Private money managers who invest in energy think the price of oil will continue to fall—even as crude hit a five-year low on Tuesday—but some still see opportunity in related companies.
"Oil is going to a new price point because of the revolution in production," said Bill Perkins, chief investment officer of energy-focused hedge fund firm Skylar Capital Management.
Perkins believes the price of crude could fall as low as $45 a barrel. He is personally short, a bet that the price of the commodity will drop. He believes oil will settle between $45 and $80 a barrel in the next year.
At the same time, Perkins is individually invested in an undisclosed oil-related business—Skylar focuses on natural gas—as he believes owning strong companies in the sector is a good bet because of continued demand and cheaper production.
"Companies are harnessing amazing new technology to destroy the traditional energy value chain," Perkins said. "There's a lot of money to be made on that."
Recent data from Credit Suisse's hedge fund servicing unit show that commodity trading specialists are still short crude contracts. At the same time, the bank said in a Dec. 3 report, hedge fund managers who focus on stocks added to their long bets over November despite the continued price drop.
"U.S. energy names remain a significant net exposure for equity long/short managers who added longs and cut shorts after October's trough," the report said. "If pressed, one could interpret this positioning as bullish for energy stocks."
Overall, energy stocks represent 14 percent of equity hedge fund portfolios, a relatively large position, and 10 percent of the top 100 most common long positions overall, according to Credit Suisse.
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Many hedge fund managers still think the price of oil will keep falling. They include Andy Hall of Astenbeck Capital Management (per a Reuters report), Paul Singer of Elliott Management and Pierre Andurand of Andurand Capital Management.
"I expect that prices will carry on coming off to rebalance the market," said Andurand, a Frenchman who was previously CIO of commodities investor BlueGold.
Andurand thinks crude could hit $50 a barrel in the first quarter of 2015 and then rebound to a high of $70 in the fourth quarter. He said the oil market is oversupplied by between 1.5 and 2 million barrels per day, given weak demand, low disruptions to supply and increased production by nations that don't belong to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
"OPEC is not the swing producer anymore. U.S. shale oil producers are, but will take more time to react to prices than OPEC—it is a game changer that will lead to more volatile prices and bigger price ranges," he added.
Andurand isn't as bullish on energy stocks as others. "I expect that high-cost, highly leveraged shale oil companies will be at risk, there will be more (mergers and acquisitions) activity in the sector and some countries will be at risk of default," he said.
Andurand Capital's main fund is up 20 percent this year after gaining 18 percent in November on bearish bets, according to a person familiar with the performance (a spokesman for the firm declined to comment on returns). The firm manages $350 million, according to the person.
Spokesmen for Astenbeck and Elliott did not respond to a request for comment.
SECOR Asset Management also successfully shorted oil and related stocks in November, according to a person with knowledge of the performance.
The firm's $170 million SECOR Alpha Fund, a systematic macroeconomic vehicle led by former top Goldman Sachs quantitative investor Ray Iwanowski, gained 7.4 percent for the month and is up 22.6 percent for the year, according to the person. The computer models correctly predicted that the high price of oil would spur shale oil production in the U.S., eventually leading to oversupply and a drop in price.
SECOR's investing models—which assess all sorts of global securities and markets and then take positions to profit off the results—still indicate that crude is overpriced, according to the person. The hedge fund has short bets against stocks in the exploration and production sector and against crude oil as a commodity via futures contracts.
A spokesman for SECOR, which launched in September 2012, declined to comment.
Another oil bear is Elliott's Singer.
"We believe the trend of strong U.S. supply is likely to continue for the next several years, which should depress oil prices further, absent further supply outages in the Middle East and North Africa," Singer wrote in a letter to investors Oct. 28.
That bearish view was reflected by Morgan Stanley.
"The risk of oil prices moving even lower into 2015 (as well as higher volatility) is now significantly elevated," bank analysts wrote in a research report. "By 2Q15, the market will be oversupplied and needs to find a mechanism to balance."
Morgan Stanley said the price would need to fall as low as $35 or $40 a barrel to stop production and rebalance supply.
Still, the bank noted that the price will likely rise eventually.
"Oversupply is likely exaggerated and the market may be complacent about upside risks," the report said.