Speculators Hike Commodity Wagers

Date: Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Author: Elizabeth Campbell, Bloomberg

Hedge funds increased bets on rising commodity prices to the highest since September on mounting confidence that growth in the U.S. will strengthen demand.

Money managers boosted their combined net-long positions across 18 U.S. futures and options by 13 percent to 929,199 contracts in the week ended Feb. 7, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. That’s the highest since Sept. 20. Bullish wagers on copper rose to a six-month high, and soybean holdings jumped by the most this year.

The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index (SPGSCI) of 24 commodities rose to a six-month high on Feb. 9, a day after the MSCI All- Country World Index (MXWD) entered a bull market, as indicators signaled accelerating growth. Fewer Americans than forecast filed claims for jobless benefits in the week to Feb. 4, and consumer confidence rose to a one-year high. Investments in commodities expanded for a seventh week, the longest streak since February 2009, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“The improving economic data, not just in the U.S., we’ve seen better data in Europe as well, has put recession fears on the back burner,” said Anthony Valeri, a market strategist with LPL Financial in San Diego, which oversees $330 billion of assets. “That augers well for commodity demand.”

Silver Rally

The S&P GSCI gauge rose 1 percent last week. The number of futures contracts on 24 commodities from oil to copper rose 0.8 percent, extending this year’s expansion to 13 percent. The MSCI index of equities ended the week down 0.4 percent, and the yield on 10-year Treasuries rose 6.4 basis points, or 0.064 percentage point, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader prices.

Seventeen of the raw materials tracked by the S&P GSCI gained this year, led by a 20 percent advance in silver. Zinc jumped 13 percent and copper climbed 12 percent. The GSCI rose 1 percent to settle at 680.1 today.

Prospects for the U.S. economy improved as more Americans returned to work. The unemployment rate fell to the lowest in three years last month, the government said Feb. 3. Applications for jobless benefits dropped 15,000 in the week ended Feb. 4 to 358,000, Labor Department figures showed. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast 370,000 claims.

The U.S. will probably grow 2.2 percent this year, from 1.7 percent in 2011, according to the median of 89 economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Investors should take on more risk because the world isn’t going to “fall apart,” Laurence D. Fink, the chief executive officer of BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest money manager, said in a Feb. 8 interview in Hong Kong.

Commodity Funds

Investors added $941 million to commodity funds in the week ended Feb. 8, a second consecutive gain, according to data from Cambridge, Massachusetts-based EPFR Global, which tracks money flows. Gold and precious-metals inflows totaled $495 million, said Cameron Brandt, the director of research.

Signs of a slowdown in China, the world’s biggest consumer of everything from pork to soybeans to aluminum, may limit commodities demand. The country’s exports and imports declined last month for the first time in two years and lending increased less than forecast, reports showed Feb. 10.

The MSCI All-Country World Index (MXWD) tumbled 1.2 percent on Feb. 10, the biggest loss this year, on concern European leaders will struggle to contain the debt crisis. Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos won approval of a bill on austerity measures to secure a second bailout package. The parliamentary vote took place as police battled rioters in Athens protesting the measures including state jobs cuts.

Investment Officer

“The issues that we’ve had in the past regarding the debt crisis and government spending and the crisis in Europe, that hasn’t gone away,” said Stephen Hammers, the Nashville, Tennessee-based chief investment officer at Compass EMP Fund, which manages about $450 million of assets. “As soon as that comes back to the forefront, it will affect how consumers spend their money.”

Funds boosted their bullish bets on copper by 60 percent to 12,298 contracts, the CFTC data show. That’s the highest since the week ending Aug. 2. Inventories tracked by the London Metal Exchange are at a two-year low after global mine production fell by a record 200,000 metric tons in 2011, Barclays Capital estimates.

Thirteen of 25 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect copper to gain this week and three were neutral, the first overall bullish response in seven weeks. Chinese officials will boost support for affordable housing, the People’s Bank of China said Feb. 7. The nation is the world’s biggest copper consumer. The metal fell 0.7 percent to $8,425 a ton on the LME today.

Corn Prices

A measure of 11 U.S. farm goods showed speculators raised bullish bets in agricultural commodities by 16 percent to 455,628, the highest since the week ended Nov. 8. Corn wagers rose 11 percent to 210,084, the most since Jan. 10. Bets on rising soybean prices surged 55 percent to 62,856 contracts, the government said.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. expects corn prices to advance 9.2 percent in six months to $6.90 a bushel, the bank said in a Feb. 9 report. Stockpiles of the grain in the U.S., the world’s biggest exporter, will tighten further. Soybeans may climb 5 percent to $12.90 a bushel as South American production declines, the bank’s analysts said.

Hot, dry weather is curbing oilseed crops in Brazil and Argentina, the top growers after the U.S., prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to lower its forecast for world soybean inventories by 5 percent on Feb. 9.

“You have pretty low inventory levels on a historic basis, which basically leaves ourselves open to supply-side shocks,” said Kelly Wiesbrock, who helps manage $1.3 billion of assets for San Francisco-based hedge fund Harvest Capital Strategies. “If we end up with a bad crop, we could end up with commodity prices jumping a lot.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Campbell in Chicago at ecampbell14@bloomberg.net