U.S. Moves to Shed Light on "Dark Markets"

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It was a year ago this week that crude oil prices rocketed to a record $147 a barrel, sparking widespread outrage that speculators - like banks, hedge funds and investment giants - were behind the rise.

Ever since, the price of crude has been on a wild ride plunging as low as $34 a barrel in December before bouncing back to about $60 today.

This has fueled new concerns that - in the midst of economic turmoil - oil speculators are at it again, pumping an estimated $200 billion into the oil futures market in just the last year, reports CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian.

"I still think we have a lot of investment dollars flowing into dark markets," said Sen. Marcia Cantwell, D-Wash. "That is, oil being traded, energy futures being traded, on markets that aren't regulated."

In response, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, which regulates oil and other commodities in the U.S., is dropping its historic hands-off approach. It is now considering tougher regulations that would make it harder for speculators to amass huge positions and make money timing the market.

"It's not our job to set prices in government but it is our job to make sure there's no fraud abuse or manipulation," said CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton.

Under new leadership the CFTC is now considering for the first time setting limits on speculators the amount of oil they can hold and how long they can hold it.

It would also improve transparency, strengthening reporting rules to shed more light on who is speculating and with how much, especially in so-called "dark markets" long outside U.S. regulation.

It's not exactly welcome news among oil traders.

"I think it's a witch hunt," said energy markets analyst Phil Flynn. "I don't think there's any credible evidence that speculators are the sole cause of oil prices going up."

The CTFC will hold public hearings this month and next. As one insider told Keteyian: "Something is going to happen. We can't go through another summer like last summer."
  • Armen Keteyian

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