Hedge funds cut positions as Fed signals less stimulus

April 9 (Bloomberg) -- Hedge funds reduced bullish positions on commodities for a second consecutive week as the Federal Reserve signaled it may refrain from more monetary stimulus, increasing concern that growth will slow and curb demand for raw materials.

Money managers lowered net-long positions across 18 U.S. futures and options by 2.8% to 1.1 million contracts in the week ended April 3, data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission show. Positions on higher corn prices fell to the lowest since February, while those on hogs dropped by the most since May. Speculators cut wagers on costlier crude oil for a third week, and are now the least bullish in two months.

Minutes from the March 13 Fed policy meeting released April 3 showed policy makers will probably hold off on increasing monetary accommodation unless the U.S. economic expansion falters. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI gauge of 24 commodities rose more than 80% from December 2008 to June 2011 as the central bank set rates at a record low and bought $2.3 trillion of debt in two rounds of quantitative easing. The U.S. economy will accelerate this quarter and the next, economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg show.

“The market is addicted to stimulus,” said Jeffrey Sica, the Morristown, New Jersey-based president of SICA Wealth Management who helps oversee $1 billion of assets. “This market has risen because of the liquidity push and the market will decline when it’s deprived of liquidity.”

Steepest Decline

The S&P GSCI index rose less than 0.1% last week after tumbling 2% the day after the Fed minutes were released, the steepest decline since mid-December. Cocoa, cotton, wheat and gold led the declines as corn, nickel and soybean futures advanced. The MSCI All-Country World Index of equities slid 1.6 percent, and Treasures returned 0.2 percent, a Bank of America Corp. index shows.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s commodity research team, led by Jeffrey Currie in London, cut its three-month recommendation on raw materials to “neutral” on March 28, warning that the economy will “soften” this quarter. The S&P GSCI retreated 0.9% since then.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s team, led by Francisco Blanch in New York, retained an “overweight” recommendation April 2, citing the risk that conflict over Iran’s nuclear program will drive energy prices higher. Central banks are extending the provision of liquidity and cutting interest rates to shore up growth, the team wrote in a report to clients.

Emergency Stimulus

The Fed has pledged to keep interest rates near zero through 2014, and the European Central Bank kept its key rate at a record low of 1% on April 4. ECB President Mario Draghi quashed talk of an early exit from emergency stimulus measures the same day. The ECB has expanded its balance sheet by about 30% since November, pumping more than 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) into the banking system.

“As long as there is loose monetary policy and the world shows net growth, commodity prices will remain firm,” said Michael Cuggino, who helps manage about $15 billion of assets at Permanent Portfolio Funds in San Francisco. “The demand for commodities is unlikely to weaken.”

The U.S. added 120,000 jobs in March, the smallest increase in five months and less than the most pessimistic estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists, a Labor Department report showed April 6. The economy will expand 2.2% this quarter and 2.5% in the next, compared with 2% in the first three months of the year, according to the median of 74 economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Open Market

The jobs data may help build a case for further easing at the June meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, said John Silvia, the chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. U.S. commodity markets were shut on the day of the report for the Good Friday holiday.

Bets on a copper rally rose 25% to 18,642 contracts in the week ended April 3, the highest since early August, the CFTC data show. Inventories of the metal monitored by the London Metal Exchange tumbled 29% this year. Demand will exceed supply by 13,000 metric tons this year, and the deficit will widen to 17,000 tons in 2013, analysts at Morgan Stanley led by Hussein Allidina in New York said in a report April 2.

Investors put $79 million into commodity funds in the week ended April 4, the same amount as a week earlier, according to Cambridge, Massachusetts-based EPFR Global, which tracks money flows. Open interest, or contracts outstanding, across the 24 commodities in the S&P GSCI advanced 1.9 percent, advancing for a second consecutive week and taking this year’s expansion to 19 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Arabica Coffee

Bullish soybean wagers rose 12% to 235,387 contracts, the highest since Bloomberg began compiling the data in June 2006. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report may show this week South American crops will be smaller than forecast after drought, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts. Soybeans jumped 2.2% to $14.34 a bushel last week as arabica coffee added 0.3% to $1.83 a pound. Soybeans for May delivery dropped 0.1% today to $14.33 a bushel.

Copper fell 1% last week on the LME, paring this year’s advance to 10 percent. Growth in China, the world’s biggest metals consumer, will slow to 8.3% this year, from 9.2% in 2011, according to the median of 11 economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Premier Wen Jiabao cut the nation’s growth target to 7.5% last month, the lowest since 2004.

Extra Policy Easing

A purchasing managers’ index for the Chinese services industry dropped to 53.3 last month, from 53.9 in February. Readings above 50 indicate expansion. The country needs extra policy easing to spur growth and the rest of Asia “urgently” needs the nation’s economy to turn, Frederic Neumann, an analyst at HSBC Holdings Plc in Hong Kong, said in a report April 3.

“China is in a very precarious state and it could easily turn into a hard landing,” said Stanley Crouch, who helps oversee $2 billion of assets as chief investment officer at New York-based Aegis Capital Corp. “If you look at all the interventions the Fed and ECB have undertaken they have not great results to show. We are going to probably have a big correction because of China’s hard landing.”

Bloomberg News

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