Betting on Oil: Recent Losses and Uncertain Prospects for Oil Bull

Andrew Hall, the manager of Astenbeck Capital Management LLC who gained public notoriety for receiving a $100 million settlement from Citigroup in 2008, continues to bet oil prices will rise. As of 2015, the fund is down 20% for 2015, on track for its worst year since inception in 2008. Since January 2013, it has shrunk from $4.8 billion to $2.6 billion as a result of losses and significant investor pull-outs. Hall, however, has emphasized that low oil prices are spurring growth in demand, noting higher sales of sport-utility vehicles and a rise in miles driven, and suggested that the world may experience a “sizable” deficit of supply by mid-2016. The investors sticking with Astenbeck are betting he is right that oil will pay off big when the market turns.

Professor Eric Gorden of University of Michigan’s School of Business notes two risks relevant to Hall’s strategy: “the possibility that the future is not like the past” and “you can’t last long enough because investors will ask for their money back.” Goldman Sachs Group has said it doesn’t expect oil to return to $50 a barrel until late 2016.

There is no apparent sign Hall is changing strategy. His past profits generally came from bets that long-term oil futures would rise faster than the price of near-term contracts. He is betting supply will tighten. One investor who knows him said, “he absolutely thinks he is right.”