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  • Jesse Ledbetter

Market Price vs. Market Value

On April 20, 2020,the crude oil prices dropped 306% to a low of -$37.63. This period of volatility lasted for about 18 hours before returning to normal. How could a commodity return a negative value?! It didn't, it had a negative price - and "price" and "value" arent always the same thing.

Market speculators found themselves in an interesting position in 2020. Buying cheap oil contracts in the winter with the hope of selling them in the spring/summer travel season has always worked. Buy the contract to possess a barrel low, and sell the contract high. However, the spring/summer price increase wasn't coming due to Covid-19.


Market speculators found themselves at risk of having to take possession of thousands of barrels of oil in April of 2020, however, they had nowhere to put the oil, and the risk of being charged to store these barrels outweighed the possible gains. Speculators were compelled to get rid of these barrels as fast as they could, at a loss. During the worst 18 hours of this span, the market saw sales where the seller paid the buyer to take their oil.


WTI Crude Oil: June 2019 - Feb 2021


So, the market value of a barrel of oil was -$37.63? Could I walk into the local Shell Oil refinery and get paid to take their oil? No. The price dipped, but the value moved very little. A few panicked sellers don't define a market, nor do panicked buyers.


There are many articles about appraisers not keeping up with home prices, to which I would agree, that's not an appraiser's job. Merely because panic has set in, and buyers are throwing the kitchen sink at sellers to close a deal, doesn't mean that values are moving that fast. Value always lags behind price, and sometimes the two factors are unrelated altogether.

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