FERC Gathers More Data on Wash Trades - TheStreet

Some big energy traders confessed to making natural gas trades resembling the ones regulators are cracking down on, but the companies insisted the deals were proper and financially insignificant.

Companies including industry leaders

Duke

(DUK) - Get Report

,

Dynegy

(DYN)

and

Williams

(WMB) - Get Report

told regulators Wednesday that they had engaged in a handful of transactions resembling the so-called wash trades that critics contend artificially boost revenue and inflate market prices.

The energy companies supplied the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with the information to comply with a Wednesday deadline for doing so. FERC is investigating natural gas transactions in the Western U.S. and Texas to determine whether they contributed to price spikes.

Shares in the once-hot energy sector have plunged this year as investors have grown increasingly skeptical of the companies' business and accounting practices. The fall of onetime highflier

Enron

last December triggered a wave of skepticism as Wall Street and regulators began reassessing the quality of the companies' revenue and their involvement in the California power crisis of two years ago. The questions have grown only louder in recent weeks as a number of companies admitted to making trades solely to make their numbers look better, and debt-rating agencies threatened to cut their bond ratings.

Volume

Looking at Wednesday's filings,

El Paso

(EP)

stood out in volume terms,¿admitting to 99 simultaneous trades with other companies. However, the company said none of the trades¿were the roundtrip swaps FERC is investigating and in no way affected the natural gas market.¿The company said it¿only identified the 99 trades in an effort to "bend over backwards in the interest of full disclosure."

In contrast, Duke said only three of its more than 30,000 natural gas trades in the Western U.S. and Texas resembled wash trades. The company also said it stopped allowing any such trades last month.

Dynegy said it made two round-trip gas trades with

CMS Energy

(CMS) - Get Report

, as previously disclosed, but neither was in the Western U.S. or Texas markets.

Williams disclosed five transactions with El Paso resembling wash trades, three of them outside the Western U.S. and Texas. The company said it made the trades for hedging purposes.

Aquila

(ILA)

said that a few of its natural gas trades -- representing less than one-half of 1% of the company's total trading revenue -- resembled wash trades, but all were carried out for legitimate business reasons.

The companies were among more than 100 required by FERC to supply information about their natural gas trading practices by Wednesday's deadline.