* Hedge funds amass record bets on U.S. oil prices
* Strong WTI September/October backwardation draws investors
* G20 puts growth before austerity, vows to tread carefully (Updates with settlement prices for new front-month September contract)
By Nicolas Medina Mora Perez and Jeanine Prezioso
NEW YORK, July 22 (Reuters) - U.S. oil prices pulled back sharply on Monday from last week’s 16-month high as traders sold to lock in profits from a blistering rally that briefly sent U.S. crude to a premium over Brent for the first time in nearly three years.
Europe’s benchmark Brent crude increased its premium over U.S. West Texas Intermediate on Monday, with the September CL-LCO1=R contract trading $1.47 higher than its U.S. equivalent as support from tight U.S. supplies eased.
The August WTI contract tumbled more than 1 percent and finished below $107 a barrel ahead of its expiration later in the day, while the September contract showed smaller losses.
“We thought $110 was a price target but the more the market dips into this range the more you’ll see profiteers,” said Rich Ilczyszyn, chief market strategist and founder of iitrader.com LLC in Chicago.
The WTI contract for August delivery lost $1.14 cents, settling at $106.91.
September WTI fell 93 cents to settle at $106.94, converging with the expiring August contract as traders settled their front-month positions. The October WTI contract was significantly weaker, trading at $1.47 below the September price.
September Brent crude gained slightly, climbing 8 cents to settle at $108.15.
Gasoline futures fell more than crude, dropping 2.2 percent to $3.0547 a gallon, even as Valero reported the gasoline-making unit at its Port Arthur, Texas, refinery, is expected to be shut through late July. Gasoline futures hit a 4-1/2-month high on Friday at $3.16, but traders said pressure was easing with the end of the U.S. summer driving season in sight.
The convergence of the two front-month crude benchmarks comes as increased pipeline capacity has drained the glut of oil at the WTI delivery point of Cushing, Oklahoma, to the U.S. Gulf Coast, where refinery demand has been high.
The easing of the Cushing glut has not led to lower prices at the Gulf Coast as refineries there are eager to cash in on robust margins and exports.
The price rally has also been driven by concerns that the market is flipping from glut to tightness, fueling a sharper run in prompt contracts to create a backward-dated market, with near-term prices higher than those further in the future.
“The extraordinarily strong backwardation is strengthening and bringing everyone into the WTI,” said Olivier Jakob, an analyst at Petromatrix in Zug, Switzerland.
Brent could garner support from a stronger demand outlook and supply risks in the Middle East and Sudan, according to Carsten Fritsch, analyst at Commerzbank.
Hedge funds amassed record bets on rising U.S. crude oil prices in the week to July 16, trade data by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) showed.
A pledge by the Group of 20 nations, which account for 90 percent of the world economy, to put growth before austerity has fueled hopes of a recovery in the consumption of commodities.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a decisive victory in upper house elections, which was seen as a boost for his radical economic stimulus policies. (Additional reporting by Manash Goswami; Editing by Richard Pullin, Jeff Coelho, Peter Galloway, Nick Zieminski and Bob Burgdorfer)