Traders made $286 million by betting against a popular oil ETF as prices plummeted

Image
Art designer Riccardo Zanobini takes a oil barrel to weld at his headquarters in Massa Lombarda, near Imola, central Italy June 25, 2013. Young designers from Vibrazioni Art Design use oil barrels from different industrial sectors, from petrochemicals to food containers, to create products like furniture and lighting. Despite the economic crisis in Italy, the company, established in 2007, exports to Asia and Europe. Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

  • From February 27 to April 21, USO short-sellers made $US286 million in mark-to-market profits, a 110% return through Tuesday, according to a Tuesday note from Ihor Dusaniwsky, managing director of predictive analytics at S3 Partners.
  • In those two months, traders betting against USO went into “overdrive,” shorting an additional 50 million shares, tripling the previous number shorted.
  • USO has been weighed down as the price of WTI oil slumped and fell into negative territory for the first time ever on Monday.
  • Watch USO trade live on Markets Insider.
  • Read more on Business Insider.

Traders who bet against the United States Oil Fund, ticker USO, reaped millions of dollars as the exchange-traded fund plunged, dragged down by the slump in commodity prices.

From February 27 to April 21, USO short-sellers made $US286 million in mark-to-market profits, a 110% return through Tuesday, according to a Tuesday note from Ihor Dusaniwsky, managing director of predictive analytics at S3 Partners.

In the same period, traders betting against USO went into “overdrive,” Dusaniwsky said, by shorting an additional 50 million shares, tripling the previous number shorted.

The gains came amid a rout for USO as West Texas Intermediate oil prices fell into negative territory for the first time ever on Monday. Oil prices have been weighed down this year as the coronavirus pandemic has cratered global demand, and have stayed low even amid historic production cuts from OPEC and its allies.

Screen Shot 2020 04 24 at 8.14.48 AM


Read more:
JPMorgan is backing a startup that solves cash-flow headaches for small businesses. Here’s how it works.

Throughout 2020, traders have been adding to bets against USO, S3 said. But, “there is a decidedly different trend in the first two months of the year versus the last two,” Dusaniwsky wrote.

From January 1 to February 27, USO short-sellers were actively covering their positions – short-sellers borrow shares to bet against, then profit by buying them back at a lower price.

“Shorts were covering into a weakening oil market and realising some mark-to-market profits,” said Dusaniwsky. Until the end of February, shorts were up nearly $US62 million in mark-to-market profits, or about 24%, in less than two months.

But as the price of oil continued to fall, shorts reversed their covering and actively increased their positions against the ETF. In the last month, USO shares shorted have surged nearly 30%, including a roughly 11% jump in the last week, according to S3 data.

Now, short interest – the dollar amount betting against USO – is $US213 million, with nearly 76 million shares shorted, the report said.