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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher R. Knittel & Robert S. Pindyck, 2013. "The Simple Economics of Commodity Price Speculation," NBER Working Papers 18951, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18951
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Ron Alquist & Lutz Kilian, 2010. "What do we learn from the price of crude oil futures?," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(4), pages 539-573.
    3. Bassam Fattouh, Lutz Kilian, and Lavan Mahadeva, 2013. "The Role of Speculation in Oil Markets: What Have We Learned So Far?," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 3).
    4. 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.
    5. Ryan Kellogg, 2014. "The Effect of Uncertainty on Investment: Evidence from Texas Oil Drilling," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(6), pages 1698-1734, June.
    6. Jonathan E. Hughes & Christopher R. Knittel & Daniel Sperling, 2008. "Evidence of a Shift in the Short-Run Price Elasticity of Gasoline Demand," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 29(1), pages 113-134.
    7. 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 1053-1069, June.
    8. James L. Paddock & Daniel R. Siegel & James L. Smith, 1988. "Option Valuation of Claims on Real Assets: The Case of Offshore Petroleum Leases," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 103(3), pages 479-508.
    9. Luciana Juvenal & Ivan Petrella, 2015. "Speculation in the Oil Market," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 30(4), pages 621-649, June.
    10. James L. Smith, 2009. "World Oil: Market or Mayhem?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(3), pages 145-164, Summer.
    11. Lutz Kilian & Daniel P. Murphy, 2014. "The Role Of Inventories And Speculative Trading In The Global Market For Crude Oil," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 29(3), pages 454-478, April.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G13 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Contingent Pricing; Futures Pricing
    • L71 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Primary Products and Construction - - - Mining, Extraction, and Refining: Hydrocarbon Fuels
    • Q40 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - General

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