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Backwardation in Oil Futures Markets: Theory and Empirical Evidence

Posted: 22 Aug 1998  

Robert H. Litzenberger

University of Pennsylvania - Finance Department

Nir Rabinowitz

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Abstract

Oil futures prices are often below spot prices. This phenomenon, known as strong backwardation, is inconsistent with Hotelling's theory under certainty that the net price of an exhaustible resource rises over time at the rate of interest. We introduce uncertainty and characterize oil wells as call options. We show that (1) production occurs only if discounted futures are below spot prices, (2) production is non-increasing in the riskiness of future prices, and (3) strong backwardation emerges if the riskiness of future prices is sufficiently high. The empirical analysis indicates that U.S. oil production is inversely related and backwardation is directly related to implied volatility.

JEL Classification: G13

Suggested Citation

Litzenberger, Robert H. and Rabinowitz, Nir, Backwardation in Oil Futures Markets: Theory and Empirical Evidence. JOURNAL OF FINANCE, Vol. 50 No. 5, December 1995. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=6862

Robert H. Litzenberger (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Finance Department ( email )

The Wharton School
3620 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Nir Rabinowitz

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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