Price rises in non-speculatable food commodities

I recently had a contentious discussion over the extent to which financial speculation caused the food price run-up of 2008 (and prior years). I am skeptical that speculation was a major culprit, and I was unable to remember the specifics of the argument that prices rose similarly in commodities which are not index-traded. For future reference (my own as much as my readers'), I tracked it down in this paper recently released by the OECD. (emphases are mine)
If index fund buying drove commodity prices higher then markets without index fund investment should not have seen prices advance. Again, the observed facts are inconsistent with this notion. Irwin, Sanders, Merrin (2009) show that markets without index fund participation (fluid milk and rice futures) and commodities without futures markets (apples and edible beans) also showed price increases over the 2006-2008 period. Stoll and Whaley (2009) report that returns for Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) wheat, Kansas City Board of Trade (KCBOT) wheat, and Minneapolis Grain Exchange (MGEX) wheat are all highly positively correlated over 2006-09, yet only CBOT wheat is used heavily by index investors. In a similar fashion, Commodity Exchange (COMEX) gold, COMEX silver, New York Mercantile (NYMEX) palladium, and NYMEX platinum futures prices are highly correlated over the same time period but only gold and silver are included in popular commodity indexes. Headey and Fan (2008) cite the rapid increases in the prices for non-financialized commodities such as rubber, onions, and iron ore as evidence that rapid price inflation occurred in commodities without futures markets. While certainly instructive, the limits of these kinds of comparisons also need to be kept in mind. Bubble proponents have pointed out that commodity markets selected for the development of futures contracts may be naturally more volatile than those commodities without futures markets.
The paper also includes more far more statistical including the latest Granger causality analysis, which is more rigorous, but also in my view less effective than anecdotes like the above in many informal discussions. Their overall conclusion is unequivocally in line with my view that
... at this time, the weight of evidence clearly suggests that increased index fund activity in 2006-08 did not cause a bubble in commodity futures prices.
In related reading, here are previous posts citing Thomas Malthus and Darrell Duffie on the benefits of speculation in food markets, and here is Scott Irwin (one of the OECD paper co-authors) last year on why index speculators didn't break the wheat market.

No comments:

Post a Comment