By Douwe Miedema
WASHINGTON, July 30 The top U.S. securities regulator said on Tuesday she was examining insider trading rules for commodities, further stepping up scrutiny of Wall Street's role in trading anything from oil to metals.
The move comes after JPMorgan Chase & Co - under pressure from regulators - said last week it would exit physical commodities trading, and as Europe is drastically stepping up its rules for commodity trading.
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White said the agency was looking into whether banks should be allowed to own such assets as oil tankers and metal warehouses, while also trading in related commodities.
"It's a subject matter that once it came to my attention, and that's fairly recently, I've actually asked the staff to examine that question, or a series of questions," White told the U.S. Senate Banking Committee in answer to a question by Senator Sherrod Brown.
She also said that "a range of possible disclosures ... could be involved," but gave no further details.
Other large investment banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley also have been under intense scrutiny from regulators in recent weeks, with some suspecting they exert undue influence over commodity markets.
Brown, an Ohio Democrat, has been the most vocal proponent of the view that banks have an unfair advantage in their trading operations because they control supply that gives them access to non-public information.
Last week, big aluminum buyers represented by MillerCoors - America's second-largest brewer - told him and other senators that banks' control of metals warehouses drove up the brewers' costs by as much as $3 billion last year.
Separately, the head of the Senate Agriculture Committee said on Tuesday that U.S. futures regulators should review alleged manipulation of the aluminum market.
"I am writing to encourage you to further review this issue and clarify the role and responsibility of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission," Sen. Debbie Stabenow wrote in a letter to Gary Gensler, who heads the CFTC.