LONDON (Reuters) - Hedge fund bullishness towards the price of crude oil appears to have peaked for the time being, with fund managers booking some profits after the strong rally in the final seven weeks of 2016.
Few managers are willing to bet on a pull back in prices at the moment with the number of short positions still towards the bottom end of the range that has prevailed since 2014.
But the lack of fresh long positions has removed one of the factors which helped push oil prices higher in the closing weeks of 2016 and prices have been trending down since the turn of the year.
Hedge funds and other money managers cut their net long position in Brent and WTI futures and options by the equivalent of 15 million barrels in the week to Jan. 10 (tmsnrt.rs/2ixZUNl).
The net position declined for the second week running, after rising in five of the previous six weeks, according to an analysis of data published by regulators and exchanges (tmsnrt.rs/2iy61kD).
Hedge funds had amassed a record net long position of 796 million barrels by the middle of December, up from a recent low of just 422 million barrels in the middle of November.
Since then, however, the net long position has been flat or falling, and had been cut to 776 million barrels by Jan. 10.
Hedge funds long positions still outnumber short positions by a ratio of 7:1, but the ratio is down from almost 8:1 in mid-December (tmsnrt.rs/2ixWV7A).
Fund managers are becoming more cautious about the outlook after oil prices rose by almost $15 per barrel or more than a third in the final seven weeks of 2016.
Brent is now trading very close to the average level most traders are forecasting for 2017, according to a Reuters survey (tmsnrt.rs/2ijPcd9).
Nearly two-thirds of all respondents thought Brent prices would average $55 or $60 in 2017, which is not much different from the closing price of $54 on Jan. 10.
There is more bullishness among hedge fund managers about the outlook for U.S. gasoline prices, however.
Money managers have continued to accumulate long positions even as bullishness on crude has stalled.
Hedge funds have established a net long position of more than 63 million barrels in gasoline blendstock futures and options, up from 37 million in mid-December and just 28 million in mid-November.
The net long position in NYMEX gasoline blendstock is the largest since July 2014, when the price of oil was beginning its long slide (tmsnrt.rs/2iy3x5T).
Editing by David Evans