NEW YORK (
) -- Big Oil reported big profits this week, and not by coincidence, the issue of higher crude oil prices and rising gasoline prices at the pump has become a political football ahead of the next presidential race.
In short, President Obama's approval numbers will be hard pressed to keep pace with the earnings that oil and gas companies are racking up.
(XOM - Get Report)
first-quarter profit soared
nearly 70%. Not far behind,
Royal Dutch Shell
(RDS.A - Get Report)
saw profits pop by 60%.
Even oil spill punching bag
(BP - Get Report)
booked a 17% increase in earnings
, while residents and businesses in the Gulf Coast complain that the oil spill claims process drags on.
(COP - Get Report)
by 44%, while
(CVX - Get Report)
saw a profit spike of 36%.
It was last Friday that President Obama said he had directed the Justice Department to begin
a sweeping investigation
of fraud in the commodity trading market, specifically mentioning oil contracts.
Companies that have a business founded on a physical commodity or are reliant on a commodity use the futures markets to hedge their risk. The problem is there are two times as many speculators trading as there are commercial entities, according to University of Maryland law professor Michael Greenberger, who has testified on Capitol Hill about speculation in the commodities markets.
"Look at Enron. Look at Brian Hunter. These are very sophisticated surgical purchasing of long futures contracts and avoidance of position limits, and these markets are opaque and need to be investigated," Greenberger said.
Brian Hunter not a household name on the tip of your tongue. On April 21, the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) fined Brian Hunter $31 million. Hunter was the head trader at Amaranth Advisors, the hedge fund that went belly up after engaging in massive manipulation of the natural gas futures market, and the Amaranth implosion, when it was a headline event, hearkened back to the energy manipulator without equal, Enron.
Given the history of manipulation of prices in the energy market, as well as recent comments from commodity heavyweights including Goldman Sachs and Saudi Arabia that there is excessive speculation in the oil markets, President Obama would seem on the right side of justice to be rooting out any crude wrongdoing. Yet debate remains over whether President Obama's oil prices manipulation crusade is merely lip service intended to serve his re-election campaign.