Crude Oil ETFs Continue to Climb Amid Kazakhstan Unrest | ETF Trends

While stocks are still finding their footing after a steep drop following the FOMC Minutes on Wednesday, crude oil and crude ETFs are surging on Thursday, adding to a run-up in the prior few sessions, as escalating unrest in OPEC+ oil producer Kazakhstan and supply outages in Libya are sparking concern for crude investors and traders.

Global bellwether Brent crude futures climbed 2.2% to trade at $82.58 a barrel, the highest level since late November. Meanwhile, U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained as much as $2.18, or 2.8%, to crest $80.03, the highest price since mid-November, before paring gains somewhat.

Markets have been spooked amid news that Russia sent paratroopers into Kazakhstan on Thursday to help control a national uprising after deadly fighting disseminated across the rigidly regulated former Soviet state.

Police in Kazakhstan’s main city of Almaty said that they had killed dozens of rioters overnight. State television reported that at least 13 members of the security forces had perished, including two found decapitated. The interior ministry said that 2,000 people had been arrested.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Nazarbayev’s successor, requested assistance from ally Russia overnight as part of a Moscow-led military agreement of ex-Soviet states. He targeted foreign-trained terrorists as being responsible for the violence, saying that they had seized buildings and weapons.

“It is an undermining of the integrity of the state and most importantly it is an attack on our citizens who are asking me… to help them urgently,” he said.

Moscow said it would deliberate with Kazakhstan and allies on the best approach to assist with the Kazakh “counter-terrorist operation.” It blamed the uprising on foreigners, but neither Kazakhstan nor Russia provided evidence to back that claim.

The news has been disruptive for the already-costly price of oil, as investors are concerned that there could be problems if the fighting escalates and the situation remains uncontrolled.

“The political situation in Kazakhstan is becoming increasingly tense,” Commerzbank said. “And this is a country that is currently producing 1.6 million barrels of oil per day.”

Nevertheless, there were no indications thus far that oil production has been affected.

Libyan oil output is at 729,000 barrels per day (bpd), the National Oil Corp said on Thursday, down from a high of more than 1.3 million bpd last year, owing to maintenance and oilfield shutdowns.

U.S. crude oil stockpiles also dropped last week while gasoline inventories rocketed by more than 10 million barrels, the biggest weekly build since April 2020, as supplies were stymied at refineries amid limited fuel demand.

Economic concerns also seem to be affecting crude as well, with FOMC minutes revealing on Wednesday that policymakers could raise interest rates faster than markets previously anticipated.

In addition, OPEC+ decided on Tuesday to release another 400,000 bpd of supply in February, as it has done each month since August, a lower number than was expected.

The increase in OPEC’s output in December has again fallen short of the increase decided under the OPEC+ deal, underscoring capacity restrictions that are tightening supply as global demand recovers from the ongoing pandemic.

“Our reference case now assumes the alliance will fully phase out the remaining 2.96 million bpd of oil production cuts by September 2022,” JPMorgan analysts said in a note.

The bank predicted that Brent prices would average at $88 a barrel in 2022, up from $70 last year.

“Oil prices are still hovering around $80 a barrel, that’s probably higher than what [U.S. President] Joe Biden wants,” Herman Wang, managing editor of OPEC and Middle East news at S&P Global Platts, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Tuesday.

“And then you look at the resilience of the market so far to the omicron variant, which OPEC, of course, has dismissed as mild and short-lived. So, there’s a lot of optimism around what demand is going to do even though there are these predictions of looming oversupply in the first quarter,” Wang said.

“I think we are going to look for OPEC+ to continue with their 400,000 barrel per day increase at this meeting. What they are going to do at the February meeting and the March meeting, that is a problem for another time.”

Thus, global oil markets are projected to stay sensitive to geopolitical changes in 2022, with ongoing concerns about the constant Russia-Ukraine impasse and continuing Iranian nuclear negotiations that are likely to be closely monitored by OPEC+.

“I do think it is these geopolitical wildcards that we have to pay very close attention to,” Helima Croft, head of global commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Tuesday.

On Russia and Ukraine, Croft said: “I think that is a really incredible wildcard to watch because if you did have Russian troops cross the border into Ukraine you will get significant sanctions placed on Russia, which in turn could lead to a pretty serious energy crisis if Russia shut off gas into Europe.”

All of these economic and geopolitical factors could be bullish for crude oil, and investors looking to use ETFs to trade a continuing upswing could consider employing crude ETFs like the United States Oil Fund (USO) and the ProShares Ultra Bloomberg Crude Oil (UCO).

Technical factors may also support a continuing climb in crude oil, as the research team at explains:

“Retail trader data shows 49.60% of traders are net-long with the ratio of traders short to long at 1.02 to 1. In fact, traders have remained net-short since Nov 10 when Oil – US Crude traded near 80.51, price has moved 1.92% lower since then. The number of traders net-long is 13.33% lower than yesterday and 5.80% lower from last week, while the number of traders net-short is 10.69% higher than yesterday and 6.69% higher from last week.”

“We typically take a contrarian view to crowd sentiment, and the fact traders are net-short suggests Oil – US Crude prices may continue to rise,” the team adds.

For investors looking for crude ETFs to play the run-up in oil, which has been robust since November, the United States 12 Month Oil Fund (USL) and the iPath Pure Beta Crude Oil ETN (OIL) are two other funds to consider.

Meanwhile, for those investors with more bearish leanings, the ProShares UltraShort Bloomberg Crude Oil (SCO) offers opportunities for savvy investors if oil sells off.

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