Mass Commodity Liquidation

The past week’s action has seen a large decline in many of
the commodity markets. We’ve seen declines in oil, platinum, copper, corn,
wheat, sugar, OJ and others. Therefore, one has to ask, “What is the
justification for such a broad based selloff?” The answer, in short form, can
be found in the Commitment of Traders report. I track the commercials and large
and small speculators every week. However, Steve Briese, author of Commodity
Trading Bible
, also tracks the Commodity Index Traders. This group makes up
the long only index funds that have been at the center of the Capitol Hill
rhetoric as it relates to high commodity prices. Over the last two months, we’ve
seen this group begin to liquidate their positions. Over the last two weeks,
they’ve begun to liquidate in earnest.

Certainly, some of the commodity markets have been trading
at prices far above any fundamental justification for quite some time. I’ve
written at length that there is little justification for crude above $100 per barrel.
Power outages in South Africa were a major contributor to the rise in platinum
and cocoa, as usual, is subject to the usual political and social turmoil. However,
the grain markets, have a substantial fundamental foundation to build from.
Just as there has been little justification for $140 oil, there is considerable
justification for “beans in the teens,” and corn at $6.50+ per bushel. In
general, this appears to be a case of, “throwing the baby out with the bath
water.”

Given the broad nature of the selloff and its corresponding
volatility, the most effective way to take advantage of a rebound in commodity
prices may be through the purchase of a commodity based currency like the
Australian Dollar futures. This currency is highly correlated to the commodity markets
and is also coming under technical pressure. The successive highs from June 6th
and July 18th were not confirmed by increasing open interest (black
vertical lines and lower magenta graph). Also, we have seen tightening
consolidation as the trend developed in ’08. Currently, we are sitting on the
weekly trend line at .9430. I would not be surprised to see the market violate
this trend. If the market trades down to its deeper support between .9221 –
.9321 and open interest does not increase on the violation of the weekly trend,
I think we have a golden opportunity purchase the Australian Dollar as a proxy
for a continued commodity based rally and further appreciation of the
Australian Dollar.

Multiple Confirmations

Chart traders often find themselves with conflicting commodity trading signals. On the same chart, one man’s failing rally is another man’s bull flag. While looking at multiple time frames of the same chart can yield drastically different projections. How often has a daily chart given a strong indication one way, only to have the weekly chart totally counteract it in the context of the bigger picture?

One analysis technique I like to use when individual charts are yielding conflicting signals, is correlated chart analysis. For example, while the Dollar Index may yield mixed signals, I can use the Euro, Yen, Pound and Canadian which make up 57, 14, 12, and 10% of the index, respectively, to develop a consensus of the markets traded against the Dollar.

Another example would be to use interest rate futures to determine a bottom in the stock index futures. In times of duress, money flows out of the stock market and into the safer government backed securities. This is the, “flight to quality,” so frequently discussed in print and on t.v. Currently, there is much debate as to whether the bottom is in for the stock market or, not. As a trader, I’m not concerned about the rest of the year, only finding quality trading opportunities. Recent statistical analysis is suggesting the stock market rally may continue (see, “Counter Trend Moves…What’s Next?) However, conflicting evidence manifested itself during yesterday’s stock market decline. The flight to quality generated a significant rally (higher price/lower yield) in interest rate futures. However, it’s important to keep in mind that interest rates were rallying off their lowest levels in a month. Yesterday’s action suggests a further rally in in interest futures and declining yields over the coming weeks.

So, we now have statistical analysis that suggests a two week rally in both 5yr. Notes and the S&P 500. Has using multiple market analysis created more confusion than clarity?

Fortunately, macro economic theory holds that, in a healthy normal market relationship, we will see a positive correlation between interest rates and stocks. Therefore, if the pressure is off of the stock market and we are turning the economic corner, it is very possible that we see rallies in both of these markets. It is reasonable to suggest that yesterday’s correction in the stock market was a necessary correction in a market that bounced off of its lows too far and too quickly. Furthermore, given that the interest rate quadrant did not fall through the June lows as the stock market bounced does suggest that we may be seeing a return to “normal” market behavior. Lastly, given the election season, the Federal Reserve Board is far more likely to cut rates at the next meeting than to raise them.

Mother Nature’s Resilience

The current corn crop appears to have materially overcome the delays of a wet spring. April’s plantings were 30% behind normal. The picture became grimmer when May’s plantings were as much as 50% behind normal. This led to serious concerns as yield has been directly correlated to planting date, with yield falling consistently with date planted after May 1st. However, through the modern technology of GPS, tractors were able plant through the night as the weather allowed. This led to being fully planted by USDA Grain Report June’s acreage report. Now, corn has been in the ground and had a chance to grow with some periods of sunshine and good ground water tables. Mother Nature has done her thing as corn across the country has been racing to catch up. Currently, even with all of the delays in planting, corn rated in “good to excellent” condition is ahead of the five year average!

Given the drastic change in perspective from a dire spring to excellent condition as we head into the pollination period, it’s not surprising that the market has sold off as dramatically as it has. However, it’s important to keep a global perspective on the corn market. Even if corn is on the pace of 155 bu/acre yields, at 87.5 million acres planted this will still leave us with a stocks to usage ratio at or, near all time lows. This is also consistent with the International Grain Council’s expectation of global ending stocks being 24+ mmt lower than last year. Furthermore, with the Dollar expected to decline through the end of the year, we will continue to see strong export demand, especially in China as Hog feed usage continues to climb. We will be able to track China’s purchases through the Commitment of Traders Reports.Ultimately, as we have fallen to test the April –  June congestion between $5.70 and $6.20, traders and hedgers should prepare to use this as a longer term buying opportunity.

Counter Trend Moves…What’s Next?

This week’s commodity trading featured many strong counter trend moves. Many of the markets saw swift turnarounds in trends that have been established for weeks and months. The 64 million dollar question is; “What’s Next?”Here is what I’ve defined as established trend and counter trend moves.The following markets are share the following traits:

1) They are all near their respective 13 week highs or, lows. The market began within spitting distance of its  recent extreme.

2) Their weekly sentiment readings are > 70 or < 30, respectively. Each market has a large, one sided public following.

3) They’ve experienced a large 5 day counter trend move. All week the market has moved conter to the public’s expectations.

4) Thursday’s ranges were larger than average. The market has moved far enough to force traders into action.

These criterea do a reasonable job of establishing a market direction and bias. Now, what can we learn from this. Is the counter trend move done? Does the longer term trend hold? Are the market’s topping or, bottoming out? Based on the following statistice, we can see that not all of the markets react in the same way.

Here is what to look for in a general sampling for the coming week. We can expect, in order of predicted strength, the following markets to bounce from the week’s declines.PlatinumNatural GasCrude OilSoybeans

Sugar looks like it will continue to decline, reaching a projected low of 1111 approximately 7-8 weeks from now.

The S&P 500 shows the strongest statistical bias. According this week’s events, we can expect the S&P to continue its rally over the coming month, peaking around 1312.

Govt. Legislation in Free Markets

By David Goldman, CNNMoney.com
staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Some of the Democratic lawmakers leading the campaign to crack down on oil traders appeared Wednesday
before the House Committee on Agriculture to explain their proposals.

A dozen or so bills have been introduced on the subject of oil speculators,
and Democratic leaders in the House have promised to address the issue by
tackling what they call “excessive” speculation.

But some Congressmen are skeptical that the legislation will do any good –
and could even cost consumers more by driving up the price of other commodities
such as corn and soybeans.

“Given that charges against speculators have historically been more wrong
than right, it is important that we have the facts, data and analysis that
demonstrate the validity of this contention before we take action,” said
committee chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn. “Any legislative remedy that seeks
to remove speculative interests from futures markets could result in more
volatile markets, as the role of speculators has always been vital for price
discovery and liquidity.”

The slew of speculation-tackling bills that have not yet faced a vote address
a variety of issues.

Some have bipartisan support, such as one increasing the Commodity Futures
Trading Commission’s (CFTC) budget, and some are more contentious, such as
limiting over-the-counter trades to producers and boosting traders’ margin
requirements.

If applied to all commodity traders, some lawmakers say the propositions may
have unintended consequences on other markets.

“Increasing margin requirements, for example, would be very problematic, as
volatility in the futures prices of the grains … has already made it tough for
elevators in farm country to meet margin calls,” Peterson said. “Such
instability can have serious effects on the prices we pay at the
supermarket.”

Legislation necessary to combat high oil prices

But other lawmakers are convinced that curbing excessive speculation by
expanding the role of CFTC will help reduce oil and fuel prices for
consumers.

“While some have advocated for doing nothing and others believe that we
should simply bar index investors and others from the energy commodity markets
altogether, I believe what we really need is a level playing field that is
transparent and accountable,” said Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah. “Our goal should
be to make sure that the regulator – the CFTC – has the ability to ensure undue
manipulation isn’t taking place in the markets.”

Though many lawmakers are still unconvinced that speculation plays a role in
higher gas prices due to a lack of concrete evidence, other Congressmen say the
circumstantial evidence is enough reason to act.

“In light of the dramatically increased speculative inflows into the energy
futures markets … coinciding with a staggering 1,000% jump in the price of a
barrel of oil, I believe the burden is on those who would argue for maintaining
the status quo,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

“Proponents of maintaining current law must definitively demonstrate that the
exceptions we have thus far permitted to persist in the Commodities Exchange Act
do in fact support the primary functions of price discovery and offsetting price
risk necessary for a healthy energy futures marketplace,” Van Hollen added.

Speculation debate continues

Since 2003, the volume of investment funds in commodity markets – especially
oil – has risen from about $15 billion to $260 billion, according to the
International Energy Agency (IEA), an influential oil-policy group.

But the IEA released a report last week arguing that the increase in
oil-market speculation is not driving up crude prices.

“There is little evidence that large investment flows into the futures market
are causing an imbalance between supply and demand, and are therefore
contributing to high oil prices,” the report said.

But the study far from ends the debate.

“A growing chorus of congressional testimony and market commentary from a
wide range of credible and authoritative sources has concluded that the run-up
in today’s price of oil cannot be explained by the forces of supply and demand
alone,” said Van Hollen.

Even analysts who concede that the laws of supply and demand are the main
contributors to record oil prices say that speculation can make price swings
more volatile.

The House Agriculture panel has planned hearings Thursday and Friday to
further discuss the issue of amending the Commodity Exchange Act. To top of page

Rare Occurrence in Crude

The fundamentals in crude oil have continued to erode since February of this year. The highs, over the last $40, can be viewed as a “bubble.” This bubble has been fueled neither by Commodity Index Traders and large speculators, nor Hedge funds and carry trades. I think a strong case can be made that the last leg of this rally should be attributed to large producers unwinding their forward hedges. Producers and forward short hedgers are subject to human error just as individual traders are. Hedge transactions manifest themselves in the Commitment of Traders data as commercial purchases when the market makes new lows and as commercial sales when the market rallies. Just as most economic decisions are made, “at the margin,” so too are the hedger’s trading decisions. Their traders use their understanding of the fundamentals in their market to create oversold and overbought zones within the market’s natural movement and attempt to trade accordingly.

This strategy works for them the vast majority of the time.  However, when a market unhinges from fundamental factors and begins trading on sentiment, the commercials find themselves at the mercy of the public at large. Using the chart below, the white line represents the commercial index of positions on a scale of 0 to 100. Zero equals totally short and can be seen at the following points, (5/06, 7/07, 8/07). One hundred equals totally long and can be seen at, 6/05 and 10/05. Currently, the index is at 78, the highest since a 79 reading in February of ’07.

The yellow line represents total open interest. Technically, speaking, in a healthy trend, open interest should increase as the market moves out to new territory, either higher or, lower. This has not been the case with crude oil. Open interest peaked in July of ’07 and has continued to decline ever since. Open interest now stands at 1.3 million contracts, the lowest since March of ’07.

Furthermore, I have discussed, at length, the negative spread we’ve seen between the front month prices and the later expirations. In real terms, this backwardation in prices is evidence that producers don’t believe that we will be near these prices as the deferred contracts come due for delivery. Producers continued to sell the deferred contracts in order to lock in profits at levels they don’t believe will hold into the future.

Lastly, over the last previous weeks, we have seen the total commercial position shift from net short, to net long, with the market at all time highs. Therefore, I would suggest that the rally from the January highs, under $100 per barrel through the current highs, over $145 has been driven by commercial capitulation and a speculative blow off, rather than fundamental supply and demand issues. Ultimately, it proves the old adage true for everyone, even the big guys, “The market can remain irrational longer than one can remain solvent.”

Historically, there have only been three times when commercial positions have shifted from net short, to net long while the market was at all time highs.  The market declined, twice, by an average of 22.5% and once, the market rallied by 5.8%. Clearly, we are on the cusp of a top. Given the magnitude of a possible decline, one may be advised to purchase put options. Those wishing to sell futures may wish to wait for a close under $140 to initiate a short position.

The “Market Book” as a Trading Tool

RJO Vantage has a tool called the “Market Book.” The Market Book provides live access to the resting bids and offers in the electronic market. The effectiveness of the Market Book becomes more and more apparent now that 90+ percent of total commodity volume is executed via electronic trading platforms. As a former pit trader in the S&P 500, I find myself used to looking at the depth of the market’s bids and offers to establish any strength or weakness biases the market may have at a given price level. I now use the market book as much as I do the Commitment of Traders Reports.     This morning’s action in August live cattle was an excellent example of how the Market Book can increase the effectiveness of one’s trading strategies. Cattle have run up considerably for the month of June without any type of pullback. Over the last week, the market has consolidated just above the 103 level. Knowing that cattle prices tend to peak around Independence day and given the month’s run up, I felt like we could see extended selling on a penetration of the support at 103. I was watching the market as we neared the support this morning looking for the tell tale signs of a stop run to begin the decline. I expected to see standard volume on the available bids….maybe 2-6 contracts on every bid price under the lows, with an occasional 10 lot. Had I seen this, I would have been anxiously looking for a bid to hit to get my contracts sold. However, as the market declined to the support / breakout level, it was greeted with 10 – 85 contracts at each bid. This is an exceptionally large and supportive bid in the cattle market!    Therefore, rather than rushing to get my contracts sold, I decided to wait. As I waited, the market climbed and climbed.     The point is, had I placed an entry stop at the breakout level, I would have found myself stopped into a short position in a fully supported market. The beauty of the market book is that I was able to get a “read” on the market’s bias and avoid putting my accounts in harms way. If you haven’t spent any time with it, I highly recommend that you do. The market book can be a valuable tool in a trader’s arsenal.Any questions, please call.866-990-0777.Andy.