Huge Crude Stakes
There is a titanic struggle going on right now in the oil market. On the one side of the futures market are the usual pace setters, the money managers. Last week, the latest COT data available, they went the most net long since March. If it continues, it will close in on the most positive futures position since the record long they established back in February.
Normally that would be insanely bullish for oil prices. But just as in February/March another part of the futures market has intervened on the other side. Back then it was the oil producers who rising inventory forced into a larger and larger offsetting net short (hedge).
This time, however, it is the swap dealers who are short for reasons that aren’t really clear. The weekly COT report for the last week in October showed a record net short for dealers, just beating their most extreme position from the middle of 2013 at -424k contracts. In the first week and November, they blew away that record at -470k.
It clearly matters because in 2017 the oil market has changed. It may be the inventory story, or it may be the exit of producers from hedging that inventory and other products. Whatever the case, money managers just aren’t setting the price like they used to. And it could be that managers have changed their market activities, too, where other parts of the futures market are now cueing off (shorting) this possible difference. I honestly don’t know what it is, but I can safely point out where it is.
Now with swap dealers apparently showing very, very strong conviction on the short side, oil prices can’t gain any traction beyond the $57 established by in all likelihood geopolitical risk.
The fundamentals of oil continue to favor the dealers over the managers, with oil inventories remaining at the same crisis “rising dollar” levels. Being slightly better than 2016 is not a real achievement toward clearing the leftover physical imbalance, not when oil inventories are instead still consistent with late 2014. With 2017 nearly over, there should have been much more progress toward 2013 levels of stock long before now if there was ever going to be a realistic chance to balance the oil market next year (at the most optimistic).