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Limits imposed on overseas oil trading

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Limits imposed on overseas oil trading

By Joanna Chung in New York

Published: June 18 2008 03:00 | Last updated: June 18 2008 03:00

Turbulent conditions make the crude oil market vulnerable to illegal activity, US regulators warned yesterday, as they permanently imposed limits on the size of speculative positions that could be taken out on some trades made on overseas exchanges.

Walt Lukken, acting chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said the environment was “ripe for those wanting to illegally manipulate the markets” and noted that the regulator had stepped up its already aggressive enforcement programme.

His comments to a joint Senate hearing come as US legislators become increasingly alarmed about surging oil and commodity prices and fear that speculators trading on foreign exchanges may be contributing to record oil prices.

Yesterday’s decision by the CFTC to impose position and accountability limits on the crude oil contract traded on London’s ICE Futures Europe exchange – which is linked to the benchmark US West Texas Intermediate contract – will bring scrutiny of US traders’ behaviour on overseas exchanges into line with limits on domestic markets.

It comes amid growing pressure by legislators for tighter scrutiny of activity on non-US exchanges.

“The CFTC will also require other foreign ex-changes that seek such direct access to provide the CFTC with comparable large trader reports and to impose comparable position and accountability limits for any products linked with USregulated futures contracts,” said Mr Lukken.

The futures regulator, which has repeatedly said prices are being mainly determined by fundamental supply and demand factors, now appears to be stepping up its focus on the potential impact of speculators and commodity index traders on market prices.

“We are trying to find the smoking gun,” said Mr Lukken, who said the agency was also taking action to improve the transparency in the energy markets of index traders and swap dealers, given the surge of money that has flowed into futures markets through commodity indices from institutional investors.

The CFTC is collecting more detailed information on index funds and other transactions being conducted through swap dealers and plans to provide recommendations to lawmakers in September.

But the regulator, which has announced a series of initiatives aimed at improving its scrutiny – including a nationwide crude oil investigation – conceded that it needed immediate additional resources and asked for more funding and staff.

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