Corruption of CFTC

CFTC, Toothless Regulator, Looks To Take A Bite Out Of Derivatives

CFTC, Toothless Regulator, Looks To Take A Bite Out Of Derivatives
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First Posted: 06-24-09 06:54 PM | Updated: 06-24-09 10:59 PM

I Like ItI Don’t Like It Read More: Cftc, CFTC Derivatives, Commodities Futures Trading Commission, Commodities Regulator, Business News

When President Obama unveiled his regulatory overhaul plan last week, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, or CFTC, dodged a bullet.

Lacking power, the agency has only gently regulated the derivatives markets, which have been blamed for wreaking havoc on the global economy. Rather than abolish the agency, however, Obama proposed strengthening it.

A week later, not all reformers are convinced that the plan is comprehensive enough and, more so, doubt the CFTC is capable of recovering from its long legacy of deregulation. A look back at that legacy explains the skepticism.

"The CFTC was left with the responsibility for policing fraud and abuse and had no tools to do that," said Barbara Roper, the director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America.

The agency's reputation has been so damaged that shortly before Obama's announcement, the administration signaled that the CFTC and SEC would join forces. (The two agencies currently split oversight of derivatives).

But the merger never made it into the final plan. It met opposition in Congress, where the CFTC still maintains strong allies on the agricultural committees.

So Obama instead asked the two agencies to reconcile their differences and cover holes in their oversight. This week, in a move that pleased many advocates of financial reform, they released a blueprint for greater regulation of derivatives.

The CFTC's job was not always so complicated. The agency was created in 1974, primarily to oversee commodity futures contracts. This type of derivative allows investors to buy a commodity, often an agricultural product like wheat, at a fixed price and date.

Soon the futures industry expanded beyond commodities, making it more complex and harder to control.

But the CFTC lacked the teeth and size to take on new responsibilities. And some in the agency who had close ties to industry wanted it that way.

In the 1990s, the CFTC began allowing many privately negotiated derivatives, or so-called over-the-counter contracts, to escape regulation.

Wendy Gramm, CFTC chair from 1988 to 1993 and wife of former Texas Senator Phil Gramm, supported a rule change in 1992 that loosened the energy trading industry for companies like Enron. Sheila Bair, then a commissioner at the CFTC and now director of the FDIC, cast the lone dissenting vote at the commission, saying the plan "sets a dangerous precedent."

Five weeks later, after resigning from the CFTC, Wendy Gramm joined Enron's board of directors. The gig was lucrative. According to the watchdog group Public Citizen, over the course of the following eight years, Enron paid her between $915,000 and $1.85 million.

Enron also contributed more than a hundred thousand dollars to Phil Gramm's campaign fund over the years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And they had plenty of that kind of money to spread around. Companies like Enron were now able to trade energy futures outside regulated exchanges.

While lucrative, in the short term, for firms like Enron, the lack of oversight was calamitous for others. Orange County, Calif., declared bankruptcy in 1994 after it lost $1.6 billion in derivatives trading.

Shortly after that, the U.S. General Accounting Office urged Congress to increase oversight over derivatives. But the Hill went the other way, preventing the CFTC from regulating over-the-counter derivatives altogether.

Then something unexpected happened: The CFTC got a leader who believed in greater regulation. In 1998, the new chairwoman, Brooksley Born proposed a crack down on derivatives.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Born described how she woke repeatedly "in a cold sweat," forecasting our current financial meltdown. "I was really terribly worried," she told the Post.

But her concerns met fierce opposition from Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, the Treasury Department and others. According to news accounts, Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican and former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, wrote a letter urging Born to "avoid any unnecessary interference in these productive and healthy markets."

And, so, the problem got even worse. Led by Phil Gramm and Lugar, Congress passed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which allowed the trading of even more exotic derivatives outside the purview of the CFTC.

"Born was treated pretty disgracefully," said Roper, of the Consumer Federation of America. "If I were in her position today, I'd be screaming 'I told you so.'"

One person who might have deserved Born's scrutiny is Gary Gensler, a former partner at Goldman Sachs, assistant Treasury secretary under President Clinton and the current chairman of the CFTC.

Gensler, who once opposed derivatives regulation, beat back CFTC oversight when he helped shape the Clinton administration's response to Born's proposal.

But now, in the wake of the financial meltdown, Gensler has changed his tune on derivatives regulation. The SEC and CFTC "should have clear, unimpeded oversight and enforcement authority to prevent and punish fraud, manipulation and other market abuses," Gensler told the Senate Banking securities subcommittee this week.

At his February confirmation hearing, Gensler said he and other officials "should have done more to protect the American public through aggressive regulation, comprehensive regulation."

Still, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) had put holds on Gensler's nomination, because of concerns over his former deregulatory positions. They eventually released the hold, though Cantwell said she will, "continue to have concerns about Mr. Gensler's appointment."

A CFTC spokesman didn't return our call requesting comment.

Michael Greenberger, a former high-ranking CFTC official who once fought Gensler to approve Born's proposal, now is "quite hopeful" that Gensler will be an effective regulator.

"For whatever reason, he's been very aggressive at laying out a strong legislative and enforcement program," said Greenberger, now a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.

Greenberger, who still believes that "in an ideal world" the CFTC and SEC should merge, said Gensler is working "to understand what needs to be done."

Of course, looking back on years of "passive" leadership, Greenberger said, there's a lot to be done.

For me on CFTC regulation, read Julie Satow's "A Perfect Storm Could Shed Light On Secretive Energy Markets"

When President Obama unveiled his regulatory overhaul plan last week, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, or CFTC, dodged a bullet. Lacking power, the agency has only gently regulated the der...
When President Obama unveiled his regulatory overhaul plan last week, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, or CFTC, dodged a bullet. Lacking power, the agency has only gently regulated the der...
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Raymond J. Learsy: Gensler Confirmed as Head of the CFTC - Will He Be Watching Oil Prices?
Gensler will have to move away from the agency's "head in the sand" policy of recent years, while defending commodity futures trading against accusations of undue influence.
Robert Teitelman: Paying The Price Of Fragmented Regulation
In the run-up to testimony by Bank of America chief Ken Lewis on the Merrill Lynch & Co. affair, e-mails are suddenly leaking from the Beltway colander, though their ultimate source, strangely enough, is that opaque wonderland, the Federal Reserve.

Robert Kuttner: Profiles in Financial Courage
The JFK Presidential Library gives a Profile in Courage Award to public officials who took a stand that took a lot of integrity and nerve.

Raymond J. Learsy: Why are We Paying $50 a Barrel for $20 Barrel Oil??
To continue transferring our wealth and well-being in these times of crisis to the oil industry and to the petro despots is madness.

Raymond J. Learsy: Gensler Confirmed as Head of the CFTC - Will He Be Watching Oil Prices?
Gensler will have to move away from the agency's "head in the sand" policy of recent years, while defending commodity futures trading against accusations of undue influence.

Robert Teitelman: Paying The Price Of Fragmented Regulation
In the run-up to testimony by Bank of America chief Ken Lewis on the Merrill Lynch & Co. affair, e-mails are suddenly leaking from the Beltway colander, though their ultimate source, strangely enough, is that opaque wonderland, the Federal Reserve.
Around the Web:
CFTC derivatives bill looks doomed. (31-MAR-03) Global Markets

SEC, CFTC agree on derivatives oversight - Yahoo! News

CFTC head urges controls on derivatives, hedge funds | Deals | Reuters

CFTC: Derivatives dealers should keep records - MarketWatch

Obama Wants SEC, CFTC to Police Derivatives - WSJ.com

Comments

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View Comments: Newest First Oldest First HuffPost's Picks Expand All Collapse All - + nomorefed I'm a Fan of nomorefed I'm a fan of this user 3 fans permalink

As the growth of the financial bubble coincided with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, maybe it would be wise act to reinstate it as it kept the Banks under control for 66 years.

he's: http://investmintideas.blogspot.com/ absoltely right

Glass-Steagall Act
A 1933 act that prohibited commercial banks from undertaking investment banking activities such as underwriting the securities of private corporations. The legislation was passed to keep banks from entering into nonfinancial businesses (for example, owning corporate stock) and more risky activities. The Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999. Also called Banking Act of 1933.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 01:27 PM on 06/25/2009
- + BannedNBoston I'm a Fan of BannedNBoston I'm a fan of this user 13 fans permalink
Obama $30 for the bankers $! for the people in the stimulus.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 12:49 PM on 06/25/2009
- + rudolph I'm a Fan of rudolph I'm a fan of this user 10 fans permalink
How sad: American democracy in action: allow hoi polloi their moment of rage and then get on with robbing them.

Why are we so satisfied with the illusion of freedom?

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 12:02 PM on 06/25/2009
- + vippy I'm a Fan of vippy I'm a fan of this user 60 fans permalink
England took action immediately. They halted short trading and immediately addressed the other problems in order to get out from under. We, in turn, don't want to seem to get out from under.
The rich are still making money and that is all that counts. Obama meant well but he quickly found out just who runs this country. Don't expect us ever to recover, the basics are not being fixed.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 10:44 AM on 06/25/2009
- + rudolph I'm a Fan of rudolph I'm a fan of this user 10 fans permalink
The UK has actually dropped the ball. Parliament, as usual, is attacking the wrong problems. The fuss surrounding the ritual slaughter of a few parliamentary porkers has diverted attention from the real predators who are now back at it....bonuses, suspect derivatives and all.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 12:11 PM on 06/25/2009
- + totaldisbelief I'm a Fan of totaldisbelief I'm a fan of this user 31 fans permalink
Toothless is right.....so who's scared of them?
Business as usual...a few new sardines swimming around with the sharks.
To send in Regulators with no authority is beyond laughable it's almost criminal.
The translation can only mean that lip service is the word of the day and any real reform or oversight is never going to happen ...how very disappoint­ing......s­hame on our new squeeky clean administration.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 10:22 AM on 06/25/2009
- + blueken I'm a Fan of blueken I'm a fan of this user 44 fans permalink
Obama is looking like an empty suit. All hat and no cattle. While I disagree with the GOP on almost everything, you have to admit, they get things done. Terrible things with terrible conseqences, but they get things done. All of Obama's inititives so far have been so compromised as to be ineffective. I pray he smartens up. You can't get anything done trying to make everybody happy all the time.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 09:47 AM on 06/25/2009
- + Carolab I'm a Fan of Carolab I'm a fan of this user 347 fans permalink
I really don't see how the CFTC is going to regulate derivatives trade since the big banks that own the Fed now have a virtual monopoly on swaps through ICE. That's why the asset managers have come together as Blue Mountain to fight for the buy side of the equation. It's interesting that the opposition includes D.E. Shaw (Summers' old employer) and PIMCO (Greenspan, asset manager for the GSE assets) as well as BlackRock (asset manager for the Fed's AIG and Bear Stearns assets). One wonders whether it is truly opposition or simply the same old Treasury-Fed gang knowing how the game is played and wanting equal opportunity in on the action as the dealers/banks.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 03:30 AM on 06/25/2009
- + Carolab I'm a Fan of Carolab I'm a fan of this user 347 fans permalink
Swaps Dealers Seeking To Protect Oligopoly And Profit From Clearing

June 10, 2009 by Adam

“Intercontinental’s clearinghouse, known as ICE Trust, has the backing of nine banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan, Citigroup Inc. and UBS AG that Intercontinental obtained through its acquisition last year of the Clearing Corp., which the banks owned. The banks receive half the profit from clearing trades on ICE Trust.”

“CME Group Inc.’s plan to guarantee trades in the $29 trillion credit-default swap market is being hampered by some of the world’s largest banks, according to a letter from BlueMountain Capital Management LLC.
__________­__________­______

Swaps Dealers have no interest in real reform. They are interested in protecting and strengthening their oligopoly, using this crisis as a way to grab more power. By the way, the Swaps Dealers which are the money center banks not only own ICE Trust they literally own the Federal Reserve too. Which is very convenient since the Federal Reserve is the regulator they selected for ICE Trust. All these machinations are occurring in plain view of the Congress and the Administration with their tacit approval.

http://accidentalhuntbrothers.com/?p=226

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 03:44 AM on 06/25/2009
- + totaldisbelief I'm a Fan of totaldisbelief I'm a fan of this user 31 fans permalink
This is a big part of The Game and neither the Dems or the GOP is going to upset that apple cart.
It's beyond sad but the populace isn't smart enough or cares enough to demand and/or make the Apple Cart upset much less overturned.
This is Capitalism in it's most virulent form and it has become just "good business". If you profit from it ,you love it; if you get taken by it , you scream like a raped ape.
It's ethics and morality are flexible and highly suspect.
The good Players play between the rules and always will (human nature being what it is).
The "just too bad" thing is that so much of the world is run from The Game.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 10:41 AM on 06/25/2009
- + mcmutter I'm a Fan of mcmutter I'm a fan of this user 78 fans permalink
Thank Uncle Phil Gramn for creating the CFTC. Another of his financial innovations that turned into a monster and ate out nation alive.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 03:23 AM on 06/25/2009
- + TJCole I'm a Fan of TJCole I'm a fan of this user 141 fans permalink
Finally after over a year something from Professor Michael Greenberger here...

We had so much obfuscation and denial especially from the peak oilers..

We need major reform and strict regulations and international regulations as Sarkozy wanted along with Merkel...

Obama killed that because of Goldman Sachs..of course..

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 01:34 AM on 06/25/2009
- + nezumi I'm a Fan of nezumi I'm a fan of this user 2 fans permalink
I fear that the reason for so little effort at regulation (besides outright corruption, or enlightened self-interest, if you will) is much more banal.
I think that the financial instruments to be regulated just look too incomprehensible to policy makers. They cannot look through them and are in awe of these (pseudo) innovations of financial science.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 01:29 AM on 06/25/2009
- + totaldisbelief I'm a Fan of totaldisbelief I'm a fan of this user 31 fans permalink
?? financial science??? more like voo-doo.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 10:43 AM on 06/25/2009
- + Lilith33 I'm a Fan of Lilith33 I'm a fan of this user 163 fans permalink
whats the derivatives market worth? over 600 trillion.Most of it is a scam.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 12:43 AM on 06/25/2009
- + audadvnc I'm a Fan of audadvnc I'm a fan of this user 15 fans permalink
Good thing we don't have to worry about cronyism with the new administration. Since they invited back all the old guys, after all. But they've changed their tune, seen the Light.

Change! Hope! And Free Beer!

What a disappointment. And he had such promise ...

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 11:04 PM on 06/24/2009
- + wadenelson1 I'm a Fan of wadenelson1 I'm a fan of this user 202 fans permalink
The CFTC is little more than an industry trade group typically staffed by former owners and managers of Commodity trading firms; a la Bernie Madoff.

I used to trade commodities. It's the sleaziest single arm of the financial industry. No wonder "derivatives" were put under its "guidance," or lack thereof.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 07:18 PM on 06/24/2009
- + zakon I'm a Fan of zakon I'm a fan of this user 3 fans permalink
Good post. Makes me wonder why the Obama Administration nominates a fox to oversee the coop.

Does the Obama administration want artificially high oil prices so they can pass 'green' initiative? Or is the Obama administration bought off too?? Though this behavior is under-reported to the public, the politicians must know the speculativ­e/manipula­tive fraud taking place in the commodities market.

Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 09:37 PM on 06/24/2009
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