3 minute video
- To understand what happened to the price of oil, you first have to understand the way it's traded. For years it has been bought and sold on something called the commodities futures market. At the New York Mercantile Exchange, it's traded alongside cotton and coffee, copper and steel by brokers who buy and sell contracts to deliver those goods at a certain price at some date in the future.
It was created so that farmers could gauge what their unharvested crops would be worth months in advance, so that factories could lock in the best price for raw materials, and airlines could manage their fuel costs. But more than a year ago those markets started to behave erratically. And when oil doubled to more than $147 a barrel, no one was more suspicious than Dan Gilligan.
- "Approximately 60 to 70 percent of the oil contracts in the futures markets are now held by speculative entities. Not by companies that need oil, not by the airlines, not by the oil companies. But by investors that are looking to make money from their speculative positions," Gilligan explained.
- Asked if there is price manipulation going on, Dan Gilligan told Kroft, "I can't say. And the reason I can't say it, is because nobody knows. Our federal regulators don't have access to the data. They don't know who holds what positions."
"Why don't they know?" Kroft asked.
"Because federal law doesn't give them the jurisdiction to find out," Gilligan said.
It's impossible to tell exactly who was buying and selling all those oil contracts because most of the trading is now conducted in secret, with no public scrutiny or government oversight. Over time, the big Wall Street banks were allowed to buy and sell as many oil contracts as they wanted for their clients, circumventing regulations intended to limit speculation. And in 2000, Congress effectively deregulated the futures market, granting exemptions for complicated derivative investments called oil swaps, as well as electronic trading on private exchanges.
- Masters believes the investor demand for commodities, and oil futures in particular, was created on Wall Street by hedge funds and the big Wall Street investment banks like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, and J.P. Morgan, who made billions investing hundreds of billions of dollars of their clients’ money. "The investment banks facilitated it," Masters said
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