We have another non-action action by the Obama administration, this time in the form of a probe on oil speculation:
Obama said he’s asked his attorney general and U.S. government agencies to work with state attorneys general to monitor for gasoline-price gouging, “to make sure that nobody is taking advantage of working families at the pump.”
Obama also said he’s willing to tap into the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve “should the situation demand it” but declined to answer a question of what price would trigger a release.
But then the financial crisis and recession happened, global oil demand collapsed, yet derivatives were never addressed. There is supposedly the ability for the CFTC to act, yet....this regulatory agency never does.
A portion of Senator Nelson's letter to the CFTC:
Data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) reveals that just since the protests began in Egypt in January speculators have increased their betting on future oil price increases by more than 35 percent, while legitimate hedgers have reduced their holdings of oil futures by more than 20 percent. The loser in this game of profit-gouging by speculators is the American consumer. Higher gasoline prices mean less money for other things. And at the end of the day, the big loser is America’s economy.
The Nation gives gambling odds on anything really happening to stop oil speculation and says Gensler, surprise, surprise, isn't the problem to get some action out of the CFTC.
One way to attempt to constrain these volatile mini-bubbles is for the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to impose “position limits,” essentially limits on the size of the bets that speculators can make. The New Deal–era Commodities Exchange Act gives the CFTC power to curb “excessive speculation,” and the just-passed Dodd-Frank bill explicitly calls for the CFTC to promulgate position limits.
Not surprisingly, the big Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs don’t want this, and the two Republican members of the commission don’t favor any position limits rules with real teeth. To his great credit, CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler (a former Goldman banker I was quite critical of when nominated to the position) has taken a strong leadership position in advocating strong limits, and Democratic commissioner Bart Chilton has been supportive as well. That leaves the deciding vote in the hands of Democratic Commissioner Michael Dunn, who’s expressed misgivings.
Now, it just so happens Dunn’s term is up in June and last night MSNBC’s Ed Show reported that the White House has begun vetting his replacement. This may seem obscure and technical, but given the precariousness of the recovery and political explosiveness of gas prices, nominating a replacement enthusiastic about reigning in excessive speculation may be the single most important decision the White House makes between now and Election Day.