Petroleum futures trading and price volatility

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


This study investigates the effects of futures trading on petroleum price variability. Though a number of critics from various quarters claim futures markets have made petroleum prices more volatile, economic reasoning does not support this viewpoint.

A review of theoretical studies and empirical investigations of other commodities shows general support for the hypothesis that futures markets do not destabilize prices and may, in fact, add to price stability. In this study, regression analysis is used to explain the price variability of heating oil and gasoline in terms of factors that may affect this variability, including the existence of futures markets. Though the empirical tests performed are biased towards finding destabilizing effects of futures markets, no statistically significant increase in price volatility is found, and in the case of gasoline, indications of stabilizing effects are found. Thus, neither the results of other studies of futures markets nor examination of petroleum futures trading support the critics' contention that futures trading has destabilized petroleum prices.