Hedge funds' bullish oil bets at 4-month low as outlook weakens

(Reuters) - Hedge funds have slashed positive bets on U.S. crude oil to a four-month low, industry data released on Friday showed, as weakening fundamentals flushed more bullish speculators out of the market.

A maze of crude oil pipes and valves is pictured during a tour in Freeport, Texas, U.S. June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Richard Carson

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission reported that money managers, including hedge funds and other big speculators, cut their combined net longs in U.S. crude futures and options in both New York and London by 24,912 contracts to 155,652 in the week to July 19. That was the lowest net long position for money managers since the week ended March 8.

In the previous week, managed money net longs in NYMEX-traded West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude grew by 8,306 contracts. Over a four-week span, bullish wagers on WTI fell by more than 60,000 contracts. That is equivalent to more than 60 million barrels in actual supply, given NYMEX’s position size of 1,000 barrels per contract.

WTI prices were barely changed during the week to July 19, with the continuous front-month contract shedding just 11 cents to settle at $44.65 a barrel.

Since then, the market has dipped more. On Friday, the front-month settled at $44.19 a barrel on evidence of a glut in crude and refined petroleum products building across the world.

Prices were also pressured by a report showing a fourth weekly rise in the U.S. oil rig count that indicated more production, with global crude benchmark Brent hitting two-month lows.

“It looks like we’ll be getting sizeable rig builds here on, and further weakening in the price of spot oil versus long-dated,” said Tariq Zahir, who trades time spreads in WTI at New York’s Tyche Capital Advisors.

“I’ll be selling into any rallies I see from here.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. government reported that domestic crude inventories were at 519.5 million barrels last week, historically high for this time of year, even after a ninth straight week of drawdowns.

On Thursday, market intelligence firm Genscape reported a build of 725,176 barrels in the latest week at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery point for U.S. crude futures, traders said.

Falling oil prices have encouraged traders to send U.S. supplies to Europe, counterbalancing 700,000 barrels per day in lost Nigerian supply.

U.S., European and Asian oil product stocks rose 2.35 million barrels last week for a second week of growth, data showed.

Reporting By Barani Krishnan; Editing by Andrew Hay and Meredith Mazzilli