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The Simple Economics of Commodity Price Speculation

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  • Christopher R. Knittel
  • Robert S. Pindyck

Abstract

The price of crude oil in the U.S. never exceeded $40 per barrel until mid-2004. By 2006 it reached $70, and in July 2008 it peaked at $145. By late 2008 it had plummeted to about $30 before increasing to $110 in 2011. Are speculators at least partly to blame for these sharp price changes? We clarify the effects of speculators on commodity prices. We focus on crude oil, but our approach can be applied to other commodities. We explain the meaning of "oil price speculation," how it can occur, and how it relates to investments in oil reserves, inventories, or derivatives (such as futures contracts). Turning to the data, we calculate counterfactual prices that would have occurred from 1999 to 2012 in the absence of speculation. Our framework is based on a simple and transparent model of supply and demand in the cash and storage markets for a commodity. It lets us determine whether speculation is consistent with data on production, consumption, inventory changes, and convenience yields given reasonable elasticity assumptions. We show speculation had little, if any, effect on prices and volatility.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18951.

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Date of creation: Apr 2013
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18951

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References

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  1. James L. Smith, 2008. "World Oil: Market or Mayhem?," Working Papers 0815, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
  2. Lutz Kilian, 2009. "Not All Oil Price Shocks Are Alike: Disentangling Demand and Supply Shocks in the Crude Oil Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(3), pages 1053-69, June.
  3. Alquist, Ron & Kilian, Lutz, 2007. "What Do We Learn from the Price of Crude Oil Futures?," CEPR Discussion Papers 6548, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Juvenal, Luciana & Petrella, Ivan, 2014. "Speculation in the Oil Market," CEPR Discussion Papers 9808, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Dahl, Carol & Duggan, Thomas E., 1996. "U.S. energy product supply elasticities: A survey and application to the U.S. oil market," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 243-263, October.
  6. Paddock, James L & Siegel, Daniel R & Smith, James L, 1988. "Option Valuation of Claims on Real Assets: The Case of Offshore Petroleum Leases," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 103(3), pages 479-508, August.
  7. Robert S. Pindyck, 1994. "Inventories and the Short-Run Dynamics of Commodity Prices," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 25(1), pages 141-159, Spring.
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Cited by:
  1. Dvir, Eyal & Rogoff, Kenneth, 2014. "Demand effects and speculation in oil markets: Theory and evidence," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 113-128.
  2. Yannick Le Pen & Benoît Sévi, 2013. "Futures Trading and the Excess Comovement of Commodity Prices," Working Papers halshs-00793724, HAL.
  3. repec:ipg:wpaper:19 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Prehn, Sören & Glauben, Thomas & Loy, Jens-Peter & Pies, Ingo & Will, Matthias Georg, 2013. "Der Einfluss von Long-only-Indexfonds auf die Preisfindung und das Marktergebnis an landwirtschaftlichen Warenterminmärkten," IAMO Discussion Papers 142, Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Central and Eastern Europe (IAMO).

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