February 2, 2010 / 11:15 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. lawmaker to push for crackdown on speculation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key U.S. lawmaker is set to join forces with several business groups on Wednesday to call for Congress to end the “reckless speculation” in commodity markets as the Senate prepares to take on financial reform.

Traders work in the Crude, Gasoline and Heating Oil Futures pit at the New York Mercantile Exchange May 19, 2009. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Senator Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, will advocate for more regulation of futures markets and derivatives at a press conference at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) on Wednesday with Americans for Financial Reform and the Commodities Markets Oversight Coalition.

Financial reform and commodity market speculation have been political hot buttons in the wake of the economic meltdown and volatile commodity prices. The House of Representative passed a financial overhaul bill in December, but the Senate is still working on its own regulatory plan.

“She is determined that regulatory reform legislation in whatever final form it takes is loop hole free in terms of closing the door on abusive and speculative trading practices in derivatives and commodities,” said Cantwell spokesman John Diamond.

Cantwell, who has been a vocal proponent for more transparency in commodity markets, sits on the Senate Finance Committee and could influence regulatory reform but the any legislation faces an uphill battle for passage.

Financial market reform legislation could give CFTC authority in the unregulated over-the-counter derivatives markets.

Food and energy costs skyrocketed to record levels in 2008 before crashing back to earth last year. Some lawmakers and consumer advocates blame financial investors involved in the futures markets for the roller coaster price moves.

Cantwell will be joined by hedge fund manager Michael Masters, who made a splash on Capitol Hill during the run up in oil prices by testifying at several Congressional hearings that an influx of financial firms in futures markets was behind the rise in commodity prices.

Masters said there is a connection between the collapse in the financial markets, volatile commodity costs and the credit crisis.

“In all those cases, the source was unregulated and non-transparent derivatives,” said Masters, who manages Masters Capital Management.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission issued a proposal to curb speculation in oil and gas markets last month by capping the number of contracts a company can hold across exchanges.

Some lawmakers have said the CFTC plan is too lenient on traders, however. The proposed regulations would still allow a trader to amass a 98 million-barrel position in crude oil, equal to more than a day’s global consumption and five times the New York Mercantile Exchange’s loosely enforced cap.

Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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