Karen Petrou: Why the Fed Might Bail Out the Commodity Market

2023-03-27T15:57:01-04:00March 28th, 2022|The Vault|

In the midst of chaos, volatility always makes matters worse and this is very much the case with the commodities sector.  This has led to growing speculation that central banks will step in should unprecedented price swings show signs of systemic impact.  As we noted, we don’t know a central banker that wants to bail out commodities.  But none of them wanted to bail out anyone else either.  If market stress turns systemic, then central banks will step in.  Indeed, they may intervene even if stress seems manageable if they also believe that public welfare is at risk when core commodities go from pricey to prohibitive.

In the U.S., the Fed will resist calls to backstop commodities companies or traders for as long as it can by citing what it believes to be its limited mandate even as it argues that its anti-inflation policies will stabilize markets – just you wait.  However, whatever the Fed is able to do about inflation will take time and whatever it does about its portfolio to address inflation will exacerbate commodity-market stress.

Three possible sources of extreme volatility are already on the horizon.

First, there’s the liquidity stress sparked by CCP margin demands.  This was the culprit in the letter from energy traders to the European Central Bank and it’s at least as much of a factor in the U.S.  The more commodity-market volatility, the higher clearinghouse initial and variation margin demands and the harder it is to post eligible assets already scarce …