The Metallgesellschaft Saga: A Case Study in Financial Risk Management for FRM Part I

Introduction (Relevant for FRM Exam)

Every once in a while, a financial disaster unfolds that becomes a case study, providing valuable lessons for future generations. The story of Metallgesellschaft’s hedging disaster is one such example. This German conglomerate’s misadventure in the oil markets in the United States resulted in one of the most notable disasters in financial risk management. Let’s delve into the tale and examine the lessons it holds for us. This case study is very important for FRM Part I exam and is part of foundations of risk management subject.

The Deal

In the early 1990s, Metallgesellschaft (MG), a massive German conglomerate with diverse interests, decided to venture into the oil business in the United States through its subsidiary, MG Corp. The subsidiary entered into several long-term contracts (10-12 years) with clients, promising to deliver heating oil, diesel, and gasoline at fixed prices.

To hedge against future price fluctuations in the oil market, MG Corp implemented a strategy that involved short-term futures contracts. The hedging strategy was based on a roll-over approach – as contracts neared expiry, they would be replaced by new contracts. This strategy assumed that oil prices would remain stable or rise over time.

The Fall

However, the premise upon which MG’s strategy was based turned out to be faulty. Instead of remaining stable or rising, oil prices fell drastically.

As the prices plunged, MG Corp was required to meet margin calls on its futures contracts, leading to a significant cash outflow. The futures contracts were showing losses, while the gains on their long-term supply contracts were not yet realized. This mismatch between the short-term and long-term contracts and the resulting cash flow squeeze led to severe liquidity problems.

The situation was exacerbated by the panic among MG’s counterparties and creditors, leading to a near-collapse of the company and sending shockwaves through the global financial markets.

The Aftermath and Lessons Learned

The Metallgesellschaft saga serves as a stark reminder of the dangers associated with hedging strategies that do not fully take into account market volatility, liquidity risk, and the dangers of mismatching contract durations.

Here are the key takeaways:

  1. Importance of Aligning Contract Durations: MG’s strategy involved a mismatch of contract durations – short-term futures contracts hedging long-term supply contracts. This mismatch exposed the company to severe cash flow risks.
  2. Understanding Market Volatility: The strategy was based on the assumption that oil prices would remain stable or rise. This assumption neglected the inherent volatility of oil prices.
  3. Liquidity Risk Management: The cash flow squeeze and the ensuing liquidity crisis underscore the importance of managing liquidity risk effectively.
  4. Counterparty Confidence: The panic among MG’s counterparties and creditors further aggravated the situation, emphasizing the importance of maintaining counterparty confidence.


The Metallgesellschaft case provides an important lesson in financial risk management. It highlights the significance of comprehensive risk assessment and the implementation of sound hedging strategies. This case reminds us that in the world of finance and risk, there’s no room for assumptions, and even the mightiest can fall if they neglect the fundamentals of risk management.


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