Spot market, where financial instruments or commodities are sold for immediate delivery, unlike the futures market where they are sold for delivery at a later date. Wikipedia said a spot market can be an organized market, an exchange or over-the-counter (O.T.C.).
Regarding the spot market price of aluminum: Goldman Sachs was accused of bottlenecking aluminum at Goldman’s Metro International aluminum warehouses outside Detroit, increasing customers’ delivery wait times since purchasing M.I. in 2010 from six weeks to sixteen months by first lowering prices to attract a stockpile (“50,000 tons in 2008” to “~1.5 million currently”) and then, actually, trucking a minimum daily regulatory-defined shipment amount of 3000 tons back and forth among the 27 warehouses. There were also accusations of understaffing, reduced shifts and prioritizing putting aluminum into storage over taking it out. The shuttle-shuffled delays raised a premium added to the price of all aluminum, driving up the spot market price “according to an arcane formula” even for metals bought directly from mines or refineries to bypass these warehouses. While delaying delivery the warehouses also continued charging rent on the stored metal. Perfectly legal according to current international regulations, apparently set by the London Metal Exchange.
The London Metal Exchange might need more disentanglement from the entities it is supposed to regulate. According to the NYTimes.com article, it still receives 1% of the rents collected by the ~700 warehouses it regulates around the world. Until 2012 it was owned by its member regulees, including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Barclays and Citigroup. Many of its metals warehousing regulations were written by a board populated by executives from banks, trading companies and storage companies. In July 2012 the L.M.E. was sold to Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, part-owned by the Hong Kong government, for ~$2 billion. A NYTimes.com description of the 2012 sale said it “will allow the Asian company to control the world’s largest futures trading exchange for metals like aluminum, copper and zinc, as emerging market demand for commodities remains strong.” In 2012 Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing was supposedly hoping to get an exemption from Chinese laws preventing foreign companies from owning these sorts of metals warehouses in China.
The U.S.’s Federal Reserve Board could, said NYTimes.com, quit extending exemptions that allow banks like Goldman Sachs to invest in nonfinancial enterprises. Though the Fed’s stated conditions in allowing banks to diversify into commodities investment were “only if there was no risk to the banking system” and if the deals “could ‘reasonably be expected to produce benefits to the public, such as greater convenience, increased competition, or gains in efficiency, that outweigh possible adverse effects, such as undue concentration of resources, decreased or unfair competition, conflicts of interests, or unsound banking practices,'” yet many people would say its deregulation achieves the opposite effects, that big “diversified” banks’ risk management still appears to endanger U.S. and world economies and now banks’ having bought up important infrastructure might be presenting them with irresistable temptations such as artificial bottlenecking or even information advantages not all traders always refrain from using.
Update on 25 Jul 2013: The U.S. Senate’s banking committee has criticized that the Federal Reserve is not communicating well with them. However, wrote the F.A.Z., the U.S. Congress could pass its own banking reregulation rules without waiting for the Federal Reserve.
It’s unclear whether shadow trades are involved here, but it’s also unclear why everyone hasn’t gone broke if this is how they’re doing business:
“Industry analysts and company insiders say that the vast majority of the aluminum being moved around Metro’s warehouses is owned not by manufacturers or wholesalers, but by banks, hedge funds and traders. They buy caches of aluminum in financing deals. Once those deals end and their metal makes it through the queue, the owners can choose to renew them, a process known as rewarranting.”
If Goldman is indeed paying aluminum owners, fellow speculators, to rewarrant their metal and leave it in the warehouses piling up rent owed to Goldman, that might indicate some creative profits or at least useful losses are being made.
Aluminum is economically important enough that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has been giving aluminum refineries, notoriously high-volume electricity consumers, various electricity rebates that must be paid for by individual consumers or “ratepayers” in their home electricity bills because, Germany’s government said, the preservation of the aluminium supply was that significant for their economy as a whole.