Thursday, July 30, 2009

CFTC: Speculators caused 2008 oil price crisis


By Daniel Tencer

In a major U-turn from its claims during the Bush administration, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is now set to admit that speculation in oil markets — and not the forces of supply and demand — are behind last year's massive oil price spike.

In the summer of 2008, oil prices on the open market reached an unprecedented $147 per barrel. Many economists argue the spike helped push the US into an economic free-fall last autumn.

At the time, the CFTC — which is tasked with regulating commodity and financial futures — said that the huge price spike was a result of supply and demand. That explanation was met with ridicule from many market-watchers, who said it was impossible that demand for oil increased by such a huge margin even as the North American, European and Japanese economies were slowing down.

Now, according to a scoop in the Wall Street Journal, the CFTC is about to reverse its Bush-era position, and admit that market speculators — investors who bought oil futures on the expectation they would rise in value — "played a significant role" in the oil spike.

Bart Chilton, a CFTC commissioner, told the WSJ that the original assessment was based on "flawed data." He told the newspaper that the CFTC's report, which will be released next month, will acknowledge the role of speculators in oil markets.

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