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NYTimes: Change in Goldman index played role in gasoline price drop
As reported a week ago by Bill King in The King Report, redistributed by GATA:
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Change in Goldman Index Played Role in Gasoline Price Drop
By Heather Timmons
The New York Times
Saturday, September 30, 2006
LONDON, Sept. 29 -- Politics and worries about oil supplies may have caused gasoline prices to go up at the pump earlier this year, but one big investment bank quietly helped their rapid drop in recent weeks, according to some economists, traders, and analysts.
Goldman Sachs, which runs the largest commodity index, the G.S.C.I., said in early August that it was reducing the index's weighting in gasoline futures significantly. The announcement did not make big headlines, but it has reverberated through the markets in the weeks since and some other investors who had been betting that gasoline would rise followed suit on their weightings.
"They started unwinding their positions, and those other longs also rushed to the door at the same time," said Lawrence J. Goldstein, president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation.
Wholesale prices for New York Harbor unleaded gasoline, the major gasoline contract traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange, dropped 18 cents a gallon on Aug. 10, to $1.9889 a gallon, a decline of more than 8 percent, and they have dropped further since then. In New York on Friday, gasoline futures for October delivery rose 4.81 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $1.5492 a gallon. Prices have fallen 9.4 percent this year.
The August announcement by Goldman Sachs caught some traders by surprise. The firm said in early June that it planned to roll its positions in the harbor contract into another futures contract, the reformulated gasoline blendstock, which is replacing the harbor contract at the end of the year because of changes to laws about gasoline additives.
Later in June, Goldman said it had rolled a third of its gasoline holdings into the reformulated contracts but would make further announcements as to whether the remainder would be rolled over. Then in August the bank said it would not roll over any more positions into gasoline and would redistribute the weighting into other petroleum products.
Goldman Sachs declined to comment. Some traders speculated that Goldman might have been concerned about the liquidity of the reformulated contract and whether other traders would embrace it because there were so few contracts outstanding. The open interest, or number of futures contracts taken out, has increased ninefold in the reformulated contract since then.
Unleaded gasoline made up 8.72 percent of Goldman’s commodity index as of June 30, but it is just 2.3 percent now, representing a sell-off of more than $6 billion in futures contract weighting.
Like many market indexes, trading in the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index is publicly available, allowing individual investors and third-party asset managers to participate in that market. The $100 billion invested comes from brokers, fund managers and individuals, probably including some of the same people who were hurt by high gasoline prices earlier in the year.
Goldman's announcement on Aug. 9 was not the only downward pressure on prices that week, market participants stress. And while it may have played a part in sending prices down, the market would never have continued its downward trend unless supplies had loosened up, they say.
Also during that week, climatologists revised their hurricane forecasts, easing fears that oil supplies could be disrupted. And BP said it would still produce some oil from its field in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where leaks were being repaired. Meanwhile, the peak gasoline season was ending, and new supplies of ethanol were coming online.
The week started with "everyone talking about $4 gasoline and ended with the market down sharply," said Phil Verleger, an independent economist in Aspen, Colo.
In following weeks, "traders all tried to push themselves through that door," Mr. Goldstein added.
"We saw gasoline fall 82 cents in the wholesale market over a four-week period, which is unprecedented," he said. Mr. Goldstein said that the decline in gasoline prices helped send prices of the whole group of energy-related products down.
Now, rather than highs, these products are hitting lows -- natural gas, for example, traded on Wednesday at its lowest price in four years.
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