Oil benchmarks go from trusted to tainted as EU missed alert

EU ‘Mistake’

Figueiredo said today that she decided to quiz the commission about the reliability of Platts’s oil price-formation after seeing reports from the Portuguese competition authority.

“What checks are in place?” she asked in her written question dated Dec. 7, 2009.

The EU’s executive arm “obviously” made a mistake in failing to review the issue earlier, said lawmaker Joao Ferreira, who has continued to prod the European Commission to take action after Figueiredo left the European Parliament. The process “is everything but transparent,” Ferreira said in a phone interview.

The EU is currently reviewing “thousands of pages” of documents from the May 14 raids in its investigation into possible collusion by traders, Cecilio Madero, the EU’s deputy director-general for antitrust, said last week.

EU investigators in May also requested records from some of Europe’s biggest trading houses, including Vitol Group, Gunvor Group Ltd. and Glencore Xstrata Plc.

Editorial Judgment

Platts, a unit of New York-based McGraw Hill Financial Inc., provides benchmark assessments on physical markets, using data on actual trades and its own editorial judgment.

Its North Sea Dated Brent benchmark sets the price of half the world’s crude, from Canada to Australia. Its kerosene assessments are used by the airline industry, where fuel accounts for about a third of operating costs. In the biofuels markets, the company assesses the price of ethanol and biodiesel as well as ethyl tert-butyl ether, an additive that’s used in gasoline production.

Kathleen Tanzy, a Houston-based spokeswoman for Platts, has said the company hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing and is cooperating fully with the commission’s review. She declined to comment about Piebalgs or questions raised by Figueiredo.

The three oil companies inspected have all said they are cooperating with the commission. Speaking two days after the antitrust raids, Statoil Chief Executive Officer Helge Lund said the company has “zero tolerance” for breaches of the rules. Shell is committed to the “highest standard of corporate behavior,” CEO Peter Voser said May 21.

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