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July 21, 2013 12:00 PM Goldman’s bets on aluminum kind of pay for themselves

By Samuel Knight

The New York Times published a lengthy report on commodities speculation, focusing on Goldman Sachs’ aluminum industry-distorting “investments.”

It seems like a good piece to read if you want a basic overview of how commodities speculation can work — bets on price increases themselves can be a self fulfilling prophesy when executed through supply control mechanisms:

In the case of aluminum, Goldman bought Metro International Trade Services, one of the country’s biggest storers of the metal. More than a quarter of the supply of aluminum available on the market is kept in the company’s Detroit-area warehouses.
Before Goldman bought Metro International three years ago, warehouse customers used to wait an average of six weeks for their purchases to be located, retrieved by forklift and delivered to factories. But now that Goldman owns the company, the wait has grown more than 20-fold — to more than 16 months, according to industry records.
Longer waits might be written off as an aggravation, but they also make aluminum more expensive nearly everywhere in the country because of the arcane formula used to determine the cost of the metal on the spot market. The delays are so acute that Coca-Cola and many other manufacturers avoid buying aluminum stored here. Nonetheless, they still pay the higher price.

This parasitic practice, the Times said, adds “many millions a year” to Goldman’s revenue stream.

The townsfolk couldn’t accumulate pitchforks to sharpen, however, due to an unexplained bottleneck in the pitchfork supply chain.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.

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