Specs Exit Commodities on Omicron and Fed Worries
Futures positions and changes made by hedge funds across commodities, forex and financials up until last Tuesday, November 30. A week that encapsulated the markets very nervous reaction to the Omicron virus news as well as Jerome Powell’s increased focus on combatting inflation. While global stocks and US long end yields dropped, a 7% correction in the Bloomberg commodity index helped trigger the biggest and most widespread hedge fund exodus since February 2020.
Saxo Bank publishes weekly Commitment of Traders reports (COT) covering leveraged fund positions in commodities, bonds and stock index futures. For IMM currency futures and the VIX, we use the broader measure called non-commercial.
This summary highlights futures positions and changes made by hedge funds across commodities, forex and financials up until last Tuesday, November 30. The reporting week encapsulated the markets very nervous reaction to the Omicron virus news as well as Jerome Powell confirming inflation is no longer being transitory. His comments to the Senate banking committee raised expectations for faster tapering with the first full 0.25% rate hike now priced in for July next year.
The US yield curve flattened considerably with virus related safe-haven demand driving down the yield on 10-year US treasury notes by 22 basis point. Global stocks slumped with the VIX jumping 8%. Hardest hit, however was the commodity sector after the Bloomberg commodity index slumped by 7%, thereby triggering the biggest and most widespread hedge fund exodus since February 2020.
Hedge funds responded to heightened growth and demand concerns related to the omicron virus, and the potential faster pace of US tapering, by cutting their net long across 24 major commodity futures by 17% to a 15-month low at 1.8 million lots. This the biggest one-week reduction since the first round of Covid-19 panic in February last year was triggered by net selling of all but three livestock contracts.
Hardest hit was the energy sector where renewed demand concerns sent the prices of WTI and Brent down by more than 15%. In response to this, hedge funds accelerated their pace of futures selling with the combined net long slumping by 90k lots to a one-year low at 425k lots. The loss of momentum following the late October peak has driven an eight-week exodus out of oil contracts, culminating last week, and during this time the net length has seen a 35% or 224k lots reduction. Potentially setting the market up for a strong speculative driven recovery once the technical and fundamental outlook turns more friendly.
Latest: Crude oil (OILUKFEB22 & OILUSJAN21) trades higher following its longest stretch of weekly declines since 2018. Today’s rise apart from a general positive risk sentiment in Asia has been supported by Saudi Arabia’s decision to hike their official selling prices (OSP) to Asia and US next month. Thereby signaling confidence demand will be strong enough to absorb last week’s OPEC+ production increase at a time when mobility is challenged by the omicron virus. For now, both WTI and Brent continue to find resistance at their 200-day moving averages, currently at $69.50 and$72.88 respectively.
Gold was net sold for a second week as speculators continued to reduce exposure following the failed breakout attempt above $1830. With Fed chair Powell signaling a change in focus from job creation to fighting inflation, sentiment took another knock, thereby driving a 13.7k lots reduction to a four-week low at 105k lots. Industrial metals also suffered with the net long in HG copper slumping by one-third to a three-month low at 13.4k lots. Copper’s rangebound trading behavior since July has sapped hedge funds involvement with the current net length a far cry from the 92k record peak seen this time last year.
Latest: Gold (XAUUSD) received a small bid on Friday following mixed US data, but overall, it continues to lack the momentum needed to challenge an area of resistance just above $1790 where both the 50- and 200-day moving averages meet. Focus on Friday’s US CPI data with the gold market struggling to respond to rising inflation as it could speed up rate hike expectations thereby putting upward pressure on real yields which are inverse correlated to gold’s performance. A full 25 basis point rate hike has now been priced in for July and the short-term direction will likely be determined by the ebb and flow of future rate hike expectations.
The whole sector with the exception of livestock took a major hit, just one week after funds had increased bullish bets on grains and softs by the most in 15 months. Both sectors suffered setbacks of more than 5% with recent highflyers like wheat and cotton taking big hits. As mentioned, selling was broad and led by corn, soybeans, sugar and cocoa, with the latter together with palladium being the only two contracts where speculators hold an outright short position.
This week the grain market will be focusing on weather developments in Australia and its potential impact on the wheat harvest, as well as the monthly World Agriculture Supply & Demand report (WASDE) from the USDA.
In forex, speculators reacted to renewed virus concerns by increasing bullish dollar bets against ten IMM currency futures and the Dollar Index to an 18-month high at $27.9 billion. Speculators were buyers of JPY (18.4k lots or $2 billion equivalent) but sellers of everything else, including euros (6.8k) and the two commodity currencies of AUD (16.9k) and CAD (10.9k). These changes resulting in the aggregate dollar long rising by $2.3 billion.
In terms of extended positioning, a euro short at 23k lots was last seen in March 2020, the GBP short at 39k lots was a two-year high while the 60k lots MXN short was the highest since March 2017.
What is the Commitments of Traders report?
The COT reports are issued by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the ICE Exchange Europe for Brent crude oil and gas oil. They are released every Friday after the U.S. close with data from the week ending the previous Tuesday. They break down the open interest in futures markets into different groups of users depending on the asset class.
Commodities: Producer/Merchant/Processor/User, Swap dealers, Managed Money and other
Financials: Dealer/Intermediary; Asset Manager/Institutional; Leveraged Funds and other
Forex: A broad breakdown between commercial and non-commercial (speculators)
The reasons why we focus primarily on the behavior of the highlighted groups are:
- They are likely to have tight stops and no underlying exposure that is being hedged
- This makes them most reactive to changes in fundamental or technical price developments
- It provides views about major trends but also helps to decipher when a reversal is looming