(John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own)
* Chartbook: tmsnrt.rs/2OQQrkO
By John Kemp
LONDON, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Hedge funds have cut their bullish position in crude oil and refined fuels to the lowest level for almost a year, as fund managers continued to close out former long positions.
Hedge funds and other money managers cut their net long position in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts by 69 million barrels in the week to Aug. 14.
Net length has been cut in 12 out of the last 17 weeks with a total reduction of almost 460 million barrels since April 17.
Portfolio managers now hold a net position of just 952 million barrels, down from a peak of 1.484 billion in January, and the lowest since September 2017.
Fund managers are becoming less bullish on the outlook for prices but few have dared to bet on substantial price falls (tmsnrt.rs/2OQQrkO).
Gross long positions across the six major contracts have fallen by 464 million barrels since late April, while short positions have also fallen by 10 million barrels over the same period.
Last week, as in most previous weeks, the reduction in net length was led by crude, with Brent down by 17 million and WTI by 41 million.
By contrast, U.S. gasoline positions were down by 14 million barrels, but U.S. heating oil was unchanged and European gasoil rose by 4 million.
And as in previous weeks, the reduction in net length was driven by the liquidation of former long positions (-67 million barrels) rather than the creation of new short ones (+2 million).
Hedge fund managers continue to exit from their former bullish positions in Brent and WTI, according to regulatory and exchange data.
Portfolio managers have cut their net long position in Brent in 13 of the last 18 weeks, by a total of 296 million barrels.
Net length in Brent has fallen to its lowest level for 55 weeks, unwinding most of the increase since prices started to rise in July 2017.
Brent long positions are very close to their lowest level 24 months; it is only the comparative absence of short positions that gives the hedge fund community a bullish position overall.
The liquidation of so many former long positions has mitigated one source of downside risk hanging over oil prices.
But with so few short positions, the hedge fund community’s positioning remains stretched, with almost 10 long positions for every short.
If the outlook for the global economy and oil consumption deteriorates, there is still scope for funds to add short positions and push prices lower.
- Frothy oil market turns increasingly flat (Reuters, Aug. 13)
- Oil market hits a cyclical pause (Reuters, July 24)
- Hedge funds slash bullish oil positions after prices peak (Reuters, July 23) (Editing by Jane Merriman)