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from The Great Debate:

NYMEX oil benchmark again in question

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John Kemp Great Debate-- John Kemp is a Reuters columnist.  The views expressed are his own --

The record differential between the front-month and more liquid second-month contracts at expiry last week once again raised pointed questions about whether the NYMEX light sweet contract is serving as a good benchmark for the global oil market, or sending misleading signals about the state of supply and demand.

The expiring January 2009 contract ended down $2.35 on Friday at $33.87, while the more liquid February contract actually rose 69 cents to settle at $42.36 - an unprecedented contango from one month to the next of $8.49.

Criticism of the contract is not new, and past calls for reform have been successfully sidelined. But with policymakers taking a keener interest as a result of wild gyrations in oil prices this year, and a continued focus on regulatory changes to improve market functioning in future, there is at least a chance changes will be adopted as part of a wider package of futures market adjustments.

AN UNREPRESENTATIVE PRICE

During the surge to $147 per barrel earlier this year, OPEC repeatedly criticized the NYMEX reference price for overstating the real degree of tightness in the physical market and causing prices to overshoot on the upside.

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