Elizabeth Warren wants to stop Goldman Sachs' soda can scheme

The firm has cost consumers billions by inflating the price of items made from aluminum

Published July 24, 2013 4:25PM (EDT)

Elizabeth Warren wants to crack down on Goldman Sachs' exploitation of loose market regulations to inflate the price of aluminum, a set-up that costs consumers around $5 billion a year.

"I share the concern of many of my colleagues about asset managers at huge Wall Street banks exercising control of key parts of America's infrastructure," Warren said in a Senate Banking Committee hearing on the subject, Business Insider reports.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that Wall Street firms have been buying up infrastructure in the commodities market, and making bank off of it:

Using special exemptions granted by the Federal Reserve Bank and relaxed regulations approved by Congress, the banks have bought huge swaths of infrastructure used to store commodities and deliver them to consumers — from pipelines and refineries in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas; to fleets of more than 100 double-hulled oil tankers at sea around the globe; to companies that control operations at major ports like Oakland, Calif., and Seattle.

In the case of aluminum, Goldman bought Metro International Trade Services, one of the country’s biggest storers of the metal. More than a quarter of the supply of aluminum available on the market is  kept in the company’s Detroit-area warehouses.

Goldman purposely increases the amount of time the metal is stored, according to the Times, which eventually increases the price of an aluminum can, for instance, by a a tenth of a cent. This amounts to millions more dollars per year that Goldman makes off of the inflated price.

After the Times article, The Commodity Futures Trading Commission said it was looking into the practice, and on Tuesday the Senate heard from witnesses who decried it. From the Times:

Saule T. Omarova, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who has studied the issue, told the subcommittee that there was one other company that was an early leader in combining the practice of moving physical commodities with the financing of market activity — Enron.

The comparison was seized upon by Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat. “The notion that two of largest financial companies are adopting a business method pioneered by Enron,” she said, “suggests that this movie will not end well.” Major beverage companies have complained about the maneuvers. Tim Weiner, a MillerCoors executive, told the panel on Tuesday that while consumers might not think they have much at stake from tons of aluminum bars stored in a warehouse near Detroit, the actions of Goldman and others have raised prices, cost jobs and hindered innovation.

By Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at jrayfield@salon.com.

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Elizabeth Warren Goldman Sachs Senate Soda Wall Street