The Great Debate

Contango and the real cost of carry

July 22, 2010

– John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own –

For the last two years, the contango structure embedded in futures prices has far exceeded the actual cost of owning physical raw materials such as crude oil, aluminium and copper, explaining the strong interest from traders and hedge funds in owning inventories or the warehouses, elevators and tank farms that store them. Well-connected banks and physical traders have exploited the difference between the actual cost of financing, storing and insuring raw materials and the implied cost in upward sloping futures prices, as a source of comparatively low risk profits.
It has helped commodity markets carry record stocks and supported overproduction of many raw materials through the recession and the early stages of the recovery with only minimal downward pressure on prices.But the days of physical commodity storage as a licence to print money are ending. An increasing number of other institutions and hedge funds have created their own “virtual storage” plays, with negative positions in the spreads, or a short position against commodity indices or customised swaps. As storage plays become more crowded, the contango will continue to erode gradually until it resembles the actual costs of finance, storage and insurance, and this source of relatively risk-free profit is removed.

Morgan Stanley commods risk hits post-crisis high

July 21, 2010

John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own.

Morgan Stanley reduced the amount of risk-taking in its trading book last quarter, but only marginally, and boosted risk in commodities to its highest level since the financial crisis struck in summer 2008, according to the firm’s earnings release.

Goldman slashes risk-taking in commodities

July 20, 2010

John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own

Goldman Sachs cut the amount of risk it staked on commodity trading during Q2 2010 by almost 35 percent, part of a broad-based reduction in risk across the bank’s trading book. Value-at-risk (VaR) linked to commodity prices fell to an average of just $32 million per day between April and June, down from $49 million in the prior quarter and $40 million in the same period a year earlier, according to the firm’s earnings release. Cuts in VaR allocated to commodities were in line with reductions elsewhere, including interest rate risk (down just over 20 percent) and equities (down just over 30 percent). Only currency trading saw a slight increase in risk taking (up 3 percent). Commodity VaR was reduced to its lowest level since the three months ended September 2009, and before that November 2007.

Micro and macro volatility in the oil market

July 20, 2010

– John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own —

“Most probably we will continue to have reasonably high short-term volatility but in a narrower price range between $60-95 per barrel”.
That was the (accurate) forecast for crude oil prices given by Mercuria’s head of trading Daniel Jaeggi to the UN Commodities Forum in Geneva back in March [ID:nLDE62M0MT].
In fact front-month futures <CLc1> have been trapped in an even narrower range of $60-86 for the past 12 months, shrinking to $64-86 so far in 2010. Spot prices have barely budged since July last year, despite a substantial improvement in demand, as one puzzled investment bank noted recently.
Yet many traders complain high volatility is making either directional or technical strategies difficult to implement.
The apparent contradiction (high levels of very short-term price movement in a market trending sideways) highlights the different levels of volatility prevailing at different time horizons.

BP’s crisis is no Three Mile Island

June 11, 2010

The catastrophic blowout at Macondo has sliced 40 percent off BP’s market capitalisation, and led analysts to speculate about lasting reductions in deepwater drilling and the resulting impact on both long-term oil supply and the fate of climate change legislation.

Senate vote exposes Wall Street impotence

May 21, 2010

Wall Street’s diminished influence in Washington was made plain yesterday when the Senate voted to approve financial reform legislation by 59 votes to 39.

Don’t bank on return of backwardation

May 20, 2010

Many energy analysts are predicting the crude market will move into backwardation before the end of the year.

After clash, Senate filibuster ends in whimper

April 29, 2010

Just a few minutes after the Senate failed for a third time in as many days to reach the 60-votes needed to approve a cloture motion on the financial reform bill (failing 56-42), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rose to his feet and asked the chamber’s presiding officer:

Financial reform bill puts GOP in dilemma

April 20, 2010

– John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own –

Financial reform legislation is set to reach the Senate floor as early as this week. With U.S. President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid holding most of the cards, pressure on Senate Republicans and Wall Street to find a compromise is becoming intense.

U.S. currency bill likely misses target

March 16, 2010

U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D, New York) and Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) have announced plans to introduce a bill allowing the Commerce Department to take account of currency undervaluation when calculating anti-dumping duties.