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Munich Personal RePEc Archive

The Negative Pricing of the May 2020 WTI Contract

Adrian, Fernandez-Perez and Ana-Maria, Fuertes and Joelle, Miffre (2022): The Negative Pricing of the May 2020 WTI Contract. Forthcoming in: The Energy Journal

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Abstract

This paper sheds light on the negative pricing of the May 2020 WTI futures contract (CLK20) on April 20, 2020. The super contango of early 2020, triggered by COVID-19 lockdowns and geopolitical tensions, incentivized cash and carry (C&C) traders to be long CLK20 and short distant contracts, while simultaneously booking storage at Cushing. Our investigation reveals that C&C arbitrage largely contributed to the lack of storage capacity at Cushing in April 2020 and the price crash relates to the reversing trades of many long CLK20 traders without pre-booked storage. Additional aggravating factors included a liquidity crush, staggering margin calls and potential price distortions due to the trade-at-settlement mechanism. The analysis suggests that claims from experts that hold index trackers responsible for the crash are unwarranted: Index trackers did not trigger the negative pricing, nor widen the futures-spot spread by rolling their positions to more distant contracts ahead of maturity.

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