If you've been wondering about why gasoline prices are so high, the answer's not difficult to find.
The superb Ed Wallace has published two articles that give the background to the rampant speculation in oil futures that's driving up the prices we pay at the pump. The problem isn't supply and demand, as so many politicians would have us believe - it's speculators' greed.
Many individuals who are investing in oil and natural gas futures are going out in the media and trying to convince the American public that either we are out of oil or there is a serious supply shortage of crude against worldwide demand. The question is: Does it surprise you to discover that the US Senate investigated the rigging of the oil market by speculators in the summer of 2006 – and concluded that there was no supply and demand problem with oil? Did you know that their conclusion was that speculators were responsible for a 70 percent overcharge in the price of oil in the months leading up to the summer of 2006?
This from page 1 of the Executive Summary of that Senate investigation, there is this one troubling line: "Today, U.S. oil inventories are at an eight-year high, and OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) oil inventories are at a 20-year high."
That’s odd because, in 2006, just like today, the media reporting covered the serious international shortage of oil and justified oil’s high price. Even more troubling is that the House of Representatives held a hearing this past December, ominously titled "Energy Speculation and Price Manipulation." How did it pass under the radar that both the Senate and the House studied the issue of price manipulation in our energy markets and both concluded that it was unregulated, massive trading in one futures market that was really driving up the price of oil and natural gas? And given that conclusion, why has Congress done nothing about it?
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In the past, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission acted as the cop on the beat, ensuring that buyers in the market were not distorting or manipulating prices beyond what supply and demand normally dictate. Certainly, if a hard frost hit Florida and cost growers an orange crop, then bidding up the price of the remaining oranges was both a wise investment and allowed under the trading rules. Right now investors know that if they borrow and invest huge amounts in commodities futures, they can create a shortage on paper – which drives prices up just like an actual shortage of any given product would. What kept traders from cornering the market that way in the past were the government’s anti-manipulation rules.
The late, infamous Enron head, Ken Lay, realized in the eighties that he could make more money bidding up energy in the futures market than by actually creating and selling energy. But, under then-current rules, how much you could make swapping paper was limited. Fortuitously, Lay had excellent Texas political connections; and in November of 1992, the head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission moved to exempt energy-derivative contracts and related swaps from any government oversight.
A vote was hurriedly put together before the Clinton White House would take over, and so Lay could finally start "dark" – unregulated – futures trading. The head of the CFTC was Wendy Gramm, wife of Texas Senator Phil Gramm; five weeks after she left, she became a board member of Enron in Houston.
Fast-forward to late 2000 and H.R. 5660, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, sponsored by Republican Congressman Thomas Ewing of Illinois. That bill went nowhere, even though Tom Delay’s wife Christine was then working for a Washington lobbying firm, Alexander Strategies – which Enron had paid $200,000 to push through legislation for permanent energy deregulation in these "dark" markets.
Six months later came Senate Bill 3283, also named the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. This time around the sponsor was Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, and now Phil Gramm was listed as one of the bill’s co-sponsors. Like it had in the House, this bill was destined to go nowhere until, late one night, it was attached as a rider to an 11,000-page appropriations bill – which was signed into law by President Clinton.
Now traders had an officially deregulated market for energy futures. Worse, that bill also deregulated many financial instruments – including the collateralized debt obligations that are at the center of today’s mortgage crisis, which may well cost us more than $1 trillion before it’s over.
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Detroit and other American manufacturers suffer while Wall Street speculators make a fortune — and your rapidly shrinking checkbook pays for it, every time you buy food, fuel or feed.
All because there is no shortage of these goods, you’re just being told there is because it’s more profitable – for a few – that way.
I strongly recommend reading both articles (linked above). They're dynamite. Then, when you've read them, how about writing to your Congressperson and Senators? Ask them why they allowed such laws to be passed, and what they're going to do about repealing them.
Their answers might make interesting reading.
I haven't much time for Newt Gingrich, given his past hypocrisy: but I think he speaks the truth in this short video clip about the oil price crisis.
Food for thought.