U.S. Launches Investigation into Oil Price-Fixing

Oil Tanker
Source: Thinkstock
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reportedly initiated a formal investigation into the way oil and refined product benchmark prices are set. The investigation parallels one begun earlier this year in Europe, where the European Commission (EC) investigators raided the offices of Royal Dutch Shell plc (NYSE: RDS-A), BP plc (NYSE: BP), Statoil ASA (NYSE: STO), and energy pricing agency Platts, owned by McGraw-Hill Financial Inc. (NYSE: MHFI), to collect information related to charges of crude oil price-fixing in the European market.

The FTC’s investigation is still in a preliminary stage according to a report at Bloomberg News that cites people familiar with the matter. The agency has reportedly agreed with the Department of Justice to handle the investigation. An FTC spokesman would not comment on the story.

At issue is the manner in which oil prices are reported to Platts and the way Platts then calculates the spot price of crude. The process is very similar to the way that Libor rates were generated: oil traders report price data on physical transactions to Platts from which the pricing energy whips up a spot price. As with Libor rate setting, reporting is voluntary and it is easy for traders to hide the actual prices paid for crude. Platts could reject a price that it believes is false.

Just last week The Wall Street Journal reported on price-manipulation shenanigans in the oil market.

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