by The Street
The final dam to stopping $150-a-barrel oil and $4-a-gallon gas is being breached, as financial regulation continues its daily erosion into worthlessness.
Watching the CFTC attempt to back up Dodd-Frank legislation since it was passed in July has been like watching salmon flop upstream as the water drains out — it’s slow, arduous and likely to lead nowhere.
It is clear now that we will instead be witness to the highest prices for commodities ever, fueled by the biggest influx of profit-driven trading and investment ever, unstanched even in the slightest by the hopes of financial regulation legislation.
In my upcoming book, Oil’s Endless Bid, due out from John Wiley & Sons in March, I argue that financial influences from investors and traders and the massive growth of derivatives markets have been the single most important factor for oil’s high and unreliable price, far outstripping fundamental arguments of emerging market growth, peak oil or any other supply constraints or a devaluing dollar.
Putting some controls on at least some of these speculative influences was supposed to be one of the goals of Dodd-Frank, but the actual rule-making to put teeth behind the legislation has been left to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Since it began tackling this massive job in July 2010, the CFTC has literally been uried by the pushback from industry lobbyists, hired-gun lawyers, derivatives broker/dealers and virtually every industrial corporation with a trading desk that depends even marginally on derivatives activity to protect or augment profits.
The process of rule-making has seemed like it would be fair—propose a rule from the outline of Dodd-Frank and open a forum for comment and discussion before ultimately writing and enforcing it. The problem has been the virtual avalanche of opinion that has descended on the commissioners entirely from the industry side; pretty much no one has bothered to speak for the American public—the consumer—and the industry just wants Dodd-Frank and those profit-dissolving proposals to go away.
Consequently, there has been little to no movement since July, despite the mandate of legislation to have rules for energy markets in place by January, a deadline that the CFTC has already indicated it will certainly miss.
Two specific areas have already convinced me that the rules will ultimately be toothless, business will proceed as usual and whatever is implemented will do nothing to curb the explosive price rises we’ve seen not only in oil, but in copper, corn, coffee and cotton last year.
Proposals on contract position limits, necessary to avoid any single participant from having overwhelming influence on prices, were argued previously in December without resolution.
Bart Chilton, the one commissioner committed to strict position-limits in futures markets, gave up on a hard limit Thursday, proposing a much weaker “point system” to monitor participants, without any authority to force a finite limit or liquidation of positions.
If Chilton has given in, a dam has broken, and we shouldn’t expect substantial position-limiting rules in futures markets to come from the CFTC.
Another issue defining new swaps clearinghouses and who can own them has generated similar industry interest and pushback. Creating “aggregate” owned clearinghouses would help in transparency, fairness of access and help keep the clearing business competitive.
Story Compliments Of Newsweek.com