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(Adds Astenbeck fund's launch in 2008, paragraph 7)
By Barani Krishnan
NEW YORK, July 31 (Reuters) - Famed oil trader Andy Hall's more than $3 billion hedge fund was up nearly 20 percent at the half-year mark, sharply outpacing its rivals in one of the best performances of its seven-year history, data obtained by Reuters showed on Thursday.
The feat came as Occidental Petroleum Corp, which owns 20 percent of Hall's Westport, Connecticut-based hedge fund Astenbeck Capital Management and trading firm Phibro, reported a strong second quarter on Thursday, citing "improved marketing and trading" activity.
Occidental did not say if it was still open to selling its stakes in Astenbeck and Phibro, which it was considering early this year to reduce proprietary trading after a patch of weak returns at Hall's fund.
Hall's Astenbeck returned the most this year from among nine commodity funds that Maryland's $44 billion state pension system was invested in, data obtained by Reuters showed.
The Astenbeck Commodities Fund III, which Maryland had about $137 million in, rose 19.1 percent through June.
Astenbeck Capital said in a letter to its investors last month, also seen by Reuters, that it managed about $3.4 billion in different hedge fund accounts, each reporting similar returns.
If Astenbeck maintains its near 20 percent gain through the year end, it will be its best annual performance since 2009, when it rose more than 28 percent. The fund, launched in 2008, posted losses in two of the last three years.
Hall, who mostly takes bullish long-term bets on oil but also invests in natural gas, platinum and corn, managed to outperform despite range-bound oil markets. Benchmark Brent crude out of London is down almost 5 percent on the year, at below $106 a barrel, while U.S. crude is a tad higher, at around $98.
Astenbeck beat rival commodity funds run by prominent money managers such as Carlyle Group, Gresham Investment, Cargill's Black River, Schroeder, Jamison Capital and Taylor Woods Capital, the data from Maryland showed.
The broader commodity hedge fund index at Chicago's Hedge Fund Research was down 1 percent through June. (Reporting by Barani Krishnan; Editing by Tom Brown)