Hedge Funds Keep Cutting Bullish Wagers on Commodities

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(Bloomberg) — The latest sign that commodities prices may have reached a peak: Hedge funds have pulled their money out of the markets for three straight weeks.

Investors are cutting their bullish bets on everything from crops to copper to natural gas. Hedge-fund holdings this week in 20 of the 23 commodities tracked in the Bloomberg Commodity Index fell by the most since November, according to data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and ICE.

Milder weather is raising the prospect of bigger harvests across the U.S., while also reducing demand for natural gas. Oil markets are bracing for bigger supplies. And China, the world’s biggest commodities buyer, is moving to contain high raw material prices. In sum, the seemingly relentless price rallies that some have described as a commodity supercycle are in doubt with bearish factors emerging amid inflation fears and demand concerns.

What the pullback in hedge fund positions in particular suggests is that any future price gains will depend more on actual supply and demand rather than speculative buying across raw materials. “We’re back to more normal fundamentals, not outside distorted fundamentals,” Don Roose, president of brokerage U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, Iowa, said by phone Friday.

Blasts of rainfall in parts of the U.S. crop belt are expected to increase yield prospects for corn and soybeans. The bigger harvests would help replenish depleted global stockpiles.

Net-bullish bets for Chicago corn slumped for the sixth straight week to the lowest since December while those for soybean meal were cut in half, the regulatory data showed.

In energy markets, hedge funds have slashed net-long stakes in natural gas by 7% to the lowest in six weeks as mild U.S. weather conditions dampen demand.

Bullish oil positions are at the lowest in about five months as the market braces for potentially more supply coming from major producing countries, including Iran.

Net-long copper bets on the Comex in New York are at the lowest in more than 10 months as Beijing makes moves to contain surging raw material prices, including a “zero tolerance” policy for hoarding the metal.

Bright Spots

There are a few outliers. Funds are showing more appetite for arabica coffee, the type favored by Starbucks Corp., and net-bullish positions are at the highest in eight months as drought continues to be a concern for top shipper Brazil.

Investors are also being lured back to gold as an inflation hedge, increasing net-long bets to the highest level in 20 weeks.

(Corrects scope of net-long coffee position in 10th paragraph.)

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