Oil Investors Pour Most Money Into Funds in 4 Years

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Investors betting oil will rebound from the lowest prices in 5 1/2 years poured the most money in more than four years into funds that track crude.

The four biggest oil exchange-traded products listed in the U.S. received a combined $1.23 billion in December, the most since May 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Another $109.9 million was added this month through Jan. 5.

Investors are piling into oil ETFs even after West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, tumbled the most since 2008 last year amid signs of rising supply and weak demand. Shares outstanding of the four funds surged to the highest since 2009.

“Commodity investors can be contrarian investors,” said Matt Hougan, president of San Francisco-based research firm “There are a lot of true believers in the commodity space. A lot of people are attached to the idea that oil’s natural price should be $100, not $50.”

The U.S. Oil Fund, the biggest oil ETF, attracted $629.9 million in December and $100.4 million so far this month. The fund, which follows WTI prices, added 1.8 percent to $18.369 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange.

The number of U.S. Oil Fund shares on loan to short sellers was 3.93 million on Jan. 5, down from as high as 9.53 million last month, data compiled by Markit and Bloomberg show.

Money is pouring into oil ETFs even as commodity-linked index liquidations surged to a record $17 billion in the first 11 months of last year, Barclays Plc said in a report yesterday. Total commodity assets under management fell to $276 billion in November, the lowest since early 2010, according to the bank.

Shares Outstanding

The four funds also include ProShares Ultra Bloomberg Crude Oil, iPath S&P GSCI Crude Oil Total Return Index ETN and PowerShares DB Oil Fund. They had 171.6 million shares outstanding as of Jan. 6, the highest since March 2009, according to exchange data compiled by Bloomberg.

WTI futures slid below $50 a barrel for the first time since April 2009 earlier this week. The benchmark, which tumbled 46 percent in 2014, climbed 38 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $49.03 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 12:58 p.m. London time.

Oil has slumped as U.S. production grew to the highest in more than three decades and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries kept its output above quota for a seventh month in December. OPEC, which pumps about 40 percent of the world’s oil, decided to maintain its output target at 30 million barrels a day at a Nov. 27 meeting in Vienna.

The CBOE Crude Oil Volatility Index, which measures oil price fluctuations using options of the U.S. Oil Fund, dropped to 53.25 yesterday after reaching 57.67 on Jan. 5, the highest since October 2011.

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