There's an interesting article in the Washington Post about oil speculation and transparency
. The impact of speculation has become enormous:
Big Wall Street firms representing the interests of pension funds, endowments and wealthy individuals around the country have grown in just a few years from minor participants in the oil markets to their most dominant force.
These financial firms -- whose holdings of oil contracts are now larger than the collective demand of airlines, trucking firms and other companies that need oil to run their businesses -- have become the focus of an intense debate in Washington over whether their exponential growth is contributing to the surge in oil prices.
And, apparently, such people as Ben Bernanke are claiming that speculation has no effect on oil prices because about half the people bet that it will rise and half bet that it will fall. That sounds nice, but my bet is that is a "normal" pattern and not what we've been seeing, because then about half the people at any given time would be losing money. When the swings are as big and violent as we've seen, and fueled by margin buying, those losses will be enormous, pushing a lot of people out, which means you now have a mechanism that is leaning one way, not balanced.
Even if the bets were even, it's the mass of investment that causes the problem, because it has no balancing interest, like the organizations that actually want to use oil, and hence are interested in stability and lower prices. According to Bernanke's theory, at least have the people who are taking positions in oil - which means buyers, not sellers - want the price to go higher, a very different mindset than ever before. I'm guessing that's enough to cause the fluctuations and price surges we've seen.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has been tracking some of the investment activity, but is keeping the information secret, claiming that it doesn't want to reveal too much proprietary information about the traders, and that the complexity of the information alone, if made public, could have misled the commodities markets. But wouldn't you think that the people who wouldn't
be misled would be the people who actually do this for a living - the traders in the commodities markets?
It sounds like the CFTC is dominated, as one might expect, by the biggest trading forces, which means the speculators. The organization does claim that it "always been and continues to be committed to market integrity and to market transparency." It just has an idiosyncratic way of showing it.
Labels: Congress, investors, oil, speculation