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.   



Zero Hedge

The Bitcoin Universe Explained

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Submitted by Tyler Durden.

As evidenced by the Greek, Chinese, and now Argentine 'jumps', the world remains increasingly aware of the inevitable worth of fiat currencies and fears the desperate acts of governments as the react to that reality (and is looking for alternatives).

This infographic explains the wide ranges of the Bitcoin universe, accompanied with quotes from some of its best-known business leaders.

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

So from ...

more from Tyler

Phil's Favorites

National Front Leading Polls for French Regional Elections Dec 6, Dec 13; Center-Right Squeezed

Courtesy of Mish.

French Regional Elections are coming up on December 6 and December 13.

At stake are the presidencies of the 18 Regions of France. 12 Regions are on continental France, plus Corsica and 5 more overseas.

The regions do not have legislative autonomy, but they do manage sizable budgets. And the regional elections are often taken as a mid-term opinion poll.

National Front Ahead in Polls

European polls are frequently inaccurate, but as it stands, the center is being squeezed by Marine Le Pen's Eurosceptic and anti-immigration National Front party (FN) on the right, and on the other side by the radical left.

Via translation, 20 Minutes reports ...

more from Ilene

Market News

News You Can Use From Phil's Stock World


Financial Markets and Economy

The Fed just tweeted a brutal chart showing the sorry state of US department stores (Business Insider)

It's Black Friday, which means American consumers everywhere are knocking down doors in their efforts to take advantage of what they perceive to be a good deal.

Oil prices fall more than 3% as dollar and oversu...

more from Paul

Kimble Charting Solutions

Does Black Friday Matter For Gains The Rest Of The Year?

Courtesy of Chris Kimble.

We are entering one of the most bullish times of the year historically.  As we mentioned last week, the final 30 trading days of the year have been higher each of the last 12 years.


Getting to today, it is Black Friday – the official start to the holiday spending season.  We’ve seen many stats that show this day isn’t quite as important as it once was.  From many sales now starting on Thanksgiving, to Cyber Monday this coming Monday – there are other times people are looking for the best deals.  None the less,...

more from Kimble C.S.

Chart School

Greatest risk to the stock market is?

Courtesy of Read the Ticker.

Nope it is not interest rates, nope it is not Donald Trump, it is!

It is the CRUDE OIL crash, simple!

Jim Willie has good comments in the first 40 min of this pod cast.

Energy company ...
- Debt is blowing up (See energy element of HYG).
- Hedging at oil $100 is coming to an end.
- Iran coming back to the market, more supply.
- Saudi still providing massive supply.
- Oil tankers holding oil parked in the ocean are coming in to harbor to unload
- US dollar strength supports lower oil prices
- World wide DEMAND slump for energy or deflation.
- More oil being sold outside the US Dollar
- The Oil futures can not be manipulated easily as folks actually ...

more from Chart School

All About Trends

Mid-Day Update

Reminder: David 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


Sector Detector: Bulls wrest back control of market direction, despite global adversity

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

Courtesy of Sabrient Systems and Gradient Analytics

Some weeks when I write this article there is little new to talk about from the prior week. It’s always the Fed, global QE, China growth, election chatter, oil prices, etc. And then there are times like this in which there is so much happening that I don’t know where to start. Of course, the biggest market-moving news came the weekend before last when Paris was put face-to-face with the depths of human depravity and savagery. And yet the stock market responded with its best week of the year. As a result, the key issues dominating the front page and election chatter have moved from the economy and jobs to national security and a real war (rather than police ...

more from Sabrient


Swing trading portfolio - week of November 23rd, 2015

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

Digital Currencies

Bitcoin's Computing Network is More Powerful than 525 Googles and 10,000 Banks!

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Submitted by Reggie Middleton.

I've decided to build our startup - Veritaseum, a peer-to-peer financial services platform, directly on top of the Bitcoin Blockchain. Many queried why I would voluntarily give up a lucrative advisory and consulting business to chase virtual coins in cyberspace. That's exactly why I decided to do it. That level of misunderstanding of what is essentially the second coming of the Internet gave me a fundamental advantage over those who had deeper connections, more capital and more firepower. I was the first mover advantage holder.

You see, Bitcoin is not about coins, currency or price pops. It is a massive computing net...

more from Bitcoin


PSW is more than just stock talk!


We know you love coming here for our Stocks & Options education, strategy and trade ideas, and for Phil's daily commentary which you can't live without, but there's more!

PhilStockWorld.com features the most important and most interesting news items from around the web, all day, every day!

News: If you missed it, you can probably find it in our Market News section. We sift through piles of news so you don't have to.   

If you are looking for non-mainstream, provocatively-narrated news and opinion pieces which promise to make you think -- we feature Zero Hedge, ...

more from Promotions


Whitney Tilson On LL, EXACT, And Martin Shkreli


Whitney Tilson On LL, EXACT, And Martin Shkreli

Courtesy of Value Walk

1) The shares of one of my largest short positions (~3%), Exact Sciences, crashed by more than 46% yesterday. Below is the article I published this morning on SeekingAlpha, explaining why I think it’s still a great short and thus shorted more yesterday. Here’s a summary:

  • The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s Colorectal Cancer Screening Draft Recommendation issued yesterday is devastating for Exact Sciences’ only product, Cologuard.
  • I think this is the beginning of the end for the company.
  • My price target for the stock a year from now is $3, so I shorted more yes...

more from ValueWalk


Baxter's Spinoff

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

Baxter Int. (BAX) is splitting off its BioSciences division into a new company called Baxalta. Shares of Baxalta will be given as a tax-free dividend, in the ratio of one to one, to BAX holders on record on June 17, 2015. That means, if you want to receive the Baxalta dividend, you need to buy the stock this week (on or before June 12).

The Baxalta Spinoff

By Ilene with Trevor of Lowenthal Capital Partners and Paul Price

In its recent filing with the SEC, Baxter provides:

“This information statement is being ...

more from Pharmboy

Mapping The Market

An update on oil proxies

Courtesy of Jean-Luc Saillard

Back in December, I wrote a post on my blog where I compared the performances of various ETFs related to the oil industry. I was looking for the best possible proxy to match the moves of oil prices if you didn't want to play with futures. At the time, I concluded that for medium term trades, USO and the leveraged ETFs UCO and SCO were the most promising. Longer term, broader ETFs like OIH and XLE might make better investment if oil prices do recover to more profitable prices since ETF linked to futures like USO, UCO and SCO do suffer from decay. It also seemed that DIG and DUG could be promising if OIH could recover as it should with the price of oil, but that they don't make a good proxy for the price of oil itself. 


more from M.T.M.

Help One Of Our Own PSW Members

"Hello PSW Members –

This is a non-trading topic, but I wanted to post it during trading hours so as many eyes can see it as possible.  Feel free to contact me directly at jennifersurovy@yahoo.com with any questions.

Last fall there was some discussion on the PSW board regarding setting up a YouCaring donation page for a PSW member, Shadowfax. Since then, we have been looking into ways to help get him additional medical services and to pay down his medical debts.  After following those leads, we are ready to move ahead with the YouCaring site. (Link is posted below.)  Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated; not only to help aid in his medical bill debt, but to also show what a great community this group is.


Thank you for you time!

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 >>