(Bloomberg) -- Escalating tension in the Persian Gulf is beginning to justify renewed optimism that oil will rebound.
Money managers boosted their bets on rising West Texas Intermediate crude prices by the most in four months as of July 16, according to data released Friday. That left them exposed to a 7.6% weekly price drop as, for four days, the market focused on a worsening outlook for demand and seemed indifferent to geopolitics.
But prices soared as much as 1.9% on Friday with the U.S. saying it downed an Iranian drone and Iran capturing a British tanker. Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, a political risk research and consulting firm, is among experts saying futures could shoot up past $100 a barrel if a war breaks out.
“We see continued scope for elevated tensions after Iran seized multiple tankers in the Strait of Hormuz,” TD Securities commodity strategists led by Bart Melek said in a note to clients. “The situation in the Middle East is not as calm as crude markets may suggest and should serve to keep investors positioned long moving forward.”
Brent crude, the global benchmark, climbed as much as 2.3% on Friday after Iran grabbed the British vessel.
Net-length for WTI -- the difference between bets on a price increase and those on a decline -- jumped 26% to 199,644 futures and options, according to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Long positions grew by 20% to the highest since late May. Short-selling wagers edged up 1.1%.
Given the lag in releasing the data, it’s unclear how much hedge funds benefited form Friday’s rally. The added bullishness also stemmed from a hurricane that temporarily curtailed production in the Gulf of Mexico, and investors likely unwound some of their bets as the storm faded, Melek said.
--With assistance from Dan Murtaugh.
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