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Why Don't We See Congressional Panels On Commodity Prices Other Than Oil & Gas?

image credit: Volatility of commodities
Ron Miller's picture
Principal, Reliant Energy Solutions LLC

Ron Miller is an energy industry expert creating value by analyzing assets, markets, and power usage to identify, monetize, and implement profitable energy and emission reduction projects. He is...

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  • Dec 9, 2022
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In today’s markets we see large changes in the prices of different commodities we use each day. Some of these changes are exacerbated by the continuing high inflation the U.S. is only recently experiencing, and some changes are a function of the fundamental laws of supply and demand. This article will focus on changes in commodity prices that catch federal legislators’ eyes with a bent toward punishing certain commodity producers due to large price swings.

Background:

We will first look at several commodities and their five-year high/low prices including steel, soybeans, wheat, crude oil, lumber, and copper.

On 13 Mar 2020, steel rebar traded at $3,452 per ton, while on 12 May 2022 it traded at 5,947 per ton, a 72% increase.

Graph 1 – Five Year Steel Prices

Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/steel

On 13 Mar 2020, soybeans traded at $845 per bushel, while on 30 May 2022 it traded at $1,719 per bushel, a 103% increase.

Graph 2 – Five Year Soybean Prices

Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/soybeans

On 17 Mar 2020, copper traded at $2.10 per pound while on 4 Mar 2022 it traded at $4.90 per pound, a 133% increase.

Graph 3 – Five Year Copper Prices

Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/copper

On 21 Feb 2020, crude oil traded at $53.45 per barrel, while on 11 Mar 2022 it traded at $118.97 per barrel, a 123% increase.

Graph 4 – Five Year Crude Oil Prices

Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/crude-oil

On 28 Mar 2020, wheat traded at $507 per bushel, while on 11 Mar 2022 it traded at $1,278 per bushel, a 152% increase.

Graph 5 – Five Year Wheat Prices

Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/wheat

On 30 Mar 2020, lumber traded at $264 per 1,000 board-feet, while on 30 May 2022 it traded at $1,686 per 1,000 board-feet, a 539% increase.

Graph 6 – Five Year Lumber Prices

Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/lumber

Analysis:

To summarize the five-year high-low prices for these six commodities, Table 1 lists the prices and percentage swings in descending percentages of price change from low to high.

Table 1 – Five Year High-Low Prices For Various Commodities

Since these are only six selected commodities that may not be the ones with the largest low/high price swings in these inflationary times, they could stand as a harbinger of recent commodity price increases.

Reviewing Table 1, the price swings of crude oil came in at 4th place behind lumber, wheat, and copper, though not very much higher than soybeans. Comparing crude oil with lumber, crude oil’s low/high price swing was 23% of that for lumber.

During 2022, we have seen several announcements from Washington on the “gouging” by oil marketers, threats of a Congressional Panel to investigate oil price fixing/illegal market behavior, and a threat of an oil Windfall Profits Tax.

The key, logical, and common sense questions are:

  1. When crude oil low/high price swings are only 23% that of lumber, 81% of wheat, and 92% of copper, why is it being singled out for legislative and executive action?
  1. Why hasn’t Congress investigated the lumber, wheat, and copper markets, suppliers, and value chain for their alleged improprieties?
  2. In the eyes of Congress, why does the free enterprise, capitalistic market work seem to work for lumber, wheat, and copper following the laws of supply and demand, but not for crude oil?
  3. If we believe Washington-speak, why aren’t the lumber, wheat, and copper industries under scrutiny for a Windfall Profits Tax as well?

Perhaps, Washington wishes to single out a commodity in distant 4th place for public scrutiny, while keeping a blind eye to other commodities which have experienced much wider low/high price swings in roughly the same time period.

A former boss mentioned to me years ago regarding corporate rules, “I don’t mind any rules, as long as they apply uniformly and fairly to all”.

Perhaps Washington and U.S. Congress should take his advice to be even-handed in the criticism and potential legislation/regulation they create for industry.

When the following information request, “anti-trust cases won against the oil and gas industry” was Googled, the result was “Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States (1911) is a U.S. Supreme Court case holding that Standard Oil Company, a major oil conglomerate in the early 20th century, violated the Sherman Antitrust Act through anticompetitive actions, i.e. forming a monopoly, and ordered that the company be geographically split.” This is the only anti-trust lawsuit won against the oil and gas industry in America, and after 111 years of trying, this is best the government can muster.

To learn more of the apparent discrimination that our current leaders in Washington have for the domestic oil and gas industry, please see my LinkedIn article, “The Washington War On Hydrocarbons” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/washington-war-hydrocarbons-ron-miller-pe-mba-cem-rep/?published=t

Summary:

  1. Commodity price swings occur in a capitalistic, free enterprise system due to weather, market supply, market demand, global competition, and regulation.
  2. The U.S. has a number of anti-trust laws to guard the public from illegal behavior of industry colluding and fixing prices for their advantage.
  3. The public should be on alert of the federal government’s prejudiced view of market commodity price swings, and take any unsubstantiated accusations against the domestic oil and gas industry, for just what they are…unsubstantiated accusations by politicians. In America, a person (and a corporation/industry) is still innocent until found guilty by a jury of their peers).

Copyright © December 2022 Ronald L. Miller All Rights Reserved

Discussions
Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Dec 10, 2022

Ah, Ron, I don't want to get into another fight.  But having gone through the 1970s, when OPEC was formed as a cartel to control oil prices, and certainly not in the interest of American or Western consumers, attention on the oil and gas industries is natural.  Copper is your closest case for a cartel, which could cooperate with the American companies behind closed doors.  Lumber and wheat, as of the moment, will not make it.  One study of one of the many attempts at trying to make a copper cartel is https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03585522.2019.1663761

 

Ron Miller's picture
Ron Miller on Dec 13, 2022

I too remember OPEC and the gas lines of the 70's, along with stagflation, 16% mortgage rates. (We don't want to go back). OPEC is a different animal as a cartel purposefully constraining supply to get the price the deem appropriate, vs. investor-owned oil/gas companies being hounded for making too much profit when they only control 5% of world oil and don't control global prices.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Dec 13, 2022

I'd say itis because oil and NG and Nuclear are all subsidised and have been for over 100 years. If truly was a free enterprise then the price could go where it needs to.

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Dec 25, 2022

Well, Ron, here we go again. The Investor-Owned companies can be seen as playing along with OPEC's price, and not trying to cheat, or at least not openly trying to lower the price. My read of OPEC, based on 2021 Thousand Barrels per day from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, is that they control 31745 thousand barrels per day, for about 35% of the total of 89877 thousand barrels per day produced worldwide. So they are an effective cartel. I don't dispute that the Investor-Owned companies don't control more than 5% of the production. What is open to question is whether the capital discipline, which is such that the companies don't want to get caught again as in 1982 and thereafter, is such that it is conspiratorial. Are you cooperating with the cartel to save yourself, or are you cooperating to take advantage of others and hide behind the cartel? This is a somewhat ridiculous question now, as gasoline prices have fallen considerably. It may come back in the summer of 2023.

Moreover, we have The New York Times story of oil company duplicity on climate change, which raises suspicion that duplicity is not limited to just that: 

 

Ron Miller's picture
Thank Ron for the Post!
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