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Record Oil, Gas Prices Loom as Financial Reform Fails

Two specific areas have already convinced me that the rules will ultimately be toothless, business will proceed as usual and whatever is implemented will do nothing to curb the explosive price rises we've seen not only in oil, but in copper, corn, coffee and cotton last year.

Proposals on contract position limits, necessary to avoid any single participant from having overwhelming influence on prices, were argued previously in December without resolution.

Bart Chilton, the one commissioner committed to strict position-limits in futures markets, gave up on a hard limit Thursday, proposing a much weaker "point system" to monitor participants, without any authority to force a finite limit or liquidation of positions.

If Chilton has given in, a dam has broken, and we shouldn't expect substantial position-limiting rules in futures markets to come from the CFTC.

Another issue defining new swaps clearinghouses and who can own them has generated similar industry interest and pushback. Creating "aggregate" owned clearinghouses would help in transparency, fairness of access and help keep the clearing business competitive.

Undue influence by a small group of banks in a new Swaps Execution Facility (SEF) could potentially control the nexus of trade and give far too much of an advantage for the bank owners, it is feared.

Republican commission members have agreed with investment bank lawyers and the Futures Industry Association (FIA) that even the proposed 40% ownership limit for any one participant is still too low. A recent Department of Justice opinion advocating third-party ownership of new SEFs has been excoriated by industry spokespersons representing the banks saying: "The DOJ letter's analysis appears deficient and fails to consider the relevant history and features of the derivatives markets."

We can see where this issue is ultimately headed. Banks will enjoy pass-through clearing that will in name only be at all different from the bilateral clearing system that is already in place and has sunk derivative markets in the past.

The bottom line is that commodity trading isn't about to change one iota from the system that has caused one boom and bust cycle for oil already and is currently causing others in corn, coffee, copper and cotton.

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