Wall Street Hijacks Yet Another Commodities Market

Wall Street, with all its so-called genius and ingenuity, now has the ability to screw around with the price of your gasoline.

That’s not all. Loosely regulated commodities markets appear to be more and more the apple of Wall Street’s eye, even as the major stock market indices on Wednesday hit all time highs. Banks’ focus on commodities is particularly worrisome, as commodities are extremely volatile and can whipsaw and wipe out investors on the wrong side of a trade in the blink of an eye.

But with the stock market roaring, why are Wall Street banks more keenly focused than ever on commodities trades?

The banks lust after trading profits with commodities such as ethanol and aluminum because of tighter regulations in the wake of the financial crisis that curtail their ability to trade securities inside their own houses.

Remember, Wall Street banks buying and trading of toxic mortgage-backed securities was the leading cause of the 2008 financial crisis and collapse. Now, Wall Street is at it again, this time in a market that was designed during the George H.W. Bush administration to spur the development of cleaner fuel.

“It was supposed to help clean the air, reduce dependence on foreign oil and bolster agriculture,” Gretchen Morgenson and Robert Gebeloff write in The New York Times.

The government eight years ago required oil and gas refiners to mix ethanol into gasoline or buy credits.

And that’s when Wall Street stepped in, according to the Times.

“A few worried that Wall Street would set out to exploit this young market, fears the government dismissed,” according to the Times. “But many people believe that is what happened this year when the price of the ethanol credits skyrocketed 20-fold in just six months,” the Times said, citing analysis of industry documents and interviews with 40 industry executives, brokers and other participants.

Many in the industry rushed to tell the Times that the banks were not cornering the market at all. They were simply stocking up on the credits on behalf of clients who needed the ethanol credits to satisfy environmental regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Others in the energy industry couldn’t disagree more. One veteran energy executive told the Times that banks and other institutions had been active sellers of the ethanol credits this year. The institutions had helped transform an environmental program into a profit machine, contributing to the market frenzy, according to Thomas D. O’Malley, chairman of PBF Energy in New Jersey.

Ethanol credits “were designed to monitor the inclusion of ethanol in the gasoline pool,” he said. “They weren’t designed to become a speculative item. For the life of me, I can’t see the justification for it.”

And of course, the higher cost of the ethanol credits, the more consumers pay at the pump for gas.
Wall Street’s latest practice of hoarding ethanol credits and other commodities may technically be legal but the ethics and morality of such business practices stink. This latest episode confirms the worst that Mom and Pop investors think about Wall Street, that the game is rigged for and by a chosen few.

Zamansky LLC are securities and investment fraud attorneys representing investors in federal and state litigation against financial institutions.

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About Jacob H. Zamansky 58 Articles

Jacob (”Jake”) H. Zamansky is one of the country’s foremost authorities on securities arbitration law, the legal recourse for investors claiming broker wrongdoing, or for brokers claiming wrongful termination or other misconduct by their employer. Zamansky & Associates, the New York-based law firm he founded, represents both individuals and institutions in complex securities, hedge fund, and employment arbitrations.

Mr. Zamansky was at the forefront of recent efforts to “clean up” Wall Street. In 2001, he successfully sued former Merrill Lynch analyst Henry Blodget on behalf of a New York pediatrician misled by Blodget’s stock research. The case’s successful resolution was the catalyst for New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer to investigate the conflicts of interest on Wall Street and resulted in the well-reported $1.4 billion Global Settlement, which included many of the biggest names on Wall Street.

More recently, Mr. Zamansky is one of the leading litigators and opinion leaders of the subprime mortgage crisis and the related hedge fund collapses, representing both investors and mortgage borrowers who were defrauded by Wall Street firms and mortgage lenders. Among Mr. Zamansky’s early actions is filing the first arbitration case on behalf of institutional and high net worth investors against Bear Stearns Asset Management with regard to the two hedge funds which collapsed as a result of exposure to subprime mortgage backed securities. He also has filed claims on behalf of individual investors victimized by brokers that steered their portfolios into unsuitable subprime stocks and mortgage borrowers who were fraudulently coerced into inappropriate mortgage and investment transactions.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Zamansky worked for more than 30 years as a litigator, including positions at Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP. His tenure also included serving as a federal prosecutor with the Federal Trade Commission.

A native of Philadelphia, Mr. Zamansky has been a frequent expert commentator on CNBC, CNN, and FOX News and has published opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and USA Today. He is regularly quoted and his cases have been chronicled in major financial and news publications including The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, BusinessWeek, Fortune and Forbes. He is a frequent lecturer for industry and legal groups around the country. He also writes a blog that can be viewed here.

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1 Comment on Wall Street Hijacks Yet Another Commodities Market

  1. California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) flushes the motorist wallet using the water to grow GMO fuel to export the profits. It is OK because the fed EPA mandates ethanol and fines us for using what they mandate.

    Did The Honorable Governor Jerry Brown promise a ballet action to raise taxes? Clean Air Performance Professionals (CAPP) supports a VETO of AB 8 Perea-Pavley. STOP this BP “Wallet Flushing” car tax.

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