Hedge funds trim bullish bets on U.S. crude ahead of OPEC deal

Traders work on the floor of the NYSE in New York City

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Hedge funds and money managers scaled back their bullish bets on U.S. crude oil in the days ahead of a landmark deal by the world’s top crude exporters to cut production and rein in a global glut, data showed on Friday.

The speculator group cut its combined futures and options position in New York and London by 2,418 contracts to 189,677 during in the week to Nov. 29, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said. That cut was the first in three weeks.

Gross long positions in NYMEX crude oil futures and options fell by 16,337 contracts to 335,219 lots.

However, some traders also unwound their short positions, data showed. Gross short positions, representing bearish bets, fell by 17,099 to 146,133 lots.

During the period, U.S. crude oil prices fell nearly 1 percent as the chances that members of The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would resolve differences and agree to an output cut on Nov. 30 appeared bleak.

The group had said in September it would limit output in an effort to boost prices, which plunged to 12-year lows earlier this year due to massive oversupply.

In the days leading up to the deal, several squabbles were reported as Iraq, Libya and Nigeria called for exemptions. Iran, with whom top exporter Saudi Arabia has had disagreements with in the past, was also seen as a hurdle in a potential deal being struck.

However, OPEC agreed on Wednesday to its first oil output cuts since 2008 after Saudi Arabia accepted “a big hit” on its production and dropped its demand on arch-rival Iran to slash output, pushing up crude prices by about 10 percent.

After the deal was announced, non-OPEC member Russia said it would cut its oil output from November-December levels, Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters on Thursday.

Domestically, crude stockpiles in the U.S. fell unexpectedly in the week to Nov. 25 as imports dropped.

During that week, crude inventories fell 884,000 barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations for an increase of 636,000 barrels. [EIA/S]

Data on Friday also showed U.S. energy companies extended their recovery in oil drilling into a seventh month this week as they follow through on plans to add rigs. [RIG/U]

On Friday, U.S. crude rose about 1 percent and rallied to notch its biggest weekly gain since 2011. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures settled at $51.68 per barrel, up 62 cents, or 1.2 percent. [O/R]

Among refined products, speculators raised their bullish bets in gasoline to a two-week high, with a combined futures and options net long position of 22,086 contracts in the week to Nov. 29.

The group also boosted its net long position on ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) to a three-week high. Speculators held a net long position of 9,337 ULSD futures and options contracts.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)