Devil or angel? The role of speculation in the recent commodity price boom and bust

D.R. Sanders, S.H. Irwin, R.P. Merrin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


It is commonly asserted that speculative buying by index funds in commodity futures and over-the–counter derivatives markets created a “bubble“ in commodity prices, with the result that prices, and crude oil prices, in particular, far exceeded fundamental values at the peak. The purpose of this paper is to show that the bubble argument simply does not withstand close scrutiny. Four main points are explored. First, the arguments of bubble proponents are conceptually flawed and reflect fundamental and basic misunderstandings of how commodity futures markets actually work. Second, a number of facts about the situation in commodity markets are inconsistent with the existence of a substantial bubble in commodity prices. Third, available statistical evidence does not indicate that positions for any group in commodity futures markets, including long-only index funds, consistently lead futures price changes. Fourth, there is a historical pattern of attacks upon speculation during periods of extreme market volatility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-391
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Agricultural & Applied Economics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


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