Given the importance these benchmarks have in pricing crude worldwide, it is useful to review what they are before talking about their widening spreads.
Brent and WTI (West Texas Intermediate) are the two principal crude oil price benchmarks of global trade. Brent is set in London, WTI on the NYMEX in New York.
As I have observed in Money Morning on a number of occasions, neither benchmark actually reflects the quality of the oil traded worldwide.
On average, 85% of the oil in the international market on any given day is more sour (having a higher sulfur content) than either of these benchmarks. That means the actual trades are done at a discount to the price of one or the other of these standards.
Both are denominated in dollars, the currency in which virtually all oil consignments internationally are priced. That certainly is one primary reason for their continued use.
In addition, the daily liquidity of futures contracts traded in the world's two largest investment locations is yet a reason for their use.
Finally, with more than 200 benchmark rates for crude existing throughout the world, most having insufficient volume to constitute a basis for oil prices, there needs to be yardsticks to determine pricing differentials and swaps.
Those common yardsticks should be the most liquid and highest volume trading contracts available.
Brent and WTI fit the bill in all of these aspects, despite the fact they don't reflect the lower quality of most oil traded.
Oil Prices: Global Markets Favor Brent Crude
Still, the most interesting development since mid-August 2010 has been the following: despite representing lower quality oil, Brent has been trading at a premium to WTI.
Of the two, Brent has more sulfur content. That should result in a lower price rather than higher comparative price.
Actual trading conditions prompt a spread in favor of Brent for several reasons.
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