Rig Count Up by 11, Hedge Funds Piling Up Short Bets Again

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In the week ended September 9, the number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States totaled 414, up by seven compared with the prior week and a total of 652 a year ago. Including 92 other rigs drilling for natural gas and two rigs listed as “miscellaneous,” there are a total of 508 working rigs in the country, up by 11 from last week and down 340 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 4% on Friday to settle at $45.71, and up about 3.2% for the week. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported last Wednesday that crude supplies had decreased by 14.5 million barrels in the week ended September 2, and that gasoline supplies had dropped by 4.2 million barrels.

By now most analysts agree that the sharp drops in crude oil and gasoline inventories were primarily the result of shut-in production in the Gulf of Mexico due to Hurricane Hermine. One reason we saw seven new rigs starting up this past week is that the shut-ins are coming back online.

Imports also dropped sharply week over week, from 8.8 million barrels a day to 7.1 million. Again, delays at Gulf Coast ports due to the hurricane are likely the main reason for the drop.

It’s worth remembering that most of the oil imported into the Gulf Coast region is heavy, sour crude from Mexico and Venezuela that is priced at a discount to WTI. The local refineries were modified to process heavier crudes between about 2005 and 2012, before the boom in production from U.S. shale plays materialized. Ten years ago the consensus view was that U.S. refiners would need to import more of the heavy, sour, hard-to-refine crudes to replace lower production of light, sweet WTI.

Absent normal production and imports, refiners drew down their inventories in the week ending September 2 to keep production up and the holiday weekend pushed demand higher, drawing down gasoline stockpiles. As refiners now enter their maintenance and turnaround seasons, refinery throughput should decline, gasoline inventories should fall, and crude oil prices should trend lower. That’s the historical pattern, anyway. In today’s market, almost anything can happen and probably will.

The number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States is down by 238 year over year and up seven week over week. The natural gas rig count rose by four to a total of 92. The count for natural gas rigs is down by 104 year over year. Natural gas for November delivery closed the week at $2.89 per million BTUs, up 10 cents on the near-month contract compared with the prior week.

U.S. refineries ran at 93.7% of capacity, a week-over-week increase of about 315,000 barrels a day. Imports fell by about 1.8 million barrels a day, to about 7.1 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 — added 43,106 short contracts for WTI crude oil last week and dropped 4,258 long contracts. The movement reflects changes as of the September 6 settlement date. Managed money now holds 296,386 long positions compared with 148,034 short positions. Open interest totaled 1,861,718. There were 56 hedge funds with large short positions last week, up 12 from the prior week.

Managed money kept to the short side of the market in a big way last week. Uncertainty about the direction of the dollar as we wait for the Federal Reserve to pronounce on its policy rate and mixed signals (at best) from Saudi Arabia and Russia on a potential production freeze. Both announcements are due later this month.

Among the producers themselves, short positions outnumber longs, 519,818 to 256,969. The number of short positions fell by 5,030 contracts last week, and longs added 11,970 contracts. Positions among swaps dealers show 235,805 short contracts versus 209,987 long positions. Swaps dealers dropped 12,875 contracts from their short positions last week and added 18,022 contracts to their long positions.

Among the states, Louisiana added eight rigs, Texas added four, Utah and West Virginia each added two and Ohio added one rig last week. Oklahoma lost four rigs and New Mexico lost two.

In the Permian Basin of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico, the rig count fell by two to 200. The Eagle Ford Basin in south Texas remained flat with 38 rigs in operation, while the Williston Basin (Bakken) in North Dakota and Montana now has 28 working rigs, also flat compared with the prior week.

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Enterprise Products Partners L.P. (NYSE: EPD) lists a posted price of $40.89 per barrel for WTI and a September 3 price of $42.34 a barrel for Eagle Ford crude. The price for WTI and Eagle Ford crudes fell by $0.68 a barrel in the week.

The pump price of gasoline fell by about 1.3% week over week. Saturday morning’s average price in the United States was $2.182 a gallon, down nearly three cents compared with $2.211 a week ago. The year-ago price was $2.369 a gallon.