A Lesson from Physics on Oil Prices: Revisiting the Negative WTI Oil Price Episode

While the episode of negative WTI price is still being actively debated, its proper root cause is yet to be determined. This Comment contributes to the discussion and studies the event by modifying the theory of storage for an oil market with rigid operational infrastructure, where short-term supply and demand are price inelastic. We found that such pricing anomaly can be well characterized by a simple concept borrowed from the physics of extreme events.

The future prices are modelled as a financial derivative of the storage capacity. During normal market conditions, the spread between nearby futures contract is mostly determined by the carry trade and the cost of storage. However, if either inventory or the storage capacity is no longer available, the carry trade breaks down as the futures trader is unable to make or take the delivery of physical barrels. These events are akin to defaults in financial markets and prices leading to them are characterized by the financial squeeze.

We calibrate the model to inventory data at Cushing, Oklahoma and conclude that only a small fraction of the abnormal price move could be attributed to constraints on the storage capacity. The rest of the move was caused by the financial squeeze on long futures positions held against over-the-counter products. We detail the behavior of main market participants that led to negative prices. The Comment also points to several shortcomings of the recent CFTC report on this topic and suggests additional areas where a more granular look at the data could be helpful.

This comment looks at the announcement by the Danish government on 4 December to cancel the 8th offshore licensing round and all future rounds and to phase out all production of oil and gas by 2050. It describes the industry and political background to the announcement, including the ambitious legal target of a 70% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050, and the most recent official projections of offshore production. It concludes that it will shape operators’ investment and management of mature fields but its impact on Danish emissions and upstream production in 2030 and 2050 is likely to be much more modest than at first appears. However, if the reform galvanises the Danish authorities and investors to commit resources to the development of offshore COstorage in the period 2025-30, it may contribute significantly to Denmark’s climate objectives.

View full paper https://www.oxfordenergy.org/wpcms/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/A-Lesson-from-Physics-on-Negative-Oil-Prices.pdf

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