DiFi offers bill to curb speculation, cut gas prices

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, have introduced a bill they say would essentially level the playing field in energy futures markets, and curb some of the speculation that has been driving up gas prices.

In case you missed it, it’s not a supply problem that’s causing most of this price spike (in which I spent $72 to fill my Toyota’s tank this morning at Costco). Much of the problem is being caused by the dollar’s slumping value and by commodity speculation.

Feinstein’s and Stevens’ S.3131 would require the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to impose the same position limits on institutional investors to which other investors now are subject. Under current law, CFTC is required to impose speculation limits on the size of energy trader positions, but it regularly exempts institutional investors from these limits when those investors execute their trades through brokers or dealers.

“It is becoming clear that rampant speculation in energy markets by institutional investors may be driving up the price of oil and gas. And yet, CFTC exempts these investors from the position limits that are imposed on all other speculators. This gives institutional investors an unfair advantage in the marketplace – and is contributing to the skyrocketing energy prices,” Feinstein said in her news release. “It’s time to level the playing field, and require position limits for all speculators. There’s no doubt that our energy markets are in crisis – and this is one important step we need to take to get us back on track.”

CFTC last month announced it will review the trading practices for these investors to ensure that this type of trading activity is not adversely impacting the price discovery process; it also said it would determine whether it should adopt new practices. This bill would:

  • require the CFTC to do its review within 30 days and bring Congress a plan for preventing dramatic fuel-cost increases in the futures markets;
  • require institutional investors to report their energy market positions to the CFTC as other traders must do, even when trades are executed by a third party broker;
  • force CFTC regulations and reports to begin distinguishing between the institutional investors and the “swaps dealers” or “index traders” who broker their trades;
  • impose speculation limits on institutional investor and index trader positions, as CFTC imposes on more traditional market speculators;
  • keep CFTC from considering the positions of institutional investors or their brokers to be “bona fide hedges” that would be exempt them from speculative position limits; and
  • require that the Office of the CFTC’s Inspector General be removed from the CFTC Chairman’s Office and established independently.
  • Josh Richman

    Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

    • Kathy Schrenk

      Oh, how I despise Dianne Feinstein. How fitting that she’s in cahoots with Ted Stevens.

    • danvilledan

      Information on this issue and how it all came about was published in the New York Times on July 17, 2002