Recently there was an interesting article at Spiegel Online regarding the faces of commodity speculation, as told by a farmer, baker, banker, and hedge fund manager. The use of the futures market by both the farmer and baker (hedging against falling and rising prices, respectively) are well known, as is the interest by both investment bankers and hedge funds, but the perspectives offered by the participants are interesting nonetheless.
While the article highlights only four individuals/institutions, and is somewhat anecdotal, it does offer a few observations. For instance, the following quote from the farmer is telling: "Farmers who don't have supply contracts at the moment are now calling the shots." This particular farmer, who had not yet signed a contract, is planning to sell only half of his crop to the cooperative at the end of July at the current price. He then plans to store another 50% until at least October in silos in the hope that prices will rise further. He admits that farming is becoming more speculative and that he is willing to take the risk. Quiet a turn of events and roles.
The baker on the other hand is worried about speculation and the associated risk, and is still worried that his raw material costs will be too high. As prices have increased, he is being forced to pass cost increases on to his customers, and is worried that the markets he must now operate in are too unpredictable. Since the EU has abolished intervention prices - which had helped to regulate the market he operates in, prices are now set at the CME, which he worries is being driven by speculators.
The investment banker is, not unexpectedly, trying to take advantage of the market by offering new products, such as certificates whose value rises or falls along with the price of food commodity contracts on the CME. Of interest from the investment banker is the quote of how they want to "provide each private investor with a toolkit he can use as if he were a hedge fund manager worth millions." This brings back memories of people quitting their day jobs in the late 1990s to trade stocks online at home, only to see the market correct violently. As has been pointed out by others numerous times before, when the average investor begins talking about securities and markets that he or she never talked about before (day trading tech stocks before, commodities and futures this time around), it is usually the sign that a top in the market is near.
Finally, a hedge fund manager was interviewed and pointed out that he no longer trades crude oil futures (ironically, since they are too speculative), but continues to watch them closely, since at the moment "... oil futures are the measuring stick for everything." Whether trading in oil futures or not, the fund manager needs to know how high crude oil might go given that its price has such a strong impact on the stocks he trades. Many other traders have also expressed how crude oil is affecting nearly every other asset, and how crude oil itself is becoming the new global currency. Right now that currency is in an uptrend, but volatile, and worrying market participants of a correction.