Hedge Funds Cut Exposure to Oil as Drilling Rig Count Slips

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In the week ended June 19, the number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States totaled 631, compared with 635 in the prior week and 1,545 a year ago. Including 226 other rigs mostly drilling for natural gas, there are a total of 857 working rigs in the country, down two week-over-week and down 1,001 year-over-year. The data come from the latest Baker Hughes Inc. (NYSE: BHI) North American Rotary Rig Count.

Crude oil for July delivery dropped below $60 a barrel on Friday. Since mid-March, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude has gained about $10 a barrel, and the price peaked at nearly $65 a barrel in early May. The outlook for a higher price is not particularly sanguine. Analysts at both Goldman Sachs and Citigroup expect Saudi Arabia to increase production from the current level of around 10.3 million barrels a day to the kingdom’s flat-out top at around 11 million barrels a day.

As many analysts and industry watchers have pointed out, the mantle of global swing producer has fallen on the shoulders of U.S. shale producers. The Saudis had been stuck with it since the 1980s, but finally managed to pass it along to the shale producers last year when the kingdom persuaded Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to keep production up in order to maintain market share and not to worry about the price. By sticking to that plan, OPEC has forced shale producers to stop drilling because the price of crude fell below a break-even level.

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Being the world’s swing producer is not an honor. As a reward, U.S. shale producers will now be expected to turn production on and off to meet global demand. While this is relatively easy to do technically, it plays havoc with pricing and planning among the shale guys.

The number of rigs drilling for oil in North America fell by 914 year-over-year and fell by four week-over-week. The natural gas rig count increased by two to a total of 223. The rig count for natural gas rigs is down by 88 year-over-year.

U.S. crude stockpiles fell by 2.7 million barrels last week, the seventh consecutive weekly decrease. Gasoline stockpiles rose slightly as refineries cut run levels to 93.1% of capacity, down about 294,000 barrels a day from the previous week. Gasoline inventories remain in the upper half of the five-year average range.

Hedge funds — under the Managed Money heading in the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Commitments of Traders report — cut their long positions last week by just 893 contracts and also chopped their short positions by 3,319. The movement reflects changes as of the June 16 settlement date. Managed money holds 297,492 long positions, compared with 58,448 short positions.

Among the producers themselves, short positions outnumber longs, 376,308 to 211,227. The number of short positions last week rose by 14,497 contracts and longs jumped by 15,058 positions. Positions among swaps dealers show 348,466 shorts and 182,661 longs. Swaps dealers cut 18,003 contracts from their long positions last week and dropped 11,690 short contracts.

Three states lost two rigs apiece last week: Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Ohio and Wyoming each lost one. The rest either gained one or remained unchanged, with the exception of Utah, which gained two rigs.

In the Permian Basin of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico, the rig count rose by one to 233. The Eagle Ford Basin in south Texas remained unchanged with a rig count of 104, and the Williston Basin (Bakken) in North Dakota and Montana has 77 working rigs, up one from the prior week.

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Enterprise Products Partners L.P. (NYSE: EPD) lists a posted price of $56.06 per barrel for WTI and a June 20 price of $51.61 a barrel for North Dakota Light Sweet, as well as a posted price of $55.86 a barrel for Eagle Ford crude. All prices are about $0.35 a barrel lower than they were a week ago.

The pump price of gasoline ticked down slightly from last week. Saturday morning’s average price in the United States was $2.795 a gallon, down fractionally from $2.798 a week ago.