In a sadly revealing interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer this past week, our Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner laid bare one of the great fallacies and jejune thinking of our time when discussing oil prices and speculation:
"My own view of this is that oil is fundamentally driven by fundamentals; there are periods when financial activity can amplify what is happening in oil prices. But I think mostly it's been fundamental driven... But what you don't want to do is get in the way of the market's ability to hedge against risk".
Altogether a comment worthy of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMERC) PR departments, or if you have seen it, the CME ads on television.
But then again, Geithner can always be counted on doing Wall Street and the financial sector's bidding. Just recently, an expose published in Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind reveals that Geithner ignored a 2009 directive from President Obama to prepare a plan to wind down/dissolve Citigroup after a $45 billion taxpayer bailout and $300 billion guarantee of the Citi's riskiest assets.
In stonewalling an orderly plan to wind down Citigroup, Geithner and the administration missed a salient opportunity to return accountability to our financial system and reinforce an American sense of fair play. It would have been a step that would have abated much of the anger that has taken hold throughout the land at a government stacking the game to the benefit of Wall Street and enabled the government and taxpayers to claw back the tens of millions paid out to the likes of Pandit, Prince and Rubin who remunerated themselves famously for years, while leading their organization to disaster. Well, that just wasn't going to happen with Geithner first at the Federal Reserve and then the Treasury looking after their interests and those of the rest of Wall Street. (Please see "The Beginning of the Eclipse of American Style Capitalism" 01.28.08). Further as Joe Nocera of the New York Times ("Sheila Bair's Bank Shot" 07.09.11) would point out in a laudatory article about the ex-Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (F.D.I.C.) Sheila Bair, "what particularly galls her is that the Treasury under Paulson and Geithner has been willing to take all sorts of criticism to help the banks. But it has been utterly unwilling to take any political heat to help homeowners."
Getting back to the Cramer interview, it is breathtaking in exposing the administration's total lack of understanding or worse, willful misreading, of the distorted formation of the price of oil and gasoline in today's markets and seemingly impervious to its cost to the economy and its destructive impact on jobs.
Firstly there is the matter of congressional testimony on May 12, 2011 before the Senate Finance Committee by none other than Rex Tillerson, Chairman, President and CEO of the world's largest oil company, Exxon Mobil Corporation. Mincing no words he postulated that, given current market fundamentals and production costs, the price of oil should be no higher than $60 to $70 a barrel, some $40 less per barrel than it had reached earlier in May. The clear explanation was that prices as currently construed make no economic sense and are the result of freewheeling speculation on the commodity exchanges. And that from the horse's mouth and into the deaf ears of the Administration and Timothy Geithner.
Secondly, to add to the administration's sordid stew, we have a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), supposedly our governmental watchdog over speculation on the commodity exchanges, that has spent years doing nothing except for endless calls for more time to study the problem. No pointed pressure from either Geithner nor the White House to get their act together and their show on the road.
Thirdly there is the fifteen minutes of fame trumpeted at the formation of the 'Oil/Gas Pricing Fraud Panel' (Please see "Obama Administration Announces Formation of Oil/Gas Pricing Fraud Panel. Really? 04.27.11) that was presented to a gullible public and press with much bombast and fanfare back in April of this year. A study group meant to get to the bottom of, and weed out, oil and gas price distortions from whom we have not heard a peep to date.
Last, and perhaps most telling, is a letter published at the tail end of the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal (July 8, 2009) to which there was virtually no press follow-up nor any government action as clearly called for in the letter. The opinion piece, "We Must Address Oil Market Volatility -- Erratic Price Movements In Such An Important Commodity Are Cause For Alarm," written jointly by no less than the sitting Prime Minister of Great Britain, Gordon Brown and the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, called for "transparency and supervision of the oil futures market in order to reduce damaging speculation." That is now over two years ago.
Hello Washington, is anybody home?