Backwardation is a term commonly used in the world of finance to describe a specific market condition that occurs in commodity futures markets. It is characterized by an unusual situation where the future price of a commodity is lower than its spot price.
Backwardation is often observed in commodity markets, particularly those for perishable goods or commodities with limited storage capacities. When a market is in backwardation, it indicates that there is immediate demand and a shortage of supply for the underlying commodity.
Such a condition can be attributed to various factors, including natural disasters affecting the supply chain, geopolitical tensions disrupting production or transportation, or even seasonal fluctuations. The scarcity of the commodity in the present prompts investors to be willing to pay a premium for immediate delivery. This results in a higher spot price compared to the future price.
Backwardation can have significant implications for market participants, including traders, speculators, and hedgers. Traders and speculators often use backwardation as a signal of short-term scarcity and increased market volatility. They can take advantage of this condition by purchasing the commodity at the lower futures price and selling it in the spot market at a higher price, aiming to profit from the price difference. On the other hand, hedgers, such as producers or consumers of the underlying commodity, may face difficulties in managing their risk. The higher spot prices can increase production costs for manufacturers, while consumers may experience higher prices for the end product. In the chart below, the spot price is above the futures price, creating a downward sloping forward curve.