The Great Debate

Roll losses swallow up commodity inflows

Total assets under management in commodity-tracking indices and exchange-traded products (ETPs) have stalled over the last nine months, as roll losses swallow up fresh money inflows.

There has been little change in total money committed to index-like investments or its distribution between long and short positions, according to the latest quarterly figures released by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) yesterday, which show positions as of 30 June 2010.

The data is based on a special call sent to all known index operators and firms offering futures and options-based exchange-traded products. It is the most comprehensive measure of total funds under management in the passive sector, but excludes physically backed ETPs such as the popular SPDR Gold Trust .

Investors had a total of almost $264 billion in commodity indices and ETPs at the end of Q2 2010, down from the $271 billion at the end of Q1, but little changed from the $263 billion reported at the end of 2009.

Investments were split in a ratio of 4.11:1 with $212 billion worth of long futures and options positions and $52 billion worth of shorts. The ratio was slightly more bullish than at end-March (3.95:1) but essentially identical to the ratio reported at the end of 2009 (4.12:1).

California tilts towards cap and refund


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

California is set to auction all or almost all allowances under its emissions trading programme, and rebate up to 75 percent of the proceeds to households through a lump sum payment or reductions in income and sales taxes.
The proposals, contained in a draft recommendation from the Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee (EAAC) to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), are in sharp contrast to the proposed federal programme, stalled in Congress, which would give away most permits to utilities and other energy intensive industries.
Since California’s proposed programme is one of the most advanced, and would be the largest and most comprehensive in the country, with links to other states through the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), the decision gives significant impetus to proponents of the cap and refund approach, now emerging as a credible alternative in Congress.

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act 2006 (AB 32) requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. CARB has developed a “Scoping Plan” detailing how the state will achieve this using a mix of direct regulations and an over-arching cap and trade programme.
In May 2009, CARB established an Advisory Committee, consisting of technical experts, to make recommendations on two key elements: (a) how to put allowances into circulation (via auctions, free distributions, or some combination of the two); and (b) how to allocate free allowances or the revenues from permit auctions.

Households face power-pricing revolution

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

Households in the United States and the United Kingdom are about to experience a revolution in the way they pay for electricity.

Over the next decade, almost all homes will be fitted with “smart meters” recording the time as well as the quantity of electricity used. Most customers will face some form of dynamic pricing that relates the price they pay for each kilowatt hour (kWh) to the actual cost of generating it.

China can outgrow overcapacity, at least for now

WeiGucrop.jpg– Wei Gu is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own —

China watchers are worried that excessive lending leads to massive overcapacity. However, the risk of Beijing pressing too hard on the brake is even greater. At least for now, China should be able to growing its way out of its bad debt problems.

Banking regulator Liu Mingkang recently told a conference that China’s banks should lend out 6-7 trillion yuan next year, equivalent to about one fifth of China’s annual output. Some think that is too much. However, these fears are overdone. Indeed, if new lending falls below 10 trillion yuan, bad debts will soar, private investment will be crowded out and the economic recovery may be derailed.

Yukos returns to haunt Russia

wwwreuterscomyukos– Jason Bush is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own —

Former Yukos shareholders are set to sue Russia for up to $100 billion in damages after an international court ruled in their favour. Successful claims against a sovereign state are rare. But the case is embarrassing for Russia. If successful it could even lead to the confiscation of Russian assets.

The biggest problem for the former shareholders of the bankrupt oil group was proving that international courts had jurisdiction in the matter. But they have found an ingenious way to make their case, suing Russia under the Energy Charter Treaty, which protects investors in Russia’s energy sector. Russia signed this treaty, but never ratified it, creating ambiguity over whether it is actually binding.

Fed audit push gives impetus to gold rally

jamessaft1.jpg(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

Auditing the Federal Reserve may or may not be a good idea, but one thing seems pretty sure: just discussing it seriously will tend to drive the price of gold higher.

The U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee last week voted to approve an amendment that would bring about an audit of the Fed, its monetary policy and lending programs, since when gold has gone its merry way higher, hitting an all-time high of $1,174 per ounce on Monday.

The amendment, a provision to a broader financial services reform bill that is still under consideration, was co-sponsored by Republican Representative Ron Paul, author of the book “End the Fed,” and the man least likely to be found chairing a panel at Jackson Hole or Davos.

A rising tide of capital controls

jamessaft1.jpg(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

Easy money in the United States, a falling dollar and growing flows of funds seeking better returns in emerging markets are touching off a new round of capital controls in hot emerging markets, a trend that could accelerate and will at the very least increase market volatility.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, really; loose money in the developed world is helping to spur investment into emerging markets, driving currencies up and making local exports less competitive for countries which, unlike China, aren’t hitching a free ride as the dollar declines.

Inflation may be a threat for many of these, but with the global economy still struggling, it certainly won’t feel that way to policy makers.

Can recovery and credit crunch coexist?

jamessaft1.jpg(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

New studies from the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank show that, whatever else, a recovery in the economy is not being supported by a resumption in bank lending, raising concerns about how exactly growth will become self-sustaining when official stimulus ebbs.

The ECB last week released its loan survey showing banks tightened credit yet again for businesses and consumers, though at a less severe rate than in the previous quarter. Much was made of the fact that banks said they expected to ease terms to businesses, but not individuals, slightly in the last three months of the year.

Days later the Fed was out with its own survey, and again the news is getting worse more slowly, which must mean it is time to pop open the tap water. Banks are tightening terms and conditions to large firms, though fewer are doing so than before. Of course we should be thankful for small mercies, but the fact remains that this is a relative rather than an absolute survey, which means that even if fewer are being tougher the vast majority are being just as tight with money as they were three months ago when things were very tight indeed.

A rally that is both rational and crazy

(Jjamessaft1ames Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

Stocks and other risky assets are rallying around the world this week because the Group of 20 nations said on the weekend they would keep the economic stimulus flowing, a state of events which illustrates where we are and what a very strange place it is.

The G20, the only group of big hitters that matters because it is the only group which includes the Chinese, met in Scotland over the weekend and, as is the way of these things, did very little with immediate consequences for anybody.

In the communique they issued, the Group of 20 finance ministers, after congratulating themselves on the recovery, more or less admitted that the measures we once thought of as heroic are in the process of becoming commonplace.

Look out for emerging markets inflation

jamessaft1.jpg(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

Emerging markets could be the first to suffer destabilizing inflation, courtesy of a strong economic rebound, a weak dollar and extremely loose monetary policy in the developed world.

Inflation, in faster growing emerging markets, was not high on the list of worries even months ago, but the speed and strength of the rebound and red-hot asset markets in some places show that it may be a rising threat.

“The surprise could be that inflation in emerging markets really takes off,” Amer Bisat of hedge fund Traxis Partners said on Tuesday at a Euromoney foreign exchange conference in New York.