Category Archives: CFTC

Q&A With The Global Journal: Oil Trading And The Casino Syndrome

Happy National Pancake/Leap Year/Week before Super Tuesday Day, all. It has been a turbulent past few months and not just in the oil market. I will get into why very shortly but, for now, let’s just say that after a long and dark winter, I am once again available for dancing in the streets. Without any further cryptic remarks, I’d like to share an interview I just did with The Global Journal, based in Geneva, which rang me up to discuss ‘The Asylum’ and what the future holds for the energy market and gas prices during this, our illustrious Election Year.

(Q portions courtesy of Janine Huguenin-Virchaux, the magazine’s books and culture editor.)

Your book mentions that “the market is no longer reflecting supply and demand.” What is the use of a market that does not reflect the true price of oil? Do we need new hijackers?

That’s a great question – do we need new hijackers? If we could get some hijackers that could take back the market so that it does reflect supply and demand more clearly, then I would say yes, we do! However, I would also say that there is a serious debate going on about the extent to which price does reflect supply and demand. I think there is very good reason to believe that the price does not reflect it anymore. There is also a very technical reason for what has been going on that has not really been acknowledged or understood by many people. And that is the relationship between speculation and price discovery. A lot of the information that I get is from people who read the book and then they come to me and bring me stuff that nobody seems to really know about.

A lot of these guys are just regular traders who trade physical oil and feel that supply and demand is not reflected in the price correctly anymore. Whereas their entire lives – some of these men and women have been trading oil for thirty years or more – they feel the price did reflect it. So they believe there’s a huge difference in what they are seeing today in terms of the market fundamentals versus the price. And what they used to do was see price and fundamentals fit together better. They see a lot of distortion happening now. A lot of these people are concerned with that. I want to say, it’s not all about making money for these people: some of them look at this and say “Oh my God, it’s not acting the way it used to anymore and it doesn’t look like it’s headed anywhere good.” And that is aside from the fact that trading has become so ferocious that it is more about preserving a global casino than about supplying oil to people who need it.

That’s the problem. The casino aspect overshadows everything. Most of the people who play this game don’t want oil. They just want to play the game.

What is the alternative? I mean, these are the people who are speculating on the price of oil. Is there anything that can change to make it different? To make it less casino-like?

Yes, I think so. I am considering writing about this much more, the nature of speculation… Continue reading Q&A With The Global Journal: Oil Trading And The Casino Syndrome

How To Make Someone Else Swallow Your Losses, The Mastercourse

It’s official: when a Wall Street powerhouse suddenly collapses and (possibly) more than a billion dollars goes missing, it’s no longer just the ordinary taxpayer’s problem. Now, it has moved up the chain. Below, the piece I wrote today for Fortune on what traders do when you misappropriate their money.

While Occupy Wall Street was holding its two-month anniversary rally in Manhattan last week, traders were quietly mounting a rather more sophisticated version of OWS on their own. Call it Occupy Wall Street Bankruptcy Court.

FORTUNE — Big institutional investors are getting a taste of what many frustrated taxpayers experienced during the financial crisis: Being on the hook for losses of a major financial firm against their wishes.

This time, of course, it’s MF Global at the center of the dispute. A once-trusted brokerage with roots dating back to the 1700s, MF Global is now a bankrupt firm suspected of misappropriating customer funds to the tune of at least $600 million.

More than two weeks after MF Global’s Halloween bankruptcy filing, there are more questions than answers and a surfeit of conflicts in an investigation that should be aiming to restore the public’s confidence, but is doing the opposite. On Monday, the bankruptcy trustee for the case announced that there may be much more than $600 million missing from MF Global accounts — perhaps as much as $1.2 billion.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of trading capital and collateral were frozen without notice, dramatically disrupting the derivatives marketplace and ushering in a phalanx of federal prosecutors, regulatory agencies and forensic accountants working around the clock to determine where the missing money is. This, after a lawyer for MF Global assured a New York judge earlier this month “there is no shortfall.”

What’s different about this case?  One hedge fund executive summed it up best: “What is scary about MF Global is that there is no political will in this country to look out for people. Let this be a lesson that, if someone tries to steal from you, there is no one who is going to save you. I mean it is literally the most frightening thing that can happen in finance.”

Led by a sense of outrage — as well as the conviction that if they don’t look out for themselves, no one else will — investors have been pooling information and banding together to defend themselves for weeks. Continue reading How To Make Someone Else Swallow Your Losses, The Mastercourse

Trader Threatens To ‘Kill’ 47 U.S. Officials

‘I was being sued…it upset me.’

A midlife crisis can take many forms. Cheating on your spouse. Purchasing a Maserati. Wearing Billabong. Buying into The Lynx Effect. Just being a jerk. But putting up an “execution” list on your Web site of high-ranking financial and government officials and urging people to buy guns to help you kill them is one I haven’t heard of. Among those on the hit list of the smiling man in the orange tie to your left: the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission Mary Schapiro and the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Gary Gensler — both heavyweight Wall Street watchdogs.

“Go buy a gun, and let’s get to work in taking back our country from these criminals,” he wrote on his site, according to prosecutors. “I will be the first one to lead by example.”

The 50-year-old from Long Island is accused of threatening the lives of 47 current and former officials. (Yes, I said 47. You cannot make this stuff up.) Continue reading Trader Threatens To ‘Kill’ 47 U.S. Officials

The Global Oil Casino Benefits Only Its Players

Originally published in The Financial Times on April 6th, 2011

Tensions in the Middle East and north Africa, we are told, lie behind the recent increase in global fuel prices, which Wednesday hit a 2 ½-year high. Yet while Brent crude this week stayed above $120 a barrel, in Tripoli petrol hovered at around 54 cents a gallon. And that is not a typo. The popular reason for why those closest to the fighting, in this case, suffer less than those farther afield, is Libya’s hefty subsidies. The less popular reason is that world energy markets have been carefully designed to profit from the slightest supply hiccup, even if there is little evidence of actual shortages.

The energy-trading fraternity has never let the facts get in the way of a good supply scare. True, this historically fragile market is vulnerable to price swings as demand threatens to climb faster than production. But there is more to it than that. Indeed, what President Barack Obama did not mention last week in his energy security speech about the faults of the global energy market could fill a Saudi oilfield. Continue reading The Global Oil Casino Benefits Only Its Players

Killing Your Own: The Truth About Oil Speculators

Originally published on huffingtonpost.com on Mar. 14, 2011

In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Marine Corps sent more than a dozen generals, colonels and other high-ranking officers to the trading floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange, the world’s reigning oil market. Their mission: to see how the traders behaved when forced to make tough decisions under high stress with incomplete information.

What they found taught them a lot about the nature of the oil speculator. Continue reading Killing Your Own: The Truth About Oil Speculators

When It Comes to $100 Oil, It’s Every Man for Himself

Originally published on abcnews.go.com on Feb. 24, 2011

Energy Trading Is Rife with Loopholes for Some but Not All

Oil topped $100 a barrel for the first time Wednesday since 2008, the same year that Wall Street and Washington brought the nation to the brink of financial Armageddon.

But that was then. Surely both camps are much more prepared to deal with the fallout now, right?

Not so fast.

All appearances to the contrary, both camps have wasted very little time getting back to business as usual. Only in this case, Americans know for certain one thing they did not know back in 2008: If anything goes wrong, they’ll likely be the ones to foot the bill.

And that changes everything. Here is what you do not know about how the Powers That Be have been handling high energy prices and the ongoing credit crisis, more popularly known in Washington these days as “the recent unpleasantness.” Continue reading When It Comes to $100 Oil, It’s Every Man for Himself

‘The Asylum:’ New Book Uncovers the Dark Side of the New York Merc

Originally published on CNBC.com on Feb. 15, 2011

“It’s the side of Wall Street Wall Street doesn’t want you to see,” one high-level banker warned me before I ventured down the rabbit hole that would become my seven-year sojourn to the heart of the oil market.

I will be honest: I expected the drugs, the corruption, the fistfights and the territorial death matches over money. It wasn’t surprising that the traders who ruled over the New York Mercantile Exchange, the world’s most powerful oil market, imbibed illegal substances and brought guns, strippers and pornographic material into the trading pits.

As many of the market’s inhabitants had come from nothing, their riches effectively overwhelmed them, leaving them with a feeling of omnipotence, a sense that real-world consequences did not apply to them. Much of the oral history of the men and women who built the global oil market, as related in “The Asylum,” invariably touches on their struggle with these things.

What I could not get over, however, was that most of the bad behavior appeared to be well-known to the nation’s top market regulators, the New York Police Department and some of the highest-ranking officials of the U.S. government. Yet as oil prices streaked to nearly $150 a barrel in 2008, no one did anything about it. To the contrary, there was mass denial and the desertion of many key “regulators” from their posts. Continue reading ‘The Asylum:’ New Book Uncovers the Dark Side of the New York Merc