It’s been a busy year for the regulators and legal groups of major banks and hedge funds, as the recent fines of JP Morgan, Steve Cohen and others have appeared with increasing frequency. The Feds might have been slow to anger, but are finally showing some teeth against manipulations and outright fraud in the capital markets after being virtually silent during and after the financial crisis of 2008.
That newfound regulatory zeal has come to the commodity markets too, with allegations of manipulations of Goldman Sachs into Aluminum and JP Morgan into Electricity markets.
That’s why the lawsuit from four traders from my old home at the New York Mercantile Exchange seems so well timed. In it, ex-NYMEX board member Kevin McDonnell and 3 other floor traders allege collusion of BP, Shell, Statoil and the private trading Vitol group of manipulating physical Brent oil trades to fix reported prices from Platts – the industry’s recognized benchmarker of price.
Here’s the background you need to know to understand what’s going on here: First, recognize that Brent crude had taken over for West Texas Intermediate crude after the financial crisis for benchmarking the global prices that everyone outside of the US pays. But the daily production output from the North Sea is only between 1.2m and 1.4m barrels a day. That doesn’t seem like much to price the world’s supply, considering that…