March 29, 2019 / 8:18 PM / 6 months ago

Hedge funds boost bullish U.S. crude, Brent bets: CFTC

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hedge funds and money managers raised bullish wagers on U.S. crude to the highest in more than five months, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday, as prices climbed on tightening global supplies.

FILE PHOTO: Isla Oil Refinery PDVSA terminal is seen in Willemstad on the island of Curacao, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

The speculator group increased its combined futures and options net long position in New York and London by 29,103 contracts to 243,209 in the week to March 26.

Brent crude speculators also raised net long positions by 13,429 contracts to 322,035 in the week to March 26, data from the Intercontinental Exchange showed. That was the highest level since late October.

Oil prices have been propped up by supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-affiliated allies such as Russia and due to U.S. sanctions on OPEC-members Iran and Venezuela.

Iranian crude oil shipments have averaged only just over 1 million barrels per day in March, down from 1.3 million bpd in February and a 2018 peak of at least 2.5 million bpd in April, before the U.S. sanctions were announced.

Venezuelan crude oil production has also dwindled amid U.S. sanctions and an internal political and economic crisis, plunging from a high of more than 3 million bpd at the start of the century to not much more than about 1 million bpd currently.

In the U.S., data showed a large and unexpected drop in crude inventories due to strong export and refining demand in the week to March 15.

Still, worries about global economic growth have capped gains in oil prices. An eight-month trade war between China and the United States has worried global markets already concerned by signs of a slowdown in economic growth this year.

Meanwhile, natural gas speculators in four major NYMEX, ICE markets cut net long positions by 11,410 contracts to 194,974 during the week.

Among refined products, managed money net long positions in U.S. gasoline rose to the highest level since early October at 97,937 contracts.

Speculators also switched to a net short position of 1,171 lots in U.S. heating oil futures in the latest week.

Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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