, according to the International Energy Agency.

“The decline in U.S. drilling and production is not enough to rebalance even the U.S. market, let alone the global market,” said Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York. “How much do you really want to pay for the next million barrels of inventory you don’t need?”

WTI fell 2.4 percent in the report week to $45.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The front-month contract dropped 1.4 percent to settle at $43.98 a barrel on Monday.

Bloated Stockpiles

Oil inventories in the U.S. have risen 5 percent in the past four weeks to 477 million barrels, the highest seasonal in 85 years, when massive production in east Texas caused the state to empower its Railroad Commission to regulate output.

Supplies have risen as refineries have slowed processing to perform seasonal maintenance. U.S. plants ran at 86.4 percent of capacity last week, compared with 96.1 percent at the end of July.

“We’re in the middle of refinery maintenance season. Utilization is low, imports are up, and we’re building crude,” said David Pursell, a managing director at investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. in Houston, said in a phone interview. “The middle of October is an easy time to be bearish on crude.”

The net-long position in WTI fell by 8.7 percent to 168,201 futures and options, just the second decline in the past nine weeks, CFTC data show. Shorts rose by 16,496 contracts, while longs increased by 380. Money managers cut net-longs on Brent crude by 18,597 contracts to 184,939 lots, according to data from ICE Futures Europe.

Other Markets

In other markets, net bullish bets on Nymex gasoline decreased 24 percent to 12,939. Futures fell 2.7 percent in the period covered by the CFTC report to $1.2783 a gallon. Net bearish wagers on U.S. ultra low sulfur diesel climbed 11 percent to 32,179 contracts. Diesel futures dropped 1.5 percent in the period to $1.4487 a gallon.

With the crude market almost 500 days past its pre-crash peak in June 2014, the relative price of crude now is lower than at the same time following collapses in 2008 and 1986, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The market is “in the midst of what may well turn out to be the most severe downturn in several decades,” Schlumberger Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Paal Kibsgaard told analysts in a conference call Oct. 16.

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