U.S. to crack down on oil manipulation

April 17, 2012 at 11:55 AM
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WASHINGTON, April 17 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama announced an initiative Tuesday to strike at manipulation in the oil market.

"We can't afford a situation where some speculators makes millions while millions of Americans get the short end of the stick," Obama told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.

Among the steps in the administration's proposal, "more cops on the beat to monitor activity in energy markets," an increase in civil and criminal penalties for manipulation and a requirement to have a greater margin -- more money -- to back up trading in oil futures, Obama said.

"Congress should do this right a way," Obama said.

"Here's a chance to actually do something to protect consumers … I hope Americans will ask members of Congress to step up."

The president conceded the price of gasoline at the pump is influenced more by global conditions, such as demand overseas and trouble in the Middle East. But he said the initiative was a move forward.

"None of these steps by themselves will bring gas prices down overnight," Obama said. "But it will end market manipulation."

Earlier the White House issued a "fact sheet" detailing the proposal, and a senior official spoke on background shortly before the president made the official announcement.

The administration is asking Congress:

-- to provide immediate funds for a six-fold increase in the surveillance and enforcement staff of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

-- to provide CFTC funding for critical computer upgrades to strengthen the monitoring of energy market activity. The government computer power would at least rival that employed by traders.

(Those two steps would cost about $52 million, the official said.)

-- to increase the civil and criminal penalties for oil futures manipulation, from $1 million to $10 million, assessed each day of illegal activity rather than by violation, the official said.

-- to give the CFTC authority to raise margin requirements to limit disruptions and volatility in oil markets.

The senior official said Congress is not required to approve the last step: expanding access to data collected on trading trends in the oil markets.

The senior official said the price of gasoline at the pump is controlled by global markets, but, it's still "important that we give the American consumer confidence" illegal activity is not influencing the price at the pump.

Crude oil prices added $1.64 to $104.57 per barrel early Tuesday. At the pump, the national average price of unleaded gasoline was $3.904 per gallon, AAA said.

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