Lifted from comments cactus style:
Reader juan suggests:
IT’S NOT EASY TO SIZE UP THE influence of the index funds. But based on their known cash commitments in certain commodities, and the commodity indexes their prospectuses say they track, it is possible to estimate the size of their commitments in all commodities they buy. Using this method, analyst Briese…estimates that the index funds hold about $211 billion worth of bets on the buy side in U.S. markets.
Applying a similar method, but with slightly different assumptions for indexes tracked, Bianco Research analyst Greg Blaha puts that figure at $194 billion. Either figure is enough to turn the index funds into the behemoths of the commodity pits, where total bullish positions now stand at $568 billion.
That this large, bullishly oriented group of funds is flourishing is partly a result of a regulatory anomaly. In recognition of the fact that the commodity markets are too small to absorb an excess of speculative dollars, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in conjunction with exchanges, imposes position limits on speculators. But the agency has effectively exempted the index funds from position limits.
The speculators, now so bullish, are mainly the index funds. To see how their influence on the market has become outsized, just look at how they operate. Nearly $9 out of every $10 of index-fund money is not traded directly on the commodity exchanges, but instead goes through dealers that belong to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA). These swaps dealers lay off their speculative risk on the organized commodity markets, while effectively serving as market makers for the index funds. By using the ISDA as a conduit, the index funds get an exemption from position limits that are normally imposed on any other speculator, including the $1 in every $10 of index-fund money that does not go through the swaps dealers.
The purpose of position limits on speculators, which date back to 1936, is clearly stated in the rules: It’s to protect these relatively small markets from price distortions. An exemption is offered only to “bona fide hedgers” (not to be confused with “hedge funds”), who take offsetting positions in the physical commodity.
The basic argument put forward by the CFTC for exempting swaps dealers is that they, too, are offsetting other positions — those taken with the index funds.
There’s really no question unless one rigidly adheres to a type of efficient market thesis.