By Maiya Keidan and Amanda Cooper
LONDON (Reuters) - Many of last year's most successful oil market bulls have seen their winnings dissolve in the first half of this year, as the crude price has wallowed below $50 a barrel despite output cuts by some of the world's largest producers.
Three of the top five worst-performing hedge funds in the first half of the year specialize in trading oil, directly or indirectly, according to a list compiled by HSBC. Two of those had led the performance charts in 2016.
"The majority of funds came into the year with a bullish view driven by supply/demand fundamentals," said Fred Ingham, who invests in hedge funds at Neuberger Berman, adding that the price had fallen since due partly to a focus on U.S. production.
The oil market has been struggling to absorb a surplus of unused crude but when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and 11 partners agreed late last year to cut output for the first time in eight years, bulls pushed the price up to a one-year high above $50 a barrel.
But as this year has worn on, OPEC's failure to erase a multi-million-barrel overhang and shale oil's dominance have become apparent, stripping 15 percent off the crude price.
Among the biggest casualties so far is the oil equities-focused AlphaGen Elnath Fund, part of Janus Henderson Investors-owned AlphaGen Capital, which ended 2016 as the best-performing fund with gains of 78 percent, the HSBC data showed.
Six months on, however, and it is now the worst performer, nursing losses of 48 percent.
The firm did not respond to requests for comment but Elnath fund manager Mark Gordon told Reuters last summer he thought the oil price had fallen too far and the market had no spare capacity globally.
"I think the oil price will continue to go up because production globally is falling and that is not sustainable," he said.
Another to call the oil price wrongly in the first half of the year is high-profile trader Pierre Andurand, who shot to fame with his correct prediction on the slide in crude from record highs in 2008.
His Andurand Commodities Fund lost 17 percent between January and June, giving back almost all of 2016's 22 percent gains. David Knott's Dorset Energy Fund lost 42 percent this year, having pocketed 66 percent last year.
"Losses in oil have been sizeable this year for specialists like Andurand," said one hedge fund investor, leading most to reduce their positions aggressively even though they remained bullish.
U.S. hedge fund firm Elm Ridge Capital Partners, meanwhile, lost 23.67 percent year-to-date after gains of 25.5 percent in 2016.
A spokesman for Andurand declined to comment. Dorset and Elm Ridge did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Many so-called "macro" hedge funds, which bet more generally on macroeconomic trends, also lost money from oil over the past six months, said Philippe Ferreira, head of hedge funds research at Lyxor Asset Management.
"Most ... multi-asset macro funds we track have lost money on oil so far this year because of bullish positions."
Among the losers so far is Conquest Capital Group's Star Fund, which has a roughly 10 percent exposure to energy. It had lost 3.1 percent in the six months to June 30 after gains of 17.1 percent last year, an investor letter showed.
The average macro hedge fund is down 0.8 percent in the first six months of 2017, data from industry tracker Hedge Fund Research showed, compared with returns of 3.68 percent for the average hedge fund.
(Reporting by Maiya Keidan and Amanda Cooper; Editing by Dale Hudson)