NEW YORK, May 8 (Reuters) - Speculators abandoned their bets on rising U.S. interest rates in the futures market just days before the Federal Reserve's decision this month to leave rates unchanged and the release of an upbeat April payrolls report.
Their exit from bearish rate bets also came in advance of the French presidential run-off on Sunday between anti-European Union candidate Marine Le Pen and front-runner centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission released late on Friday showed the margin of speculators' bearish bets on federal funds futures above their bullish bets on them tumbled to 37,386 contracts on May 2 from a week earlier.
The collapse in "net shorts," which totaled 176,870 contracts, was the largest such decline for fed funds futures going back to the late 1980s, according to Reuters data.
The dramatic shift stemmed from speculators including hedge funds and futures-focused funds to lock in profits on their bearish bets on further Fed rate hikes, analysts said.
"With these major events on the horizon, people were covering their short positions," Greg Adamsick, director of global futures and options at RCM Alternatives in Chicago, said on Monday.
Speculators' net shorts in fed funds had been hovering close to record highs.
The move by speculators coincided with a record drop in open interest on fed funds contracts, whose prices reflect traders' expectations of the level of interbank borrowing cost that the Fed controls.
Total fed funds open interest slumped to 1.274 million contracts on May 2, down 462,292 from a week earlier.
Analysts also attributed the drop in open interest partly on the expiration of the April fed funds contract on April 28.
There are signs that speculators are rebuilding their bearish rates bets as open interest in fed funds has rebounded with falling fed funds prices since last Tuesday, analysts said.
The U.S. central bank hinted after its two-day policy meeting last week that it was open to raising rates in the coming months, downplaying weak U.S. economic growth in the first quarter.
A solid payrolls report that showed the U.S. jobless rate hitting a near 10-year low in April provided another reason to jump back on bearish rates bets, analysts said.
Finally, Macron's convincing victory over Le Pen further assuaged anxiety that a key member of the EU and the euro would stay in the regional economic bloc and single currency, they said. (Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Paul Simao)