Hedge funds raise Canadian energy shorts ahead of U.S. election

FILE PHOTO: Rows of steam generators line a road at the Cenovus Energy Christina Lake SAGD project south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
FILE PHOTO: Rows of steam generators line a road at the Cenovus Energy Christina Lake Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) project 120 km (74 miles) south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, August 15, 2013. REUTERS/Todd Korol

November 2, 2020

By Maiya Keidan

TORONTO (Reuters) – Hedge funds upped bets against Canadian energy companies in the run-up to Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election, regulatory filings reviewed by Reuters showed.

Market participants have speculated energy stocks could fall if Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden wins the race against incumbent President Donald Trump.

Biden has laid out a series of plans for the environment, which include a desire to “transition from the oil industry,” words that ricocheted across Canada as the world’s fourth-largest crude producer and major exporter to its neighbour south of the border.

“There is a sense that there is a greater chance of a Biden win,” said Rob Romero, portfolio manager at Connective Capital.

“I do think Biden would promote a more interventionist policy into the economy, favoring renewable energy, so demand for Canadian energy could be challenged.”

“For example, gas and liquids pipeline projects would receive less support, and enforcement of environmental regulation would be increased.”

The number of short trades as a percentage of total traded volume for Imperial Oil Ltd <IMO.TO> rose to approximately 49% for the second half of October, from approximately 36.5% for the first half of October, regulatory filings showed.

Cenovus Energy Inc <CVE.TO> saw an increase to 39.3%, from 36.5%, over the same period, while the number rose in Canadian Natural Resources Ltd <CNQ.TO> to 26.2%, from 25.6%, according to the data.

That compared with 35.6% for Imperial Oil between Sept. 16 and Oct. 1 and 27.1% for Cenovus and 20.4% in Canadian Natural Resources over the same period.

The energy sub-index <.SPTTEN> has fallen 55% since Jan. 1.

Hedge funds typically engage in the practice of short-selling by borrowing a stock from an institutional investor, such as a pension fund, and selling it back at a lower price when shares fall, pocketing the difference.

A Biden win is expected to benefit the cannabis sector as vice president pick Kamala Harris has promised the Democratic party will decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. Some investors expect such a move to benefit U.S. weed companies more than the Canadian producers.

The number of short trades as a percentage of total traded volume rose in Canada’s No. 2 marijuana producer Aurora Cannabis Inc <ACB.TO>, Canopy Growth Corp <WEED.TO> and Aphria Inc <APHA.TO> in the run-up to the election.

Biden has also pledged to rescind the presidential permit for Keystone XL, a heavy oil pipeline TC Energy Corp <TRP.TO> has sought to build for more than a decade.

However, short trades in TC Energy most recently fell to 21.2%, from 36.6% last month.

(Reporting by Maiya Keidan, additional reporting by Jeff Lewis; Editing by Marguerita Choy)