WTI Oil Enters Backwardation

Oil traders just provided another sign that the market is rebalancing.

The WTI calendar spread for the next six months moved from “contango” into “backwardation” Tuesday. To explain, a calendar spread measures the difference in price between any pair of oil contracts with different delivery dates and can explain the current supply-demand balance in the market.

These oil futures contracts are financial instruments that carry legally binding obligations — so a buyer and a seller have the obligation to take or make delivery of an underlying instrument, such as oil, at a specified settlement date in the future.


West Texas Intermediate graph

In this particular case, the spread or measure is of the next month’s oil contract against another in seven months from now. This is otherwise known as the 6-month spread, and currently underscores a growing level of immediate demand for WTI crude as inventories shrink.

According to Reuters data, it is the first time this measure has slipped into “backwardation” since November 20, 2014.

Backwardation is when the current price of oil is higher than a future cost of oil. It is seen as a sign of higher immediate demand. Conversely, contango is when the futures price of oil is higher than the spot delivery price.

As the chart below indicates, WTI has just moved into backwardation, while Brent crude — on the same 6-month spread basis — moved into backwardation earlier this year.

via CNBC

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Alfonso Esparza

Alfonso Esparza

Senior Currency Analyst at Market Pulse
Alfonso Esparza specializes in macro forex strategies for North American and major currency pairs. Upon joining OANDA in 2007, Alfonso Esparza established the MarketPulseFX blog and he has since written extensively about central banks and global economic and political trends. Alfonso has also worked as a professional currency trader focused on North America and emerging markets. He has been published by The MarketWatch, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and The Globe and Mail, and he also appears regularly as a guest commentator on networks including Bloomberg and BNN. He holds a finance degree from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) and an MBA with a specialization on financial engineering and marketing from the University of Toronto.
Alfonso Esparza