Ed. Note: Graph from Calculated Risk: “The graph above shows oil prices for WTI; gasoline prices in most of the U.S. are impacted more by Brent prices.”
We know that Wall Street speculation shoulders part of the blame for rising gas prices, and that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has done little to stop it. But I didn’t know that even the weak CFTC rules established last year were being challenged in federal court. And the outcome of that court case could lead to speculation running rampant without a check from federal regulators.
A federal judge on Monday refused to halt efforts by a key regulator to limit excessive speculation in the trading of oil contracts — which is driving up oil and gasoline prices — but hinted that he might soon rule in favor of Wall Street and let speculation go unchecked.
Robert Wilkins, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, declined a request for a preliminary injunction to halt the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from implementing a congressional mandate to limit how many oil contracts any single financial speculator or company can control.
However, Wilkins told both the CFTC and lawyers for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and the International Swap and Derivatives Association that he expected to make a ruling soon on whether to hear the case. His line of questioning left both sides with the impression that he was concerned about how the regulatory agency has proceeded.
The position limits sought by the CFTC aren’t even all that stringent, as Bernie Sanders and Maria Cantwell said at the time that they were announced. CFTC waited ten months after their deadline to announce the rules, and under them, a single speculator could still hold as much as 25% of all deliverable oil supply in any given month. Natural gas traders can hold, under the rule, five times the deliverable supply. Cantwell said that “Today’s overly broad rule is like setting the speed limit at 125 miles per hour.” Moreover, the rule cannot be implemented until the CFTC defines the meaning of a “swap,” which has yet to be accomplished but is scheduled for April.
And yet the bank lobbyists and trade groups are still fighting. And apparently winning.
Incidentally, this is an Obama-nominated judge who’s about to blow away the oil position limits. The trade lobbies, in a poetic move, hired Antonin Scalia’s son Eugene to argue their case. He argued that there was no need for a position limit at all, citing burdensome costs to the financial industry.
Speculators currently control about 2/3 of the oil futures market, more than double the historical average.