Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Role of Oil Speculation in US Markets

Here is a report from McClatchy newspapers:

More detail can be found here on the McClatchy site:
But in the cables, Saudi officials explain that they have two primary concerns about artificially high crude prices: that they'll dampen the long-term demand for oil and that the wide price swings typical of commodity speculation make it difficult for them to plan future oil field development. After that $147 a barrel peak in 2008, for example, prices plunged to $33 a barrel as the global financial crisis rocked the world. That was a stunning change in less than half a year.

One cable recounts how Dr. Majid al Moneef, Saudi Arabia's OPEC governor, explained what he thought was the full impact of speculation to U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who in July 2009 was in Saudi Arabia for the first time.

According to the cable, Moneef said Saudi Arabia suspected that "speculation represented approximately $40 of the overall oil price when it was at its height."

Asked how to curb such speculation, Moneef suggested "improving transparency" — a reference to the fact that most oil trading is conducted outside regulated markets — and better communication among the world's commodity markets so that oil speculators can't hide the full extent of their trading positions.

Moneef also suggested that the U.S. consider "position limits" — restrictions on how much of the oil market a company can control — something the CFTC is considering. But the proposal to prevent any single trader from accumulating more than 10 percent of the oil contracts being traded hasn't received final approval, and the CFTC also has yet to define what it considers excessive speculation.

Saudi concerns also came up during a May 2008 meeting in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, between U.S. officials and Prince Abdulazziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the assistant petroleum minister.

Prince Abdulazziz was "extremely worried" that high prices would destroy the demand for oil, according to the May 7, 2008, account of his meeting with embassy officials.

"Aramco is trying to sell more, but frankly there are no buyers," the cable quoted him as saying, referring to the Saudi state oil company. "We are discounting crudes."
These Wikileaks make it pretty clear that the US government has been fully informed about speculation but has chosen to pretend that its hands are tied. In short, the US government is aiding and abetting the speculators. I could understand that under the Bush administration, but it appears to have happening early in 2011 under the Obama administration. And the key figure behind the speculation? Goldman Sachs, the recipient of over $40 billion of taxpayer money when it was going backrupt in late 2008. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

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