Hedge funds raise bullish bets on U.S. crude oil

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hedge funds and money managers raised bullish wagers on U.S. crude oil in the latest week, data showed on Friday, as prices rose with the risk of global supply disruptions remaining high.

FILE PHOTO: Crude oil storage tanks are seen from above at the Cushing oil hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, U.S., March 24, 2016. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

The speculator group raise its combined futures and options position in New York and London by 31,273 contracts to 472,907 in the week to April 17, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said.

During the period, oil prices rose about 1.5 percent.

Oil markets have been supported by the sentiment that there are high risks of supply disruptions, including conflicts in the Middle East, renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran and falling output as a result of political and economic crisis in Venezuela.

However, Brent crude speculators cut net long positions by 12,572 contracts to 619,882 in week to April 17. Last week, the group hiked bullish bets to the highest on record.

Oil markets were tense about the possibility of Western military action in Syria heading into the weekend but prices weakened amid a lack of escalation following intervention by the United States, France and the UK.

Oil prices had risen nearly 10 percent in the run-up to the strikes, as investors bulked up on assets such as gold or U.S. Treasuries, which can shield against geopolitical risks.

In the United States, inventories have fallen as fuel demand has firmed and imports dropped. Crude stockpiles fell 1.1 million barrels in the week to April 13, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 1.4 million barrels.

Among refined products, bullish bets on U.S. gasoline climbed to the highest in more than two months. Net long positions rose by 9,269 lots to 97,978 lots.

Gasoline demand has jumped to levels seen during peak driving season in the summer, data showed.

In distillates, bullish bets on ultra low sulfur diesel also rose to a more than two-month high. Distillate stockpiles decreased 3.1 million barrels, versus expectations for a 268,000-barrel draw, the EIA data showed this week, putting overall inventories of these products, which include diesel, heating oil and jet fuel, at levels not seen seasonally since 2014.

Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler