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COT: China growth fears and strong dollar drive exodus from metals

Ole Hansen

Head of Commodity Strategy

Summary:  The COT reports published weekly by the US CFTC highlight futures positions and changes made by hedge funds across commodities and forex during the latest reporting week to last Tuesday, May 3. A week that saw a continued deterioration in the global growth outlook driven by extended China lockdowns, a stronger dollar and increasingly aggressive rate hike signals from FOMC members. Commodities traded mixed but the continued loss of momentum in metals and general growth worries saw bullish bets drop to a four-month low.


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 and forex up until last Tuesday, May 3. A week that saw a continued deterioration in the global growth outlook driven by extended China lockdowns, a stronger dollar and increasingly aggressive rate hike signals from members of the US Federal Reserve. The week highlighted how traders positioned themselves ahead of last Wednesday’s FOMC meeting. During the week US ten-year bond yields jumped 25 basis points while the dollar reached fresh cycle highs against most currencies. Commodities were mixed with gains in energy and softs being offset by losses across grains, livestock and metals.

Commodities
The Bloomberg Commodity Spot index traded close to unchanged in the week to May 3 with a six percent gain in energy led by natural gas and diesel as well higher prices for cocoa and cotton in the softs sector, offsetting weakness in precious (-2.3%) and industrial metals (-5.2%), as well as grains (-2.8%). Speculators and money managers responding to these price changes and the continued loss of momentum by cutting bullish bets across 24 major commodity futures by 7% to 1.85 million lots, a four month low. Despite racing to a record high in recent weeks, the sector has increasingly become nervours about the global growth and demand look. In the short term due to Chinese lockdowns and longer term due to high inflation and tightening monetary conditions hurting demand. The drop in the total net long to a four months low also driven by elevated volatility forcing leveraged funds, targeting a certain level of volatiltiy to cut their exposure. From a recent pre-war and pre-China lockdown peak on February 22 at 2.23 million lots, the energy sector exposure has been cut by 23%, metals are down 67% while the agriculture sector is up 2% led by softs.

Energy: Crude oil and refined product futures witnessed a small build in net longs held by funds while a 14% surge in natural gas helped trigger profit taking resulting in a 14% reduction in the net long held in four Henry Hub deliverable futures and swap contracts. Small buying of crude oil did not hide the fact momentum has slowed and traders have become more risk adverse given the number of multiple forces currently impacting the price of oil in both directions.

Latest: Crude oil (OILUKJUL22 & OILUSJUN22) trades steady near a one-month high with the general risk aversity from a stronger dollar, the economic damage from China lockdowns, inflation and monetary tightening being offset by continued supply concerns from Russia and other OPEC+ producers struggling to meet their production targets. G-7 leaders have joined the EU in making a commitment to phase out their dependency on Russian energy, including oil. While the risk in our opinion remains skewed to the upside, the latest developments are likely to keep crude oil rangebound with focus instead on refined products where multi-year highs are already hurting demand. Monthly oil market reports from EIA Tuesday, followed by OPEC and IEA on Thursday. 

Metals: Gold was sold for a third consecutive week with the net-long falling to a three-month low with rising yields and the stronger dollar driving a loss of momentum. The 17% reduction to 82.9k lots was driven by a combination of long liquidation and fresh short selling lifting the gross short to a seven-month high.

Copper has recently suffered from extended China lockdowns hurting the outlook for demand from the worlds top consumer, as well as short selling from macro-based funds using copper as a short play on China. Four weeks of net selling culminated last week with the position flipping to a net short of 8.8k lots for the first time in two years.

Latest: Gold remains at the mercy of a continued rise in US Treasury yields and the stronger dollar with inflation data this week from the U.S. and elsewhere potentially driving additional volatility across market. China and India, two major sources of demand for gold, both seeing their currencies weakening against the dollar, thereby potentially negatively impacting the short-term demand outlook. Overall, however, compared with stocks and bonds, gold’s relative strength continues. As of last Friday, an investor based in dollars holding gold was +16% ahead relative to the S&P 500 and more than 26% versus TLT:arcx an ETF that tracks the performance of long-dated US government bonds. In Europe, an investor based in euros has seen an XAUEUR position outperform the pan-European Stoxx50 index by more than 25% and 20% versus an ETF tracking European government bonds. Support at $1850 and $1830. 

 

Agriculture: The grains sector saw selling across all of the six futures contracts led by a 50k lots reduction across the three soybean contracts. The overall 66k reduction was generally driven by a combination of longs being reduced and fresh short positions being added. Overall the total net long across the sector and the Bloomberg Grains Spot index remains close to a multiyear high, a reflection of current adverse weather uncertainty across the world raising concerns about production levels, together with the risk of the Ukraine war preventing production and exports of key food commodities from wheat to sunflower oil.

Forex
Broad dollar strength and with that broad demand against its major peers accelerated ahead of last week’s FOMC meeting. As the Dollar index climbed to levels last seen in 2003, all of the nine IMM futures tracked in this saw net selling with the aggregate dollar long jumping by $6.3 billion or 41% to $21.8 billion. Selling was most noticeable in EUR were 28.6k lots of selling flipped the net back to a 6.4k lots net short. This was followed by CAD (-11.9k) and JPY where 5.3k lots of selling took the net short to within 90% of the recent peak at -111.8k lots. Sterling meanwhile was sold for a ninth week, driving an increase in the net short to a 2-1/2-year high -73.8k lots.

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

 

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