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Streetwise Professor

May 31, 2011

Like Chocolate and Peanut Butter

Filed under: Commodities,Derivatives,Economics,Energy,Exchanges,Russia — The Professor @ 11:12 am

FT Alphaville has an interesting post on metals warehousing that resonates with my earlier post on the subject.   They call attention to a BBC report on commodities.

Recall that I dismissed the concerns about leveraging market power, and said that the crucial issue was information.  Given the availability of statistics on metals inventories, I downplayed the information advantage that warehouse owners have, but the Alphaville post suggests I was hasty in that judgment:

MR [BBC reporter Michael Robinson]: Steinweg is the last independent warehouse. Does it give them [the banks which own warehouses] an unfair advantage?

MR: John van der Lek told me he’s relieved that the Steinweg group is still independent, he says he’d like to avoid any suspicion of conflict of interest.

MR: “But what’s wrong with a bank owning a warehouse?”

ST [Warehouse operator Steinweg’s head of metals John van der Lek]: “I don’t know why they want to own warehouses. There must be a reason for that. But I don’t know why they do.”

MR: “Is it good business for a bank?”

ST: “Could be, but I don’t know, I don’t think so. I don’t have an idea what their feeling for taking over a warehouse.”

MR: “The danger is pretty obvious. That the bank has more information than other traders because it owns a warehouse?”

ST: “Yeah. That is to a danger for the traders. Maybe so we’re in a situation where people get more information out of the warehouses, but we are here independent and we would like to keep it that way. And we hope our customers appreciate that.”

All that said, trading is about information flows, and integration of traders into physical assets is ubiquitous–and has been for a long time–for exactly that reason.  Again, recall that major grain merchants did–and still do–operate the main delivery warehouses for CBOT/CME Group contracts.  Banks have been going into physical asset ownership in energy in recent years.  BP always viewed its asset ownership as a key to its trading operations.  That’s the way the game is played.

Anybody who owns the physical assets like storage facilities will have an information advantage when it comes to trading.  The relatively recent move of financial institutions into this area reflects a complementarity between access to this information flow and the ability to operate and finance trading operations.

In other words, it’s not about leveraging market power.  It’s about putting information and capital together.  That’s the essence of trading.  It’s the financial equivalent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

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1 Comment »

  1. I recently heard the same report as well. Very interesting insight into a market sector I had not previously considered.

    Comment by zach — June 6, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

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