Speculation Does Not Explain High Oil and Gasoline Prices? Please!!

This is a difficult concept to get across to people who are trapped in the supply/demand thinking style when it comes to prices of commodities.  There's more at play, and speculation is a big part of it.  Dian does an excellent job explaining how speculation affects oil prices.  And if you haven't already read Phil's recent article on this important topic, read: The scam behind the rise in oil, food prices. - Ilene 

Speculation Does Not Explain High Oil and Gasoline Prices? Please!!

Courtesy of Dian L. Chu, EconMatters 

WTI (West Texas Intermediate) Crude Oil futures traded at its lowest in almost two months in New York on Thursday, May 5 in its biggest selloff in two years, plunging 8.6% on the day to below the $100 mark (Fig. 1).  Brent crude on ICE also dropped as much as $12.17, or 10%, which was the largest in percentage terms not seen since the Lehman Brothers financial crisis, and the largest ever in absolute terms, according to FT.

The epic waterfall was partly due to the combination of a strengthening dollar after European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said he wouldn’t raise interest rates, and a surging U.S. first time jobless claim that sent oil, silver and other commodities plunging. 


Big Speculators Moving Out  

There has been a long debate about how much of a role speculators play in the oil market.  However, this latest big price move in one day strongly suggests something more than fundamentals is at work. 

That is, some big players (i.e. speculators) decided to move out of commodities, either to take profits, or for risk off trades, as crude and gasoline market fundamentals have not changed much since the start of the year to warrant such a run-up of prices in recent months (Fig. 1). 

Link Between Oil Storage & Speculation?? 

Some, like Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, and Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren, senior fellows at the Cato Institute, have suggested that speculators are not the ones causing high oil and gasoline prices.

For example, in this article, Klein partly quoted Michael Greenstone, an energy economist at MIT, and concluded that: 

“Speculators make money by pulling oil off the market, putting it in inventory, and selling it later…So if you’re seeing speculation, you should be seeing a massive run-up in inventory. And we are seeing a bit of an inventory bump, particularly in recent weeks. But not enough of one.”

Taylor and Van Doren also drew a similar conclusion in an article at Forbes stating that since there’s not a massive increase in oil storage to cause a physical supply shortage, so do ‘put away the torches and pitchforks’ as speculators are not to blame for the rise in oil and gasoline price. 

Reality Check - Shorts & Paper Barrels

I guess all four gentlemen live right next door to the U.S. Fed in the ivory tower and just as detached from reality. 

First of all, taking a long position, as in Greenstone's 'store then sell' scenario, is not the only way to 'speculate' in the oil market.  Another way is by placing short bets, or a combination of long and short positions.  Short bets could cause huge price spikes and volatilities if those speculators have to cover their positions due to an unexpected and sudden rise of the underlying commodity price.

With the current price momentum, more short speculators will be piling in to put even more downward pressure on crude oil.    

As for the notion that the only link between speculative activities and oil market is with oil storge, here is a quick lesson on the modern art of speculation. From Bloomberg:

“Less than 1 percent, or 3,248 crude futures contracts, was delivered in 2010, compared with the average open interest of 1.34 million contracts during the same period, according to Nymex and data compiled by Bloomberg. There is no physical delivery against Brent oil futures contracts traded on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange. “

While there are some long speculators (typically big players) doing the good old contango trade--'store now and sell later'--as described by Greenstone, there's a whole brave new world via oil ETFs such as USO and BNO to party in speculation. 

These commodity ETFs are futures-based that takes no physical deliveries, but may accumulate huge long positions due to investment fund inflow, thus influencing market prices, particularly during their monthly contracts rollovers.  

Everybody's A Speculator! 

So this is the New World [Paper] Order of Crude Speculation….no physical ‘putting in inventory’ necessary.  Furthermore, there is this tip bit from FT.com dated May 5: 

“CME Group, operator of the Nymex exchange, touted open interest records not only for crude oil but the dull world of natural gas, where a flood of new supply has kept prices listless. This, along with a plunge in silver this week, suggests a wall of investor money flowing indiscriminately into and out of commodities.”

In essence, Crude, along with almost all other commodity markets, has become such a huge paper palace that almost every participant is a speculator, long or short--where you can buy, sell, speculate, and could ‘own barrels’ without them being actually ‘stored’. And through that process, speculators bid up prices, take profits, on any kind of market event—be it real, hyped, or 'rumored'--but no one has to really put anything  in inventories. 

Rising Crude Inventories

The Greenstone/Klein and Taylor/Van Doren conclusion also implies that crude oil and gasoline markets are reflecting true market supply/demand fundamentals as there’s no suggestion of speculative activities. 

Well, on the supply side, that “bit of an inventory bump’ pushed inventory level at Cushing, Oklahoma, which is the delivery point of NYMEX WTI futures contracts, to around 41.9 million barrels the week ending April 08 (Fig. 2). That was the highest ever since the EIA started tracking Cushing inventory in 2004. Crude oil storage at Cushing remained close to the record high sitting at 40.5 million the week ending April 29. 

 


Crude stockpiles are also rising in other U.S. regions as well. The latest crude inventory report from the government showed stockpiles rose 3.42 million barrels to 366.5 million the week ending April 29, the highest level since October.

Sliding Gasoline Demand

On the demand side, gasoline demand in the U.S. has been on a steady decline since last August (See Chart), and dropped another 2.2% in the week ended April 29 to 8.94 million barrels a day, according to the U.S. EIA data. On a four-week average, gasoline consumption was 1.9% lower than a year earlier. 

RBOB Chasing Brent

RBOB gasoline futures on Nymex, on the other hand, had gained 35% this year through May 4, far outpacing WTI as speculators bid up petroleum product futures mimickingmovement in the Brent marker (Fig. 3), which flipped into a premium to WTI. That premium reached a record of $18.50 in February, 2011. Brent is traded on ICE—a speculator haven as it is essentially unregulated, relatively opaque, and less liquid (although this is in dispute between ICE and CME) market.  

 
 


More Pain From RBOB To Gas Pump

According to AAA, as of May 6, the national average gasoline price is less than 2 cents shy from $4 a gallon, while 14 states are already paying $4 or more a gallon at the pump.  Since it typically takes about two to three months for the RBOB gasoline futures pricing to hit the gas pump and consumers, further pump price increase and demand destruction seems inevitable (Fig. 4). 

 


QE2 Added Speculation

To sum up, the recent irrational run-up of oil and gasoline prices could be attributed to the following major factors, and all of them, with the exception Fed’s QE2, which is the culprit of adding jet fuel to the speculation fire, could be traced back to speculators:

  • U.S. Fed’s QE2 liquidity flooding the market and inflating asset prices
  • A weak dollar (largely brought on by QE2) as commodities are mostly priced in dollar. Dollar has dropped 11% this year, partly exacerbated by traders doing the trade of short the dollar and long commodities. 
  • Funds flow - Institution and hedge fund managers pour money into commodity for better investment returns, and as a dollar and inflation hedge, further reinforcing rising commodity prices
  • Geopolitical unrest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been used as justification by speculators to add ‘risk premium’ to oil and gasoline prices. .

Speculation vs. Excessive Speculation

These are pretty much the same forces, and most likely the same speculators, driving oil up to $147 a barrel less than three years ago in 2008.  A certain degree of speculation is acutally essential and healthy for a normal capital market, however, excessive liquidity and speculation leading to an abnormal market like we have right now would only kill demand, and hurt the global economy.  

Saudi Arabia recently estimated that about $25 a barrel of speculation premium has been added to the current oil price.  Separately, a study co-written by a CFTC commissioner, Bart Chilton noted that about 64 cents a gallon can be attributed to over-speculation,reported The Seattle Times. 
  So while quantifying the ‘speculation premium' may not be an exact science, it is entirely premature to dismiss the significance of speculation in the current price of oil and gasoline using pysical oil storage as the main thesis.   

 

 
 
 

Phil's Favorites

News You Can Use From Phil's Stock World

 

Financial Markets and Economy

We're about to get a clear example proving the stock market is not the economy (Business Insider)

When the results come in, US economic growth and earnings are on pace to show very different grades.

Gross domestic product is forecast to grow by 1%, according to Bloomberg's estimate for the advance reading expected Friday.

Euro-Area Economic Confidence Surges to Highest in a Decade (Bloomberg)

Euro-area economic confidence jumped to the highest in almost a decade this month, a testament to a continued improvement that may soo...



more from Ilene

Zero Hedge

Trump Calls Schumer's Bluff: "If There's A Shutdown, There's A Shutdown... Democrats Would Be To Blame"

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

With Democrats seemingly unsatisfied with Republicans dropping border wall funding and adjusting on Obamacare-related items, it appears President Trump is calling Schumer's and Pelosi's bluff, proclaiming "If there's a shutdown, there's a shutdown," adding that Democrats would be to blame if the federal government was left unfunded.

Schumer today:

  • *SCHUMER: TRUMP CONCESSIONS BRING SPENDING DEAL CLOSER TO FINISH
  • *SCHUMER SAYS 'SOME STICKING POINTS' LEFT ON SPENDING BILL TALKS
  • *S...


more from Tyler

ValueWalk

An Earnings Miss? So What?

By Investment Master Class. Originally published at ValueWalk.

By Investment Master Class

“Estimates miss earnings, not vice versa” Market Veteran

An opportunity to purchase a quality business at an attractive prices often presents when a company misses a quarterly number and analysts downgrade their numbers to reflect the lower new estimate.  This seems to have become more prevalent in recent times with investors and analysts having an increasing focus on short time periods, leading to an over-reaction in the share price. Fear, herding and other behavioural factors come into play. However, the key is to remain unemotional ...



more from ValueWalk

Chart School

Semiconductors Tick Along

Courtesy of Declan.

It was another quiet day for indices but the Semiconductor index was able to add over 1% on the day. This also helped post gains to the Nasdaq 100, although there was a relative gain for the Semiconductor Index against the latter index.


The Nasdaq 100 registered an accumulation day despite its underperformance against Small Caps. The index remains well placed to make a move to upper channel resistance.

...

more from Chart School

Digital Currencies

Bitcoin Spikes To Record Highs

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

US dollar prices for virtual currencies are soaring. Both Bitcoin ($1343 highs) and Ethereum (as we described previously) are at new record highs as China regulators/exchanges appear to have 'stabilized', fears over the so-called 'hard fork' have abated, and hopes for an ETF have been revived by an SEC review.

Back above the price of gold and at record highs, Bitcoin rallied notably overnight after China's largest bitcoin exchanges introduced a flat 0.2% fee on eac...



more from Bitcoin

Market News

News You Can Use From Phil's Stock World

 

Financial Markets and Economy

Euro-Area Economic Confidence Surges to Highest in a Decade (Bloomberg)

Euro-area economic confidence jumped to the highest in almost a decade this month, a testament to a continued improvement that may soon prompt a policy shift at the European Central Bank.

European Bank Bulls Seek ECB Tapering Hints as France Risk Fades (Bloomberg)

Investors are waiting to see whether Mario Draghi joins in the optimism that has engulfed the region&r...



more from Paul

Kimble Charting Solutions

S&P 500; Dangerous place to run out of gas!

Courtesy of Chris Kimble.

Could the “Weekly Closing Highs and Lows” of last year, be impacting stock prices in 2017? The Power of the Pattern thinks so! Below looks at the S&P 500 over the past couple of years. where we applied Fibonacci to the “Weekly Closing Highs and Lows” of last year.

CLICK ON CHART TO ENLARGE

The S&P 500 ran into the 161% extension level at (2) and it stopped on a dime, at the end of February. Following a small decline the rally the past two weeks has it testi...



more from Kimble C.S.

OpTrader

Swing trading portfolio - week of April 24th, 2017

Reminder: OpTrader is available to chat with Members, comments are found below each post.

 

This post is for all our live virtual trade ideas and daily comments. Please click on "comments" below to follow our live discussion. All of our current  trades are listed in the spreadsheet below, with entry price (1/2 in and All in), and exit prices (1/3 out, 2/3 out, and All out).

We also indicate our stop, which is most of the time the "5 day moving average". All trades, unless indicated, are front-month ATM options. 

Please feel free to participate in the discussion and ask any questions you might have about this virtual portfolio, by clicking on the "comments" link right below.

To learn more about the swing trading virtual portfolio (strategy, performance, FAQ, etc.), please click here ...



more from OpTrader

Members' Corner

Should I buy that stock?

Courtesy of Phil Stasukaitis (pstas)

I was asked by my local investment club to do a presentation on "how to buy a stock?" As I pondered the question, I began by noting all the elements that I monitor regularly and which come in to play as part of my decision process. As the group is comprised novices to experts, I tried to gear my discussion to cover both basics and more advanced concepts.

Four Part Discussion

  1. Macro Economic Indicators
  2. Market Indexes
  3. Fundamental Analysis
  4. Technical Analysis

1. Macro Economic Indicators

We'll start with reviewing some basic concepts and measurements that have direct effects on the stock market. 

A. Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

...

more from Our Members

Mapping The Market

Bombing - Right or Wrong?

Courtesy of Jean-Luc

I am telling you Angel – makes no sense… BTW:

Republicans Love Bombing, But Only When a Republican Does It

By Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

A few days ago I noted that Republican views of the economy changed dramatically when Donald Trump was elected, but Democratic views stayed pretty stable. Apparently Republicans view the economy through a partisan lens but Democrats don't.

Are there other examples of this? Yes indeed. Jeff Stein points to polling data about air strikes against Syria:

Democr...



more from M.T.M.

Biotech

CAR-T & CRISPR - the Future is Now

Reminder: Pharmboy is available to chat with Members, comments are found below each post.

PSW Members....it has been a while since my last post, but since many have all been on the board following the chat, it is time for a scientific lesson in a few of the companies we are long.  In addition, another revolution is coming in the medical field, and it will be touched upon as well.

CAR-T - stands for Chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) and the T is for T-cell.  

From the picture above, T-cells are one cell type of our immune system that fight off infection as well as they are one player at keeping rogue cells from becoming cancerous. Unfortunately, cancer somehow evades the immune system and so it begins.

CAR-T came along in the late1980s via a brilliant scientist, Zelig Eshhar...



more from Biotech

Promotions

Free eBook - "My Top Strategies for 2017"

 

 

Here's a free ebook for you to check out! 

Phil has a chapter in a newly-released eBook that we think you’ll enjoy.

In My Top Strategies for 2017, Phil's chapter is Secret Santa’s Inflation Hedges for 2017.

This chapter isn’t about risk or leverage. Phil present a few smart, practical ideas you can use as a hedge against inflation as well as hedging strategies designed to assist you in staying ahead of the markets.

Some other great content in this free eBook includes:

 

·       How 2017 Will Affect Oil, the US Dollar and the European Union

...

more from Promotions

All About Trends

Mid-Day Update

Reminder: Harlan is available to chat with Members, comments are found below each post.

Click here for the full report.




To learn more, sign up for David's free newsletter and receive the free report from All About Trends - "How To Outperform 90% Of Wall Street With Just $500 A Week." Tell David PSW sent you. - Ilene...

more from David



FeedTheBull - Top Stock market and Finance Sites



About Phil:

Philip R. Davis is a founder Phil's Stock World, a stock and options trading site that teaches the art of options trading to newcomers and devises advanced strategies for expert traders...

Learn more About Phil >>


As Seen On:




About Ilene:

Ilene is editor and affiliate program coordinator for PSW. She manages the site market shadows, archives, more. Contact Ilene to learn about our affiliate and content sharing programs.

Market Shadows >>