Hedge Funds Cut Bullish Gold Wagers Most Since June: Commodities

Aug 04, 2014 3:46 pm ET

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Aug. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Hedge funds reduced bets that gold would rally from the longest retreat in a year as U.S. economic growth exceeded analysts’ estimates.

Money managers cut their net-long position by 10 percent in the week through July 29, the most since June, U.S. government data show. Prices dropped for a third week, the longest slide since July 2013. The decline helped to erase almost $610 million from the value of exchange-traded products backed by the metal.

Gold fell 3 percent in July, snapping a 10 percent rally in the first half of the year that outpaced gains for commodities, equities and Treasuries. Even as violence escalated in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, investors sold bullion as signs of quickening American expansion reignited concern that the Federal Reserve will raise borrowing costs. The U.S. grew 4 percent in the second quarter.

“The economic climate has become more moderate in the U.S., and there’s no sign of inflation picking up, so the fear factor that typically drives gold has subsided,” Bill Schultz, who oversees $1.2 billion as chief investment officer at McQueen, Ball & Associates in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, said Aug. 1. “If we continue to see this reasonable growth rate, I think gold will stay in a narrow range.”

Futures have dropped 1.6 percent in the past 12 months to $1,288.90 an ounce in New York. The Bloomberg Spot Commodity Index of 22 raw materials rose 1.8 percent while the MSCI All- Country World Index of equities climbed 12 percent. The Bloomberg Treasury Bond Index advanced 3.3 percent.

Short Holdings

The net-long position in gold declined to 122,092 futures and options contracts as of July 29, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Short holdings betting on a drop jumped 24 percent to 26,101, the highest in five weeks.

The U.S. economy expanded after shrinking 2.1 percent in the first three months of 2014, government data showed July 30. Analysts had predicted second-quarter growth of 3 percent. Fewer Americans filed applications for unemployment insurance benefits over the past month than at any time in more than eight years, the Labor Department said the next day. Sales of gold coins by the U.S., Mint fell 38 percent to 30,000 ounces last month, the lowest since March.

Bullion tumbled 28 percent last year, the most in three decades, as a stronger U.S. economy and the prospect of less monetary stimulus curbed demand for alternative assets. The Fed reduced its monthly bond-buying program to $25 billion on July 30, making a sixth consecutive $10 billion cut.

Jobs Report

Even as the central bank stayed on pace to end its debt purchases by October, policy makers repeated that they’re likely to keep interest rates low for a “considerable time” as they look for more improvement in the job market.

Employers added fewer jobs than forecast in July, and the unemployment rate climbed to 6.2 percent from 6.1 percent in June, data showed Aug. 1. Gold futures jumped 0.9 percent that day, the most in a week.

Investors boosted gold holdings through ETPs by 15.7 metric tons in July, the first gain since March and the biggest since November 2012. The appeal of the metal as a haven rose as tensions escalated between Ukraine and Russia. More than 1,500 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed after Israel’s attack on Gaza. More than 60 Israelis have also died, mostly soldiers, since the conflict escalated July 8.

‘Risk Premium’

“Although the risk premium has eased, if we continue to see geopolitical unrest in Europe and the Middle East, that could certainly be a driver for gold,” Brian Hicks, who helps manage about $350 million at U.S. Global Investors in San Antonio, Texas, said July 31.

Combined net-wagers across 18 U.S. traded commodities dropped 9.1 percent to 822,001 contracts as of July 29, the lowest since January, the CFTC data show.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. last week kept their 12-month recommendation for commodities at neutral. Citigroup Inc. said in June that interest is returning to the asset class as Societe Generale SA called raw materials a “really mixed bag” across the sectors.

Bets on higher oil prices slid 0.5 percent to 276,741 contracts last week, the government data show. Copper holdings dropped 12 percent to 38,859. Inventories tracked by the Shanghai Futures Exchange climbed 37 percent in July, the most since February 2012.

Farm Bets

A measure of net-long positions across 11 agricultural products declined 11 percent to 303,637, the smallest since January, the CFTC data show.

Investors cut bullish bets on cotton by 75 percent to the lowest since December 2012. Prices have fallen for 13 straight weeks, the longest slump since at least 1959.

Bullish bets on corn fell for a third straight week to 63,024, the lowest since February. The grain slumped 14 percent in July, the most since September 2011. U.S. production will climb 4.3 percent to a record 14.518 billion bushels, The Linn Group said Aug. 1.

“There is abundant supply of grains, and we just have a lot of corn,” Shonda Warner, the managing partner of Chess Ag Full Harvest Partners in Clarksdale, Mississippi, which oversees about $150 million, said July 31. “The price could drop another 10 to 15 percent. The only thing that could reverse the trend would be a surge in demand, or something that would reduce supply, like a weather event.”