Still, there are a few too many events that have
lined up so precisely over the last few months that it’s hard not to take
notice. A recent New York Times story 
observed the changes made to the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index back on August
9th, particularly its fortuitous timing. Heather Timmons writes:
Wholesale prices for New York Harbor unleaded gasoline, the major
gasoline contract traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange, dropped 18 cents a
gallon on Aug. 10, to $1.9889 a gallon, a decline of more than 8 percent, and
they have dropped further since then. In New York on Friday, gasoline futures
for October delivery rose 4.81 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $1.5492 a gallon.
Prices have fallen 9.4 percent this year.
The August announcement by
Goldman Sachs caught some traders by surprise. The firm said in early June that
it planned to roll its positions in the harbor contract into another futures
contract, the reformulated gasoline blendstock, which is replacing the harbor
contract at the end of the year because of changes to laws about gasoline
Later in June, Goldman said it had rolled a third of its
gasoline holdings into the reformulated contracts but would make further
announcements as to whether the remainder would be rolled over. Then in August,
the bank said it would not roll over any more positions into gasoline and would
redistribute the weighting into other petroleum products.
surprisingly, Goldman Sachs had no comment on the recent change.
looked at this commodity index some time ago as part of the work done for the Iacono Research  website, the
weightings from late June were already available in spreadsheet form. A
comparison between the composition from a few months ago to the most recent data
available at the GSCI  page of
Goldman’s website shows the following changes.
The Times article states that the adjustment prompted the sell-off of
some $6 billion in unleaded gasoline futures contracts, some of these being
replaced by Reformulated Gasoline Blendstock for Oxygen Blending ("RBOB")
futures and, as shown in the chart above, the rest being distributed to other
commodities. Note that there was a hefty decline in the natural gas weighting as
There have been many other factors at work contributing to plunging
energy prices over the last two months – the calming of tensions in the Middle
East, a mild hurricane season, and improving energy production around the world
- but the August 9th date serves as the peak for nearly all energy
The plunge of unleaded gasoline prices around this time is
clear in the chart below.
So, indulging some conspiratorial inklings just a bit further, a
reasonable question to ask is whether there might be a relationship between
falling gasoline prices and other energy prices. Were plunging gasoline prices
just part of a broad energy price deline or did it serve as a
The price of heating oil, for example is often affected by the
price of crude oil, and gasoline prices can impact how much traders will pay for
As it turns out, the end of the first week in August
marks a peak for almost all energy commodities – crude oil, heating oil,
gasoline, and more. But one look at the chart below and it becomes clear which
energy commodity led the others down.
With the exception of a brief exchange with always-volatile natural gas
shortly after August 9th, other energy prices appear to have been led down by the falling price of unleaded
gasoline. It looks like a contagion in the graphic above, spread by unleaded
gasoline and picked up by other energy commodities that were unable to fight off
Not until ten days before Aramanth Advisors fessed up to
their bad energy bets on the weekend of September 17th and 18th did the plunge
in natural gas prices surpass that of unleaded gas. Of course, owning near ten
percent of all natural gas contracts just prior to that fateful weekend, the
actions of Aramanth traders leading up to their confessional likely exacerbated
So, as far as conspiracy theories go, this is quite a good
one. The motivation for the commodity index change and the impact on other
energy prices will likely never be confirmed or corroborated, but it makes for
an interesting story.
Make a little change that causes $6 billion in
unleaded gasoline futures to be dumped onto the NYMEX, then watch prices tumble.
Stand clear, watching for traders like Aramanth to implode, and get ready to mop
up any other messes that arise during the process – all to relieve a little pain
at the pump, prior to the polls opening.
Some at the White House may be
patting themselves on the back figuring that the best thing they’ve done in
years was to get Hank Paulson to take the job at Treasury.
It’s good to
have friends in high places.