Crude oil prices: speculation versus fundamentals
Kolodziej, Marek Krzysztof
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Beginning in 2004, the price of crude oil fluctuates rapidly over a wide range. Large and rapid once increases have recessionary consequences and dampen long-term infrastructural investment. I investigate whether price changes are driven by market fundamentals or speculation. With regard to market fundamentals, I revisit econometric evidence for the importance of demand shocks, as proxied by dry maritime cargo rates, on oil prices. When I eliminate transportation costs from both sides of the equation, disaggregate OPEC and non-OPEC production, and allow for more than one cointegrating relation, I find that previous specifications are inconsistent with arguments that demand shocks play an important role. Instead, results confirm the importance of OPEC supply shocks. I investigate two channels by which speculation may affect oil prices; the direct effect of trader behavior and changes in oil from a commodity to a financial asset. With regard to trader behavior, I find evidence that trader positions are required to explain the spread between spot and futures prices of crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The inclusion of trader positions clarifies the process of equilibrium error correction, such that there is bidirectional causality between prices and trader positions. This creates the possibility of speculative bubbles. With regard to oil as a commodity and/or financial asset, I use a Kalman Filter model to estimate the time-varying partial correlation between returns to investments in equity and oil markets. This correlation changes from negative to positive at the onset of the 2008 financial crisis. The low interest rates used to rescue the economy depress convenience yields, which reduces the benefits of holding oil as a commodity. Instead, oil becomes a financial asset (on net) as the oil market changed from contango to backwardation. Contradicting simple political narratives, my research suggests that both market fundamentals and speculation drive large oil prices. Chinese oil demand is not responsible for large increases in oil prices; nor are they caused by behavioral idiosyncrasies by oil traders. Finally, oil will be treated largely as a financial asset so long as interest rates are held near their all-time lows.
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