Oil Bulls Plunge Into Market as U.S. Gasoline Demand Hits Record

  • Hedge funds boost bullish wagers to highest since May: CFTC
  • Low prices stimulate March demand for U.S. gasoline: API

Oil Outlook: Are Markets Stabilizing?

Money managers shrugged off the failure of the world’s biggest oil producers to agree on an output freeze as U.S. gasoline demand surged.

West Texas Intermediate crude jumped 8.3 percent the week after talks in Doha collapsed. Investors focused on falling U.S. output and higher fuel use as the peak summer driving season approaches. American gasoline consumption rose to 9.25 million barrels a day in March, an all-time high for the month, the American Petroleum Institute said April 21. 

QuickTake Oil Prices

“It doesn’t make sense to go short ahead of summer because of strong gasoline demand,” said Scott Roberts, co-head of high yield investments and manager of $2.7 billion at Invesco Advisers Inc. in Atlanta. “Refiners are coming back and with that crude demand.”

Speculators’ net-long position in benchmark U.S. crude jumped to the highest since May of last year in the week ended April 19, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Long positions rose to an 11-month high while shorts declined.

WTI futures slipped 2.6 percent in the CFTC report week. The front-month contract fell $1.09 to settle at $42.64 a barrel Monday, dropping from the highest close since Nov. 10 on Friday.

Short Dip

Crude fell as much as 6.8 percent on April 18, the day after the meeting in Doha ended without an agreement to limit supplies amid a global glut. It settled down 1.4 percent as a strike by oil workers in Kuwait, OPEC’s fourth-biggest producer, eased the decline.

“Investors are looking for larger exposure to crude oil and showing a continuing willingness to buy on the dips,” said Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York. “The market reaction to the lack of a production freeze ended in hours.”

Futures rose after government data on April 20 showed that U.S. crude output slumped to the lowest since October 2014. Demand from refiners has risen 600,000 barrels a day since February. 

Surging Demand

U.S. gasoline consumption, averaged over four weeks, rose 3.9 percent from a year earlier to 9.39 million barrels a day through April 15, Energy Information Administration data show. Demand this summer will increase 1.4 percent to a record, the EIA said April 12. Americans drove 232.2 billion vehicle miles in February, up 5.6 percent from a year earlier, Transportation Department data show.

“Gasoline demand is quite strong and that’s all price driven,” said Thomas Finlon, director of Energy Analytics Group LLC in Wellington, Florida. “Demand for gasoline should provide support for crude.”

The average price of regular gasoline at the pump nationwide was $2.136 a gallon on Sunday, down 15 percent from a year earlier, according to data from Heathrow, Florida-based AAA, a national federation of motor clubs.

Speculators’ net-long position in WTI gained by 30,357 futures and options combined to 245,987, CFTC data show. Long positions, or bets that prices will rise, increased 4.8 percent, while shorts tumbled 19 percent.

In other markets, net bullish bets on Nymex gasoline climbed 15 percent to 23,357 contracts. Gasoline futures declined 3.5 percent in the period. Net bearish wagers on U.S. ultra low sulfur diesel decreased 11 percent to 7,773 contracts, the least since June as futures slipped 1 percent. 

Crude prices remain vulnerable to a correction because of ample stockpiles, Finlon said. Inventories climbed 2.08 million barrels to 538.6 million in the week ended April 15, the highest level since 1930.

“A lot of investors are overly optimistic," Finlon said. “Inventories rose yet again. To have further price growth, we need to see them come down.”

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