"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Market Manipulation’

Money-Laundering Banks Still Get a Pass From U.S. Justice System

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2013 at 7:16 pm

https://i0.wp.com/www.cfoinnovation.com/system/files/cfo/money_laundering.jpgOldspeak: “Look North Korea is threatening us! Look! Rush Limbaugh said something about President Obama! Look! A D.A. got shot in Texas. Look! We need gun control now! Meanwhile those fortunate enough to be in America’s 1st tier of justice flout the law,  profit from downturns, war and the illegal drug trade. Their punishment? Earnest protestations and little else from Law Enforcement: “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.” –Attorney General Eric Holder  “Yes, well, that could explain it. When the banks hold a gun to the head of the economy, it is no longer the relationship between regulator and regulated, but a hostage relationship. A relationship made even more complex, no doubt, by the fact that the hostage-taker is also the principal corporate funder of the bosses of the putative hostage negotiators.” –Mike Lofgren This class based application of justice is not sustainable. These banksters who are holding our financial, political and justice systems hostage are subverting liberty and justice for all. They’re subverting democracy, and government by the people. It cannot continue.

By Simon Johnson @ Bloomberg News:

Money laundering by large international banks has reached epidemic proportions, and U.S. authorities are supposedly looking into Citigroup Inc. (C) and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Governor Jerome Powell, on behalf of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, recently testified to Congress on the issue, and he sounded serious. But international criminals and terrorists needn’t worry. This is window dressing: Complicit bankers have nothing to fear from the U.S. justice system.

To be on the safe side, though, miscreants should be sure to use a really large global bank for all their money-laundering needs.

There may be fines, but the largest financial companies are unlikely to face criminal actions or meaningful sanctions. The Department of Justice has decided that these banks are too big to prosecute to the full extent of the law, though why this also gets employees and executives off the hook remains a mystery. And the Federal Reserve refuses to rescind bank licenses, undermining the credibility, legitimacy and stability of the financial system.

To see this perverse incentive program in action, consider the recent case of a big money-laundering bank that violated a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department, openly broke U.S. securities law and stuck its finger in the eye of the Fed. This is what John Peace, the chairman of Standard Chartered Plc (STAN), and his colleagues managed to get away with March 5. The meaningful consequences for him or his company are precisely zero.

Chairman’s Statement

At one level, this is farce. Standard Chartered has long conceded that it broke U.S. money-laundering laws in spectacular and prolonged fashion. In late 2012, it entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department, agreeing to pay a fine that amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist (in any case, such penalties are paid by shareholders, not management).

Then, on a March 5 conference call with investors, Peace denied that his bank and its employees had willfully broken U.S. law with their money-laundering activities. This statement was a clear breach of the deferred prosecution agreement (see paragraph 12 on page 10, where the bank agreed that none of its officers should make “any public statement contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by SCB set forth above or the facts described in the Factual Statement”). Any such statement constitutes a willful and material breach of the agreement.

This is where the theater of the absurd begins. For some reason, it took the bank 11 business days, not the required five, to issue a retraction. No doubt a number of people, in the private and public sectors, were asleep at the switch. (The Justice Department and Standard Chartered rebuffed my requests for details on the timeline.)

The implications of the affair are twofold. First, with his eventual retraction, Peace admitted that he misled investors. It also was an implicit admission that he had failed to issue a timely correction. Waiting 11 days to correct a material factual error is a serious breach of U.S. securities law for any nonfinancial company. Wake me when the Securities and Exchange Commission brings a case against Standard Chartered.

Of course, it’s possible that Peace didn’t deliberately violate the deferred prosecution agreement because he hadn’t read it, or at least not all the way to page 10. Peace is an accomplished professional with a long and distinguished track record. Everyone can have a forgetful moment. That still doesn’t explain why the bank took so long to correct the facts.

Leadership Matters

Tone at the top matters, as reporting around JPMorgan Chase and its relationship with regulators makes clear. Will Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon be more cooperative than he was, for example, in August 2011 when he refused to provide detailed information on the goings-on in his investment bank?

Why hasn’t Standard Chartered’s board, which is made up of talented and experienced individuals, forced out Peace as a result of this bungling? (I called for his resignation on my blog last week.)

The only possible explanation is that the board thinks Peace did nothing wrong. They may even regard U.S. laws as onerous and the Department of Justice as heavy-handed.

They would be entitled to their opinions, of course. But if they would like their bank to do business in the U.S., the rules are (supposedly) the rules. If used appropriately, permission to operate a bank in the U.S. grants the opportunity to earn a great deal of profit.

At a recent congressional hearing, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts asked what it would take for a company to lose its U.S. banking license. Specifically, “How many billions of dollars do you have to launder for drug lords?”

Powell, the Fed governor, replied that pulling a bank’s license may be “appropriate when there’s a criminal conviction.”

I have failed to find any cases of the Fed ordering the termination of banking activities in the U.S. for a foreign bank after a criminal conviction for money laundering. Nor, for that matter, has the Fed taken action to shut down a bank that signed a deferred prosecution agreement, which, in the case of Standard Chartered (STAN), was an acknowledgment of criminal wrongdoing. Nor has it taken action when such an agreement was violated.

To see what the Fed is empowered to do under the International Banking Act, and working with state authorities, look at the case of Daiwa Bank, which received an Order to Terminate United States Banking Activities in 1995. Note to big banks: Don’t allow illegal trading in the U.S. Treasury market; on this, we may still have standards. By the way, in the case of Daiwa, there was no criminal conviction.

Cleaning House

Last summer, when Barclays’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond was less than fully cooperative with the Bank of England in providing details of the Libor scandal, he was gone within 24 hours. Any bank supervisor has the right and the obligation to force out a manager who impedes the proper functioning of the financial system.

The new CEO of Barclays (BARC) is trying to clean house. The obstreperous approach of the previous management set the tone for the entire organization, creating a mess of macroeconomic proportions.

Will any senior executives at Standard Chartered be forced out? Could the bank lose its ability to operate in the U.S.? Based on what we have seen so far, neither seems plausible.

If Standard Chartered violates its cease-and-desist order with the Fed, would it then lose its license? Not according to what Powell said in his congressional testimony. The Fed has no teeth whatsoever, at least when it comes to global megabanks, hence the continuing pattern of defiance from JPMorgan (JPM) and Dimon.

If you or I tried to launder money, even on a small scale, we would probably go to jail. But when the employees of a very big bank do so — on a grand scale and over many years — there are no meaningful consequences.

(Simon Johnson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management as well as a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, is co-author of “White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You.” The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this article: Simon Johnson at .

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net.

 

Cyprus As Canary – It Can Happen Here: The Bank Currency Confiscation Scheme for US & UK Depositors

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2013 at 7:57 pm

https://i2.wp.com/media.npr.org/assets/img/2013/03/28/cyprusbank282way_wide-8b44df5e0364c2692b832eafdc77152c95ea425d-s6-c10.jpgOldspeak: “While U.S. Corporate media has been focused on Gay marriage and “gun control”, events in Cyprus are giving us a preview of things to come in the rest of Europe and the U.S. Things to come that according to “A joint paper by the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Bank of England dated December 10, 2012, shows that these plans have been long in the making; that they originated with the G20 Financial Stability Board in Basel, Switzerland” What we’re witnessing is the planned demolition of sovereign governments to finance the greed-fueled, reckless and illegal behavior of the international banking cartel. We’ve now reached point in this global economic looting scheme where tax financed bank bailouts are no longer sufficient. Now the hard-earned life savings of bank depositors will be appropriated without their consent. Inequality is at never before seen levels, conditions on Wall Street are basically the same and in many ways worse than they were prior to the last global economic collapse. 2 mega banks, JP Morgan Chase & Bank of America hold more in notional derivatives; 79 TRILLION and 75 TRILLION respectively, than the amount of the ENTIRE GLOBAL GDP of 70 Trillion. Let that sink in. It’s not a matter of if the next collape happens, but when. It’s already begun. Nameless Russian billionaires have been rendered broke, as a result of events in Cyprus. They won’t be the last. Eventually the confiscations will trickle down to people like you and me. Your politicians have already laid the groundwork for banks to legally use your money to bail themselves out. This sort of madness depends on the complacency and indifference of the public to get passed. In this age of Austerity sadly complacency and indifference are abundant. “Propaganda always wins  if you let allow it.”-Leni Riefenstahl . How much longer will we allow it?

By Ellen Brown @ Washingtons’ Blog:

Confiscating the customer deposits in Cyprus banks, it seems, was not a one-off, desperate idea of a few Eurozone “troika” officials scrambling to salvage their balance sheets. A joint paper by the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Bank of England dated December 10, 2012, shows that these plans have been long in the making; that they originated with the G20 Financial Stability Board in Basel, Switzerland (discussed earlier here); and that the result will be to deliver clear title to the banks of depositor funds.  

New Zealand has a similar directive, discussed in my last article here, indicating that this isn’t just an emergency measure for troubled Eurozone countries. New Zealand’s Voxy reported on March 19th:

The National Government [is] pushing a Cyprus-style solution to bank failure in New Zealand which will see small depositors lose some of their savings to fund big bank bailouts . . . .

Open Bank Resolution (OBR) is Finance Minister Bill English’s favoured option dealing with a major bank failure. If a bank fails under OBR, all depositors will have their savings reduced overnight to fund the bank’s bail out.

Can They Do That?

Although few depositors realize it, legally the bank owns the depositor’s funds as soon as they are put in the bank. Our money becomes the bank’s, and we become unsecured creditors holding IOUs or promises to pay. (See here and here.) But until now the bank has been obligated to pay the money back on demand in the form of cash. Under the FDIC-BOE plan, our IOUs will be converted into “bank equity.”  The bank will get the money and we will get stock in the bank. With any luck we may be able to sell the stock to someone else, but when and at what price? Most people keep a deposit account so they can have ready cash to pay the bills.

The 15-page FDIC-BOE document is called “Resolving Globally Active, Systemically Important, Financial Institutions.”  It begins by explaining that the 2008 banking crisis has made it clear that some other way besides taxpayer bailouts is needed to maintain “financial stability.” Evidently anticipating that the next financial collapse will be on a grander scale than either the taxpayers or Congress is willing to underwrite, the authors state:

An efficient path for returning the sound operations of the G-SIFI to the private sector would be provided by exchanging or converting a sufficient amount of the unsecured debt from the original creditors of the failed company [meaning the depositors] into equity [or stock]. In the U.S., the new equity would become capital in one or more newly formed operating entities. In the U.K., the same approach could be used, or the equity could be used to recapitalize the failing financial company itself—thus, the highest layer of surviving bailed-in creditors would become the owners of the resolved firm. In either country, the new equity holders would take on the corresponding risk of being shareholders in a financial institution.

No exception is indicated for “insured deposits” in the U.S., meaning those under $250,000, the deposits we thought were protected by FDIC insurance. This can hardly be an oversight, since it is the FDIC that is issuing the directive. The FDIC is an insurance company funded by premiums paid by private banks.  The directive is called a “resolution process,” defined elsewhere as a plan that “would be triggered in the event of the failure of an insurer . . . .” The only  mention of “insured deposits” is in connection with existing UK legislation, which the FDIC-BOE directive goes on to say is inadequate, implying that it needs to be modified or overridden.

An Imminent Risk

If our IOUs are converted to bank stock, they will no longer be subject to insurance protection but will be “at risk” and vulnerable to being wiped out, just as the Lehman Brothers shareholders were in 2008.  That this dire scenario could actually materialize was underscored by Yves Smith in a March 19th post titled When You Weren’t Looking, Democrat Bank Stooges Launch Bills to Permit Bailouts, Deregulate Derivatives.  She writes:

In the US, depositors have actually been put in a worse position than Cyprus deposit-holders, at least if they are at the big banks that play in the derivatives casino. The regulators have turned a blind eye as banks use their depositaries to fund derivatives exposures. And as bad as that is, the depositors, unlike their Cypriot confreres, aren’t even senior creditors. Remember Lehman? When the investment bank failed, unsecured creditors (and remember, depositors are unsecured creditors) got eight cents on the dollar. One big reason was that derivatives counterparties require collateral for any exposures, meaning they are secured creditors. The 2005 bankruptcy reforms made derivatives counterparties senior to unsecured lenders.

One might wonder why the posting of collateral by a derivative counterparty, at some percentage of full exposure, makes the creditor “secured,” while the depositor who puts up 100 cents on the dollar is “unsecured.” But moving on – Smith writes:

Lehman had only two itty bitty banking subsidiaries, and to my knowledge, was not gathering retail deposits. But as readers may recall, Bank of America moved most of its derivatives from its Merrill Lynch operation [to] its depositary in late 2011.

Its “depositary” is the arm of the bank that takes deposits; and at B of A, that means lots and lots of deposits. The deposits are now subject to being wiped out by a major derivatives loss. How bad could that be? Smith quotes Bloomberg:

. . . Bank of America’s holding company . . . held almost $75 trillion of derivatives at the end of June . . . .

That compares with JPMorgan’s deposit-taking entity, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, which contained 99 percent of the New York-based firm’s $79 trillion of notional derivatives, the OCC data show.

$75 trillion and $79 trillion in derivatives! These two mega-banks alone hold more in notional derivatives each than the entire global GDP (at $70 trillion). The “notional value” of derivatives is not the same as cash at risk, but according to a cross-post on Smith’s site:

By at least one estimate, in 2010 there was a total of $12 trillion in cash tied up (at risk) in derivatives . . . .

$12 trillion is close to the US GDP.  Smith goes on:

. . . Remember the effect of the 2005 bankruptcy law revisions: derivatives counterparties are first in line, they get to grab assets first and leave everyone else to scramble for crumbs. . . . Lehman failed over a weekend after JP Morgan grabbed collateral.

But it’s even worse than that. During the savings & loan crisis, the FDIC did not have enough in deposit insurance receipts to pay for the Resolution Trust Corporation wind-down vehicle. It had to get more funding from Congress. This move paves the way for another TARP-style shakedown of taxpayers, this time to save depositors.

Perhaps, but Congress has already been burned and is liable to balk a second time. Section 716 of the Dodd-Frank Act specifically prohibits public support for speculative derivatives activities. And in the Eurozone, while the European Stability Mechanism committed Eurozone countries to bail out failed banks, they are apparently having second thoughts there as well. On March 25th, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who played a leading role in imposing the deposit confiscation plan on Cyprus, told reporters that it would be the template for any future bank bailouts, and that “the aim is for the ESM never to have to be used.”

That explains the need for the FDIC-BOE resolution. If the anticipated enabling legislation is passed, the FDIC will no longer need to protect depositor funds; it can just confiscate them.

Worse Than a Tax

An FDIC confiscation of deposits to recapitalize the banks is far different from a simple tax on taxpayers to pay government expenses. The government’s debt is at least arguably the people’s debt, since the government is there to provide services for the people. But when the banks get into trouble with their derivative schemes, they are not serving depositors, who are not getting a cut of the profits. Taking depositor funds is simply theft.

What should be done is to raise FDIC insurance premiums and make the banks pay to keep their depositors whole, but premiums are already high; and the FDIC, like other government regulatory agencies, is subject to regulatory capture.  Deposit insurance has failed, and so has the private banking system that has depended on it for the trust that makes banking work.

The Cyprus haircut on depositors was called a “wealth tax” and was written off by commentators as “deserved,” because much of the money in Cypriot accounts belongs to foreign oligarchs, tax dodgers and money launderers. But if that template is applied in the US, it will be a tax on the poor and middle class. Wealthy Americans don’t keep most of their money in bank accounts.  They keep it in the stock market, in real estate, in over-the-counter derivatives, in gold and silver, and so forth.

Are you safe, then, if your money is in gold and silver? Apparently not – if it’s stored in a safety deposit box in the bank.  Homeland Security has reportedly told banks that it has authority to seize the contents of safety deposit boxes without a warrant when it’s a matter of “national security,” which a major bank crisis no doubt will be.

The Swedish Alternative: Nationalize the Banks

Another alternative was considered but rejected by President Obama in 2009: nationalize mega-banks that fail. In a February 2009 article titled “Are Uninsured Bank Depositors in Danger?“, Felix Salmon discussed a newsletter by Asia-based investment strategist Christopher Wood, in which Wood wrote:

It is . . . amazing that Obama does not understand the political appeal of the nationalization option. . . . [D]espite this latest setback nationalization of the banks is coming sooner or later because the realities of the situation will demand it. The result will be shareholders wiped out and bondholders forced to take debt-for-equity swaps, if not hopefully depositors.

On whether depositors could indeed be forced to become equity holders, Salmon commented:

It’s worth remembering that depositors are unsecured creditors of any bank; usually, indeed, they’re by far the largest class of unsecured creditors.

President Obama acknowledged that bank nationalization had worked in Sweden, and that the course pursued by the US Fed had not worked in Japan, which wound up instead in a “lost decade.”  But Obama opted for the Japanese approach because, according to Ed Harrison, “Americans will not tolerate nationalization.”

But that was four years ago. When Americans realize that the alternative is to have their ready cash transformed into “bank stock” of questionable marketability, moving failed mega-banks into the public sector may start to have more appeal.

Comment by Washington’s Blog:  The big banks have already been “nationalized” in the sense that they are state-sponsored institutions .  In fact, the big banks went totally bust in 2008, and are now completely subsidized by the government.

Americans may not like the idea of nationalization, but they are even more  disgusted by crony capitalism … which is what we have now.

Moreover, as we pointed out in 2009:

Many argue that it would be wrong for the government to break up the banks, because we would have to take over the banks in order to break them up.

That may be true. But government regulators in the U.S., Sweden and other countries which have broken up insolvent banks say that the government only has to take over banks for around 6 months before breaking them up.

In contrast, the Bush and Obama administrations’ actions mean that the government is becoming the majority shareholder in the financial giants more or less permanently. That is – truly – socialism.

Breaking them up and selling off the parts to the highest bidder efficiently and in an orderly fashion would get us back to a semblance of free market capitalism much quicker.

World’s Faith in “Free Market” Capitalism, Hard Work, Eroding. As Global Financial Crisis Continues, Pervasive Gloom About World Economy: Survey

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Oldspeak:”The world is getting wise to the hustle that is Free Market, casino capitalism. Money is being pumped into military spending, “Too Big To Fail” Banks and other multinational corporations.  Everyone else gets “Austerity Measures” Billions of  ordinary people work soul crushing jobs for slave wages their whole lives to barely survive.  Something has to change. This monetary system is unsustainable and breeds corruption, greed, and economic violence.”

By Common Dreams:

The financial crisis that has bred unemployment, austerity, and economic pain across the global for nearly fives years is also battering the reputation of the system many believe to be its main cause: “free market” capitalism.

According to a new global poll by Pew Research, only half or fewer — in 11 of 21 nations surveyed — now agree with the statement that people are better off in a “free market” economy than in some other kind.

In nine of the 16 countries for which there is trend data since 2007, before the financial crisis began, support for capitalism is down, with the greatest declines in Italy (down 23 percentage points) and Spain (down 20 points).

Support for capitalism is greatest in Brazil, China, Germany and the U.S, says the report. The biggest skeptics of the free market are in Mexico and Japan.

The survey found only four countries in which a majority of people were happy with and optimistic about the economic situation: China (83 percent), Germany (73 percent), Brazil (65 percent) and Turkey (57 percent). The Chinese are a particular exception to most of the questioning on economic optimism with Pew observing that, overall, the people of China — which runs a single party, state-controlled economy — “have been positive about their economy for the past decade.”

The survey also showed that the prolonged global economic slump has depressed the public mood about their national economies. In only four of 21 countries surveyed does a majority say their economy is doing well.

Anger at government was shared in most countries, but banks and financial institutions were frequently – in Spain (78%), France (74%) and Germany (74%) – seen as the culprit behind the poor performance of national economies. And in two instances – France and Spain – significantly more of the public blamed the banks than blamed the government.

Read the full poll results here.

Unchecked Financial Speculation Drives Oil Price Hikes; Is There A Scam Behind The Rise In Oil And Food Prices?

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Oldspeak“Approximately 60 to 70 percent of the oil contracts in the futures markets are now held by speculative entities. Not by companies that need oil, not by the airlines, not by the oil companies. But by investors who profit money from their speculative positions.” –Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association.  It’s a scam folks, it’s nothing but a huge scam and it’s destroying the US economy as well as the entire global economy but no one complains because they are ‘only’ stealing about $1.50 per gallon from each individual person in the industrialized world.” –Phil Davis, Financial Expert. The debate in washington over cutting oil subsidies is another manufactured issue, diverting attention from the true cause of rising oil and commodities prices; unregulated, unchecked financial speculation and derivatives trading. Coincidentally the cause of the recent crash of the global economic system. Recently passed “financial reform” did nothing to reform this fatally flawed financial system. A simple and totally correctable (stricter regulation) flaw; corporate media, corporate economists,  no one is talking about it. “no one wants to talk about, because so many powerful people armed with legions of lawyers want unquestioning allegiance, and will sue you into silence.”- Danny Schechter. High gas prices are being used by Big Oil and their minions in the Congress to push for more offshore drilling, and as a grab of oil production by major multinationals from smaller oil companies. Naked oligarchy rules the day in America.

By Danny Schechter @ The News Dissector:

The global economy and its recovery, and the living standards of millions of plain folks, are now at risk from the sudden rise in oil and commodity prices.

Gas at the pump is up, and going higher. Food prices are following.

The consequences are catastrophic for the global poor as their costs go up while their income doesn’t. It’s menacing American workers too, who in large part have not seen a meaningful raise since the days of Reagan (keeping it this way is clearly behind the current flurry of attacks on unions).

Already, unrest in the Middle East and many African countries is being blamed for these dramatic increases. It seems as if this threat to global stability is being largely ignored in our media, one that treats the oil business as just another mystical world of free market trading.

Why is it happening? Why all the volatility? Is oil getting scarcer, leading to price increases? Is the cost of food, similarly, a reflection of naturally increasing commodity prices?

While it’s true that natural disasters and droughts play some role in this unchecked price inflation, it also seems apparent that something else is attracting increasing attention, even if most of our media fails to explore what is a political time bomb, while most political leaders shrug their shoulder and ignore it.

President Obama recently said there is nothing he can do about the hike in oil and food prices.

Critics say the problem is that government and media outlets alike refuse to recognize what’s really going on: unchecked speculation!

Not everyone buys into this suspicion. In fact, it is one of more intense subjects of debate in economics. Princeton University economist Paul Krugman pooh-poohs the impact of speculation counter posing the traditional argument that oil prices are set by supply and demand.

The Economist Magazine agrees, summing up its views with a pithy phrase, “Speculation does not drive the oil price. Driving does.”

Others, like oil industry analyst Michael Klare of Hampshire College in the US see demand outdistancing supply:

“Consider the recent rise in the price of oil just a faint and early tremor heralding the oilquake to come. Oil won’t disappear from international markets, but in the coming decades it will never reach the volumes needed to satisfy projected world demand, which means that, sooner rather than later, scarcity will become the dominant market condition.”

Usually you hear this debate in scholarly circles or read it in political tracts where orthodox views collide with more alarmist projections about the oil supply “peaking.”

But officials in the Third World don’t see the subject as academic. Reserve Bank of India Governor Duvvuri Subbarao charges “Speculative movements in commodity derivative markets are also causing volatility in prices,” he said.

The World Bank is meeting on this issue this week because it is seen as a matter of “utmost urgency.”

“The price of food is a matter of life and death for the very poorest people in the world,” said Tom Arnold, CEO of Concern Worldwide, the international humanitarian agency, ahead of his participation at The Open Forum on Food at World Bank headquarters.

He adds, “…with many families spending up to 80% of their income on basic foods to survive, even the slightest increase in price can have devastating effects and become a crises for the poorest.”

Journalist Josh Clark argues on the website “How Stuff Works” that much of the oil speculation is rooted in the financial crisis, “The next time you drive to the gas station, only to find prices are still sky high compared to just a few years ago, take notice of the rows of foreclosed houses you’ll pass along the way. They may seem like two parts of a spell of economic bad luck, but high gas prices and home foreclosures are actually very much interrelated. Before most people were even aware there was an economic crisis, investment managers abandoned failing mortgage-backed securities and looked for other lucrative investments. What they settled on was oil futures.”

The debate within the industry is more subdued, perhaps to avoid a public fight between suppliers and distributors who don’t want to rock the boat. But some officials like Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association, representing 8,000 retail and wholesale suppliers has spoken out.

He argues, “Approximately 60 to 70 percent of the oil contracts in the futures markets are now held by speculative entities. Not by companies that need oil, not by the airlines, not by the oil companies. But by investors who profit money from their speculative positions.”

Now, a prominent and popular market analyst is throwing caution to the wind by blowing the whistle on speculators.

Finance expert Phil Davis runs a website and widely read newsletter to monitor stocks and options trades. He’s a professional’s professional, whose grandfather taught him to buy stocks when he was just ten years old.

His website is Phil’s Stock World, and stocks are his world. He’s subtitled the site, “High Finance for Real People.”

He is usually a sober and calm analyst, not known as maverick or dissenter.

When I met Phil the other night, he was on fire, enraged by what he believes is the scam of the century that no one wants to talk about, because so many powerful people armed with legions of lawyers want unquestioning allegiance, and will sue you into silence.

He studies the oil/food issue carefully and has concluded, “It’s a scam folks, it’s nothing but a huge scam and it’s destroying the US economy as well as the entire global economy but no one complains because they are ‘only’ stealing about $1.50 per gallon from each individual person in the industrialized world.”

“It’s the top 0.01% robbing the next 39.99% – the bottom 60% can’t afford cars anyway (they just starve quietly to death, as food prices climb on fuel costs). If someone breaks into your car and steals a $500 stereo, you go to the police, but if someone charges you an extra $30 every time you fill up your tank 50 times a year ($1,500) you shut up and pay your bill. Great system, right?”

Phil is just getting started, as he delves into the intricacies of the NYMEX market that handles these trades:

“The great thing about the NYMEX is that the traders don’t have to take delivery on their contracts, they can simply pay to roll them over to the next settlement price, even if no one is actually buying the barrels. That’s how we have developed a massive glut of 677 Million barrels worth of contracts in the front four months on the NYMEX and, come rollover day – that will be the amount of barrels “on order” for the front 3 months, unless a lot barrels get dumped at market prices fast.”

“Keep in mind that the entire United States uses ‘just’ 18M barrels of oil a day, so 677M barrels is a 37-day supply of oil. But, we also make 9M barrels of our own oil and import ‘just’ 9M barrels per day, and 5M barrels of that is from Canada and Mexico who, last I heard, aren’t even having revolutions. So, ignoring North Sea oil Brazil and Venezuela and lumping Africa in with OPEC, we are importing 3Mbd from unreliable sources and there is a 225-day supply under contract for delivery at the current price or cheaper plus we have a Strategic Petroleum Reserve that holds another 727 Million barrels (full) plus 370M barrels of commercial storage in the US (also full) which is another 365.6 days of marginal oil already here in storage in addition to the 225 days under contract for delivery.”

These contracts for oil outnumber their actual delivery, a sign of speculation and market manipulation, as oil companies win government authorizations for wells but then don’t open them for exploration or exploitation. It’s all a game of manipulating oil supply to keep prices up. And no one seems to be regulating it.

What Phil sees is a giant but intricate game of market manipulation and rigging by a cartel—not just an industry—that actually has loaded tankers criss-crossing the oceans but only landing when the price is right.
“There is nothing that the conga-line of tankers between here and OPEC would like to do more than unload an extra 277 Million barrels of crude at $112.79 per barrel (Friday’s close on open contracts and price) but, unfortunately, as I mentioned last week, Cushing, Oklahoma (Where oil is stored) is already packed to the gills with oil and can only handle 45M barrels if it started out empty so it is, very simply, physically impossible for those barrels to be delivered. This did not, however, stop 287M barrels worth of May contracts from trading on Friday and GAINING $2.49 on the day. “

He asks, “Who is buying 287,494 contracts (1,000 barrels per contract) for May delivery that can’t possibly be delivered for $2.49 more than they were priced the day before? These are the kind of questions that you would think regulators would be asking – if we had any.”

The TV news magazine 60 Minutes spoke with Dan Gilligan who noted that, investors don’t actually take delivery of the oil. “All they do is buy the paper, and hope that they can sell it for more than they paid for it. Before they have to take delivery.”

He says they make their fortunes “on the volatility that exists in the market. They make it going up and down.”

Payam Sharifi, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, notes that even as the rise in oil prices threatens the world economy, there is almost total silence on the danger:

“This issue ought to be discussed again with a renewed interest – but the media and much of the populace at large have simply accepted high food and oil prices as an unavoidable fact of life, without any discussion of the causes of these price rises aside from platitudes.”

What can we do about that?

News Dissector Danny Schechter wrote an introduction to the recent reissue of a classic two-volume expose of John D. Rockefeller’s The Standard Oil Company, one of the top ten works top works of investigative reporting in America. (Cosimo Books) Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

Despite Rhetoric, Cutting Oil Subsidies Would Have Little Effect on Gas Prices

By Nicholas Kusnetz @ Pro Publica:

Democrats renewed their push to cut oil subsidies this week, saying high gasoline prices and big revenues for oil and gas companies make this as good a time as any to eliminate billions in annual tax incentives to the industry. Republicans countered that higher taxes on oil companies would only mean higher prices for consumers.

Most experts agree, however, that the tax incentives in question don’t have much effect on gasoline prices, one way or the other.

“The impact would be extremely small,” said Stephen Brown, a professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Brown co-wrote a study in 2009 arguing that if the subsidies were cut, the average person would spend, at most, just over $2 more each year on petroleum products.

This isn’t the first time Congress has debated the pros and cons of cutting the tax subsidies. President Obama has proposed eliminating some $4 billion in subsidies in each of his annual budgets since entering office in 2009 (the liberal Center for American Progress has a good breakdown of the President’s proposal). Senate Democrats this week introduced an alternative plan that would cut a little more than half as much, by targeting only the largest oil companies.

From the beginning, the Treasury Department has said the President’s proposal would raise prices at the pump by less than a cent per gallon at most. Brown’s study, produced for the non-partisan think tank Resources for the Future, came up with similar results. Even the American Petroleum Institute, which opposes cutting the subsidies, said in a press release on Monday that eliminating them wouldn’t affect gas prices.

The argument offered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans who oppose cutting the incentives is that it would drive up costs for oil and gas companies and ultimately reduce production and supply, leading to higher prices. (Domestic production, incidentally, has increased 10 percent over the last two years, and more oil wells were drilled in the U.S. last year than in any since 1985.)

As the Treasury Department’s analysis showed, the numbers don’t support McConnell’s assertion. Treasury’s Alan B. Krueger told a congressional subcommittee in 2009 that cutting tax incentives to the oil industry would raise costs by less than 2 percent and lead to a reduction in output of only one half of one percent. The United States produces about 10 percent of the world’s oil supply and holds less than 2 percent of global reserves. Since oil is a globally-traded commodity, a small drop in U.S. production would have an even smaller effect on the global price of oil.

In its 2012 budget proposal, the Obama Administration said cutting a number of tax breaks for the oil and gas industry would save more than $43 billion over the next decade. Republicans have opposed attempts to pass those subsidy cuts, most recently byrejecting attempts to attach them to a series of Republican-sponsored bills that aim to expand domestic drilling. On Tuesday, Senate Democrats introduced a bill that would cut subsidies only for the five biggest oil and gas companies, a more targeted plan that sponsors say would save $21 billion over the next 10 years.

There are other reasons why people support or oppose cutting these subsidies, including their effect on the budget deficit, job creation, reliance on foreign oil and interference in the free market. The President’s proposal could also shift more production from smaller oil companies, which tend to operate less productive wells, to the big multinationals, said Brown, the University of Nevada economist. The National Journal hosted a blog forum last week that gets into many of those arguments. Today, the Senate Finance Committee will host CEOs from the big five oil companies to discuss the topic.

Gas prices also have been the rallying cause for another set of proposals in Congress that would speed permitting and expand offshore drilling. House Republicans passedtwo of those bills in the last couple of weeks. A number of studies and reports have argued that the biggest of those proposals, expanded offshore drilling, probably wouldn’t affect gasoline prices much either.