Hedge funds in gold price rethink

On Monday the gold price managed to lift off the month-low hit last week as markets wait for the outcome of debt negotiations in Europe and weigh the possible impact of a Greek exit from the economic bloc’s single currency.

In holiday thin volumes during lunchtime trade on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, gold futures for April delivery – the most active contract – hit $1,231.50 an ounce, up $4.40 or 0.4% from Friday’s close.

After Friday’s huge run-up calm returned to the silver market on Monday with March contracts drifting lower to exchange hands at $17.28 an ounce, down a fraction on the day.

Gold is still trading up nearly $50 or almost 4% in 2015, but is down sharply from an intra-day high of $1,307 hit in January.

Silver has followed the same playbook – the metal went off to the races at the start of the year to hit a 2015 high of $18.36 on January 22, but has since given up 40% of those gains.

The precious metals’ break in upward momentum is evident in the futures positioning of large investors like hedge funds or so-called “managed money”.

Net long positions of gold – bets that the price will go up – held by hedge funds surged in January to 167,693 lots or 16.7 million ounces to hit the highest level since 2012 when gold was trading north of $1,700 an ounce.

In the week to February 10 according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s weekly Commitment of Traders data bullish positioning was trimmed again, this time by 17.3% from the previous week and now total 13.3 million ounces.

Hedge funds added to shorts – bets that prices will fall – and cut long positions at the same time last week.

Silver positioning also turned slightly more bearish last week, but the overall picture is still in stark contrast to the pervasive negativity in the second half of last year.

From a net short position of 53 million ounces in October last year, speculators have now accumulated bullish bets equivalent to 185 million ounces.

Like the price of silver, speculation in silver futures tend to be volatile, and those bullish bets are still below that recorded in July last year when it peaked at record longs of 46,795 or 234 million ounces.