Contango Versus Backwardation

by Walter Pehowich

A good Wednesday morning to you all. CME Future prices have a story to tell in certain circumstances. Today’s topic: How the spot price can affect future prices.

Let’s examine the difference between a Contango market and a market in backwardation. First lets define the two and describe what I look for when the availability of physical metal gets tight:

  • Contango market: This is a condition where the forward prices exceed the spot price creating an upward curve in pricing.
    Example: December gold $1,100, February gold $1,101, April gold $1,102, June gold $1,103.
  • Backwardation market:This is the opposite condition where forward prices create a downward curve and spot prices exceed the forward prices.
    Example: December gold $1,100, February gold $1,099, April gold $1,098, June gold $1,097.

If the gold market is in a Contango, future price condition means that physical gold is attainable for the most part, and a backwardation will indicate a tightening of supply. The spot price in a backwardated market will have no limits and can trade in large differences to the future months until the metal becomes more available.

Current spot month open interest has a significant effect on the backwardation of the spot price as the days dwindle down to the end of the month, resulting in delivery issues on the exchange.
The old Wall Street guru always says: ‚ÄúThere are four things to remember when you begin your career on Wall Street. When entertaining a client, never talk about food, politics or religion and most important, never go into a delivery month with a short position unless you have the metal to deliver.”

We will be watching these levels in the future and report to you any interesting scenarios.

Have a wonderful day.

Walter Pehowich is the executive vice president of precious metals investment services for Dillon Gage with over 38 years of experience in precious metals investment services. His career began in 1977 at Bache (which evolved to Prudential-Bache Securities and then Jefferies Investment Bank). While at Jefferies, he served as senior vice president with oversight of investment grade precious metal products. Pehowich holds a National Futures Association (NFA) Series 3 license, authorizing him to advise and sell alternative investments in commodities and futures markets.