Daily Archives: February 9, 2009

The oil contango has been exercising energy market watchers for months now. There is a good explanation of contango and its associated debates here but, in short, prices are higher for future oil contracts than for front-month, or nearest, oil futures contracts. This is in contrast to most of the recent past, when oil contract priced fell as they moved further into the future.

The latest newsletters from both PetroMatrix and Schork Report point out that long-only index funds, such as the USO, are taking such a large share of the open interest that the front month/next month spread is dramatically affected when they ‘roll’ to the next month’s contracts.

“2009 appears to be shaping up to be the year of the ETF” says the Schork Report, arguing the large weighting of EFTs is skewing WTI front month prices:

For example, whereas the Mar/Apr spread crashed by 421 bps last week, the
May/Jun (which is not being rolled) was virtually
unchanged. Last Monday this contango was $1.45 (-
3.04%), by Friday it was $1.54 (-3.06%). However, with
USO long 85,057 Aprils (not to mention the length sitting
on the books of other long-only index funds)… what do
think is going to happen to the Apr/May spread next

While PetroMatrix says:

The USO ETF now holds 77’889 WTI April contracts which are equivalent to 58% of the April Open Interest on the day prior the USO roll. After the Friday roll we estimate that the USO now owns 33% of the April WTI Open Interest. We find ludicrous for an ETF of that size to have a one-day only roll but we find even more alarming that the NYMEX has nothing to say against an institution that is forcing such a large shift of WTI Open Interest in a single day.

FT Alphaville has pointed out a couple of weeks ago that the roll itself – and the USO rolls its entire position on a single day – is significantly costly to the ETFs. Meanwhile Goldman has predicted that investors may be inclined to pull out of these passive-style long ETFs once they begins to realise those losses.

Brad Zigler of Hard Assets Investor tells SeekingAlpha that while the current contango may be bad news for investors in long-only commodity index products, short oil index investors have been loving it. And, he argues, it’s not so bad for consumers either.

“When will contango dissipate? Well, if you’re talking about oil, you shouldn’t hold your breath. Oil’s last excursion into contango lasted 32 months. The current contango developed in June ’08. We’re only seven months into this edition.”

Coal won’t be replaced anytime soon: “The idea that solar, wind and other sources can immediately replace coal is a fallacy; it would take years for us to replace coal plants with a mixture of nuclear, solar and wind power plants.” (SeekingAlpha)

Opec’s final humiliation: Production levels may even rise this year from Canada and Mexico. “Who ever expected that the Canadians would become the greatest threat to Hugo Chavez?” (247WallSt)

An energy boomtown goes bust: “It was like the difference between night and day,” in Parachute, Colorado

Koch Supply and Trading books a supertanker for six months to store 2bn barrels of crude off the coast of the Emirates (The National)

Maybe there are ways to create the perfect energy source: safe, low cost, abundant and usable by humans for the sake of humans. But we don’t know whether that is possible within the physical laws of our universe.” (The Oil Drum)

Cap and trade or tax? The World Resources Institute argues for the former in a Q&A

Speedbumps to generate power for streetlights (Guardian/Observer)

China begins work on 12th 5-year energy plan covering 2010 – 2015 (China Environmental Law)