Many commentators have been confused by the recent open interest readings that we have been getting out of the CME Group detailing the movements of traders into or out of the gold futures markets. They have been looking at the huge increase and have been somewhat baffled at best and downright confused at worst.
While there is no doubt in my mind that it was a series of extremely large sell orders that got this downside ball rolling something else is going on that explains these open interest readings.
The usual pattern that we have seen in the gold market over the last decade-plus bull market has been a build up in the hedge fund long positions as they buy the market which is countered by the bullion banks and swap dealers taking the other side of that trade and going short. At some point, the market stalls in its upward momentum, a trigger occurs, and then the price reverses as the hedgies sell out or liquidate their long positions. This selling is then met with buying or the covering of shorts by the bullion banks and swap dealers.
At some point, the buying in the physical market becomes so large that it prevents any further downside price movement whereupon the market then stabilizes and the process repeats itself with price going on to make yet another high.
During these periods, many expect to see open interest shrinking as the price descends because it shows that many participants are reducing their positions - the hedge funds are getting out by selling previously established longs and the bullion banks and swap dealers are getting out by buying previously established shorts.
When open interest readings increase, it tends to confuse some as it seems to contradict the usual pattern that has become so familiar. What is leading to confusion is that the SPREAD POSITIONS of some of the LARGEST TRADERS are not taken into account.
I have graphed two of these categories for you to see and noted the price action in gold that occurred over this same period. The two categories are the SWAP DEALERS and the OTHER LARGE REPORTABLES.
This latter category includes the likes of CTA's (Commodity Trading Advisors), CPO's (Commodity Pool Operators), Large Locals from off the Pit Floor and other Large Private Traders. While these groups do not have quite the same impact as the enormous Hedge Funds, they are still large enough to affect trading.
Can you see the big spike higher in their spread positions back in August 2011, when gold shot up to $1924 and then collapsed all the way to $1535 before it stabilized? Now look at this past week's spike higher. See a pattern here? By the way, the sharp increase in the number of spreads put on by the Large Reportables Camp ( 87,178) was the largest single week increase for that camp on record. The increase in the Swap Dealers' Spread position (+49,768) was also a weekly record.
There is your REASON for the SURGE IN OPEN INTEREST.
There is a strategy behind this which I will not get into right now in detail due to time constraints ( soon coming attraction) but suffice it to say for now that it is an attempt first to get downside protection and cushion losses for those who are long and are on the wrong side. Second - the proper use of a spread position can be very advantageous to traders who can time the markets accurately enough to leg into and leg out off these spreads. It requires considerable skill however to pull this off and trading accounts large enough in size to allow for the jump in margin requirements as one leg of the spread is lifted.
IF we leave off the impact of these spreads in the overall open interest numbers, it would have only seen an INCREASE of +14,460 compared to the previous week. This was based on the bullion banks increase of both their long and short positions (which incidentally favored more longs at this point than shorts) and an increase in the SHORT positions of the small specs, the general public who sold down into what might turn out to be a hole. When we take into account the sharp increase in the number of spreads, we see a completely different picture with open interest increasing over 154,000 contracts this week alone.
Therein lies the "mystery" for the open interest readings for the past week. If gold stabilizes here and begins to base build, watch for these spreads to be drawn down.
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