Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oil's Speculation Problem

This is a a pretty good article.  I recommend reading the whole thing, but here's the gist of it.
A boom in speculation and trading by investment banks and hedge funds has put our energy markets on steroids. Contract volume in the futures markets has risen by a third in just the last year. Oil closed at a record high of $125.96 a barrel  on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Friday. That's double the price two years ago, a difference clearly caused by market manipulation.
This isn't complicated finance. The way traders push up prices is surprisingly simple. They buy in European futures markets, which don't have the limits that U.S. markets do. That drives up U.S. prices where they may already have positions. It's a move to think about next time one of these exchange chiefs talks about all of the benefits of "market globalization."
None of it would matter except that these markets are supposed to be driven by supply and demand. China and other rapidly growing countries may be using more, or will use more resources, but the reality is that demand and supply haven't changed enough to warrant the price of oil doubling in less than three years.
Here's what has changed: the proliferation of energy trading desks on Wall Street and at hedge funds. There are more than 9,000 hedge funds with $1.5 trillion under management, according to the Federal Reserve. Hedge funds, which almost exclusively use short-term strategies, do nearly 55% of derivatives trading, the kind used in energy futures, according to a study last year by Greenwich Associates.
That's a recipe for a bubble.  The problem is, the bubble won't burst until/unless the money finds a better place to go.

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