Jeg har lenge hatt problemer med å følge retorikken til amerikanske politikere i olje/bensinprisdebatten.
Først var det «Drill, baby drill», selv om en 10% økning i produksjonen i olje fra USA ville økt verdenstilbudet med 1%. Det er altfor lite til å påvirke priser. Deretter var det avgiftene på bensin, som staten fikk skylden for. I USA er det en flat skatt på bensin, satt til 14% av salgspris for bensin (15% for diesel). Den statlige satsen er ikke knyttet til inflasjonen, og har derfor mistet 33% i kjøpekraft siden 1993. Deretter kommer skatt per stat.
Hva mer har vi?
Så USA kan ikke øke produksjonen på verdensmarkedet, og dermed senke råvareprisen. Skattene vil også ikke ha rare effekten. Hva mer har vi?
Jo, disse oljespekulantene. I forrige uke skrev grunnlegger, styreleder og president i Citizens Energy Corporation, Joseph P. Kennedy (tidligere kongressmann for Demokratene) i New York Times:
Today, speculators dominate the trading of oil futures. According to Congressional testimony by the commodities specialist Michael W. Masters in 2009, the oil futures markets routinely trade more than one billion barrels of oil per day. Given that the entire world produces only around 85 million actual “wet” barrels a day, this means that more than 90 percent of trading involves speculators’ exchanging «paper» barrels with one another.
Dette er farlig resonnering. Kennedy mener at fordi det daglig produseres mye mindre enn det trades daglig, må det være noe muffins med oljespekulantene. Artikkelen heter Ban pure speculators of oil futures, og løsningen på de høye bensinprisene ligger i å kvitte seg med spekulantene. Kennedy sier også:
Because of speculation, today’s oil prices of about $100 a barrel have become disconnected from the costs of extraction, which average $11 a barrel worldwide.
Hvis det er et sted i verden hvor jeg har en fast investering, og deretter kan hente opp olje til $11 i kostnad per fat for deretter å selge til $120+ i markedet – hvor signerer jeg?
Jeg lar min oljeguru Prof. Hamilton ta denne:
It’s true that most buyers of futures contracts don’t actually want to take physical delivery of oil. If I buy the contract at some date, I usually plan on selling the contract back to somebody else at a later date, so that I leave the market with a cash profit or loss but no physical oil. But remember that for every buyer of a futures contract, there is a seller. The person who sold the initial contract to me also likely wants to buy out of the contract at some later date. I buy and he sells at the initial contract date, he buys and I sell at a later date. One of us leaves the market with a cash profit, the other with a cash loss, and neither of us ever obtains any physical oil.
If the purchase in the morning is argued to have driven the price up, one would think that the sale in the afternoon would bring the price back down. It is unclear by what mechanism Representative Kennedy maintains that the combined effect of a purchase and subsequent sale produces any net effect on the price. But the only way he gets big numbers like this is to count the purchase and subsequent sale of the same contract by the same person as two different trades.
By what mysterious process can all this within-day buying and selling of «paper» energy be the factor that is responsible for both a price of oil in excess of $100/barrel and a price of natural gas at record lows below $2 per thousand cubic feet? I suspect the reason that Kennedy does not explain the details to us is because he does not have a clue himself.
have a final concern about Kennedy’s policy proposal. How exactly do we define the «speculators» whose participation in the markets is to be banned? Suppose for example, we stipulate that the only people who are allowed to trade oil futures are those who are actually physically producing or consuming the product. If we do that, what happens if a particular producer wants to hedge his risk by selling a 5-year futures contract, and a particular refiner wants to hedge his risk by buying a 3-month futures contract? Who is supposed to take the other side of those contracts, if all «speculators» are banned?
Let me close by pointing those interested in this issue to a recent survey of academic studies of the role of speculation by Bassam Fattouh, Lutz Kilian, and Lavan Mahadeva. The authors conclude:
We identify six strands in the literature corresponding to different empirical methodologies and discuss to what extent each approach sheds light on the role of speculation. We find that the existing evidence is not supportive of an important role of speculation in driving the spot price of oil after 2003. Instead, there is strong evidence that the co-movement between spot and futures prices reflects common economic fundamentals rather than the financialization of oil futures markets.