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Oil pro Andy Hall: Next move will surprise

Oil trader Andy Hall has closed out his bearish bets on oil and is predicting a price recovery in crude sooner than many analysts expect.

In his most recent letter to investors, dated Monday, the chief executive of the $3.2 billion commodity hedge fund Astenbeck Capital Management harks back to a classic rationale for his bullish point of view: that the cure for low prices is low prices.

"The only question is how long it will take for these low prices to work their magic," he wrote. "We think it might happen more quickly than many expect."

Despite the widely held notion among market researchers that crude will linger between $40 and $50 for much of this year and next, Hall said: "We suspect their projection of current prices into the future will again be frustrated by the market. For that reason we have closed out all of our bearish bets (at a substantial profit) and started adding to our bullish ones. We might be premature but think the chance of seeing new lows for oil prices—other than possibly at the very front of the [West Texas Intermediate] curve—is relatively small even though volatility is likely to remain high in the coming months."

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Hall's fund returned 3.9 percent through the end of February, according to someone familiar with its performance. Yet a significant number of other oil traders and crude-market analysts disagree with the notion that the market's lows are more or less established.

In its own most recent investor note, for instance, analysts at Barclays Capital noted that oil markets are currently supported by "a few transient fundamental factors and shades of confidence," but added that "we expect further weakness ahead as these factors fade."

In the letter, Hall cited a number of reasons why oil prices should recover by later this year, including the dramatic fall in rig counts in the U.S., which should reduce year-over-year production growth before the end of 2015; widespread capital spending cuts at shale producers; the collapse in oil well permits in Texas since October; expectations of slower production growth in places like Brazil and Russia; and a likely uptick in demand growth due to both seasonal and secular factors.

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"In short," he wrote, "we think it is time to look beyond the rapidly building crude inventories of the next month or two and focus on the much improved supply and demand fundamentals that will assert themselves later this year."