Amid a summer lull and heightened uncertainty about global economic and geopolitical events, money managers remain conflicted about where oil prices will be heading next.
Hedge funds barely changed their overall net long position—the difference between bullish and bearish bets—in the six most important oil-linked futures contracts in the latest reporting week to August 20.
Portfolio managers increased their net long position in the petroleum complex by the equivalent of 8 million barrels to 551 million barrels in the week to August 20, according to exchange and regulatory data compiled by Reuters market analyst John Kemp.
The rise in the net long position was mostly the result of short covering and liquidation of longs, not an increase in bullish bets on oil, suggesting that money managers continue to be indecisive about the next direction of oil prices.
Hedge funds and other portfolio managers increased their combined net long position in Brent Crude and WTI Crude by 11 million barrels, driven by a cut in short positions and a smaller decline in longs, Kemp’s detailed analysis shows. The net long position in Brent was cut by 7 million barrels, while the WTI Crude net long position increased by 18 million barrels—the result of a cut in short positions by 29 million barrels.
According to data from exchanges compiled by Bloomberg, hedge funds managers slashed their bearish bets on WTI by 25 percent in the week to August 20, only to be blindsided later last week by the trade war escalation, which triggered another decline in oil prices.
After the Chinese announcement of measures to retaliate for the planned U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, WTI Crude erased on Friday its gains for the week to August 23 as the renewed escalation in the trade spat again worried investors and traders about the future of the global economy and global oil demand growth.
Money managers got the direction of oil price wrong in seven out of the past nine weeks, Bloomberg data shows, highlighting the fact that the oil market has become even more unpredictable than it was at the start of the summer. Related: US Looks To Catch Up In Crucial Energy Tech Race
Before the summer began, up until the last week of June, hedge funds were also wrong seven times about oil prices, but in a time span of a whole six months.
Since the start of the summer, hedge funds have diverged over where oil prices are going next, as concerns about faltering demand have been countering the hopes of the bulls that Saudi Arabia would really ‘do whatever it takes’ to end the glut and stop the recent price slides, which were driven by fears that the U.S.-China trade war will take a toll on the global economy and consequently, on global oil demand growth.
This week, the trade war developments became more confusing than before, with conflicting signals from U.S. President Donald Trump about possible de-escalation of the trade spat with China.
“Confusion reigns on the progress of trade talks between the US and China, with China still not aware of any contact between the two countries. Instead, the market’s focus returned to the oil market itself, with supply-side issues taking prominence,” Daniel Hynes, Senior Commodity Strategist at ANZ, wrote on Tuesday.
Some analysts don’t see the market becoming optimistic unless a trade deal is made.
“Any market optimism will only prevail when the ink has dried on a new U.S.-China trade agreement,” Tamas Varga, analyst at oil broker PVM, told Reuters on Tuesday.
Despite the weekly fluctuations, money managers’ overall positioning on oil has remained broadly the same since the middle of June, precariously balanced and primed for going in either direction, once hedge funds have a clearer picture of the global economic and geopolitical factors determining the direction of oil prices.
Right now, it’s an unpredictable market, with unpredictable trade developments, often tweeted out by an unpredictable U.S. president.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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