The rally that pushed crude to a two-year high is showing signs of losing strength, and we may soon see a reversal in prices. Here’s what to look out for in the oil market in months to come.
A closely watched technical marker is indicating crude might make a break for the downside. West Texas Intermediate crude’s 14-day relative strength index lingered above 70 on Tuesday, signaling the commodity is overbought. Prices have rallied about 5 percent so far this month.
Francisco Blanch, Bank of America Merrill Lynch global head of commodities research, warned that oil might be nearing a top, with possibly another $4 or $5 left in the rally.
At a time when hedge funds expressed an uber-bullish stance on crude and have been piling on long positions, US Oil Fund investors are taking their money and exiting. The biggest exchange-traded fund tracking oil prices saw withdrawals for four straight weeks.
“You have to treat it like a hot potato, to avoid getting your returns corroded by the roll,” Eric Balchunas, an ETF analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence, said by telephone. “The longer you stay there, the longer you could get hurt.”
Hedge funds’ net-long position on Brent rose to a record, while net bets on a WTI crude-price rise climbed to a three-month high, the latest ICE Futures Europe and US Commodity Futures Trading Commission data for the week ended Oct. 31 showed.
US crude production levels hover over 9.5 million barrels a day, and even the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries forecasts shale output will grow faster over the next four years.
“We cannot enter 2018 with the market running this hot,” Chris Kettenmann, chief energy strategist at Macro Risk Advisors LLC, said by telephone. “If we go into 2018 with WTI threatening $60 and Brent threatening to break out to $70,” the rig count will rise as shale explorers will be too tempted to try and grow again, he said.
And it will not be easy to keep shale drillers away with oil lingering above $57 a barrel. Producers and merchants increased their short positions by the most since January 2016 in the most recent CFTC data. The increase in hedging against a price drop signals a likely comeback in US output.
Even though many producers already locked in pricing at slightly lower prevailing levels, it’s likely some might continue to lock in cash flows for 2018 capital expenditures, Kettenmann said. “If we go into 2018 at these aggressive prices, guys are going to hedge and they are going to be able to add rigs.”
When money managers ratcheted up their net-long position on WTI to a record back in February, it was followed by a decline of about 41 percent in those same positions over the next five weeks. Whether we see a reduction in net-longs in the coming weeks will depend on the outcome of the Nov. 30 OPEC meeting, Kettenmann said.