CFTC boost for London commodity jobs

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On the other side of the Atlantic, commodity traders are suffering a spate of unpopularity.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is conducting a study into whether speculation in futures markets helped pump commodity prices last year. Oil speculators are being portrayed as particularly nasty after they allegedly helped propel crude prices to $147 a barrel in March 2008.

The CFTC already regulates agricultural futures contracts held by investors (as opposed to traders in physical commodities who are considered by benign). According to the Houston Chronicle is now considering imposing position limits on investors in crude oil, natural gas, and other energy commodities too.

Goldman, one of the biggest commodities players in the US, is unsurprisingly among those opposing the idea.

But while US regulators are painting commodities traders as the spawn of the devil, European regulators are less bothered by them.

The Wall Street Journal says an FSA study into the horrors of commodity trading failed to unearth any evidence that speculators were implicated in big commodity price swings; the FSA put changes down to economic uncertainty instead.

All of this may yet work wonders for London commodities jobs. Alexander McDonald, chief executive of the London Energy Brokers Association, says that in the first instance, CFTC intervention is likely to drive trading to the OTC market.

If the CFTC decides to regulate this too (which it looks like it might), McDonald says it may benefit less regulated markets in London or Singapore. "If you're not working on an exchange you can book OTC trades anywhere, and London and Singapore are big oil trading centres," he says.

Alternatively, Alphaville points out that US commodities houses may simply opt to evade new restrictions by getting into the physicals market. Goldman and GLG are there already.

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