IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

What Do We Learn from the Price of Crude Oil Futures?

  • Alquist, Ron
  • Kilian, Lutz

Based on a two-country, two-period general equilibrium model of the spot and futures markets for crude oil, we show that there is no theoretical support for the common view that oil futures prices are good predictors of the spot price in the mean-squared error sense; yet under certain conditions there is support for the view that oil futures prices are unbiased predictors. Our empirical analysis documents that futures-based forecasts are biased and typically inferior to simple and easy-to-use forecasting methods such as the no-change forecast. This does not mean that there is no useful information in oil futures prices. We demonstrate that fluctuations in the oil futures basis are larger and more persistent than fluctuations in the basis of foreign exchange futures. Within the context of our theoretical model, this anomaly can be explained by the marginal convenience yield of oil inventories. We show that increased uncertainty about future oil supply shortfalls causes the basis to decline and precautionary demand for crude oil to increase, resulting in an immediate increase in the real spot price that is not necessarily associated with an accumulation of oil inventories. Our main result is that the negative of the basis may be viewed as an index of fluctuations in the price of crude oil driven by precautionary demand for oil. Our empirical analysis of this index provides independent evidence of how shifts in market expectations about future oil supply shortfalls affect the spot price of crude oil. Such expectation shifts have been difficult to quantify, yet have been shown to play an important role in explaining oil price fluctuations. Our empirical results are consistent with related evidence in the literature obtained by alternative methodologies.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: CEPR Discussion Papers are free to download for our researchers, subscribers and members. If you fall into one of these categories but have trouble downloading our papers, please contact us at

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 6548.

in new window

Date of creation: Nov 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:6548
Contact details of provider: Postal: Centre for Economic Policy Research, 77 Bastwick Street, London EC1V 3PZ.
Phone: 44 - 20 - 7183 8801
Fax: 44 - 20 - 7183 8820

Order Information: Email:

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Menzie Chinn and Jeffrey Frankel., 1993. "Patterns in Exchange Rate Forecasts for 25 Currencies," Center for International and Development Economics Research (CIDER) Working Papers C93-009, University of California at Berkeley.
  2. Diebold, Francis X & Mariano, Roberto S, 2002. "Comparing Predictive Accuracy," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 20(1), pages 134-44, January.
  3. Angus Deaton & Guy Laroque, 1990. "On The Behavior of Commodity Prices," NBER Working Papers 3439, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. 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.
  5. Graham Elliott & Allan Timmermann & Ivana Komunjer, 2005. "Estimation and Testing of Forecast Rationality under Flexible Loss," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 72(4), pages 1107-1125.
  6. Neuberger, Anthony, 1999. "Hedging Long-Term Exposures with Multiple Short-Term Futures Contracts," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 12(3), pages 429-59.
  7. Gibson, Rajna & Schwartz, Eduardo S, 1990. " Stochastic Convenience Yield and the Pricing of Oil Contingent Claims," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 45(3), pages 959-76, July.
  8. Elliott, Graham & Timmermann, Allan G, 2007. "Economic Forecasting," CEPR Discussion Papers 6158, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  9. Bailey, Warren & Chang, K C, 1993. " Macroeconomic Influences and the Variability of the Commodity Futures Basis," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 48(2), pages 555-73, June.
  10. Tao Wu & Andrew H. McCallum, 2005. "Do oil futures prices help predict future oil prices?," FRBSF Economic Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue dec30.
  11. Inoue, Atsushi & Kilian, Lutz, 2002. "In-sample or out-of-sample tests of predictability: which one should we use?," Working Paper Series 0195, European Central Bank.
  12. Lutz Kilian, 2008. "The Economic Effects of Energy Price Shocks," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 46(4), pages 871-909, December.
  13. Townsend, Robert M, 1978. "On the Optimality of Forward Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 68(1), pages 54-66, March.
  14. Bryan Routledge & Duane Seppi & Chester Spatt, . "Equilibrium Forward Curves for Commodities," GSIA Working Papers 1997-49, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
  15. Fama, Eugene F & French, Kenneth R, 1987. "Commodity Futures Prices: Some Evidence on Forecast Power, Premiums,and the Theory of Storage," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 60(1), pages 55-73, January.
  16. Pesaran, M Hashem & Timmermann, Allan, 1992. "A Simple Nonparametric Test of Predictive Performance," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 10(4), pages 561-65, October.
  17. Diebold, Francis X & Kilian, Lutz, 2000. "Unit-Root Tests Are Useful for Selecting Forecasting Models," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 18(3), pages 265-73, July.
  18. Robert B. Barsky & Lutz Kilian, 2001. "Do We Really Know that Oil Caused the Great Stagflation? A Monetary Alternative," NBER Working Papers 8389, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Pindyck, Robert S., 1990. "Inventories and the short-run dynamics of commodity prices," Working papers 3133-90., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  20. Ramey, Valerie A, 1989. "Inventories as Factors of Production and Economic Fluctuations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(3), pages 338-54, June.
  21. Clark, Todd E. & West, Kenneth D., 2006. "Using out-of-sample mean squared prediction errors to test the martingale difference hypothesis," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 135(1-2), pages 155-186.
  22. Dornbusch, Rudiger, 1976. "Expectations and Exchange Rate Dynamics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(6), pages 1161-76, December.
  23. Robert S. Pindyck, 2001. "The Dynamics of Commodity Spot and Futures Markets: A Primer," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 3), pages 1-30.
  24. Schwartz, Eduardo S, 1997. " The Stochastic Behavior of Commodity Prices: Implications for Valuation and Hedging," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 52(3), pages 923-73, July.
  25. Deaton, Angus & Laroque, Guy, 1996. "Competitive Storage and Commodity Price Dynamics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 896-923, October.
  26. Pagano Patrizio & Pisani Massimiliano, 2009. "Risk-Adjusted Forecasts of Oil Prices," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 9(1), pages 1-28, June.
  27. Fama, Eugene F & French, Kenneth R, 1988. " Business Cycles and the Behavior of Metals Prices," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 43(5), pages 1075-93, December.
  28. Gary Gorton & K. Geert Rouwenhorst, 2004. "Facts and Fantasies about Commodity Futures," NBER Working Papers 10595, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  29. Andrews, Donald W K & Chen, Hong-Yuan, 1994. "Approximately Median-Unbiased Estimation of Autoregressive Models," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 12(2), pages 187-204, April.
  30. Litzenberger, Robert H & Rabinowitz, Nir, 1995. " Backwardation in Oil Futures Markets: Theory and Empirical Evidence," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 50(5), pages 1517-45, December.
  31. Lester G. Telser, 1958. "Futures Trading and the Storage of Cotton and Wheat," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66, pages 233.
  32. Kilian, Lutz, 2005. "Exogenous Oil Supply Shocks: How Big Are They and How Much do they Matter for the US Economy?," CEPR Discussion Papers 5131, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  33. repec:oup:restud:v:59:y:1992:i:1:p:1-23 is not listed on IDEAS
  34. Williams, Jeffrey, 1987. "Futures Markets: A Consequences of Risk Aversion or Transactions Costs?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(5), pages 1000-1023, October.
  35. Menzie D. Chinn & Michael LeBlanc & Olivier Coibion, 2005. "The Predictive Content of Energy Futures: An Update on Petroleum, Natural Gas, Heating Oil and Gasoline," NBER Working Papers 11033, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:

  1. What do we learn from the price of crude oil futures? (JAE 2011) in ReplicationWiki

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:6548. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

The email address of this maintainer does not seem to be valid anymore. Please ask to update the entry or send us the correct address

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.