Investors play it safe on crude ahead of make-or-break week for oil markets

Investors played it safe on U.S. crude ahead of a make-or-break week for oil markets. Money managers cut total positions on West Texas Intermediate crude to the lowest level in five years, according to U.S. data released Friday. They shed bearish bets faster than bullish ones, leaving the net-long position higher for the first time in 12 weeks.

Oil spiraled to its worst monthly loss in a decade in November, beset by worries about a looming global supply glut. Yet with OPEC, Russia and other major exporters holding talks on a potential production cut, investors don’t want to risk getting caught on the wrong side of a rebound, said Chris Kettenmann, chief energy strategist at Macro Risk Advisors LLC.

“A lot of people who caught some of the downdraft in prices in October and November have moved to the sidelines and were looking to take some profits off the table," Kettenmann said in a phone interview.

Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak met his Saudi counterpart Khalid Al-Falih on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina, the Russian Energy Ministry said on Twitter. That’s a prelude to a Dec. 6 OPEC meeting in Vienna where the cartel and its allies will consider a cut of 1 million barrels a day or more. An OPEC advisory committee recommended a 1.3 million-barrel cut, according to a delegate.

Because the bets on falling prices shrank faster, net-long positions on WTI -- the difference between bullish and bearish wagers -- edged up 2.6 percent to 155,023 options and futures contracts as of Nov. 27, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission reported.

Sentiment on Brent crude was more negative. Net-long positions on the international benchmark slid for the ninth straight week to the least bullish point in about three years, according to ICE Futures Europe data. Bets on falling prices, meanwhile, were the highest since August 2017.

Investors have been losing faith in international producers’ ability to agree on a cut, said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts. There may be an inkling of more optimism for U.S. prices, he said.

“The economy is still looking strong," Lynch said. “And the Americans may just be expecting that lower prices will have an effect sooner rather than later and force production cuts in the U.S."



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