Someone Bought a ‘Relatively Cheap Lottery Ticket’ That Will Pay Off If Oil Hits $100

  • December 2018 call single most-traded Brent option on Tuesday
  • Investor optimism returning to oil markets after OPEC deal

Is the Oil Market Wrong to Rely on Increased Demand?

Call it a pre-Christmas lottery ticket, but someone in the oil market has been busy making a bold bet, buying contracts that will be profitable if oil surges again to $100 a barrel.

The $100 December 2018 call option -- a contract that gives the right to buy Dec. 2018 futures at $100 per barrel -- was the most traded contract on Tuesday across the whole ICE Brent market, the latest sign of resurgent optimism in oil.

The deal doesn’t mean the market believes $100 a barrel will happen, but as traders start to buy bullish options, it indicates that some are increasingly confident that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries can succeed in its quest to rebalance supply and demand.

“That’s a relatively cheap lottery ticket,” Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank A/S, said by phone. “It’s clearly not the consensus in the market that we’re going to see a return to those prices any time soon, so it’s more likely a hedge against unforeseen geopolitical events during that time.”

The options probably cost a little more than $1 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. They would be worth multiple times that if futures prices spiked any time soon. It’s also possible the trades were part of a wider hedging program.

Confidence in higher prices has returned since OPEC, Russia and other producers agreed to their first production cut deal in 15 years earlier this month. The International Energy Agency says that if the producers don’t cheat on their commitments, oil demand could overtake supply in the first half of next year, a significant change after three consecutive years of oversupply.

Still, the bet is tiny put in the context of the global oil market. Despite elevated trading in December 2018 $100 calls, the number held by investors didn’t rise much. Open interest in the options rose by 500 to almost 11,000, while options trading volumes fell to the lowest in about a month.

Hedge fund positioning data has showed renewed faith in higher oil prices recently. Bets that Brent crude prices will increase rose to the highest since 2011, when ICE’s public data began, in the week to Dec. 13. At the same time, bets that prices will decline fell to the lowest since October.

Options activity surged this month as OPEC and non-OPEC nations finalized a deal to cut production levels early next year. Investors bought more contracts to profit from higher WTI prices than ever before as analysts said options trading had “entered a new dimension.”

Brent crude in London on Thursday rose as much as 0.4 percent to $54.69 a barrel and were at $54.66 as of 10:25 a.m. Hong Kong. Prices have almost doubled since hitting a 12-year low in January.

— With assistance by Michael Roschnotti, and Javier Blas

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