Tag Archives: waldocktrades

Defending the $ and Popping the Bubble

Yesterday, Bernanke stated that a weak Dollar was not in America’s best interest. Typically, this statement would be argued against based on a weak Dollar’s contribution to exports helping to grow a weakened domestic economy. Bernanke’s point, I think, is that inflation is a bigger worry than recession. Dollar based commodities, primarily grains and energy are having a greater negative impact on our economy than can be offset through higher exports. Inflation in these primary goods is acting as a tax on the American consumer. Right now, the economy cannot create enough high quality jobs fast enough to offset the economic pain that is felt at the gas pump and grocery store.Further more, Bernanke also stated that he will work with Secretary Paulson to defend the Dollar’s decline. This is important because the Federal Reserve and the Treasury are separate entities. It is a big deal that Bernanke used language such as, “In collaboration with our colleagues at the Treasury…” as well as, “…ensuring that the Dollar remains a strong and stable currency.”

These are strong words from the chairman of the Federal Reserve. The perfect storm could be brewing……strengthening Dollar combined with regulatory action, via the CFTC closing the “swap loophole” on Commodity Index Traders could bring liquidation across the commodity spectrum. It will be important to check the Commitment of Traders Reports for position changes.

Commodity Index Funds & Investment Banks

This is from John Mauldin at http://www.frontlinethoughts.comI think he does a wonderful job of explaining how the Commodity Index Funds stay off of the CFTC’s radar in their weekly Commitment of Traders reports.

Swapping out Commodities

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced yesterday that they are
looking very hard at possibly closing a regulatory loophole that allowed some
extremely large commodity index funds to get around position limits. For those
not familiar with the concept of limits, it basically works like this. No trader
or fund is allowed to own more than a specific amount of a commodity traded on
the futures exchange. This limit varies from commodity to commodity and exchange
to exchange. The point is to keep one group from manipulating the price of a
commodity, as the Hunts did with silver in the early 80s.

The loophole is one where large investment banks can sell a “swap” for a
specific commodity like corn and then hedge their position in the futures
markets. There is no limit on the amount of the commodity that can be hedged.
So, a fund can accumulate sizeable positions far in excess of what they could do
directly by working with an investment bank. In essence, the swap is a
derivative issued by a bank which acts just like a futures trade, but it is with
the bank as guarantor and not an exchange. Swaps are not regulated as such. And
up until now, the banks were seen as legitimate hedgers so there were no limits
on what they could buy in the futures markets.

This works for very large commodity index funds which try to mirror a
particular commodity index and need to be able to buy very large positions in
excess of the normal limits (and there are scores of them), and for the banks
that make the commissions and profits on the swaps. Remember, the fund gets a
management fee, so growing the size of the fund grows their fees.

These indexes typically have about 26 commodities, with the largest
allocation to oil, but almost anything that is traded has some small portion of
the allocation. As I noted last week, there are some who believe this is working
to drive up the price of commodities beyond the simply supply and demand
principles. Whether or not you believe this to be the case, the CFTC is looking
at the loophole.

The key word in the announcement yesterday was the word “classification.” Their classification can be tracked in the Commitment of Traders Report classified as hedgers and as such have no limits. But
they are not rea lly hedging the actual physical commodity as a farmer or
General Mills might do, but the hedge is their financial position.

CFTC vs. Commodity Index Traders

High grain and energy costs have finally generated enough momentum for the politicians to get involved. This past week, a paper was presented to Congress by Michael Masters of Masters Capital Management. He attributes the current price levels to creating an artificially high floor price due to the asset class categorization of commodities. The long only money that has poured into the markets is creating, “demand shock from a new category of speculators: institutional investors like
corporate and government pension funds, university endowments, and sovereign
wealth funds. He also, matter of factly states, “Index speculators are the primary cause of the recent price
spikes in commodities.”

One statistic that is being roughly, though widely, quoted, is the assumption that demand for exchange traded commodities over the last five years has increased equally between China and Commodity Index Funds. The CFTC is prepared to overhaul its system of reportable trading categories and players to try and pinpoint who is trading what and how much. The purpose is to differentiate between true physical price discovery and speculative froth.

Congress is prepared to assist the CFTC in outing the institutional speculative money by closing the swaps loophole that has allowed the billion dollar funds to enact futures transactions as swaps through their securities brokers (Merril, Goldman, etc.) who then hedge the swap in the futures market. This is how every individual fund has managed to stay off of the CFTC’s Commitment of Traders reports. The commodities are held assets with their broker while the broker executes the hedge and reports the position as their own.

The CFTC and Congress working hand in hand could bring an end to this bubble far quicker than peace in the Middle East or a bountiful global harvest.

Please, feel free to comment or, question. This is a small picture painted in broad brush strokes.

Have a wonderful weekend, Andy.


Competitive goods at the margin

As petroleum prices climb, alternative energy sources become more useful. So it is with biodiesel and soybeans. Look at the correlation during yesterday’s sell off and today’s rally.

Now, look at the 25 day correlation chart between the two markets.

Crude Fundamentals Remain Negative

The underpinnings of the Crude Oil market do not justify the current market prices.

1) Crude made new all time highs Friday….on declining open interest, which peaked last July.2) Distant delivery for Crude isn’t charging the storage and insurance premiums it should in a healthy bull market.3) Using NYSE prices, oil stocks are pricing it at $75 per barrel. 4) According to Business Week, the major players have done little to increase capital spending….even at these prices.