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Wall Street Fights Rule Limiting Oil Speculation

Wall Street is fighting a new rule that cracks down on oil market speculation, which some blame for run-up at the pump.

By Jennifer Liberto
CNNMoney - Monday, February 27, 2012

WASHINGTON - Wall Street is pushing to stop a new rule that would crack down on speculation in the energy markets, which many blame for contributing to the spike in gas prices.

The new rule - part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to reform Wall Street - would set limits on how much traders can buy, preventing firms from grabbing large chunks of the energy market.

But those limits may not be set anytime soon. Nearly two years after the new law, the rule has yet to be fully implemented. And on Monday, two Wall Street trade groups asked a federal judge in Washington to delay or block the rule.

Representatives of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, which filed suit against the rule in December, appeared at a hearing at which they sought an injunction barring the rule's immediate implementation.

The Wall Street groups said in a statement that the rule was lacking on an economic basis, and would harm markets if implemented.

The suit spurred one commissioner on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the body that regulates energy trades, to urge that regulators speed up position limits to prevent consumers from paying more at the pump.

Commissioner Bart Chilton estimates that Wall Street's "speculative premium" has raised the price to fill up a Honda Civic by $7.39.

"You can't turn on the television or the radio without hearing about record high gas prices, and yet the CFTC has not yet been able to implement Congressionally mandated position limits to put the brakes on excessive speculation in oil and other commodity markets," Chilton said in a statement Friday.

Even if Wall Street loses in court, the new position limit rules can't take full effect until two months after the agency has issued a definition of what qualifies as a swap, which is due out in April.

Gasoline prices have risen in recent years as global demand grew. But the biggest factor for the recent price boost, according to analysts, is fear that tensions with Iran will lead to an all-out war that causes a disruption in oil supplies.

Last week, traders set a record for the amount of money they bet on higher gasoline prices, according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service.

Yet, the lobbying group for swaps firms points to several studies that conclude there's little to no evidence that speculation in commodities markets causes price volatility.

The Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition [NJCA Oil Group is a member]- representing airlines, truckers and heating companies that depend on gas prices - says it is convinced speculators cause price spikes. They also point to studies that suggest a link and have decried the slow pace of a crackdown on Wall Street bets on energy markets.

"We think these position limits are necessary ... they're long overdue and the market would see a benefit," said Jim Collura, the group's spokesman.

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