Oil Rig Count Drops by 3, Hedge Funds Go Long

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In the week ended April 15, the number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States totaled 351, compared with 354 in the prior week and 734 a year ago. Including 89 other rigs drilling for natural gas, there are a total of 440 working rigs in the country, down by three week over week and down 514 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 May delivery traded down about 2.6% on Friday to settle at $40.40, an increase of about 1.7% for the week. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported last Wednesday that crude supplies had increased by 6.6 million barrels in the week ended April 8 and that gasoline supplies had fallen by 4.2 million barrels. The May futures contract expires Wednesday, and the June contract, which closed at $41.75 on Friday, becomes the front month contract.

Sunday’s meeting in Doha of representatives from most of the world’s top oil-producing nations has attracted a lot of attention since it was first announced about a month ago. Of the 13 OPEC members, 12 will send representatives, including Iran. Only Libya is not attending.

A production cut is off the table, so the main point of discussion is expected to be a production freeze at January 2016 levels. Russia produced a record 11.25 million barrels a day in January, and Saudi Arabia produced 10.19 million barrels a day, above its 2015 average. And while it is pretty certain that neither could produce a lot more, freezing production at these high levels is unlikely to have much impact on global over-supply.

Iran has already made clear that it will not freeze production and intends to boost production to around 4 million barrels a day from the 3 million it produced in January. Mexico is sending an observer to the meeting but is not expected to freeze production. The other large non-OPEC producer, Norway, may send a representative, but it has been cool to the idea of a production freeze.

The number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States is down by 383 year over year and down by three week over week. The natural gas rig count remained unchanged at 89. The count for natural gas rigs is down by 128 year over year. Natural gas for May delivery closed the week at $1.91 per million BTUs, down from $1.99 at the end of the prior week. The low price for natural gas over the past 12 months is $1.73 per million BTUs.

U.S. refineries ran at 89.2% of capacity, a week-over-week decrease of about 492,000 barrels a day. Imports rose by 686,000 barrels a day, to more than 7.9 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 — dumped 25,282 short contracts last week and dropped just 770 long contracts. The movement reflects changes as of the April 12 settlement date. Managed money holds 289,000 long positions compared with 87,980 short positions. Open interest totaled 1,803,510. There were 56 hedge funds with large short positions last week, down by four compared with the prior week. The hedgies reversed a two-week run of piling up short positions, likely anticipating some volatility, if not outright higher prices, following the Doha meeting.

Among the producers themselves, short positions outnumber longs by nearly three to one, 456,787 to 171,147. The number of short positions rose by 5,881 contracts last week, and longs increased by 2,906 positions. Positions among swaps dealers show 244,973 short contracts versus 251,379 long positions. Swaps dealers added 13,321 contracts to their short positions last week and added 24,889 long positions.

Among the states, Texas lost three rigs last week, while Alaska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wyoming lost one each.

In the Permian Basin of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico, the rig count dropped by one to 141. The Eagle Ford Basin in south Texas dropped one rig for a new total of 42, and the Williston Basin (Bakken) in North Dakota and Montana now has 26 working rigs, down one compared with the prior week.

Enterprise Products Partners L.P. (NYSE: EPD) lists a posted price of $36.81 per barrel for WTI and an April 16 price of $37.76 a barrel for Eagle Ford crude. The price for both varieties rose by $0.64 a barrel over the past week. Enterprise has not posted a price for North Dakota Light Sweet for the past three weeks.

The pump price of gasoline rose by about 3.5% week over week. Saturday morning’s average price in the United States was $2.114 a gallon, up from $2.042 a week ago.