Obama’s Oil Market Fraud Squad May Miss Wall Street Abuses

Obama’s Oil Market Fraud Squad May Miss Wall Street Abuses

WASHINGTON — On Thursday, President Obama unveiled a new working group to combat any fraud or manipulation in the oil and energy markets that may be contributing to near-record gas prices. But some economists and market experts worry that by focusing on criminal activity, Obama is shrugging off a much bigger problem: rampant Wall Street speculation in commodities markets that has helped drive up food and energy prices in the past.

“If prices start moving quickly up, you can get a side effect … that people might try to play [fraudulent] games of one sort or another,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist John Parsons. “But it wouldn’t be central to the price movement” currently being seen in the market, he said.

Gas prices are approaching record levels set in 2008, when prices at the pump eclipsed $5 a gallon. While unrest in the Middle East is almost certainly playing a major role in boosting current prices, increased speculation in commodities markets is likely contributing to the near record prices. The number of speculative bets being placed on oil and gas now far exceeds that of the 2008 price swing, which many economists believe was driven by excess speculation. Moreover, on March 21, Goldman Sachs analyst David Greely advanced the argument that Wall Street speculation was helping drive up oil prices in a memo sent to the bank’s clients.

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