Friday, January 9, 2009

Contango in the oil market

Bloomberg reports that Investment Banks (I thought that they were extinct) are looking to rent super tankers to store oil for future delivery. They want to take advantage of the contango in the futures market for oil. Contango is the amount a futures price exceeds the spot price.

Ordinarily, you shouldn't be able to buy the oil today and sell a futures contract for future delivery and then make money by storing the oil. But apparently, because traders are worried about a severe cut in OPEC supply in the future, the futures price is much higher.

An interesting data point from the article reveals that it costs about 80-90 cents per month to store a barrel of oil on a super tanker. So, given that:
West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures for March delivery are trading at $45.98 a barrel, about $4.78 more than the February contract.
This means that you could make well over $4 a barrel just storing Oil in March. An example of a supertanker mentioned in the article holds a million barrels. Of course there is also the cost of borrowing to pay for the oil up front, but with interest rates as low as they are, this shouldn't be too significant.