(Adds comment by CFTC commissioner, additional information from
By Robert Campbell
NEW YORK Aug 5 A quiet data revision that has
boosted by nearly 25 percent the number of oil futures contracts
U.S. regulators think are held by speculators is raising
eyebrows in the energy trading community.
The revision means that speculators controlled 48 percent of
the open interest in NYMEX crude oil futures and options as of
July 15, compared with just over 38 percent under the previous
"That's huge when you look at the numbers," said Phil Flynn
of Alaron Trading in Chicago.
"It changes the whole way you look at the recent moves in
The U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission announced on
July 18 that it was reclassifying some trading positions that it
had reported as commercial hedging positions as noncommercial
The data revision converted approximately 327,000 long and
330,000 short NYMEX crude oil futures and options positions into
mostly spreading positions held by speculators.
The big shift is all the more surprising, oil traders and
analysts said, since the CFTC apparently reclassified only one
unidentified oil trader at the same time as the data revision.
"There may have been multiple 'positions' which were
reclassified ... but they all appear to have been held by just
one trader, and this was a very special trader, with an enormous
concentration of positions in crude oil amounting to perhaps 460
million barrels, and not much interest in anything else," noted
John Kemp of RBS Sempra Commodities.
A CFTC spokeswoman declined to elaborate on the move or to
identify the reclassified trader.
She also said the agency would not confirm whether a single
trader or multiple traders had been reclassified.
"This reclassification issue highlights the fact that
improvements are still needed in the area of data collection and
that the agency does not yet have the comprehensive data we need
to make any declarative statements about the overall role of
speculators in commodity markets,"said Democratic CFTC
Commissioner Bart Chilton.
The reclassification comes amid the collapse of energy
trader SemGroup LP, which filed for bankruptcy on July 22 after
suffering $3.2 billion in losses on oil futures and
SemGroup has blamed its collapse on unauthorized speculative
oil trading by its co-founder and former chief executive,
according to a court filing by a SemGroup lender.
The SemGroup collapse coincided with a sharp fall in oil
futures from their peak above $147 a barrel in mid-July.
However, a person familiar with SemGroup's trading position said
Monday the trader's position was not concentrated in any one
month and was more focused on intermonth spread positions.
"This was no Amaranth or Motherrock," said the person
familiar with SemGroup's futures trading book, referring to two
energy hedge funds whose multibillion dollar failures roiled
SemGroup began the process of transferring its NYMEX trading
book to Barclays Plc (BARC.L) on July 11 after drawing down a
$54 million line of credit to place a deposit with the British
bank, according to bankruptcy court testimony.
SemGroup completed the transfer of its trading book to
Barclays on July 16.
The transfer of SemGroup's NYMEX trading position was
instigated by the exchange itself, according to a source
familiar with the NYMEX's activities.
SemGroup's financial difficulties were first disclosed by
its publicly traded subsidiary SemGroup Energy Partners LP
SGLP.O on July 17, three days after its parent hired The
Blackstone Group (BX.N) to advise it on restructuring and two
days after a conference call with its lenders where it told them
it had run out of cash.
The Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Justice
Department are investigating SemGroup Energy Partners'
(Additional reporting by Tom Doggett in Washington and Richard
Mably in London; editing by Matthew Lewis)