Finance Seminars

Who Holds Positions in Agricultural Futures Markets
by Michel Robe (Univ. of Illinois)

The Financialization of Food
by Valentina Bruno (American University) 

Finance Seminars 

December 2019,  Friday 20 (14:00 pm) - N1 – Room 1701



Who Holds Positions in Agricultural Futures Markets  - Abstract

We use non-public data regarding all trader-level futures positions, reported to the U.S. grain and oilseed derivatives market regulator (the CFTC), in order to describe the nature of market participants, the maturity structure of their holdings, and the aggregate position patterns for nine different categories of traders that we separate based on their main lines of business. We provide novel evidence about the overall extent of calendar spreading and about the contribution of commercial traders to total spreading activity.

Our sample’s 3,854 traders account for 86 to 93 percent of the total futures open interest at the end of an average day in 2015–2018. Well over 90 percent of their positions have maturities of less than a year. Among our nine trader categories, just three (hedge funds and commercial dealers/merchants, plus commodity index traders on the long side) account for about four fifths of all reported trader positions. In fact, fewer than 200 “permanent” large traders (overwhelmingly from these three categories) make up the bulk of the daily open interest in the four largest agricultural futures markets.

In the aggregate, the positions of commercial dealers and hedge funds (including commodity pool operators, commodity trading advisors, managed money traders, and associated persons) are highly negatively correlated. This correlation is strikingly strong for short positions: as a result, the sum total of commercial dealers’ and hedge funds’ respective shares of the short open interest fluctuates relatively little over time.

We show, for the first time, that calendar spreads account for more than a third of all large trader positions; that much of the intra-year variation in the total futures open interest can be tied to changes in the extent of calendar spreading; that about half of all spread positions involve contracts expiring in 4 to 12 months (either spreading with shorter-dated contracts, or involving only maturities of 4 to 12 months); and that commercial traders who are not swap dealers (dealers and merchants, mostly) make up from a quarter to two fifths of all calendar spread positions. Again, commercial dealers’ and hedge funds’ shares of the spread open interest are negatively correlated. None of these patterns can be inferred from public data, as the CFTC’s Commitments of Traders Reports (COT) do not break out spreads for “traditional” commercial traders in general and commercial dealers and merchants in particular.

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The Financialization of Food - Abstract

Commodity-equity return co-movements rose dramatically during the Great Recession. This development took place following what has been dubbed the “financialization” of commodity markets. We first document changes since 1995 in the relative importance of financial institutions’ activity in agricultural futures markets. We then use a structural VAR model to ascertain the role of that activity in explaining correlations between weekly grain, livestock, and equity returns in 1995-2015. We provide robust evidence that, accounting for shocks which are idiosyncratic to agricultural markets, world business cycle shocks have a substantial and long-lasting impact on the latter’s co-movements with financial markets. In contrast, changes in the intensity of financial speculation have an impact on cross-market return linkages that is shorter-lived and not statistically significant in all model specifications.

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