***Speculators raised bearish bets on WTI to all-time high
***Absolutely no chance’ Iran will delay export boost: minister

Oil fell below $35 a barrel in New York for the first time since 2009 as Iran reiterated its pledge to boost crude exports, bolstering speculation that rising OPEC production will deepen the global glut.

Futures fell as much as 3.1 percent to $34.53 a barrel in New York, the lowest since Feb. 18, 2009. Prices lost almost 11 percent last week, the biggest drop in a year. There’s “absolutely no chance” Iran will delay its plan to increase shipments even as prices decline, said Amir Hossein Zamaninia, the nation’s deputy oil minister for international and commerce affairs. Speculators in the U.S. have raised bearish bets to an all-time high. Diesel and gasoline futures led declines as warm U.S. weather curbed heating fuel demand.

Oil slumped last week to levels last seen during the global financial crisis, while speculators increased bets on falling U.S. crude prices to an all-time high after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries this month effectively abandoned production limits. The supply glut will persist at least until late 2016 as demand growth slows and OPEC shows “renewed determination” to maximize output, according to the International Energy Agency.

Market Gloom

“The OPEC decision 10 days ago just exacerbated worries about excess supply,” said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA Inc. in New York. “There’s been no heating demand so far, which is hurting as well. Diesel and gasoline are leading the energy space lower.”

WTI for January delivery fell 15 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $35.47 a barrel at 10:05 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The volume of all futures traded was 66 percent above the 100-day average. The aggregate volume of monthly WTI contracts climbed to a record of 1.596 million on the Nymex on Dec. 8. Each contract corresponds to 1,000 barrels of oil.

Brent for January settlement dropped 89 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $37.04 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. It touched $36.33, the lowest since Dec. 26, 2008. The European benchmark crude was at a $1.57 premium to WTI.

In the U.S., Senate negotiators are nearing a deal to allow unfettered crude oil exports for the first time in 40 years, though differences remain on renewable-energy tax credits that Democrats are demanding in return, according to people close to the discussions.

U.S. Exports

While any agreement could still collapse in the coming days — the deal faces opposition in the House — lawmakers are weighing the extension of solar and wind tax credits for as long as five years in exchange for lifting the crude-export restrictions, which were established to counter the energy shortages of the 1970s.

“If the ban is lifted the Brent-WTI spread will be crushed,” said Tom Finlon, Jupiter, Florida-based director of Energy Analytics Group LLC. “Refinery margins in the U.S. will shrink. U.S. refiners have had the advantage of using captive crude.”

Iran, which expects international sanctions over its nuclear program to be lifted by the first week of January, has already secured customers for its planned supply expansion, Zamaninia said in an interview in Tehran. The government is also preparing to offer oil and natural gas contracts to investors. The country pumped 2.8 million barrels a day last month, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Hardened Resolve

OPEC, which set aside its output quota at a Dec. 4 meeting, is displaying hardened resolve to maintain sales, the IEA said in its monthly report Friday. While the group’s strategy has affected other producers, triggering the steepest fall in non-OPEC supply since 1992, world oil inventories will probably swell further once Iran restores exports, predicted the Paris-based energy adviser to developed economies.

Money managers’ short position on WTI futures and options rose 5.8 percent to 181,849 contracts in the week ended Dec. 8, according to CFTC data Friday. Net longs retreated to a five-year low.

U.S. natural gas for January delivery tumbled to the lowest level since January 2002 amid forecasts that mild weather will persist through the end of the month. Futures fell as much as 5.5 percent to $1.881 per million British thermal units on the Nymex.

Source: Bloomberg

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