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The Energy Journal
Volume 34, Number 3

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The Role of Speculation in Oil Markets: What Have We Learned So Far?

Bassam Fattouh, Lutz Kilian, and Lavan Mahadeva

DOI: 10.5547/01956574.34.3.2
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A popular view is that the surge in the real price of oil during 2003-08 cannot be explained by economic fundamentals, but was caused by the increased financialization of oil futures markets, which in turn allowed speculation to become a major determinant of the spot price of oil. This interpretation has been driving policy efforts to tighten the regulation of oil derivatives markets. This survey reviews the evidence supporting this view. We identify six strands in the literature and discuss to what extent each sheds light on the role of speculation. We find that the existing evidence is not supportive of an important role of speculation in driving the spot price of oil after 2003. Instead, there is strong evidence that the co-movement between spot and futures prices reflects common economic fundamentals rather than the financialization of oil futures markets.

The Role of Financial Speculation in Driving the Price of Crude Oil

Ron Alquist and Olivier Gervais

DOI: 10.5547/01956574.34.3.3
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As financial firms have increased their positions in the oil futures market during the past ten years, oil prices have increased dramatically as well. The coincidence of these two events has led some observers to argue that financial speculation caused the oil-price increases. Yet several arguments cast doubt on the validity of this claim. For example, although the quantity of oil implied by the number of open futures contracts is much larger than U.S. daily oil consumption, comparing these two statistics is misleading because not all paper oil is immediately deliverable. In addition, changes in financial firms� positions do not predict oil-price changes, but oil-price changes predict changes in positions. Other explanations for the oil-price increases include macroeconomic fundamentals such as increased demand from emerging Asia. Of these explanations, the most consistent with the facts relates the oil-price increases to a series of positive demand shocks emanating from emerging Asia.

Financial Speculation in Energy and Agriculture Futures Markets: A Multivariate GARCH Approach

Matteo Manera, Marcella Nicolini, and Ilaria Vignati

DOI: 10.5547/01956574.34.3.4
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This paper analyses futures prices of four energy commodities (crude oil, heating oil, gasoline and natural gas) and five agricultural commodities (corn, oats, soybean oil, soybeans and wheat), over the period 1986�2010. Using DCC multivariate GARCH models, it provides new evidence on four research questions: 1) Are macroeconomic factors relevant in explaining returns of energy and nonenergy commodities? 2) Is financial speculation significantly related to returns in futures markets? 3) Are there significant relationships among returns, either in their mean or variance, across different markets? 4) Is speculation in one market affecting returns in other markets? Results suggest that the S&P 500 index and the exchange rate significantly affect returns. Financial speculation, proxied by Working�s T index, is poorly significant in modelling returns of commodities. Moreover, spillovers between commodities are present and the conditional correlations among energy and agricultural commodities display a spike around 2008.

Herding and Speculation in the Crude Oil Market

Celso Brunetti, Bahattin Buyuksahin, and Jeffrey H. Harris

DOI: 10.5547/01956574.34.3.5
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We examine whether herding among speculators in U.S. crude oil futures markets affects market prices and volatility. Using detailed data on the positions of hedge funds and swap dealers from 2005-2009, we find little evidence that herding destabilizes the crude oil futures market. To the contrary, herding among speculative traders is negatively correlated with contemporaneous volatility and does not lead next-day volatility. Our impulse-response analysis shows that market regulators should monitor herding since a shock to herding among all groups may lead to price changes, and, in the case of hedge funds, may lead to increased volatility. Interestingly, however, increased swap dealer herding actually dampens crude oil price volatility.

Measuring Index Investment in Commodity Futures Markets

Dwight R. Sanders and Scott H. Irwin

DOI: 10.5547/01956574.34.3.6
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The "Masters Hypothesis" is the claim that unprecedented buying pressure in recent years from new index investment created a massive bubble in commodity futures prices. Due to data limitations, some recent studies of the market impact of index investment in the WTI crude oil futures market impute index positions. We investigate the accuracy of the algorithm popularized by Masters (2008) to estimate index positions. The estimates generated by the Masters algorithm deviate substantially from the positions reported in the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission's (CFTC) Index Investment Data (IID) report--the agency's best data on index positions. The Masters algorithm over-estimates the gross WTI crude oil position by an average of 142,000 contracts. Importantly, the deviation in the first half of 2008, the period of greatest concern about the market impact of index investment, is directionally wrong. These results suggest empirical tests of market impact based on mapping algorithms in WTI crude oil futures should be viewed with considerable caution.

Physical Markets, Paper Markets and the WTI-Brent Spread

Bahattin Buyuksahin, Thomas K. Lee, James T. Moser, and Michel A. Robe

DOI: 10.5547/01956574.34.3.7
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We document that, starting in the Fall of 2008, the benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil has periodically traded at unheard-of discounts to the corresponding Brent benchmark. We further document that this discount is not reflected in spreads between Brent and other benchmarks that are directly comparable to WTI. Drawing on extant models linking oil inventory conditions to the futures term structure, we test empirically several conjectures about how calendar and commodity spreads (nearby vs. first-deferred WTI; nearby Brent vs. WTI) should move over time and be related to storage conditions at Cushing. We then investigate whether, after controlling for macroeconomic and physical market fundamentals, spread behavior is partly predicted by the aggregate oil futures positions of commodity index traders.

The Oil Price-Macroeconomy Relationship Since the Mid-1980s: A Global Perspective

Claudio Morana

DOI: 10.5547/01956574.34.3.8
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We investigate the oil price-macroeconomy relationship from a global perspective, by means of a large scale macro-financial-econometric model. In addition to real activity, we consider fiscal and monetary policy responses and labor and financial markets conditions, in order to provide a comprehensive account of the macro-financial effects of oil price shocks. We find that oil market supply side, speculative, preferences, and volatility shocks exercised recessionary effects during the first and second Persian Gulf War and 2008 oil price episodes. As long as oil supply will keep expanding at a slower pace than required by demand conditions, and in so far as the recently passed regulatory provisions aimed at controlling financial speculation in the oil (and other commodities) futures market will prove unsuccessful, a recessionary bias, determined by higher and more uncertain real oil prices, may then be expected to persist also in the near future.

Oil Price Uncertainty and Industrial Production

Karl Pinno and Apostolos Serletis

DOI: 10.5547/01956574.34.3.9
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We estimate a bivariate GARCH-in-Mean VAR with a BEKK variance specification, to investigate whether oil price volatility affects real economic activity. We use the same data set of thirty seven, aggregate and disaggregate, industrial production indices used by Herrera et al. (2011) as a proxy for real output and a post-1973 data sample. We check the robustness of our results by using two proxies for the price of oil, the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil price and the Refiners' Acquisition Cost (RAC) of crude oil, and by testing for both nominal and real effects. We find significant evidence of nonlinearities for both aggregate and disaggregate indices. Our research highlights the importance of nominal prices and extreme events such as the Great Recession in the transmission of nonlinearities. Our results show that nonlinear impacts of the price of oil on the aggregate economy vary according to time period even within the post-1974 data. Since 2000, oil price volatility is up markedly, but the number of industries it impacts is down when compared with the full sample. This is in keeping with what one would expect, based on trend improvements in GDP per unit of energy use. However, for those series, where oil price volatility is significant, the impact of oil volatility is substantially higher than in the full sample; this runs contrary to what one might expect from the observed GDP per unit of energy use improvements.

Jumps in Oil Prices: The Role of Economic News

John Elder, Hong Miao, and Sanjay Ramchander

DOI: 10.5547/01956574.34.3.10
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Previous research has been unable to identify a strong link between crude oil prices and economic news. We reexamine this relationship using high frequency intraday data and relatively new methodology to estimate jumps in oil prices. We find a surprisingly strong correspondence between high frequency jumps in oil prices and the arrival of new economic information, with the largest jumps tending to be preceded identifiable economic news. These results indicate that oil prices respond very rapidly to new economic data in ways that appear consistent with economic theory, and also suggest that economic news, rather than speculation unrelated to the economic environment, drives jumps in oil prices.


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