Senior Staff Writer
HOUSTON, Jan. 26 -- High energy prices stem from supply-demand fundamentals rather than attempts by any type of traders to manipulate prices, US Commodities Futures Trading Commissioner Sharon Brown-Hruska said.
Some politicians have suggested speculative traders and hedge funds might be responsible for high oil and natural gas prices.
"We haven't uncovered any systematic problems with regard to manipulation or with speculative traders to exercise market power," Brown-Hruska told reporters during the annual Energy Trading & Marketing Conference at the University of Houston on Jan. 26.
The Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) regulates US commodities markets and maintains surveillance of the markets, she said, adding that the agency reviews any dramatic price swings.
"We don't have any formal investigation" of speculative funds, Brown-Hruska said. She was acting CFTC chairman from July 26, 2004, to July 10, 2005.
In the wake of the Enron Corp. collapse and investigations into energy trading practices, the CFTC filed 32 enforcement cases with individual traders and energy companies, imposing $300 million in civil penalties. A few cases have yet to be resolved, she said.
"These entities know now that you can't mess up when it comes to keeping the books straight," she said, expressing confidence with the integrity of current energy markets and traders as well as with price-reporting practices.
"Regulators and the industry can work together without resorting to heavy-handed prescriptive regulations," Brown-Hruska said. "I don't think that mandates for greater transparency will bring down the market prices."