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Traders Ditch Bullish Bets on Oil

A continuously fading war risk premium and signs that regional oil markets look well supplied prompted traders to slash last week their bullish bets on crude oil at the fastest pace in over a year.

The net long position—the difference between bullish and bearish bets—dropped to a three-month low as money managers liquidated longs, also prompting technical selling that pushed Brent Crude prices to the low $80s and the U.S. benchmark, WTI Crude, to below $80 per barrel so far in May.

Portfolio managers were net sellers of crude and fuel futures and contracts in the latest reporting week to May 7, with the equivalent of 143 million barrels sold in the six most important futures and options contracts, according to data from exchanges compiled by Reuters columnist John Kemp.

Brent and WTI saw the biggest drop in bullish positions, but there was selling in U.S. gasoline and European gas oil derivative contracts, too.

The sentiment among hedge funds and other money managers flipped from moderately to highly bullish in early April—amid flare-ups in the Middle East—to more bearish in early May, as the Iran-Israel tensions subsided and oil stock movements and inventories started to point to a looser market than previously thought.

n early April, hedge funds and other portfolio managers began to include a higher risk premium in their oil price trades as tensions in the Middle East spiked.

A month ago, the crude oil net long in WTI and Brent reached a six-month high in the week to April 9, driven by Brent—the international contract most exposed to geopolitical events. Brent Crude saw the net long position triple since early December, just before the Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea started adding higher geopolitical risk to oil prices.

In early April, analysts were not ruling out a run to $100 oil, but they noted that it would take further escalation in the Middle East with a direct threat to oil supply from the region for oil prices to spike to triple digits.

A month later, $100 oil looks like a long way off amid a waning war risk premium in prices. At the end of April, hedge funds and other money managers started dumping long positions in the most important petroleum contracts after Israel and Iran chose not to escalate the standoff in early April.
In addition, commercial crude and fuel inventories in the most transparent market, the U.S., built at the end of April and early May, prompting traders to dump more of their bullish bets as stockpiles across the markets worldwide looked more bearish than expected.

As a result, long positions on crude oil—bets that prices will rise—were cut in the week to May 7 at the fastest weekly pace since March 2023, Ole Hansen, Head of Commodity Strategy at Saxo Bank, wrote this week in an analysis on the latest positioning in commodities.

Due to the liquidation of longs, the energy sector saw continued selling, which led to technical selling of the crude and fuel contracts. In all commodities, selling was concentrated in crude oil, gas oil, and RBOB gasoline, Hansen added.

The combined net position in Brent and WTI slumped to 378,000 lots, the lowest in three months.

“Speculators reduced their net long in ICE Brent significantly over the last reporting week. Speculators sold 60,125 lots to leave them with a net long of 260,648 lots as of last Tuesday, a move which was predominantly driven by longs liquidating,” ING commodities strategists Warren Patterson and Ewa Manthey wrote in a note this week.

“NYMEX WTI also saw a large amount of selling. Speculators cut their net long by 55,038 lots to 117,651 lots, the smallest position held since February,” they added.

European gasoil also saw a large amount of speculative selling over the week to May 7 as the market became more bearish towards middle distillates, the strategists say.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for