Thursday, February 17, 2011

Financial Speculation IS Driving Commodity Prices

Here's an interesting interview segment where two economists agree that Krugman is wrong, that speculation is driving the price of staple commodities, not any shift in supply and demand.  The two economists in question share actual data that one should be able to track down to confirm/deny their conclusions, but the fact that they claim to have data and are not just spouting fact-free economic dogma makes them more credible, in my opinion.

The basic conclusion is that there has been a shift in market dynamics over the last decade that allows the futures market to drive prices on the spot market, and that if a player is big enough, it can drive prices on the futures market (and, therefore, on the spot market) to whatever it wants.  Between the massive concentration of wealth and financialization of the real economy, there is no such thing as a free market; markets are merely at the command of the big capital pools who move prices at their whim.

More at The Real News

From the transcript, which may be found here:

JAY: Jayati, some people argue, including people like Paul Krugman, who actually--who usually isn't someone to critique--to be shy about critiquing speculation, he's saying that if there isn't physical hoarding of food, you can't have this kind of gambling affect the price of food, that if you buy a future on, you know, corn or whatever and you think a year from now the price will be higher, that the spot markets, the actual day-to-day market, catches up to that, and that there's no point--you can't actually manipulate the price unless somehow you're physically putting corn somewhere. What do you make of that argument?

GHOSH: Well, you know, that used to be true, that used to be the case, that in fact to speculate in grain, you had to hold grain. And that was why, essentially, the speculators in grain were those who were commodity dealers. That was the old story. What happened in the last decade is that you have this kind of transition whereby you have a futures commodity in which financial agents who have no interest in holding the actual physical commodity are able to play this market. And that's because they are essentially rolling over contracts and constantly purchasing newer contracts, that is a crucial change in the market in the last decade.

JAY: I mean, one would think, Bob, that if you know there's a future market, and the futures six months from now are higher than what the market is right now, you would--I mean, it goes to--the logic would say you'd try to hold on to what you've got for six months and sell it when it's higher. Is that the logic of this?

POLLIN: Well, except that, as Jayati said, the people that have come to dominate the market are people who are not really calculating on the basis of when any physical commodity is coming due. They are basically moving the market in order to move the market. And if they're big enough, if they're so much bigger than all the other traders, they have the capacity to move the market to the degrees that we have seen that are just unprecedented. And so when they move the futures market, that pushes the spot market up--the futures market is driving the spot market prices. And that's why you have, you know, the new form, much greater form of speculation becoming the predominant force in the futures market, which is then pulling the spot market along with it.

JAY: Well, what do you make of Krugman's argument that says you can't do that with food, that you actually have to hoard it or you can't move the price?

POLLIN: I think it's wrong.

GHOSH: Well, that's simply not true, and we have evidence of that in 2008. In fact, what happened in 2008 is a classic example, where the food price went up by--almost doubled in the period between January and June, and then fell back to almost the previous level in the next six months, and yet there was hardly any major movement in terms of actual turnover of the physical commodity.