Ethanol credit speculation – for dummies

Speculators are being blamed for increases in ethanol RIN credits!  Renewable Identification Number (RIN) credits are issued to manufacturers for every gallon of ethanol that they blend into gasoline.  All manufacturers are required to meet targets for blending ethanol into their gasoline – in order to meet national Renewable Fuels Standards.  If they fail to meet their targets, they have to pay substantial penalties.  Some manufacturers exceed their targets so they have excess credits that they are allowed to sell.  Others fail to meet their targets and either have to purchase credits from other manufacturers or pay the penalties.  If, for the entire market, it appears there will be a shortage then the price of the credits will go up.  If it were possible for a few speculators to “corner the market”, then they might be able to hold out for higher prices.  But, the there were truly a shortage, then manufacturers who have excess credits could just as easily do the same.  In either case, this puts pressure on manufacturers to blend more ethanol.  If there is a shortage of ethanol, then the price of ethanol should rise.  If the price of ethanol rises than ethanol producers will try to increase their production to capture more profit.  In any case, the credits are doing what they are supposed to do: reward manufacturers who blend excess gallons and penalize those who blend less than their target.  If the entire market is below the target, then there will be incentives to produce more ethanol.  Speculators help the market to work as it was intended.  The real problem here is the entire Renewable Fuel Standards that uses force, in the form of money penalties, to make everyone use more ethanol than they would in a voluntary market.  This is a classic case of unintended consequences that occurs when people discover, as Friedrich Hayek wrote, “…how little they know about what they imagine they can design.”

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