Sharks Eat Themselves Too

Every minnow understands that the investment ocean is a perilous place since we are usually the ones who are eaten by the sharks. But once in a blue moon, the sharks fight amongst themselves. Presumably only when there aren’t enough minnows around. These rare fights are the only opportunity to see behind the curtain to see the standard M.O. of sharks. Here’s one of those fights. Coca Cola is accusing Goldman Sachs of manipulating metals prices via its ownership of the metals warehouses at metals futures exchanges. I’m excerpting pieces from the links on the assumption that the linked content will disappear at some point:

Wall St Eyed in Metal Squeeze
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other owners of large metals warehouses are being scrutinized by the London Metal Exchange after being accused by users like Coca-Cola Co. of restricting the amount of metal they release to customers, inflating prices.

The board of the LME met on Thursday to discuss complaints from aluminum users and market traders, who say operators of warehouses, which also include J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Glencore International PLC, should be forced to allow the metal out more quickly to meet demand……..

Goldman, through its Metro International Trade Services unit, owns the biggest warehouse complex in the LME system, a series of 19 buildings in Detroit that house about a quarter of the aluminum stored in LME facilities…..

Coca-Cola and other consumers say that Metro in particular is allowing the minimum amount of aluminum allowed by the LME—1,500 metric tons a day—to leave its facilities, and that Metro could remove much more, erasing supply bottlenecks and lowering premiums for physical delivery in the process…..

Coca-Cola, which has complained to the LME, says it can take months to get the metal the company needs, even though warehouses are allowing aluminum to come in much more quickly. Warehouses, meantime, collect rent and other fees…..

Since Goldman bought Metro early last year, the wait time for aluminum delivery in Detroit has increased to about seven months.

Metro charges its customers 42 cents a day for storing one metric ton of aluminum in Detroit, which is about the industry average. At 900,000 tons in the warehouses, Goldman is earning $378,000 a day on rental costs, or about $79 million in seven months.

Metro, meantime, is taking in metal. Metro also offers cash incentives to producers like Rio Tinto Alcan to store their metal in Metro’s sheds for contracted periods, sometimes as much as $150 a ton, according to traders.

Once the metal is in the warehouse, the producers sell ownership to this metal on the open market. The new owner can’t collect his metal for seven months because of the bottleneck. For that period, the new owner is stuck paying rent to Metro.

In recent years, major investment banks like Goldman and J.P. Morgan and commodities houses like Glencore have been snapping up warehouses around the world, turning the industry from a disperse grouping of independent operators into another arm of Wall Street…..The transformation has raised questions about whether the investment banks, which also have big commodity-trading arms, are able to use their position as owners of warehouses to manipulate prices to their advantage.

How Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis

Futures markets traditionally included two kinds of players. On one side were the farmers, the millers, and the warehousemen, market players who have a real, physical stake in wheat. This group not only includes corn growers in Iowa or wheat farmers in Nebraska, but major multinational corporations like Pizza Hut, Kraft, Nestlé, Sara Lee, Tyson Foods, and McDonald’s — whose New York Stock Exchange shares rise and fall on their ability to bring food to peoples’ car windows, doorsteps, and supermarket shelves at competitive prices. These market participants are called “bona fide” hedgers, because they actually need to buy and sell cereals.

On the other side is the speculator. The speculator neither produces nor consumes corn or soy or wheat, and wouldn’t have a place to put the 20 tons of cereal he might buy at any given moment if ever it were delivered. Speculators make money through traditional market behavior, the arbitrage of buying low and selling high. And the physical stakeholders in grain futures have as a general rule welcomed traditional speculators to their market, for their endless stream of buy and sell orders gives the market its liquidity and provides bona fide hedgers a way to manage risk by allowing them to sell and buy just as they pleased.

But Goldman’s index perverted the symmetry of this system. The structure of the GSCI paid no heed to the centuries-old buy-sell/sell-buy patterns. This newfangled derivative product was “long only,” which meant the product was constructed to buy commodities, and only buy….

This imbalance undermined the innate structure of the commodities markets, requiring bankers to buy and keep buying — no matter what the price. Every time the due date of a long-only commodity index futures contract neared, bankers were required to “roll” their multi-billion dollar backlog of buy orders over into the next futures contract, two or three months down the line. And since the deflationary impact of shorting a position simply wasn’t part of the GSCI, professional grain traders could make a killing by anticipating the market fluctuations these “rolls” would inevitably cause. “I make a living off the dumb money,” commodity trader Emil van Essen told Businessweek last year. Commodity traders employed by the banks that had created the commodity index funds in the first place rode the tides of profit…..

Since the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, there has been a 50-fold increase in dollars invested in commodity index funds. To put the phenomenon in real terms: In 2003, the commodities futures market still totaled a sleepy $13 billion. But when the global financial crisis sent investors running scared in early 2008, and as dollars, pounds, and euros evaded investor confidence, commodities — including food — seemed like the last, best place for hedge, pension, and sovereign wealth funds to park their cash…..

The result of Wall Street’s venture into grain and feed and livestock has been a shock to the global food production and delivery system. Not only does the world’s food supply have to contend with constricted supply and increased demand for real grain, but investment bankers have engineered an artificial upward pull on the price of grain futures. The result: Imaginary wheat dominates the price of real wheat, as speculators (traditionally one-fifth of the market) now outnumber bona-fide hedgers four-to-one.

Today, bankers and traders sit at the top of the food chain — the carnivores of the system, devouring everyone and everything below. Near the bottom toils the farmer. For him, the rising price of grain should have been a windfall, but speculation has also created spikes in everything the farmer must buy to grow his grain — from seed to fertilizer to diesel fuel. At the very bottom lies the consumer.

Don’t expect the US (or UK) government to do anything. The Vampire Squid owns the government and those same government bonds are what are being used to finance those warehouse operations. The bigger the deficit our government runs, the more money the squid has to do stuff like this. There is no end/reversibility to the cycle because it costs nothing to create money itself. Those warehouse operations are pure central planning — Goldman Sachs via the release of physical is deciding which metals/oil/food consumers get to live and which will die. Pretty neat — in a “those bastards should be hung” sort of way.

As a minnow, the best thing to take from this is — never assume that commodities prices are actually an expression of actual supply and/or demand.

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