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COT: Speculative positioning ahead of Fridays omicron dump

Ole Hansen

Head of Commodity Strategy

Summary:  Futures positions and changes made by hedge funds across commodities, forex and financials up until last Tuesday, November 23. While a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since last Tuesday, it is nevertheless interesting, not least considering the report encapsulated the market reaction to last weeks renomination of Fed chair Powell which helped send both treasury yields and the dollar sharply higher, as well as the oil market reaction to the coordinated SPR release announcement. Finally, it also gives us an idea about the level of positioning ahead of Friday's omicron related sell off


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.

The below summary highlights futures positions and changes made by hedge funds across commodities, forex and financials up until last Tuesday, November 23. The report normally released on Friday's was delayed due to last weeks Federal holidays, and while a lot of water has flowed under the bridge, its nevertheless interesting. Not least considering the report encapsulated the market reaction to last weeks renomination of Fed chair Powell which helped send both treasury yields and the dollar sharply higher, as well as the oil market reaction to the coordinated SPR release announcement. Also it gives a good idea about how funds and speculators were positioned ahead of the sharp risk off to the new omicron virus variant.

Commodities

The commodity sector saw sizable shift out of energy and metals into the agriculture sector where all 13 futures contracts covered in this update saw net buying. During the week the energy sector lost 2.1% while precious metals dropped 4.3% after gold broke below key support at $1830. A 1.5% rise in copper was not enough to convince speculators who cut their net long by 20%. Most noticeable however was the strong buying seen across the agriculture sector, with strong demand and weather worries more than offsetting the headwind caused by the stronger dollar. 

Energy: Crude oil, both Brent and WTI, were sold ahead of the coordinated SPR release announcement last Tuesday. The combined net long dropped by 14k lots to a one-year low at 514.6k lots. The loss of price momentum during the past few months has, despite an overriding bullish sentiment in the market, been driving the reduction, and following Friday's 10% price collapse these traders have been rewarded for sticking to the signals the market was sending instead of listening to bullish price forecasts. Hedge funds are not "married" to their positions hence their better ability to respond to changes in the technical and/or fundamental outlook.

Metals: Having increase bullish gold bets by 65k lots during the previous two weeks, funds were forced to make 45k lots reduction last week in response to the Powell renomination sending gold sharply lower and below support in the $1830-35 area. Speculators have been whipsawed by the price action in recent weeks and it helps to explain why they are in no mood to reenter in size despite renewed support from Covid19 angst. Silver's 6% sell off during the week helped trigger a 17% reduction in the net long to 30k lots while in copper a small price increase was not enough to stem the slide in net length. Following seven weeks of selling, the net length has dropped by 64% to 19.5k lots, a 13-week low. Months of rangebound behaviour has reduced investor focus, and until we see High Grade Copper make an attempt to break its current $4.2 to $4.5 range, the level of positioning is likely to remain muted. 

Agriculture:  More concerned with other drivers such as weather, strong demand and supply chain disruptions helped trigger across the board buying of all 13 futures contracts split into grains, softs and livestock. The combined long held across these contracts reached a six-month high at 1.13 million lots, representing a nominal value of $43.5 billion. Buying was broad with the top three being corn, sugar and soybeans. Elsewhere the net long in Arabica coffee reached a fresh five-year high at 58k lots and KCB wheat a four-year high at 65.6k lots. 

UPDATES from today's Market Quick Take
Crude oil (OILUKJAN22 & OILUSJAN21)
 turned sharply lower in early European trading as the mood across markets soured on renewed concerns about the omicron virus strain. This after Moderna’s head told the Financial Times that existing vaccines will be less effective at tackling omicron and it may take months before variant-specific jabs are available at scale. The news come days before the OPEC+ group of producers meet to discuss production levels for January. Brent crude oil already heading for its biggest monthly loss since March 2020 trades below its 200-day moving average for the first time in a year, a sign that more weakness may lie ahead, thereby raising the prospect for OPEC+ deciding to pause or perhaps even make a temporary production cut.

Gold (XAUUSD) received a muted bid overnight in response to the omicron virus comments from the head of Moderna (see oil section above). In addition, comments from Fed chair Powell helped reduced 2022 rate expectations from three to two after he said the omicron virus posed risks to both sides of the central bank’s mandate for stable prices and maximum employment. Despite this development together with softer Treasury yields and a weaker dollar, gold continues to struggle attracting a safe-haven bid. Silver (XAGUSD) looks even worse having dropped to a six-week low on weakness spilling over from industrial metals.

Forex:

Broad dollar buying following Fed chair Powell's renomination helped drive a 20% increase in the greenback long against ten IMM currency futures and the Dollar index to $25.4 billion and near a two-year high. All the currencies tracked in this saw net selling with the biggest contributors being euro (12.6k lots), CAD (11.8k) and JPY (4.1). The net short on the latter reached 97.2k lots or the equivalent of $10.6 billion, a short of this magnitude helps explain the strength of the sell off in USDJPY since last Thursday when safe haven demand picked up as the omicron news began to spread. 

Despite hitting a 16-month low last week the euro short only reached 12.6k lots, a far cry from the -114k lots reached during the panic month of February last year when the pair briefly traded below €1.08. 

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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