COT: Grains sector slump continue; Mideast risks lifts crude demand COT: Grains sector slump continue; Mideast risks lifts crude demand COT: Grains sector slump continue; Mideast risks lifts crude demand

COT: Grains sector slump continue; Mideast risks lifts crude demand

Ole Hansen

Head of Commodity Strategy

Summary:  Our weekly Commitment of Traders update highlights future positions and changes made by hedge funds and other speculators across commodities and forex during the week to last Tuesday, January 9. A reporting week that saw the market take a rain check on the timing, pace and depth of incoming US rate cut, leading to higher yields and a firmer dollar despite continued speculative selling. In commodities the geo-political risk premium in crude received a fresh boost on Mideast tensions, profit taking hit the metal sector, including gold and copper, while the agriculture sector continued to see strong selling interest.

Saxo Bank publishes weekly Commitment of Traders reports (COT) covering leveraged fund positions in commodities while in forex we use the broader measure called non-commercial.

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 main reasons why we focus primarily on the behavior of speculators, such as hedge funds and trend-following CTA's 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

Do note that this group tends to anticipate, accelerate, and amplify price changes that have been set in motion by fundamentals. Being followers of momentum, this strategy often sees this group of traders buy into strength and sell into weakness, meaning that they are often found holding the biggest long near the peak of a cycle or the biggest short position ahead of a through in the market.

This summary highlights futures positions and changes made by hedge funds across commodities and forex in the week to last Tuesday, January 9. A reporting week that saw the market take a rain check on the timing, pace and depth of incoming US rate cut, before US CPI and PPI prints towards the end of last week reignited the prospect of a rate cut being announced already at the March meeting. Returning to the reporting week, we saw bond yields trade a tad higher, stock markets consolidating recent strong gains while the dollar was firmer despite continued selling from speculators. In commodities the geo-political risk premium in crude received a fresh boost on Mideast tensions, profit taking hit the metal sector, including gold and copper, while the agriculture sector continued to see strong selling interest. 


The Bloomberg Commodity index which tracks a basket of 24 major futures markets split near evenly between energy, metals and agriculture, traded flat on the week with gains in energy (+4.6%), led by crude oil, being offset by weakness across precious (-2.3%) and industrial (-3.3%) metals, and not least the grains sector which slumped 1% to a fresh three-year low.

Overall developments that saw net long futures position held hedge funds and CTA’s extend their recent slump to an October 2019 low at 251k contracts, representing a nominal value of $49 billion, and the weakest position held at the start of any year since 2015. Selling has in recent months primarily been concentrated in grains, resulting in the biggest net short position since May 2019.

Overall, the week saw net selling in 14 out of the 24 major futures contracts tracked in this, in nominal terms led by gold (-$6.3b), copper (-$2.5b) and the soybeans complex (-$2.3b) while buying was almost exclusively concentrated in crude oil ($4.6b) and natural gas (+1.2b).

As we have highlighted in recent weeks, these developments highlight an increasingly under-owned asset class which struggled last year amid growth worries in China and the wider world, and a sharp rise in funding costs leading industries to reduce excess inventories. It also highlights a sector which, given the right circumstances, may rebound in 2024 once the technical and/or fundamental outlook becomes more supportive, thereby leading to fresh buying and short covering. Drivers that may trigger such a change could be rate cuts lowering the funding costs and with that the inherent contango leading to industry restocking of inventories, OPEC maintaining a tight control of the supply of crude oil, El Ninõ developments creating another challenging year for key agriculture products, and not least signs of tightness across key commodities that will help offset the risk of an economic slowdown across key economies. 

The crude oil net long jumped 61k lots to 320k, the most in a year, driven by short covering in WTI (+22k) and fresh longs in Brent (+30k). Products sold amid rising stock levels while the natural gas net flipped back to a small long amid cold-weather price strength.
Metals: Speculators cut their gold long by 23% as prices reversed lower to but not through key support in the $2010-15 area. The silver long was halved while a 27k lots sale in copper flipped the net back to a 17k lots short
Grains: Funds sold 79k lots of grains as the BCOM grains index hit a 3-yr low and ahead of Friday's (bearish) WASDE report. The corn short reached 231k lots, the soybeans short jumped to 31k, both biggest short bets since COVID struck in early 2020, while the wheat short held steady. Overall, the net short across the sectors six contracts reached a May 2019 high.
In softs, the main changes were a drop in the sugar long to a 14-month low and an increase in the Arabica coffee long to a 15-month high.
In forex, dollar selling extended to an eight week of dollar lifting the gross short against eight IMM futures and DXY to an August high at $11.8b. Driven by demand for GBP (+5.5k lots & $0.4b eq.), AUD (+10.6k & $0.7b), and not least CAD (+13.8k & $1b). Net long positions held in EUR, GBP and MXN.

5 Jan 2024: Commodity weekly: Bumpy start to 2024
4 Jan 2024: 
What to watch in crude oil as 2024 gets underway
4 Jan 2024: 
Podcast: Crude oil and gold in focus as a new year begins
21 Dec 2023: 
Weather, rates and unrest paint muddy picture for commodities in 2023
19 Dec 2023: 
Crude and gas pop on Red Sea Disruption Risks
14 Dec 2023: 
Fed's dovish tilt adds fresh fuel to precious metals
13 Dec 2023: 
Video - Why gold may enjoy a Santa rally for the 7th year in a row
12 Dec 2023: 
Video - Investing in Uranium
1 Dec 2023: 
Commodity weekly: Tight supply risks boost copper; OPEC+ struggles to control crude
30 Nov 2023: 
Precious metals take top spot for a second month
23 Nov 2023: 
A nervous crude oil market awaits OPEC's next move
23 Nov 2023: Podcast: 
Will Santa deliver another golden gift
22 Nov 2023: 
Will gold and silver see another Santa rally?
17 Nov 2023: 
Commodity weekly: Crude overshoots; silver the comeback kid
16 Nov 2023: 
Podcast: Silver comeback, watch OPEC as crude oil slides lower
16 Nov 2023: 
Crude oil weakness adds focus to upcoming OPEC meeting
15 Nov 2023: 
Soft CPI lifts gold and beaten down silver and platinum
12 Nov 2023: 
Copper supported by green transformation demand and peak rate speculation 
10 Nov 2023: 
Commodity weekly: Crude oil risks overshooting the downside

Previous "Commitment of Traders" articles

18 Dec 2023:COT: Crude long hits 12-year low ahead of FOMC bounce
11 Dec 2023: 
COT: An underowned commodity sector raising risk of an upside surprise in 2024
4 Dec 2023: 
COT: Speculators add further fuel to gold rally
20 Nov 2023: 
COT: Crude selling slows, grains in demand
14 Nov 2023: 
COT: Crude long slumps; agriculture sector in demand


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