March 18 (Bloomberg) -- Investors increased wagers on a commodity rally by the most in eight months as signs of a U.S. economic recovery bolstered the outlook for demand and drove rallies in crude oil, cotton, copper and gold.
Hedge funds and other large speculators raised net-long positions across 18 U.S. futures and options in the week ended March 12 by 30 percent to 528,680 contracts, the biggest gain since July and up from a four-year low the previous week, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Money managers raised bullish bets on corn by 39 percent, cotton holdings were the highest since 2010, and gold wagers increased 9 percent.
Open interest in commodities rose 2.8 percent in the first half of March, heading for a third monthly gain, and the Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index of 24 raw materials erased its 2013 losses. U.S. retail sales climbed twice as much as forecast in February, the government said March 13. In the four weeks to March 9, the average number of Americans filing for jobless benefits fell to the lowest since March 2008. The U.S., the largest economy, is the top consumer of corn and oil and the second-biggest metals user.
"People are accepting the fact that we have a growing economy, and there’s confirmation of that from the economic data," said Sal Gilbertie, who helps manage $69 million of assets as president and chief investment officer of Teucrium Trading LLC in Santa Fe, New Mexico. "It gives people a reason to believe that there’s going to be sustained economic demand for base commodities."
The S&P GSCI gauge is little changed this year, after being down 1 percent on March 4. The MSCI All-Country World Index of equities climbed 5.7 percent, while the dollar advanced 3.6 percent against a basket of six trading partners. Treasuries lost 0.9 percent, a Bank of America Corp. index shows.
The euro fell today to its lowest level this year, while oil and copper slumped at least 1.8 percent after euro-area finance ministers reached an agreement on March 16 forcing depositors in Cypriot banks to share the cost of the latest euro-zone bailout.
First-time U.S. jobless claims fell 10,000 to 332,000 in the week ended March 9, the fewest since mid-January, the Labor Department said March 14. Output at factories, mines and utilities climbed 0.7 percent, the most in three months, exceeding the median projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists, the Federal Reserve said on March 15.
Europe’s leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke in favor of growth at a two-day summit in Brussels last week. Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said that he sees an argument for bolstering economic recovery by expanding quantitative easing. King and two colleagues were outvoted last month in a push to expand stimulus. The U.S. will use 8.7 percent of the world’s copper this year, and western Europe will account for 14 percent of demand, according to Morgan Stanley.
The S&P GSCI is up 85 percent since the end of 2008 as the Fed expanded its balance sheet to more than $3 trillion, joining central banks from Europe to Asia in global stimulus aimed at boosting growth. U.S. policy makers probably will decide to continue their $85 billion monthly asset-purchase program at a meeting March 19-20, Credit Suisse Group AG economists Neal Soss and Dana Saporta said in a note last week.
Bullish commodity holdings fell 24 percent since Jan. 1, as equity markets outpaced gains for raw materials. Demand from China, the biggest consumer of everything from copper to soybeans, may decline as industrial output had the weakest start to a year since 2009 and its copper imports tumbled to a 20- month low in February. The country accounts for 42 percent of global demand for the metal, Barclays Plc estimates.
Copper stockpiles monitored by exchanges in London, New York and Shanghai jumped 43 percent since the start of the year to the highest since December 2003, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting record corn and soybean crops, and U.S. crude-oil stockpiles have climbed for eight weeks. Copper net-short positions, or bets prices will decline, totaled 16,764 contracts on March 12, 2.3 percent more than a week earlier, CFTC data show.
"The question is: has China peaked?" said Tom Stringfellow, the president of San Antonio-based Frost Investment Advisors LLC, which manages about $9 billion of assets. "If you think there is an economic slowdown coming, that could very well mean another global recession, and you wouldn’t be interested in commodities in general."
Investors withdrew a net $110 million from commodity funds in the week ended March 13, including $194 million from gold and precious-metals funds, said Cameron Brandt, the director of research for Cambridge, Massachusetts-based researcher EPFR Global, which tracks money flows.
This year’s price declines are exaggerated, and investors should buy, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a March 7 report, raising its outlook for raw materials to "overweight" from "neutral." Goldman ranked No. 1 in commodities revenue in 2012, according to analytics company Coalition.
Gold holdings rose 9 percent to 43,195 contracts as of March 12, after dropping 27 percent the previous week, according to the CFTC. The price advanced 1 percent for the week, the biggest gain in two months, as investors sought a hedge against accelerating inflation.
The U.S. consumer-price index rose 0.7 percent in February, more than forecast, after retail gasoline surged, the government said March 15. Crude-oil futures rallied 1.6 percent last week, the most since Feb. 1, and touched $93.84 a barrel in New York on March 15, the highest in almost three weeks.
Net-longs for agricultural products surged 73 percent in the week ended March 12 to 243,238 contracts, the first increase in five weeks, according to the CFTC.
Cotton holdings rose 12 percent to 67,632 contracts, the highest since September 2010. Prices climbed to an 11-month high of 93.93 cents a pound on March 15 in New York on speculation that China, the largest buyer, will boost imports just as supply tightens in the U.S., the biggest exporter.
Bets on higher corn prices rose to 87,671 contracts in the biggest weekly gain since July, according to the CFTC. Futures on the Chicago Board of Trade gained 1.9 percent. Soybean net- long holdings advanced 8.6 percent to 139,344 contracts, the highest since November.
Speculators also trimmed bearish holdings in sugar by 75 percent, leaving a net-short position of 11,540 contracts, according to the commission, while the price rose 0.7 percent for the week. Wheat net-shorts narrowed by 10 percent to 41,519 contracts, before prices advanced 3.7 percent.
Investors may be purchasing commodities after prices declined earlier this year, said Adrian Day, who manages about $170 million of assets as the president of Adrian Day Asset Management in Annapolis, Maryland.
"Good economic news, particularly in the U.S., and improved sentiment in Europe has driven" the rebound, said Day. "A lot of money came out of commodities at the beginning of this year and went into equities. There are always some fund managers who are value-oriented, so the decline in commodities has been long enough that it may get more people to move, particularly if there’s good economic news."
--Editors: Steve Stroth, Patrick McKiernan
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