Rig Count Steady, Hedge Funds Dump Short Contracts on 63 Million Barrels

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In the week ended August 26, the number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States totaled 406, unchanged compared with the prior week, and down from a total of 675 a year ago. Including 81 other rigs drilling for natural gas and two rigs listed as “miscellaneous,” there are a total of 489 working rigs in the country, down by two week over week and down 388 year over year. The data come from the latest Baker Hughes Inc. (NYSE: BHI) North American Rotary Rig Count released on Friday.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil for October delivery traded down less than 0.1% on Friday to settle at $47.29, down about 2.6% for the week. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported last Wednesday that crude supplies had increased by 2.5 million barrels in the week ended August 19, and that gasoline supplies had remained unchanged.

Since August 2, when WTI hit a monthly low of $40.05, the price has risen by about 18%. Until last week, U.S. rig counts had risen for eight consecutive weeks, which should have had some braking effect on the price of crude, but statements that the crude market was rebalancing and then reports that Saudi Arabia was amenable to a production freeze if Iran would play nice added fuel to the price increases.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s speech at the Jackson Hole conference on Friday put a little pressure on the dollar and gave crude a short-lived boost. On top of that, Saudi oil minister Khalid Al-Falih told Reuters on Thursday that crude markets were improving and that he did not believe that any market intervention was called for.

We’ve said before and we’ll say again that with OPEC — particularly Saudi Arabian — and Russian production at record or near-record highs, even if a freeze were to be agreed upon, its impact on markets would be minimal. Inventory overhang both for crude and refined products remains a weight on price hikes, and crude markets are being bolstered by short covering.

The number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States is down by 269 year over year and flat week over week. The natural gas rig count fell by two to a total of 81. The count for natural gas rigs is down by 121 year over year. Natural gas for October delivery closed the week at $2.90 per million BTUs, up 33 cents compared with the prior week.

U.S. refineries ran at 92.5% of capacity, a week-over-week decrease of about 186,000 barrels a day. Imports rose by about 449,000 barrels a day, to more than 8.6 million barrels a day in the week.

Hedge funds — under the Managed Money heading in the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) weekly Commitments of Traders report — shed 74,671 short contracts for WTI crude oil last week, and added 11,858 long contracts. The movement reflects changes as of the August 23 settlement date. Managed money now holds 320,757 long positions compared with 100,651 short positions. Open interest totaled 1,747,499. There were 44 hedge funds with large short positions last week, down by 12 compared with the prior week.

Following a week during which hedge funds and other speculative players dropped contracts for about 54 million barrels of crude, the net drop last week reached nearly 63 million barrels (62,813 contracts of 1,000 barrels each). Open interest dropped by more than 100 million barrels.

Among the producers themselves, short positions outnumber longs, 501,997 to 206,377. The number of short positions fell by 17,421 contracts last week, and longs fell by 21,936 contracts. Positions among swaps dealers show 254,497 short contracts versus 206,569 long positions. Swaps dealers added 21,230 contracts to their short positions last week and dropped 25,374 contracts from their long positions.

Among the states, Pennsylvania added two rigs last week and Wyoming added one. Colorado, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia lost one rig each.

In the Permian Basin of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico, the rig count rose by three to 199. The Eagle Ford Basin in south Texas dropped one rig and now counts 36 rigs in operation, while the Williston Basin (Bakken) in North Dakota and Montana now has 27 working rigs, unchanged compared with the prior week.

Enterprise Products Partners L.P. (NYSE: EPD) lists a posted price of $44.09 per barrel for WTI and an August 27 price of $45.04 a barrel for Eagle Ford crude. The price for both varieties fell by $0.88 a barrel over the past week.

The pump price of gasoline rose by about 2.8% week over week. Saturday morning’s average price in the United States was $2.212 a gallon, up from $2.152 a week ago. The year-ago price was $2.534 a gallon.