Oil Bulls Get Bolder as OPEC Cuts Lessen Odds of a Relapse

(Bloomberg) -- Oil’s bulls are getting bolder.

With production cuts orchestrated by OPEC taking hold and U.S. shale drillers promising to curb spending, hedge funds boosted wagers on increasing Brent crude prices by 17 percent in the week ended Jan. 22. That was the largest increase since August. Meanwhile, short-selling bets have plunged by 36 percent this month, the biggest three-week drop in about a year.

Crude prices have recovered a third of 2018’s late-year losses in a rally that’s pushed the global benchmark up more than 20 percent since Christmas Eve. In the past few days, turmoil in Venezuela, holder of the world’s biggest oil reserves, added some momentum to the rebound.

“Investors are continuing to get more constructive," said Brian Kessens, who manages $16 billion in energy investments for Kansas-based money manager Tortoise. “The risks on the upside are much more likely than the risks of going lower from here. We don’t see much ‘down’ for oil right now."

Oil Bulls Get Bolder as OPEC Cuts Lessen Odds of a Relapse

Whether investors have jumped on board just in time or overshot the mark remains to be seen. The price recovery stalled in recent days as the U.S.-China trade dispute dragged on and the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for global economic growth. Brent suffered its first weekly loss for the year.

The slide resumed Monday, with Brent falling as much as 2.7 percent to $59.95 on London’s ICE Futures Exchange. That followed disappointing profit outlooks from computer-chip company Nividia Corp. and heavy equipment maker Caterpillar Inc.

“The market for the time being is giving OPEC and Russia the benefit of the doubt," said Tamar Essner, an analyst with Nasdaq Inc. in New York. “Now, the big wild card is what happens with demand. We’re sort of stuck in this tight range until we get a bit more clarity."

Net-long wagers -- the difference between bets on a Brent increase and wagers on a decline -- rose by 17 percent for the week ended Jan. 22 to 202,934 options and futures contracts, according to data released Friday by ICE Futures Europe. Longs climbed 2.7 percent to the highest in almost two months. Shorts slumped 26 percent.

Data on hedge fund sentiment for the U.S. benchmark price, West Texas Intermediate, weren’t available because of the U.S. government shutdown.

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