Oil Speculators: The Damage Is Real

By:  Gary Weiss
TheStreet.com

Let's be clear on something: It's not a conspiracy theory. A good portion of the pain that consumers are feeling at the gas pump is indeed caused by speculators. This isn't some half-baked Internet meme, or somebody babbling on a Yahoo message board. It's a fact. 

Just look at this study by the staff of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which found that speculation "played a significant role in the oil price increase between 2004 and 2008 and its subsequent collapse." Last year, a Goldman Sachs study found that every 10 million contracts traded by speculators adds 10 cents to the price of a barrel of oil. That translates to as much as $23 a barrel, when you consider that speculative futures contracts have been the equivalent of 230 million barrels of oil.

Now that we've settled that, let's relax -- unless your broker talked you into buying some oil or gas futures contracts, in which case you have a reasonable chance of being screwed. The reason is that there are signs that gas prices are peaking. If so, then the same speculation that is pushing up prices is likely to go into reverse, causing prices to right back down again.

To be sure, my whole market-is-peaking scenario may unravel if (among other things) there's more saber-rattling by or against Iran -- and especially if Israel decides, God forbid, that the time has come to put the kibosh on Iran's nuclear plants. But short of something horrifying along those lines, we may be seeing declines in gas prices that are as sharp as the increases that motorist have been experiencing. 

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