February 5, 2018 / 12:41 PM / 5 months ago

COLUMN-Hedge funds pause oil buying as rally runs out of steam: Kemp

(John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own)

* Chartbook: tmsnrt.rs/2E1RCJ6

By John Kemp

LONDON, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers have cut their bullish exposure to petroleum for the first time in six weeks as oil prices stalled and sentiment turned more cautious amid concerns about an increasingly crowded trade.

Fund managers cut their net long position in the six most important futures and options contracts linked to crude and fuels by 21 million barrels in the week to Jan. 30 (tmsnrt.rs/2E1RCJ6).

The reduction was small and comes after the net long position was increased by 258 million barrels over the previous five weeks and by 1,174 million barrels since the end of June.

Nonetheless it came after portfolio managers had built a record net long position in Brent, NYMEX and ICE WTI, U.S. gasoline, U.S. heating oil and European gasoil a week earlier.

Long positions had come to outnumber short ones by a record ratio of more than 11:1, fuelling concerns about lopsided positioning and the risk of a correction.

In the most recent week, fund managers cut their net long position in Brent (-7 million barrels) and West Texas Intermediate (-18 million barrels), according to records published by regulators and exchanges.

Changes in U.S. gasoline (+3 million barrels), U.S. heating oil (-2 million barrels) and European gasoil (+4 million barrels) were smaller and more mixed.

There is not enough data to determine whether the position reduction was merely a pause after an extraordinary bull market or the start of a more sustained pull back.

Bearish short positions remain very low, with just 134 million barrels of short futures and option positions across the six major contracts, the lowest level since June 2014, before prices started slumping.

But benchmark Brent prices have been softening since hitting a high over $71 per barrel on Jan. 25 and are now trading at levels first seen near the start of last month.

With so many long positions already in the market, but upward momentum fading and prices failing to make new highs, the temptation to realise some profits by reducing long exposure is increasing. (Editing by Dale Hudson)

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