Oil bulls bet on restraint by OPEC+ and U.S. shale firms

Hedge funds have rarely been more bullish about the outlook for oil in the last three years, even as prices have climbed to levels that have induced a strong response from producers in the past.

Hedge funds and other money managers purchased the equivalent of 26 million barrels in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts in the week to June 15, according to exchange and regulatory data.

Last week’s purchases were focused on Brent (+22 million barrels) and NYMEX and ICE WTI (+9 million), with small buying in European gas oil (+4 million), although there were sales of U.S. diesel (-1 million) and U.S. gasoline (-8 million).

The combined position rose to 945 million barrels, only exceeded twice in the last 140 weeks – at the end of 2019 and start of 2020 after the trade truce between China and the United States but before the pandemic.

Net positions in both crude (746 million barrels) and products (199 million barrels) were in the 83rd-84th percentiles for all weeks since 2013, underscoring the high degree of bullishness about future price moves.

In NYMEX WTI, the number of bearish short positions fell to the lowest level for three years, with few portfolio managers prepared to bet against a further rise in prices.

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Fund managers anticipate petroleum consumption will grow strongly in the second half of 2021 and first half of 2022 as vaccination programmes allow major economies to re-open and international passenger aviation resumes.

But OPEC+ is seen increasing production more gradually to keep downward pressure on inventories and upward pressure on prices.

For now, major U.S. shale producers are increasing drilling rates and production more slowly than during past recoveries.

The limited response from the U.S. shale sector has temporarily removed the threat to OPEC+ and emboldened the group to push for higher prices.
Source: Reuters (Editing by Edmund Blair)

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