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Gas prices manipulated, says whistleblower

The wholesale gas market has been manipulated by the big suppliers according to a whistleblower.

Reports have surfaced that the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the energy regulator Ofgem have launched an investigation into manipulation of the wholesale gas market.

The investigation follows allegations made by a former city trader, who also told the Guardian that there was no process in place to report erroneous trading.

In a statement, the FSA said: “We can confirm that we have received information in relation to the physical gas market. We take market misconduct seriously and will be analysing the material.”

The energy secretary Ed Davey, who will offer further comment this afternoon, said : “I am extremely concerned about these allegations and will be keeping in close touch with the regulators while they get to the bottom of this.”

What happened?

The trader at the centre of the storm is Seth Freedman who previously worked as a price reporter at the ICIS Heren, which publishes energy reports.

He has accused traders of artificially changing or ‘fixing’ the price of wholesale gas. Should any manipulation of the prices be proved, it will lead to serious questions about the pricing of domestic energy – especially following a series of price rises which some suppliers blamed in part on rising wholesale gas costs.

Speaking to the Guardian he said “Traders have made clear to me that manipulation of gas prices is taking place on a regular basis.

“They name big companies among those they accuse of trying to rig prices and reap profits. Market participants claim the fixing of prices is an open secret.”

Mr Freedman also claimed that:

• Some of the big six energy suppliersBritish Gas, SSE, ScottishPower, npower, EDF Energy and E.ON are involved.

• The indices used by reporting agencies are unreliable. It is these indices that set wholesale gas prices. Mr Freedman also claimed that traders regularly put reporters under pressure.

Price reporters fail to set accurate benchmarks because they lack information

Wholesale gas prices are set by “over-the-counter” trading, rather than through electronic trading, and some claim this makes the market less transparent. The market is set by a group of reporting agencies, but they rely on information provided by traders for the energy companies.

The price of wholesale gas makes up around 45% of the average household energy bill:
wholesale-gas-infographic

What the suppliers said

  •  EDF Energy: “EDF Energy does not participate in loss-leading trading activity and considers it to be against existing market regulation. We make information likely to impact market price formation publicly available on our website in compliance with Remit.”
  • SSE: “We are entirely confident that our energy portfolio management team operate in a fair and legitimate way.”
  • British Gas owner Centrica: “Our compliance procedures and trading principles are clear. They require us to comply with all EU and UK laws and we have done so.”
  • Scottish Power: “Scottish Power has never engaged in trying to fix wholesale gas trading markets. Our trading division always acts with integrity and follows all rules in all of its engagements with the market.”
  • E.ON: “We have in place some of the most stringent training and compliance regimes in the industry and are confident that all of our colleagues always act in the correct manner and as a company we fully abide by all appropriate regulations such as REMIT.  We expect the same from all other market participants and consider any attempt to manipulate benchmarks or market prices as illegal.
  • npower: “We were not involved in any of the trades which we understand are under investigation. We confirm that we have robust compliance procedures in place – it is an explicit commitment within RWE’s Code of Conduct that we will comply with all laws and regulations. Every trade that we make and every transactional conversation is recorded. We comply with all European transparency regulations. Customers need to trust suppliers and be able to trust the energy markets. RWE is engaged in action to support transparency and liquididity in the markets .We need transparent markets to encourage the investment the UK needs. We would be happy to support any regulatory investigation.”

What we say

Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch, said “These allegations are serious and will be extremely disappointing and worrying for consumers. The important thing now is that the FSA and Ofgem look into this as a matter of urgency and take swift action if it indeed proves true that the market has been manipulated.

Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, she added: “The timing could not be worse – as winter makes its presence known, the cost of heating our homes will be taking its toll on cash-strapped consumers. With bills reaching an all-time high, it’s no surprise that almost nine in 10 households will be rationing their energy usage this winter.”

Learn more…

Wholesale gas – Learn all about wholesale gas, from where it comes from to what factors affect the price.

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