Norwegian gas company says British pricing is open to manipulation and calls for more transparent methods
One of the biggest suppliers of gas to Britain, Statoil of Norway, has said the UK’s system of power market price reporting is open to manipulation and “gaming” and needs to be shaken up.
The damning assessment of the UK system from one of the world’s biggest energy companies comes six months after the Guardian triggered an investigation by City and energy watchdogs with a report detailing concerns about wholesale gas market rigging raised by an ICIS Heren price reporter, Seth Freedman.
The inquiries into the £300bn market, started by the then Financial Services Authority and Ofgem, are still looking at the way the price reporting agencies such as ICIS cover the markets as well as how energy companies go about their wholesale trading activities.
Huge gyrations in reported prices on 28 September last year raised fears that it could represent market manipulation similar to Libor interest-rate rigging, a scandal that has undermined financial markets and led to fines of £290m for Barclays and £390m for Royal Bank of Scotland.
The prices reported by agencies such as ICIS form the basis for long-term contracts and one explanation for the 28 September price movements is that traders stood to benefit by manipulating the benchmark price.
In a letter in response to a consultation exercise launched by ICIS and published on its website, Statoil UK’s regulatory affairs adviser, Shelley Rouse, said the current price reporting methodology should be amended to improve the transparency and reliability of the calculations and the pricing indices. “We are concerned that the current methodology allows for the potential use of incorrectly reported trades to be factored into the index calculations, which can result in inaccurate prices being published,” she wrote. “Statoil would support the use of a daily weighted average of reported physical trades. This will enable the published pricing indices to fully reflect the traded market and would reduce the opportunity for gaming or market manipulation.”
As part of the same exercise, another of the world’s most powerful energy companies, RWE of Germany, said it too “may not always have full confidence in the accuracy of their [reporter-led] price assessments.”
Centrica, the owner of British Gas, also expressed positive views about basing prices on deals done through exchanges rather than on the over-the-counter (OTC) market.
ICIS, owned by Reed Business Systems, has now promised to set up an alternative system of price reporting based only on actual executed trades, which will run alongside its current system. In a statement signed by Louise Boddy, head of gas and power at ICIS Heren, she admitted her company needed to address these concerns. “Responses to this consultation do show consensus that a deals-based closing index methodology would provide a reliable measure of closing market value. ICIS will therefore develop a new pricing methodology to provide this,” she said .
“ICIS proposes to run a new closing index alongside certain closing assessments in a first phase lasting at least six months. After six months of publication, ICIS will analyse the reliability of this index. It will also go back to market participants for feedback on the reliability of the index and potential replacement of the existing assessments.”
Freedman was critical of the methodology used by ICIS, alleging among other things that his fellow reporters were not trained properly. He was subsequently sacked and has launched an unfair dismissal case.
Concerns about how all price reporting agencies conduct their business have also led to calls for changes from the International Organisation of Securities Commissions. This comes amid a trend for longterm wholesale contract prices to be linked to OTC gas prices established by companies such as ICIS and Platts rather than oil prices as usually happened in the past.
But the OTC market, estimated to be worth around £300bn annually, is largely unregulated and prices are hard to establish because the price reporters often have to rely on talking to only one party in any deal.
In February, three major brokers launched their own set of indices covering the UK and Europe based on confirmed transactions. The “Tankard” benchmarks have been created by ICAP, Marex Spectron and Tullet Prebon.