COT: Oil bought, gold sold ahead of virus outbreak
Head of Commodity Strategy
Summary: The COT report covering the week to January 21 showed futures positions and changes made by hedge funds across key commodities just before the increasingly alarming corona virus news from China began hurting sentiment.
Saxo Bank publishes two 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.
Last week’s report highlights the changes made by hedge funds across key commodities just before the corona virus became the main news item to impact and rattle global markets. The worrying news from China raised concerns about its potential impact on demand for key commodities from crude oil to copper.
Crude oil as well as products have extended their losses today as the market continues to grapple with the corona virus news and its short to medium term impact on global fuel demand. While China has restricted travel within but also out of the country the market reaction at this stage is mostly a matter of confidence taking a hit. However a prolonged outbreak combined with a continued spreading will reduce global fuel demand as it alter the way people travel and commute around the world.
Despite multiple risks to supply from key OPEC producers Brent crude oil has slumped to a three-month low today and the reason for this reaction can be traced back to the COT report which highlight just how unprepared speculators and funds were.
The chart below shows the net-long position held by money managers in the five major crude oil and product contracts. The 860k lots net-long in the week to January 21 was just 6% below the December 24 peak but double the October 8 low when Brent traded as low as $58/b.
Brent crude oil was left particularly exposed once the price broke below key support on Wednesday. Two weeks of price weakness had failed to trigger a reduction in the net-long. Last Tuesday it had even risen by 2.8k lots to reach a 15-month high at 429k lots.
In natural gas the slump below $2/therm supported another expansion in the already record short to 292k lots. This in response to weak winter demand and strong production.
Gold and silver both saw light selling last week before running higher on Friday in response to corona virus safe haven demand as stocks dropped. In the week to January 21 gold's net-long was reduced by 3k lots to 259k lots, some 11% below the record peak last September.
Today in early trading gold extended its Friday rally to hit $1588/oz before drifting lower. The lack of a firm response similar to the one on January 8, when the U.S.-Iran war threat briefly took it above $1600/oz, point towards a market in general risk off mode. Something that in some cases can also negatively impact a safe-haven asset like gold, especially given the current elevated position and worries about demand from China.
The platinum long reached a new record at 53k lots, some 23% above the previous record from August 2016 when the price was trading at $1150/oz. Just before the longest price slump since 2014 the copper long had been kept unchanged at 7.2k lots.
Just like crude oil, copper and iron ore, all pro-cyclical commodities, have taken a beating from a renewed and currently serious risk to global economic growth. While iron ore dropped 6% overnight in Asia HG Copper lost another 1.8% with HGH0 once again testing the November and December lows.
The soybean complex continued to be sold on muted U.S. soybean sales to China. On Friday soybean futures hit a six-week low as China virus developments further dimmed the prospects for sales picking up before a deluge of Brazilian beans hit the market soon. Both Kansas and Chicago wheat were bought as the price expanded to a 16 month high in response to strong overseas demand and weather worries. Both subsequently suffering a setback due to the general risk off hitting the commodity sector.
Soft commodities were mixed with cocoa and especially sugar seeing continued strong demand. Coffee long liquidation stayed subdued despite seeing the price down 20% from the December peak.
The Commitments of Traders (COT) report is issued by the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) every Friday at 15:30 EST with data from the week ending the previous Tuesday. The report breaks down the open interest across major futures markets from bonds, stock index, currencies and commodities. The ICE Futures Europe Exchange issues a similar report, also on Fridays, covering Brent crude oil and gas oil.
In commodities, the open interest is broken into the following categories: Producer/Merchant/Processor/User; Swap Dealers; Managed Money and other.
In financials the categories are Dealer/Intermediary; Asset Manager/Institutional; Managed Money and other.
Our focus is primarily on the behaviour of Managed Money traders such as commodity trading advisors (CTA), commodity pool operators (CPO), and unregistered funds.
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.
Latest Market Insights
Outrageous Predictions 2023: The War Economy
- The constantly growing global need for energy drives the world's richest to huddle up and launch a R&D project in a size the world hasn't seen since the Manhattan Project gave the US the first atomic bomb.
French President Macron resignsThe political stalemate in France and the rise of Marie Le Pen following the 2022 elections corners President Macron, forcing him to give up on politics and resign from his position. At least for now.
Gold rockets to USD 3,000 as central banks fail on inflation mandateAs markets and central banks realise that the idea that inflation is transitory is wrong, and that prices will remain higher for longer, gold is sent through the roof, hitting a price tag of USD 3,000
EU Army forces EU down path to full unionWith continued challenges in the region and a US military that isn't aggressively enacting its former role as global policeman, the European Union agrees to create its own armed forces, bringing the whole region closer.
A country agrees to ban all meat production by 2030In an effort to become one of the global leaders on the path to net-zero emissions, one country decides to not only put a heavy tax on meat, but to ban domestic production entirely.
UK holds UnBrexit referendumFollowing a recession and domestic pressure, the United Kingdom is thrown into political turmoil that will end with a vote to wind back Brexit.
Widespread price controls are introduced to cap official inflationHistory tells us that with the war economy comes rationing and price controls. And this time is no different, as policymakers introduce strict price controls that lead to a range of unintended consequences.
OPEC+ & Chindia walk out of the IMF, agree to trade with new reserve assetSanctions against Russia have caused widespread turmoil due to US Dollar moves in countries across the globe that don't consider the US an ally. To relieve themselves from this, they leave the IMF and create a new reserve asset.
USDJPY fixed to the USD at 200 as Japan overhauls financial systemFollowing the challenges that faced the Japanese Yen in 2022, the Bank of Japan attempts to keep the currency from sliding. Unsuccessful on the long-term, Japan will launch a reset of its entire financial system.
Tax haven ban kills private equityWith the war economy comes an increased focus on national interests and sovereign nations' ability to assert themselves. In that regard, the OECD countries turn their attention on tax havens and pull the big guns out, banning them altogether.