Oil price formation: Fundamentals versus financial markets approach. Some ideas.

Published on

August 11, 2019


Article by

Hermes Pérez

In the following lines, we will discuss the relationship between the formation of oil prices and the increasing impact that financial markets have had on the formation of prices of commodities markets and, in particular, crude oil.


  1. Introduction
  2. Deregulation of financial derivatives and energy derivatives.
  3. Evolution of the financial operations of crude oil.
  4. Relationship between physical demand and the financial demand. Financialization of oil.
  5. Impact of financial markets on oil prices. Anecdotal evidence.
    The position of some institutions on the subject.
  6. Petroleum Intelligence Weekly (PIW) and its opinion on the subject.
  7. Some final ideas.
  8. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The daily volume of oil trade in 2017 was equal to:

98.5 million barrels per day (MBD) in the physical markets[1].
1,609.3 MBD in the financial markets[2].

This last figure was equivalent to more than 16 times the value of what was negotiated in the physical markets.

In this regard, it seems difficult to discard the idea that the higher oil volumes traded in the financial markets had nothing to do with the determination of their price[3].

In this sense, it can be affirmed that some commodities began to undergo fundamental changes in the determination of their prices[4] since the rise of the financial markets in 2001.

Thus, there seems to be statistical evidence, anecdotal and common sense, which suggests that the determination of oil prices also depends on the decisions made in the financial markets of the world and not in the oil market exclusively

On the other hand, there was an almost exponential expansion of the financial markets of commodities, which started at the end of 2001. This, due to the deregulation of this market, financial innovations and the entry of new participants.

This transformation could support the hypothesis that structural changes occurred in the process of price formation in some commodities and in particular the oil market.

Therefore, in the following lines we will analyze how the process of deregulation that registered the market of financial derivatives in 2001, and in particular energy, led to an explosive increase in this activity. We will see how financial crude oil operations grew exponentially after deregulation and financial innovations.

In addition, we will analyze how it has been the numerical relationship between purchases of physical crude oil and purchases of crude oil in financial markets, the latter being immensely greater than the former. We will present some anecdotal examples of measures in the money markets that affected the financial markets of crude oil and its prices. In the same way, we will comment what is the opinion of some important institutions on the subject and we will finish with some final ideas.

2. Deregulation of financial derivatives and energy derivatives.

The Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 (CFMA) was enacted in December 2000, in which most of the derivatives were no longer regulated. The CFMA exempted from any regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (Commission or CFTC) to energy derivative contracts. These exceptions are known as The Enron Loophole (Jickling, M., 2008).

The CFMA established three categories of instruments subject to various degrees of regulation.

1. The financiers. With little regulation.

2. The agricultural. They were totally prohibited.

3. The exempt ones (Metals and energy).

The liberalization led to the volume of financial contracts of some commodities growing amid 5 and 7 times between 2000 and 2009. In addition, the number and variety of agreements negotiated rose close to 7 times and many of these increased their complexity (CFTC, 2010).


[1] / According to Oil Market Intelligence.

[2] / Own calculations.

[3] / Baffes, John, et al (2015); BIS (2015); Beidas-Strong, S., and Andrea Pescatori (2014); Büyüksahim, B., et al (2008); Chevalier, Julien (2013); Fawaz , K., Jamie Webster (2015); Hannesson, R.(2012); Jee-Hoon, L. (2007); Juvental, L., and Ivan Petrella (2012); Lombardi, M., and Ine V. Robays (2011); Turner A., et al (2011); US Senate (2006) y US EIA (2016).

[4] / Anzuini, Alessio, et al (2010); Henderson, Brian j., et Al (2014); BIS (2015); Büyüksahim, B., Michel A. Robe (2011) y Xiong, Wei and Ing-Han Cheng (2014).

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