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I've been reading Craig Pirrongs Economics of Trading Firms published by Trafigura:

https://www.trafigura.com/media/1364/economics-commodity-trading-firms.pdf

Very informative read. The point I have yet to understand is, how is flat price risk actually calculated? My understanding is that the flat price risk is hedged using future contracts and other derivative contracts. Questioning my fundamental assumption that risk and return are directly linked, my question becomes what advantages are born if flat price risk had to be taken on, and hedging with derivatives is not an option? The context of my question being I'm trying to understand the risks measurement and management in physical commodity trades which are exclusively back to back (buyer and seller both exist) and positions and future contracts are not allowed. Are there alternative methods of hedging flat price risk that do not involve future contracts?

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The business model of trading firms like Trafigura, Vitol, Glencore and the likes is to not incur any open/unhedged risk, so physical contracts are almost always hedged with either A) offsetting physical contracts or B) financial derivatives (futures, swaps, options, the latter being rarely used) or C) proxies (contracts with similar price dynamics, but not referencing the same physical commodities).

ad A): No commodity market risk, only credit risk. By entering into a contract with the same timing and on the same commodity and same delivery location, commodity market risk is hedged out, remaining risk being credit risk

ad B): Commodity market risk is mostly hedged out, the trader remains subject to the physical vs. financial pricing differential. For futures and swaps, professional risk measurement frameworks would model the pricing differential and correctly capture the ensuing risk in VaR. Option hedging of commodities creates an asymmetric NPV vs commodity price profile, and needs to at least factor in option gamma to realistically capture position risk.

ad C): Proxies. This can be e.g. hedging a position in Brent with WTI. Professional risk measurement frameworks would model the pricing differential and correctly capture the ensuing risk in VaR.

As for your question on cases, where futures (i.e. exchange-based) hedging is not allowed, one would have to resort to forwards and swaps (i.e. OTC instruments), or trade in commodities which are decent proxies to the commodity to be hedged.

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