Hedge funds pause oil buying as rally stalls

Hedge funds have stopped buying oil in recent weeks as the rally that carried prices higher during May and June has run out of momentum, amid concerns about the faltering economic recovery.

Hedge funds and other money managers sold the equivalent of 21 million barrels in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts in the week ending July 7.

Funds have purchased just 2 million barrels over the most recent four weeks, compared with 72 million barrels over the previous four and 179 million barrels over the four before that.

Last week’s sales were concentrated in Brent (-15 million barrels) and NYMEX and ICE WTI (-10 million), offset by small purchases in U.S. gasoline (+1 million), U.S. diesel (+2 million) and European gasoil (+1 million).

The deceleration in hedge fund buying has coincided with a loss of upward price momentum in the crude market over the same four-week period.

Front-month Brent futures prices rose less than $2 per barrel compared over the last four weeks, compared with more than $11 over the previous period.

Similarly, Brent’s six-month calendar spread tightened less than 50 cents per barrel over the last four weeks, compared with more than $2.60 over the previous four.

Hedge fund buying is no longer chasing prices and spreads higher as doubts set in about the rate of economic recovery and acceleration in oil consumption.

Traders are anticipating a slower pick up in oil consumption as a result of a patchy economic recovery and the need to work down excess fuel stocks inherited from the lockdown.