The return of the evil oil price speculators

A new administration results in a new argument on what caused the great oil price spike of 2008


Andrew Leonard
July 28, 2009 8:02PM (UTC)

So what changed? Last year the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) blamed the great oil price spike of the summer of 2008 on fundamental supply-and-demand factors. But today the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the CFTC is planning to release a new report "suggesting speculators played a significant role in driving wild swings in oil prices."

The report won't be available until August, however, which makes it difficult to evaluate the new argument.

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[CFTC Commissioner] Chilton said the new report will contain a more-thorough analysis of the investors in contracts tied to oil and other commodities, and reveal cases in which single traders hold massive market positions. "We now have multiple sources, and confidence from different sources," he says. He said he believes the data on trading outside exchanges is also more reliable.

The opaque nature of newer electronic trading exchanges has been recognized as a problem for a long time,
but UC San Diego economist James Hamilton,
who has conducted extensive research into the ups and downs of oil prices in recent years, isn't buying the new slant.

"Sounds to me like the CFTC has not new data but new politics," Hamilton told HTWW via e-mail.


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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