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Stocks News

Column: Vaccine trials temper hedge funds' oil pessimism

LONDON (Reuters) - Hedge funds raced to buy back short positions in crude and products last week after Pfizer’s announcement of a successful coronavirus vaccine trial prompted hope for a recovery in consumption next year.

A view of the Stena forth drill rig for Springfield Group, the first independent African energy company to discover oil in deep sea, is pictured at the sea near Takoradi, Ghana November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kweku Obeng

Fund managers purchased the equivalent of 114 million barrels in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts in the week to Nov. 10, position records from regulators and exchanges showed.

Purchases were at the fastest rate since the middle of April, when Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to end their volume war, causing funds to buy 122 million barrels.

(Chartbook: tmsnrt.rs/3f8LIJE)

For the most part, portfolio managers last week purchased crude and products to close out previous bearish short positions (+89 million barrels) rather than initiating new bullish long positions (+25 million).

Buying was broadly spread across Brent (+36 million barrels), NYMEX and ICE WTI (+23 million), U.S. gasoline (+18 million), U.S. diesel (+15 million) and European gasoil (+22 million).

In almost all cases, except U.S. gasoline, buying was concentrated on repurchasing of previous short positions rather than opening new long ones.

Pfizer’s announcement increased the probability of a business cycle upturn and a resumption of international passenger aviation next year, weighted towards the second half.

It therefore eased some of the extreme pessimism that had swept across the market in the second half of October and early November, as the number of coronavirus cases accelerated worldwide.

Even after the short-covering rally, however fund positioning remained cautious, reflecting concern about the time it will take to deploy a vaccine and the possibility for a virus-driven winter recession in the meantime.

John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own.

Related columns:

- Successful vaccine would boost oil consumption, but not for 6-12 months (Reuters, Nov. 10)

- Hedge funds dump oil, prompt OPEC to signal “tweak” (Reuters, Nov. 9)

- Oil price path depends on coronavirus control (Reuters, Nov. 5)

- Coronavirus surge throws oil recovery into reverse (Reuters, Nov. 4)

Editing by Barbara Lewis

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