On April 20th, the day prior to the last day of trading and expiration of the May futures contract for WTI, the price of the May futures contract fell from $17.73 per barrel at the market open to a closing settlement price of negative $37.63 per barrel.  In the last 20 minutes of trading, buying was scarce as the price dropped approximately $40 per barrel. As a result of this unprecedented collapse, the price of the May crude oil futures contract became disconnected from the price of crude oil in the physical market and other derivative instruments.

According to the CFTC, The WTI contract is a key benchmark in the energy and financial markets. Businesses use the contract to manage their risks arising from energy prices.  The contract also is used by financial market participants to manage inflationary and other risks correlated to energy prices.  The extreme divergence between the price of the WTI futures contract and prices in the physical market particularly affected the market.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the “extreme market events” just prior to the expiration of the May WTI futures contract were caused by a variety of factors, including “the inability of contract holders to find other market participants to sell the futures contracts,” and the “scarcity and high cost of available crude oil storage,” which forced market participants who were unable to take delivery to pay counterparties to take their contract—in essence, negative prices.

Do we need contracts who disconnected from its underline commodity? do we have too much financial innovation and we went too far? the CFTC will provide more answers soon, stay tune.

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