RBD soybean oil basis futures contracts: The benefits

As the Intercontinental Exchange launches the first RBD soybean oil futures contract, David Becker explains the advantages of having an exchange-traded derivative and how this will help protect against price volatility

On April 22, 2024, the Intercontinental Exchange will list a refined, bleached and deodorized (RBD) soybean oil basis futures contract. Significant volatility in the basis over the last five years has led to some extensive swings in costs and revenues for those who purchase and sell RBD soybean oil. The benefits of having an exchange-traded derivative that matches the movements of a product widely consumed in the United States will help stabilize cash flows, improve budgeting and reduce the volatility of profits for those exposed to the movements of RBD soybean oil.

What is RBD soybean oil?

Refined, bleached and deodorized (RBD) soybean oil is a type of vegetable oil that undergoes a series of processing steps to enhance its quality, flavor and stability. The RBD process involves refining, bleaching and deodorizing crude soybean oil to create a clear, odorless, neutral-flavored cooking oil suitable for various culinary applications. Refined soybean oil is also utilized in non-food applications, such as renewable diesel, biodiesel, lubricants, cosmetics and personal care products. Its versatility and stability make it a valuable ingredient in various industries.

How is RBD soybean oil created?

Refining soybean oil involves removing impurities from crude soybean oil, such as free fatty acids, pigments and undesirable flavors. This step typically includes degumming, neutralization and filtration to produce a clean and clear oil with improved quality.

Bleaching is the next step in the RBD process, where the oil is treated with natural or chemical agents, such as activated carbon or clay, to remove any remaining impurities and color pigments. This process helps to improve the appearance and shelf stability of the oil.

Deodorization is the final step in the RBD process, where the oil is heated under a vacuum to remove any residual odors and volatile compounds. This process eliminates unwanted flavors and ensures that the soybean oil has a neutral taste suitable for various cooking applications.

Typical uses of RBD soybean oil

RBD soybean oil is a versatile cooking oil widely used for frying, baking, sautéing and general cooking. According to Fastmarkets, slightly more than 40% of the soybeans consumed in the United States are RBD for food use. RBD soybean oil is commonly used in food processing to produce snacks, baked goods, dressings, marinades and sauces. Refined soybean oil is also utilized in non-food applications, such as renewable and biodiesel.

What is the RBD soybean oil basis?

The basis between different types of refined soybean oil refers to the price difference between various grades or qualities of soybean oil products. This price differential can be influenced by factors such as quality specifications, processing methods, market demand and supply, supply chain logistics and specific uses or applications of the different types of soybean oil. Understanding the basis between various types of refined soybean oil is essential for market participants to assess price differentials and make informed trading decisions.

The RBD soybean oil basis reflects the difference between the price of crude soybean oil in Chicago* and RBD Soybean oil in central Illinois, as reported by Fastmarkets.

How do RBD soybean oil basis futures contracts work?

The Intercontinental Exchange RBD Soybean Oil basis futures contract trades as a differential to the Chicago price in cents per pound. The final settlement is a cash settlement, in cents per pound, based on the monthly average daily prices in the determination period (calendar month). The futures contract is cash-settled.

A cash-settled commodity futures contract is a type of financial derivative agreement where parties agree to buy or sell a specified quantity of a commodity at a predetermined price in the future. Unlike physically settled futures contracts, where the actual delivery of the underlying commodity occurs at expiration, cash-settled futures contracts are settled in cash based on the difference between the transaction price and the actual final contract settlement at expiration. Participants can trade in and out of contracts just like physically settled contracts.

For example, if you purchased one RBD Soybean basis futures contract at 10 cents per pound and the final settlement of the Fastmarkets RBD price for the calendar month was 15 cents per pound, you would gain five cents per pound multiplied by 60,000, which equals $3,000.

How volatile is the RBD basis?

The RBD basis can be volatile. The chart shows the RBD basis overlayed with a rolling 12-week historical volatility. Historical volatility has been as high as 130% and as low as 17% during the past five years. Price volatility increases risks for businesses and investors, affecting profitability, cash flow, and financial stability. Mitigating volatility through risk management strategies such as commodity hedging, diversification, and insurance helps protect against adverse price movements and minimize potential losses.

Why does the industry need an RBD soybean oil basis futures contract?

The volatility of the RBD basis can be significant. Since most soybean oil is refined, what is clear is that physical players that are exposed to RBD soybean oil can experience a substantial hit to their bottom line if they decide to hedge using a proxy or forego hedging completely.

Using 60,000 pounds of RBD soybean oil basis, the profit and loss chart shows that exposure to one contract over a quarter (12 weeks) can lead to profit and loss changes as high as +14,000 or -11,000. Mitigating price volatility is crucial for various stakeholders across industries to manage risks, ensure financial stability, and make informed decisions. High price volatility can lead to uncertainty, market fluctuations, and potential financial losses, impacting businesses, investors, consumers, and the overall industry.

The listing of a refined, bleached, and deodorized (RBD) soybean oil basis futures contract on April 22, 2024, by the Intercontinental Exchange aims to address significant volatility in the basis experienced over the past five years, resulting in substantial cost and revenue fluctuations for buyers and sellers of RBD soybean oil. Introducing an exchange-traded derivative that mirrors the movements of a product extensively consumed in the United States is expected to bring several benefits to market participants. By providing a mechanism to hedge against price fluctuations, the futures contract will help stabilize cash flows, enhance budgeting accuracy, and reduce profit volatility for those exposed to price movements in RBD soybean oil. This initiative offers risk management tools that promote financial stability, predictability and improved decision-making for industry stakeholders in the soybean oil market.

*The soybean oil price in Chicago is the settlement price of the prompt month CME soybean oil futures contract.

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