Oil-Supply Data Probed for Manipulation
CFTC Regulators Look at Energy Firms,
Take Depositions About Oddball Trading
By ANN DAVIS
September 4, 2008
Commodity-market regulators are investigating whether energy-market players are injecting false data into the marketplace to influence perceptions about crude-oil supply and demand, people familiar with the probe say.
Among other things, regulators are concerned that companies may be reporting inventory levels that benefit their own trading positions but that may not be accurate, people familiar with the regulators' thinking say.
Unexpected drops in oil inventories reported each Wednesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration can spark price spikes on the main oil futures benchmark on the New York Mercantile Exchange. A company could theoretically underreport barrels in its tanks, for example, at a key hub to suggest oil is scarcer than it really is, and then sell its physical oil at a premium when oil prices jump on misleading news.
Another concern is whether companies conduct some physical oil sales and purchases solely to influence short-term pricing on oil futures markets.
It isn't clear whether the regulators, at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, have certain energy firms in their sights. But people familiar with the agency's operations say its concerns stem from tips from sources in the oil-trading world about big market moves that occurred unexpectedly.