Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oil price follies - II


Oil Speculators provides information on a private Swiss energy conglomerate called Vitol, which apparently has taken huge positions (quote "... at one point in July, the firm held 11 percent of all the oil contracts on the regulated New York Mercantile Exchange...").

The article goes on to say "CFTC documents show Vitol was one of the most active traders of oil on NYMEX as prices reached record levels. By June 6, for instance, Vitol had acquired a huge holding in oil contracts, betting prices would rise. The contracts were equal to 57.7 million barrels of oil -- about three times the amount the United States consumes daily. That day, the price of oil spiked $11 to settle at $138.54. Oil prices eventually peaked at $147.27 a barrel on July 11 before falling back to settle at $114.98 yesterday. The documents do not say how much Vitol put down to acquire this position, but under NYMEX rules, the down payment could have been as little as $1 billion, with the company borrowing the rest... So much for supply and demand."

Apparently this must be "proof" that it is speculators such as Vitol that are responsible for the run up in world oil prices... Vitol bought huge while "betting prices would rise." They did, and no doubt Vitol made out like a bandit. Seems like a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, however, assuming causality... Buying a huge position while gambling that prices will rise can hardly be the cause of prices rising, otherwise why have we had fiascos like the "Nick Leeson/Barings Bank" and "Jerome Kerviel/Societe Generale" blowouts?

Also, what if Vitol had bought huge positions after July 11th while "betting prices would rise?" Would prices have continued to rise due to speculation, instead of falling as they did in reality? Hmm, so much for "so much for supply and demand."

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