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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Inflation, Commodity Futures, Speculating, Hedging... And Coffee.

Few days ago, I read the news uttering about the Americans' reactions on the inflation- especially on higher food prices. And I immediately tweeted that the Americans should not outcry for higher prices when they have no idea about the painful inflation in the emerging markets. I spent 22 years in India and I can understand how cheaper the daily necessities in the US are.

Commodity futures are positively correlated with the inflation and that is the reason why investors choose them as an inflation-hedge in the long-run. Commodity prices are speculator's & hedger's game besides the global demand-supply. If perceived price risk in the future is higher for consumers of commodities, they buy the futures and the net long position sends market towards the contango. And if perceived price risk in the future is higher for producers of commodities, they sell the futures and the net short position pushes market towards the backwardation. Generally, perceived price risk in the future is higher for producers and because of this, commodity markets are in normal backwardation most of the time. But consistent upward pressure in the global inflation in the recent years has pushed the global commodity market in normal contango.

If we talk about the whopping prices of coffee, Starbucks is being considered as one of the culprits who pushed coffee futures in the contagion world. Based on their recent quarterly reports, they have shown noticeable hedging activities especially in coffee futures. Their speculation of higher coffee prices in the future made them take net long positions in the coffee futures. Per recent Financial Times news story, they are fully hedged against their needs until the end of this calendar year in April. And that tells the whole story about the speculation. I do not find any fundamentals.

It is a simple phenomenon. If bigger players like Starbucks keep on buying futures, then demand for futures increases regardless of other fundamental or economic factors. And contango stands out as a bull market with a possible commodity bubble. It is not illegal for corporations to perform hedging activities, but there should be some difference between speculating and hedging. Per my knowledge, whatever Starbucks is doing is speculation and whatever all airlines are doing is hedging.