COT: Speculators bet on a continued commodity rally in 2021

Ole Hansen

Head of Commodity Strategy

Summary:  This summary highlights positions and changes made by speculators such as hedge funds and CTA's across commodities, forex, bonds and stock index futures and options up until last Tuesday, December 8. A week where vaccine and stimulus optimism continue to propel stock markets higher and the dollar lower. The commodity sector meanwhile look set to finish the year with an elevated cross-sector long as speculators look for further gains in 2021.


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, bonds and stock indices up until last Tuesday, December 8. A week where vaccine and stimulus optimism continue to propel stock markets higher and the dollar lower while bonds held steady. Commodities traded mixed with continued profit taking across agriculture commodities and a big setback for natural gas more than offsetting gains in oil, fuel products and metals, both precious and industrials.

Commodities

The Bloomberg Commodity Index traded lower by 1.2%, hurt by continued profit taking in agriculture commodities led by soybeans, wheat, cocoa and cattle together with a 16.7% drop in the price of natural gas. Overall these developments helped drive a 3% reduction in the total net long held by speculators across 24 major commodities to 2.3 million lots, but not far from the February 2017 record of 2.4 million lots. A clear sign that speculators expect more to come from the commodities in 2021 as the reflation trade gathers momentum and the dollar potentially continues to weaken. 

It is also worth noting that speculative positions, compared with recent peaks in 2017 and 2018, are much more spread out across all sectors, with net long positions held in all but one (CBOT Wheat) commodity. In February 2017 when the net-long hit the mentioned record, the energy sector accounted for 56% of the total length while today that share is down to 42%. 

Energy: The combined net long in Brent (+27k lots) and WTI (-1.6k lots) reached 602k lots, the highest since January. This after Brent began toying with $50/b as the market, despite current Covid-19 lockdowns and loss of mobility, continued to price in a vaccine-led recovery next year. The natural gas long was cut by 26% by in response to a dramatic 16.7% sell-off on demand concerns driven by unseasonal warm weather across the U.S.

Metals: Gold was bought for a second week in response to the rally that followed the failed break below $1800/oz. The bulk of the 19k lots of buying was driven by fresh longs, something that also helps to explain the increased volatility seen last week when the move above and subsequent failure to hold $1850/oz triggered a 45 dollar correction last Wednesday. Net platinum buying extended into a fifth week and during this time, the white metal has outperformed its yellow big brother by 17%.

Speculators in silver meanwhile maintained a net long close to 43k lots for a fourth consecutive week. Thereby extending the lack of price response in a week where the metal rallied by close to 3%. During a week of sideways trading before popping to a fresh seven-year high, the net long in HG copper rose by 5% to 90.4k lots, not far from the 91.6k lots record high recorded two months ago.

Agriculture: For a second week, a broad but relatively small amount of selling was seen across the sector with the soybeans complex and sugar accounting for the bulk of the 58k lots reduction to 1 million lots. Only short position was held in CBOT wheat before a post-WASDE and Russia export tax and quota threats gave the crop a strong end of week boost. 

 

 

Forex

Dollar bears continued to be awarded in the week to December 8 as the Greenback spiraled lower to reach the lowest against both the euro and the Bloomberg Dollar Index since April 2018. The tumble being part of a broader vaccine optimism led move across financial markets pricing in a recovery in global growth for 2021 and the potential for better investment opportunities outside the U.S.

These developments helped drive a 14% increase in the combined dollar short against ten IMM currency futures and the Dollar Index to $30.7 billion, a ten-week high. The bulk of the $3.7 billion of net dollar selling occurred against the euro which saw a 12% rise in the euro net-long to 156,429 lots (€19.6 billion). The other and more surprising contribution came from Sterling which despite trading lower on the week saw 13,609 lots of net buying which swung the net back to a long for the first time in three months.

The Swiss franc together with the Mexican Peso and Russian Ruble saw net selling while the net long in Japanese yen reached a fresh four year high at 48,166 lots.

Financials
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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