Commodity Corner

Views on commodities and energy

Oil Market Contango Widening

Photo

0709-contango-fig-11The spread between front-month oil futures and contracts for later delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange (see Fig. 1) has widened dramatically this month. (See Fig. 2)0709-contango-fig-2The widening contango frequently portends a rise in inventories. For example, in Fig. 3, it can be seen that when the discount for fronth-month crude to second-month crude widened to near $4 a barrel earlier this year, inventories jumped to 19-year highs. The relationship between inventories and the outright futures price can be seen in Fig. 4. 0709-contango-fig-30709-contango-fig-41

NYMEX First to Second Month Crude Spread

Photo

1st-to-2nd-spread

The spread between the front month and second month oil futures continues to narrow.

The deep spread seen in earlier this year, caused primarily by slumping fuel demand due to the economic crisis, was heightened by the monthly of passive investment funds, especially the giant United States Oil Fund. On Feb. 6, when the fund last rolled its positions from the first to second month futures conracts, it held movre than 20 percent of the front month.