Oil Speculator Witch Hunt, 2012 Edition

Michael Giberson

Steve Mufson at the Washington Post reports:

President Obama proposed measures Tuesday to step up oversight of energy markets and boost by tenfold the penalties for market manipulation, in an effort to blunt political pressure over the 20 percent increase in gasoline prices since the beginning of the year. [Links in source.]

Not that the administration has turned up any evidence of problems in the market:

A senior administration official said the president wants to increase the number of “cops on the beat” to stop illegal speculation and market ma­nipu­la­tion…. But neither Obama nor his aides pointed to any examples of such illegal activity or to any evidence that oil speculators had, in fact, been responsible for raising prices recently. The senior official said that oil prices have been rising mainly because of growing global demand and political uncertainty in the Persian Gulf. Obama cited “global trends” in his announcement. Lawmakers on both sides of the political divide have alleged that “speculation” is partly responsible for the jump in oil prices over the past year, but they have not offered any examples, either.

See also: the Wall Street Journal‘s article; the New York Times on the topic; and from The Nation, “Obama Announces Empty Crackdown on Oil Speculation.”

The Nation‘s piece is interesting, essentially claiming that the President is right on the merit of his proposals, but just pandering to the public with symbolic gestures since five out of six of his proposals require Congressional action the President knows he won’t get, and the President refuses to do the one thing he can do that would work (in the author’s view): telling the attorney general to start subpoenaing oil traders and begin actually uncovering oil market manipulation.

Of course you may recall that a year ago the President did tell his attorney general to constitute an Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group. Last month the Attorney General reported on its many great successes.

Just kidding, they’ve got nothing. Here is what the Attorney General actually said on March 9, 2012:

Since last April – when I established a new part of the Task Force known as the Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group – we’ve also been focused on identifying civil or criminal violations in the oil and gasoline markets, and ensuring that American consumers are not harmed by unlawful conduct.   This Working Group’s latest meeting was held at the Justice Department just this morning – and its members discussed a variety of topics, including the role of speculators in the market; recent reports and enforcement matters by various Working Group members – such as the FTC and the New York State Attorney General’s Office; as well as ways to improve information sharing between Working Group members and partners; and where we go from here.

I can also report that one of the Working Group’s members – the Federal Trade Commission – is currently conducting an investigation, with assistance from other Working Group members, into whether gas prices have been affected by any antitrust violation or market manipulation by refiners, oil producers, transporters, marketers, physical or financial traders, or others.  Working Group members stand ready to act if the FTC learns anything that implicates the laws they enforce.

So in short, they’ve held meetings, talked about stuff, and are working on better “information sharing” (always a popular task for interagency task forces because you get to have new processes requiring new paperwork so you can justify new staff to handle the added work load). Oh yeah, the FTC is conducting an investigation. (Which has been known since at least last December and so far no results. More from McClatchy on the OGPFWG. A blogger at Think Progress is seriously disappointed in the administration’s lack of commitment to rooting out oil market manipulators.)

Like before, a shameful, pandering witch hunt in search of short-term political advantage. (And by the way, the GOP is no better in their beating of the political drums trying to pin high gasoline prices on the President’s failure to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and reductions of oil output from federal lands.)

3 thoughts on “Oil Speculator Witch Hunt, 2012 Edition

  1. I assume that this was 100% politics. The market does not look like there is any speculation in it right now. It has traded in a very small range for a few months now, and it does not respond to news or moves in other markets. Further the continued existence of the Brent WTI anomaly has to be reckoned with. If speculators were important in the market, they would be attacking it.

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