Could rapidly falling oil prices trigger a nightmare scenario for the commodity derivatives market? The big Wall Street banks did not expect plunging home prices to cause a mortgage-backed securities implosion back in 2008, and their models did not anticipate a decline in the price of oil by more than 40 dollars in less than six months this time either. If the price of oil stays at this level or goes down even more, someone out there is going to have to absorb some absolutely massive losses. In some cases, the losses will be absorbed by oil producers, but many of the big players in the industry have already locked in high prices for their oil next year through derivatives contracts. The companies enter into these derivatives contracts for a couple of reasons. Number one, many lenders do not want to give them any money unless they can show that they have locked in a price for their oil that is higher than the cost of production. Secondly, derivatives contracts protect the profits of oil producers from dramatic swings in the marketplace. These dramatic swings rarely happen, but when they do they can be absolutely crippling. So the oil companies that have locked in high prices for their oil in 2015 and 2016 are feeling pretty good right about now. But who is on the other end of those contracts? In many cases, it is the big Wall Street banks, and if the price of oil does not rebound substantially they could be facing absolutely colossal losses.
It has been estimated that the six largest “too big to fail” banks control$3.9 trillion in commodity derivatives contracts. And a very large chunk of that amount is made up of oil derivatives.
By the middle of next year, we could be facing a situation where many of these oil producers have locked in a price of 90 or 100 dollars a barrel on their oil but the price has fallen to about 50 dollars a barrel.
In such a case, the losses for those on the wrong end of the derivatives contracts would be astronomical.