Oil industry hit by price fixing probe

Suzie Neuwirth
THE OIL industry became the latest sector to be rocked by allegations of price fixing yesterday as BP, Shell and other major firms confirmed they are under investigation by the European antitrust regulator.

The European Commission said yesterday it had carried out unannounced raids on the premises of several companies on the suspicion that they “may have colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products”.

FTSE 100-listed BP and Shell both confirmed that they were under investigation and said they were cooperating fully but were unable to comment further. Norway’s Statoil also confirmed it was under review, while Italy’s ENI said it was helping the EC with its inquiry.

The probe has already drawn comparisons with the Libor scandal, which has seen several banks receive fines for manipulating interbank lending rates.

“Even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers,” warned the European Commission in yesterday’s statement.

Price reporting agencies such as Platts – whose London offices were also raided yesterday – receive voluntary information from traders, which they then assess to determine a benchmark value for commodities such as crude oil. These figures are used to trade the commodities, as well as having a knock-on effect on energy bills.

Last month French major Total told regulators it was concerned about “inaccurate pricing” in the market.

The EC has recently shown its teeth by fining US software company Microsoft €561m (£477m) for failing to offer users a choice of web browser back in March, in an unprecedented warning to firms involved in antitrust disputes.