Oil market gets a government

October 30, 2009

The physical oil market, where traders exchange barrels of oil or financial instruments derived from them, is transacted not on a trading floor or electronic exchange, but by phone, instant messaging and – although employers have clamped down on it — the long liquid lunch.
Exactly, in other words, where regulators tend not to be looking. Instead, guidelines and indexes drawn up by the two main oil pricing agencies, Platts and Argus Media, serve as the de-facto rulebook for oil trading.
Argus announced a coup against Platts this week. The state oil company of top world exporter Saudi Arabia, Aramco, is switching to a crude benchmark index published by Argus to price its crude oil sales to the United States, from another benchmark published by Platts.
With a due sense of the gravity of its task, Argus issued a description of its index in a document labelled a white paper — a term typically reserved for drafts laws issued by the British government.

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