The U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is examining the manner in which physical gold prices are fixed, with an eye toward whether or not the fixing is transparent. The automatic answer is, “Of course not! We don’t need an investigation to tell us that.”
Gold prices, like Libor rates and crude oil prices, are determined in a self-reporting system where dealers in gold, crude and other commodities, or banks with a stake in interest rates, report daily to a central body the prices they have paid for a commodity or to borrow money. The recent revelations related to Libor rate-setting have called into question that whole mechanism.
Oil traders appear to have beaten back any attempt to adjust the system for setting the benchmark prices, but European natural gas traders have agreed to base benchmark pricing on settled contracts instead of self-reported prices from traders. Recall that in the Libor scandal, banks lied about what they were paying to borrow in order either to juice profits or to appear stronger than they otherwise might. The offending banks have paid fines in the billions of dollars so far.
The CFTC’s examination of the way gold prices are fixed is not a formal investigation, sources have told The Wall Street Journal. Basing benchmark prices on actual transactions is far more transparent than having analysts or bankers set the rate based on information from parties with a dog in the hunt. If the CFTC can shine some light on oil, gold, silver and other commodity price setting, the rest of us will be better off for it.