CFTC moves to rein in small ETF investors: report

August 22, 2009

Sat Aug 22, 2009 12:18pm EDT

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Exchange-traded funds or ETFs have become a top target in U.S. regulators’ efforts to rein in excessive speculation in oil and other commodity markets, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

Commodity ETFs, which came into existence in 2003, offer one of the few avenues for small investors to gain direct exposure to commodity markets. The funds pool money from investors to make one-way bets, usually on rising prices.

Some say this causes excessive buying that artificially inflates prices for oil, natural gas and gold.

Commodity ETFs have ballooned to hold $59.3 billion in assets as of July, according to the National Stock Exchange, which tracks ETF data.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has said it seeks to protect end users of commodities, and that cutting out individual investors is not the goal.

“The Commission has never said, ‘You aren’t tall enough to ride,'” CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton was quoted as saying in the WSJ article. “I don’t want to limit liquidity, but above all else, I want to ensure that prices for consumers are fair and that there is no manipulation — intentional or otherwise.”

Limiting the size of ETFs will result in higher costs for investors, the WSJ reported, because legal and operational costs have to be spread out over a fewer number of shares. Investors range from individuals to banks and hedge funds with multimillion-dollar positions.

The CFTC is currently considering a host of measures to curb excessive speculation, including position limits in U.S. futures markets. Many U.S. lawmakers called for greater regulation of some commodity markets after a price surge last year sent crude oil to a record high of $147 a barrel in July 2008.

(Reporting by Matthew Lewis; Editing by Toni Reinhold)


GM details plans to wipe out current shareholders

May 5, 2009

Tue May 5, 2009 8:01pm EDT

By Kevin Krolicki

DETROIT (Reuters) – General Motors Corp (GM) on Tuesday detailed plans to all but wipe out the holdings of remaining shareholders by issuing up to 60 billion new shares in a bid to pay off debt to the U.S. government, bondholders and the United Auto Workers union.

The unusual plan, which was detailed in a filing with U.S. securities regulators, would only need the approval of the U.S. Treasury to proceed since the U.S. government would be the majority shareholder of a new GM, the company said.

The flood of new stock issuance that could be unleashed has been widely expected by analysts who have long warned that GM’s shares could be worthless whether the company restructures out of court or in bankruptcy.

The debt-for-equity exchanges detailed in the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission would leave GM’s stock investors with just 1 percent of the equity in a restructured automaker, ending a long run when the Dow component was seen as a bellwether for the strength of the broader U.S. economy.

GM shares closed on Tuesday at $1.85 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock would be worth just over 1 cent if the first phase of GM’s restructuring moves forward as described.

Once GM has issued new shares to pay off its debt to the U.S. government, bondholders and its major union, it said it would then undertake a 1-for-100 reverse stock split.

Such a move would take the nominal value of the stock back to near where it had been before the flood of new shares. But in the process, GM’s existing shareholders would see their stake in the 100-year-old automaker all but wiped out.

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Energy’s easiest fix: Use less

July 3, 2008

While calls for more oil drilling dominate the headlines, experts say taking simple steps to use less could save twice as much.

By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer
Last Updated: July 3, 2008: 11:06 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Want to help the country save a quick million barrels of oil a day? Drive 5% less. Slow down. Inflate your tires.

Those three steps would reduce U.S. oil consumption by 1.3 million barrels a day immediately, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, a conservation group running an efficiency campaign backed not only by environmental groups but also the auto and oil industries.

That’s nearly twice the estimated daily oil production that could come from drilling in the Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration.

According to Julius Pretterebner, a vehicles and alternative-fuels expert at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a consultancy that does a lot of work for the oil companies, how fast people drive and how quickly they accelerate is responsible for 10% to 30% of fuel consumption.

“It’s significant, and it’s the only thing we can do in the short term,” said Deron Lovaas, vehicles campaign director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which partners with the Alliance to Save Energy on an effort to educate drivers on efficiency.

The United States consumes 20 million barrels of oil a day, nearly 10 million of which goes to making gasoline. The world gobbles up 85 million barrels of oil in all.

Rather than focusing on reducing demand for oil, the debate over the soaring cost of energy in recent weeks has been about boosting supply and more regulation of “speculators.”

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Don’t blame the oil ‘speculators’

June 27, 2008

A campaign in Congress to punish traders for record oil prices reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how futures markets work

By Jon Birger, senior writer
Last Updated: June 27, 2008: 9:11 AM EDT

NEW YORK (Fortune) — “Make no mistake about it,” U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said Monday while chairing a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. “Excessive speculation in commodity markets is having a devastating effect at the gas pump that is rippling through our entire economy.”

Here’s a suggestion: The next time a Congressional committee wants to hold a hearing on how “speculators” are driving up oil prices, each committee member should first be required to demonstrate – preferably in their opening remarks – a basic understanding of the mechanics of futures trading.

Even better, they should be required to explain in detail how it is that investors who never take delivery of a single barrel of crude – and thus never remove a drop of oil from the open market – are causing record high oil prices.

If there were such a requirement, I guarantee we’d never again see a circus like the one Stupak presided over Monday.

“Do I think [Washington politicans] understand the role of futures markets – how they facilitate price discovery and the transference of risk?” asks former U.S. Commodities Futures Trade Commission chief economist Gerald Gay. “No, they’re clueless – at least most of them.”

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Dearth of Ships Delays Drilling of Offshore Oil

June 19, 2008

By JAD MOUAWAD and MARTIN FACKLER
New York Times

As President Bush calls for repealing a ban on drilling off most of the coast of the United States, a shortage of ships used for deep-water offshore drilling promises to impede any rapid turnaround in oil exploration and supply.

In recent years, this global shortage of drill-ships has created a critical bottleneck, frustrating energy company executives and constraining their ability to exploit known reserves or find new ones. Slow growth in oil supplies, at a time of soaring demand, has been a major factor in the spike of oil and gasoline prices.

Mr. Bush called on Congress Wednesday to end a longstanding federal ban on offshore drilling and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration, arguing that the steps were needed to lower gasoline prices and bolster national security. But even as oil trades at more than $135 a barrel — up from $68 a year ago — the world’s existing drill-ships are booked solid for the next five years. Some oil companies have been forced to postpone exploration while waiting for a drilling rig, executives and analysts said.

Demand is so high that shipbuilders, the biggest of whom are in Asia, have raised prices since last year by as much as $100 million a vessel to about half a billion dollars.

“The crunch on rigs is everywhere,” said Alberto Guimaraes, a senior executive at Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company that has discovered some of the most promising offshore oil but has been unable to get at it.

“Almost 100 percent of the oil companies are constrained in their investment program because there is no rig available,” he said.

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World Crude Production Has Peaked – Pickens

June 17, 2008

WASHINGTON – World crude oil production has topped out at 85 million barrels per day even as demand keeps climbing, helping to drive a stunning surge in prices, billionaire oil investor T. Boone Pickens said on Tuesday.

“I do believe you have peaked out at 85 million barrels a day globally,” Pickens, who heads BP Capital hedge fund with more than US$4 billion under management, said during testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The United States alone has been using “21 million barrels of the 85 million and producing about 7 of the 21, so if I could take just a minute on this point, the demand is about 86.4 million barrels a day, and when the demand is greater than the supply, the price has to go up until it kills demand,” Pickens told lawmakers.

US crude futures have risen by a third since the start of the year and more than six-fold since 2002 as surging demand from China and other developing nations outpaces new production.

Oil slipped on Tuesday, a day after touching a record high near US$140 a barrel, but remained above US$133 a barrel.

Pickens, who announced a US$2 billion investment in wind energy earlier this year, told lawmakers during a hearing on renewable electricity that he expected “the price of oil will go up further.” Without alternatives, the cost of foreign oil will drain the United States of more resources, he said.

“In 10 years, we will have exported close to US$10 trillion out of the country if we continue on the same basis we’re going now. It is the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind,” he said.

Pickens downplayed the role that speculative trading and institutional investors — forces some see behind the high oil prices — have had in the price trend.

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