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Daily Archives: May 23, 2008

Pension funds and commodity speculation

"[Commodities] are experiencing demand shock from a new category of speculators: institutional investors like corporate and government pension funds, university endowments, and sovereign wealth funds," said Michael Masters, managing member of Masters Capital Management, a Virgin Islands-based hedge fund. "Index speculators are the primary cause of the recent price spikes in commodities."

…Masters distinguished between traditional speculators and what he calls index speculators, or passive investors who enter the commodities markets as a long-term hedge against inflation. Commodities exchanges limit the number of positions an investor can take in the market, but Masters says the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has allowed unlimited speculation in these markets through a loophole.

Speculative activity in commodity markets has grown dramatically over the last several years. In the past decade, the share of long interests—positions that benefit when prices rise—held by financial speculators has grown from one-quarter to two-thirds of the commodity market. In only five years, from 2003 to 2008, investment in index funds tied to commodities has grown twentyfold, from $13 billion to $260 billion.

Foreign intervention and democracy

Do superpower interventions to install and prop up political leaders in other countries subsequently result in more or less democracy, and does this effect vary depending on whether the intervening superpower is democratic or authoritarian? While democracy may be expected to decline contemporaneously with superpower interference, the effect on democracy after a few years is far from obvious. The absence of reliable information on covert interventions has hitherto served as an obstacle to seriously addressing these questions.

The recent declassification of Cold War CIA and KGB documents now makes it possible to systematically address these questions in the Cold War context. We thus develop a new panel dataset of superpower interventions during the Cold War. We find that superpower interventions are followed by significant declines in democracy, and that the substantive effects are large. Perhaps surprisingly, once endogeneity is addressed, US and Soviet interventions have equally detrimental effects on the subsequent level of democracy; both decrease democracy by about 33%. Our findings thus suggest that one should not expect significant differences in the adverse institutional consequences of superpower interventions based on whether the intervening superpower is a democracy or a dictatorship.