本周末《纽约时报》（New York Times）一篇报道称，高盛集团操纵铝价进而从可口可乐及其他产品的消费者身上获利约50亿美元。根据这篇报道，时间追溯到2003年，监管机构通过了一项规定，允许高盛集团和华尔街的其他公司涉足金融市场正常范畴以外的领域，使得它们能够收购实际参与大宗商品（包括铝等金属）买卖的公司。所以，高盛集团这样操作了。它在底特律购买了一系列仓库，用于铝金属储运。
而铝金属经常在仓库间转移的主要原因似乎源于伦敦金属交易所（London Metal Exchange，简称：LME）一个奇怪规定：它要求铝仓库每天移出3,000吨金属，无论持有者是什么身份。《纽约时报》这篇报道认为，这个规定的出发点比较可疑，因为伦敦金属交易所也可以因此从铝材仓储业务中获得额外增长的利润。因此，如果投资者既想长时间的囤积手中的铝，同时又不想违反这一规定，就必须每天把铝从一个仓库转移到另一个仓库。这也就增加了金属铝的持有成本。如果投资者想从中获利，就必须进一步加价。而最终结果就是导致铝价上涨，至少在公开市场是如此。也许这个才是真正推高铝价的幕后黑手。也就是说，使得我们每购买一罐可口可乐就要多花0.002美元、一年将近多花50亿美元的始作俑者是拙劣的监管规定，而不是高盛集团卑鄙的炒作手法。
If you bought a can of Coke this weekend, you might have paid $0.002 more because of Goldman Sachs. Worse, the car you drove to wherever it was that you bought that can of Coke cost $12 more than it should have, again because of Goldman (GS), which is like $1.09 more a year over the life of the car.
Of course, the fact that these amounts are small doesn't matter, as I have argued in the past. The black magic of Wall Street is figuring out how to take pennies from everyone and redistribute that money in the form of multi-million dollar bonuses to a relatively small number of people on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
But when you want to make the case that Wall Street is taking advantage of us -- that is, jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money, as one colorful reporter put it -- you have to look at how these amounts add up. And in the aluminum market, it's not clear that the case against Goldman does that.
The tale of how Goldman is manipulating the market for aluminum and boosting prices to the tune of $5 billion a year for Coke drinkers and others was laid out this weekend in an article in theNew York Times. According to the article, back in 2003, regulators passed a rule that allowed Goldman and other Wall Street firms to go outside the normal realm of financial markets and buy up companies that participate in the actual buying and selling of commodities, metals like aluminum. So Goldman did. It bought a group of warehouses in Detroit that store and ship aluminum.
The NYT makes a big deal about the fact that nearly none of the aluminum Goldman holds is ever shipped to customers. Instead, Goldman moves it from one warehouse to another, without any perceived purpose. Sketchy, right?
Maybe not. That's because Goldman's clients generally aren't Coke (KO) or GM (GM), or any other end user. Goldman's clients, like in the other parts of its business, are investors, who aren't in the business of making things. They have no actual use for the metal, other than to stockpile it, which is what Goldman does for them. When it is sold, the aluminum might end up being bought by another investor, who would put it in another warehouse, which could also be owned by Goldman.
Much of the movement of the metal, though, happens, it appears, because of a weird regulation, imposed by the London Metal Exchange -- the motivation of which, according to the Times article, is dubious because it too benefits from inflated profits in the warehousing business. The rule states that no matter who owns the aluminum, 3,000 tons of it have to be moved out of warehouses every day. So if investors want to hold their metal for long periods of time, they have to move it from one warehouse to another in order to not run afoul of the rules. That drives up the cost of holding onto the metal, and therefore the price that investors want to get paid when they sell it. And that results in a higher price of aluminum, at least in the public markets. So what may really be driving up the price of aluminum, and costing customers $0.002 more for a can of Coke, to the tune of $5 billion a year, is not a dastardly shipping scheme by Goldman, but some poorly written regulation.
What's more, Goldman's warehouses only hold 1.5 million tons of aluminum, a small fraction of the overall stock of the metal. So if anything, by the NYT's math, Goldman's take of its aluminum inflation efforts is $171 million. Much of the rest of the benefit would go to the aluminum industry. Still, a headline that read "Alcoa and other aluminum manufactures make $4.8 billion off poorly devised regulations that drives up the price of a can of soda $0.002" probably wouldn't have made the front page.