Senators to press CFTC on oil limits, manipulation

Thu May 26, 2011 8:42pm BST

* Senators want quicker action on oil position limits

* Lawmakers want more on CFTC efforts to stop manipulation

By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON, May 26 (Reuters) - U.S. senators on Thursday will press the chief futures market regulator to impose position limits on some commodities, especially oil, to help rein in speculation blamed for high crude and gasoline prices.

Gary Gensler, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, disappointed lawmakers earlier this week when he failed to move ahead on a plan to quickly limit the number of contracts a market participant can control.

Although the agency is expected to push ahead with so-called position limits as part of its mandate to step up and expand policing of derivative markets under the biggest financial reforms in generations, it has conceded that it will miss a July deadline to impose the measures.

With nearly $4 a gallon gasoline prices threatening to stall a U.S. economic recovery, however, a group of 17 U.S. senators urged the CFTC two weeks ago to unveil its final plan by May 23. The agency made an initial proposal for the rules earlier this year, but has not set a vote to finalize them.

Gensler will meet on Capitol Hill with some of the 17 senators later on Thursday, when the lawmakers also plan to discuss the CFTC's oil manipulation lawsuit filed this week against two traders and a global trading house owned by Norwegian billionaire John Fredriksen. [ID:nN25151262]

The lawmakers want to make sure the CFTC does not wait three years to go after any manipulating firms or traders who may be behind the current high energy prices, according to a Senate aide.

Senator Maria Cantwell, who will be in the meeting with Gensler, said on Wednesday that the CFTC should use its emergency authority to impose position limits.

"We don't have to wait one more day," she said. "They can implement these rules today and help consumers save on high gas prices."

Senators Bernie Sanders and Bill Nelson will also be in the meeting.

Gensler has said the commission will begin considering several rulemakings in late summer and he wanted position limits to be in that first batch.

A long-simmering debate over the role of speculators in commodity markets has been revived this year as many prices push toward their 2008 peaks. While critics say that investors with no intention of holding real oil or metals or grains are artificially driving up prices, many analysts argue that tight market fundamentals fully explain the latest run-up in prices.

John Felmy, the chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters on Thursday that high oil prices reflect tighter global supplies and strong demand, and speculators should not be blamed.

(Reporting by Tom Doggett, editing by Jonathan Leff)