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Things Get Worse With Koch: Tea Party Pumps Up $4 Gas

UPDATED 5/25/11: Ancient tribes blamed angry deities for their troubles. Drought? The goddess of rain is angry. Four dollar gasoline?  There is always that push to blame the Arab oil producers, but, right now, production is peak and supply is good.  So why, in a supply and demand marketplace, are you paying $4.00/gallon for gas?  Don’t pray to St. Clampett, patron saint of oil production, but lay the blame at the feet of the same people who are socially re-engineering the United States in their image: The Koch Brothers.

The fourth richest Americans, David and Charles Koch (pronounced “Coke”), who fund Tea Party extremism by way of more than 80 Right-Wing organizations, get a number of their billions from their oil business, and their financial consulting business.

A lot of conservatives will bristle when you say that the Koch Brothers are engaged in questionable business practices.  ‘It’s the free market, not the Kochs!’ you can hear them decry.

Except the Koch Brothers don’t believe in the free market.  Their reported manipulations of the oil futures, based on their ability to sideline huge volumes of oil, make the market anything but free.

What is a Contango Strategy?

It is a tactic by owners of commodities to drive the prices up when a commodity market is in what is called a “contango.” Future prices are expected to rise because demand is expected to outstrip supply. Commodites traders speculate on that price. The ones who bet on the right number and win can reap millions. Hypothetically, the price should be driven by the free market. Except that, in many cases, it isn’t.  A few wealthy people with the money to buy oil and park it on the sidelines can alter the supply & demand system enough to drive prices up, and profit handsomely from doing it.

In 2008, Fortune magazine writer Jon Birger wrote an exceptional piece on contango strategy and how it inflates oil prices.  The big players in this?  2008’s Melt-Down darlings, Goldman Sachs, and, of course, those whom many credit as the inventors of the strategy, Koch Supply & Trading, a unit of Koch Industries, the business owned by the same politically meddling brothers Koch.

Even though futures traders get blamed for the prices in the market, it is the contango manipulators that are really to blame. Birger writes:

“Unlike futures flippers, contango traders really do impact oil prices, yet they’re getting a free pass. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, domestic oil inventories have risen 9% since oil prices peaked in early July. While some of that is attributable to the weak economy and slack energy demand, gasoline consumption declined only 5% over the same period and gasoline inventories have risen only 4%. (If you’re wondering why contango traders would target crude oil but not gasoline, vaporization issues make gasoline harder to store.)”

The trick is to find as much space to sideline oil at a cheap price:

Demand for oil storage is so keen today that some big investors who can’t secure storage on land have resorted to leasing supertankers and using them as floating oil tanks. For example, the U.S. oil trading firm Koch Supply & Trading recently leased the 2-million-barrel-capacity Dubai Titan, a Koch spokesperson confirms, the third supertanker Koch has leased this year.

Can an organization like this really manipulate the whole oil market?  Koch identifies itself as “among the world’s top five crude oil traders and actively trades about 50 types of crude oil around the world.”

Birger wrote that sidelining a few million barrels of crude oil can affect the price, but not the politics of holding market manipulators accountable:

“Based on the estimates I’ve seen, a 200,000 barrel-a-day decrease in supply could raise gasoline prices by anywhere from 20 to 40 cents a gallon.

For the average consumer, that’s real money. But I bet you a barrel or two that actual oil investors like Koch never get targeted by Congress the same way the hedge funds and index funds did this past summer.”

If 200,000 will do that, what will two or three million barrels in storage do?

In a May 12, 2009 article in The Business Times, “Managing Risks in Uncertain Times,” Koch Refining director and finance director David Chang not only acknowledged that Koch benefits from artificially manipulating the oil market by withholding supply, but that it makes even more money in its financial arm by speculating for itself on its manipulations, and advising its clients when they’re doing it to have them profit handsomely on that manipulation:

“CHANG: The drop in crude oil prices from more than US$145 per barrel in July 2008 to less than US$35 per barrel in December 2008 has presented opportunities for companies such as ours. In the physical business, purchases of crude oil from producers and storing offshore in tankers allow us to benefit from the contango market where crude prices are higher for future delivery than for prompt delivery. For our paper business, we are working more actively with our customers on hedging… Because we trade in both the physical and the paper markets, we can offer customers insights into the dynamics of physical supply and demand, and how this ties in with their hedging plans, something which banks may not be able to offer.”

Someone should stop this, you say?  The Hunt Brothers, former Texas billionaires, paid millions in fines and in compensation when they tried to corner the silver market. Why is this any different?

It’s not. Former senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT.) and Representative Barney Frank (D-NY.) authored the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was signed into law in August, 2010. Part of that law was sweeping rule changes for commodities speculation.  One of the last things passed in the Democratic congress, the new Koch Brothers-funded Tea Party House has been holding hearings to find ways to derail Dodd-Frank.

The Hunt Brothers were found guilty in the 1980s when they tried to corner the silver market, and almost collapsed it.  Cornering the far more economically essential oil market?  Perhaps the Koch Brothers should be facing an inquiry by our Attorney General.

Congress should outlaw the practice of contango market manipulation.  It will never happen, though, because there are too many well-paid minions of Koch Industries to ever get that vote passed.

The New York Times reported this morning that the Justice Department and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) filed against a handful of small fish:

“With oil prices climbing again this year, President Obama has asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to set up a working group to look into fraud in oil and gas markets and “safeguard against unlawful consumer harm.”

“In the case filed Tuesday, the defendants — James T. Dyer of Australia, Nicholas J. Wildgoose of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and three related companies, Parnon Energy of California, Arcadia Petroleum of Britain and Arcadia Energy, a Swiss company — have told regulators they deny they manipulated the market.

“If the United States proves the claims, the defendants may give up $50 million in profits that were believed to be made as a result of the manipulation and also pay a penalty of up to $150 million.”

The connect-the-dots answer as to why the Koch Brothers lavish money on ultra-Right political action groups and candidates is simple. The “less government” mantra is all about less regulation and oversight. Fewer eyes and fewer rules allow big commodity traders like the Koch Brothers manipulate the price of that commodity.  The extra millions that they reap in profits in turn escalate the cost of  gasoline, then foodstuffs, other goods and services.  It puts even more hardship on the already hard pressed middle class.

$4.50 gas. The $12.00 burger that used to be $8.00. The barbershop haircut that is $15.00 that was $10 just a few years earlier.  All of these are the fallout from higher gas prices in a time when supply is plentiful, and demand is actually down.

Then there is the irony of ironies:  The people most hammered by all of this include most, if not all of the Tea Party regulars.  The Koch Brothers lead the charge for a handful of very rich people to pick Joe Average’s pocket at the pump, then Joe goes out to campaign against raising the Koch Brothers taxes 3%.

Forrest Gump was right. Stupid is as stupid does.  The Justice Department needs to investigate the Koch Brothers. Tell them so:

My shiny two.

Learn more about the Koch Brothers in a 60 Minutes II interview with their biggest critic: Their younger brother, Bill. 

About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian, filmmaker and chef. Ad hoc, ad loc, quid pro quo... so little time. So much to know!

13 comments on “Things Get Worse With Koch: Tea Party Pumps Up $4 Gas

  1. Hugh Magbie
    May 31, 2011

    We need to repeal the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 and The Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and get speculators out of the oil market!
    Three years ago most investment banks were on the brink of extinction. Lehman Bros, Bear Stearns and 427 other banks went belly up. Banks that did survive received bailout and Tarp money from the federal government. The banks took our taxpayer money and invested in commodities and in the currency market. By January the oil market had hit bottom; oil was selling for $34 a barrel. So the banks and hedge funds invested in oil, betting that it would go up. After all, they had been previously successful in driving up the price to $140 dollars a barrel. They began hoarding oil, storing it in tank farms and on supertankers.
    Then the bankers hired an army of oil traders to bid the price of oil up. Even though world consumption was down, they were successful at pumping oil up again with the resurrection of the big lie of “peak oil” and a few geopolitical crises’. Oil is now selling at over 100 dollars a barrel.
    Instead of the price of oil being determined by supply and demand, the oil and currency traders now control the price of oil. These American and international bankers didn’t believe that the Obama administration would be successful combating the crisis that these very banks created. As the deficit grew and the treasury printed more money to bail out the banks, their traders and analysts declared the Obama administration dead on arrival when it came to the economy. They bet that the US dollar would lose its value. The US dollar has lost between 25-30% in the last four years. They bid it down and they made lots! Their cynical efforts to make a buck impoverished all of us by devaluing our currency. When your currency becomes devalued, the cost of everything goes up, especially oil and other commodities.
    The banks scored twice; first by betting that oil would go up, then shorting the greenback, insuring that oil would go up. Don’t forget, we loaned the banks the money to do this, and for years those banks have made record profits.
    Two years ago there was still a lot of idle money around that was frightened of the stock market, and the insolvency of banks. That money was put into the commodity markets and fueled the rise of the price of commodities world wide. It’s been a good couple of years for Goldman Sachs, J P Morgan, and their commodity and currency trading subsidiaries. A bright guy who ran an oil trading subsidiary for Citi Bank made 100 million as compensation. Their hoarding practices have started to be emulated by other countries; we now see China, The US, and others building vast oil storage facilities to take advantage of climbing oil prices. OPEC, big oil and the bank’s speculative efforts have and will cost American consumers billions.
    Then there is the continued greed of oil producers. With the price so high, think of the money to be made! Problem is, there is no place to store it anymore and everyone continues to pump it out of the ground. And world consumption continues to be low.
    Those of us who heat our homes, drive our cars, and use oil products in a myriad of ways, are paying way more than we should. And we have been for some time. Bernie Madoff ripped off his clients to the tune of 50 billion dollars, a monumental theft. So what do you call this oil market that has taken 50 times that amount? We have paid $2.5 trillion dollars more than we should! The irony of all of this is that we the taxpayers provided the seed money for this, the greatest rip off in history.
    All of this hoarding and manipulation needs to end. Repeal the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 and The Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and get speculators out of the oil market!

  2. Chris Krystofik
    June 4, 2011

    Here’s my letter to my fking (R)Congressman.

    Dear Congressman Coffman,
    We are losing our home because we are being defrauded intentionally by Bank of America. Please help. We had refinanced with Countrywide originally, then Bank of America bought Countrywide. We had just signed papers for a negotiated rate with Countrywide. BoA said they were not honoring the contract and to send them my paper work again. So I did…again, and again and again. I sent by email, fax, regular mail, and finally hand delivered it to the company in Broomfield which handles paperwork for BoA. I got the vice president of that company to sign a document saying he had personally received the papers. BoA put us in qualifying for the Making Homes Affordable program. Sir, we have been making our payments on time EVERY month for 27 months. It is supposed to be 3 mos.
    We have watched them run their fraudulent game, and tried hundreds (and I mean that) of times to negotiate with BoA, Now they are proceeding against us. Even though we have received no foreclosure papers. They want $60,000.00. Of course I can’t just write them a check. Nor would I if I had the money. There is legal and illegal, that’s true. But there is also Right and Wrong.
    The difference between our negotiated payment and actual payment was put on the FRONT end of the loan instead of the back, of course, and each month we were charged late fees ($600.00) and late fees for the late fees. I am a veteran of the Air Force, Sir, is this the kind of fraud the reason I served my country?

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