How the Kochs' Shady Oil Speculation May Be Driving Up Gas Prices
In April, ThinkProgress caused a stir when we uncovered a series of Koch Industries corporate documents revealing the company’s role as an oil speculator. Like many oil companies, Koch uses legitimate hedging products to create price stability. However, the documents reveal that Koch is also participating in the unregulated derivatives markets as a financial player, buying and selling speculative products that are increasingly contributing to the skyrocketing price of oil. Excessive energy speculation today is at its highest levels ever, and even Goldman Sachs now admits that at least $27 of the price of crude oil is a result from reckless speculation rather than market fundamentals of supply and demand. Many experts interviewed by ThinkProgress argue that the figure is far higher, and out of control speculation has doubled the current price of crude oil.
Reached for information about its trading division, Koch Industries — America’s second largest private company — declined our request for comment. Writing on his political blog, an attorney working for Koch’s law firm angrily replied to our initial investigation by claiming that Koch is solely a bonafide hedger, meaning that it only participates in speculative markets to reduce risk for the oil the company refines (he also bizarrely argued that speculation has no relation to the price of oil). The spin obscures reality: much of Koch’s oil trading business is actually akin to a hedge fund, buying and selling financial products based on oil with little interest in the actual delivery of the product. In fact, Koch pioneered the risky speculation industry that dominates the world’s oil markets today, first by inventing oil derivatives back in the ’80s, then by working to kill off regulations. ThinkProgress has delved into the history of Koch’s oil speculation business and the following timeline spells out Koch’s leading role:
Charles Koch, the CEO of Koch Industries who is worth a reported $22 billion, likes to call his business an example of something he describes as the “Science of Liberty.” In reality, his company’s deregulation crusade has contributed to rolling blackouts, consolidation and monopolies in financial markets, and economy-wrecking oil price spikes. In comments to the CFTC, the reform-minded nonprofit Better Markets notedthat, “the history of these markets is a history of anti-competitive, self-interested, predatory conduct that serves the interest of the exclusive few at the expense of the many and the system as a whole.”
>After working furiously to unleash oil speculators like Koch and Enron, the Gramm family was rewarded with plum jobs, including spots on corporate boards and placements at speculator-funded think tanks. Wendy Gramm still holds a position at the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University, although she hasn’t authored a paper in years. While the Gramm family has faded somewhat from the public eye, their actions have radically changed the global economy. Since the Koch-Gramm-Enron deregulation bonanza, non-commercial oil speculators have flooded the market and increased the price volatility of oil in leaps and bounds, hurting consumers and businesses across the globe while making a small set of oil barons and financial giants very rich.
Michael Greenberger, a former top staffer the CFTC, explained to me that a common misperception is that oil companies are only bonafide hedgers, meaning they only participate in the futures market to lock-in prices for delivery of their product. With the exception of ExxonMobil, which has explicitly stated that it does not engage in speculation, all the major oil companies (Shell, BP, Occidental, etc) operate like Wall Street investment banks and use their privileged position in the oil market to make speculative bets on the price of oil. And as the unregulated oil market has grown, investment banks like JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley have become more like oil companies, buying tankers, pipelines, oil containers, and other physical assets to give them an edge while betting on oil. The Koch contango strategy detailed by ThinkProgress is not limited to Koch Industries either — Shell for instance is known for buying up cheap oil, storing it in tankers, and betting on future prices as they reserve the oil from the market.
Tyson Slocum, an expert on oil speculation at Public Citizen, has called Koch one of the worst actors when it comes to oil speculation. Koch, Slocum explained in an interview with ThinkProgress, is unique because of its status as a political powerhouse as well as a speculator with operations all over the world.