The "energy companies are conspiring against us" crowd of nuts just got a little extra ammunition. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has accused international energy company BP
According to the government, BP took a sizable long position in propane contracts and then withheld fuel from the market. Whether BP did that or not, the price of propane did spike up in February of 2004.
Although the government has a former BP employee who has confessed and rolled over for prosecutors, the company denies the allegations. Further, they said they had investigated this issue before and found that several employees had not abided by company trading policies, and that they had been fired. In other words, they seem to be preparing the "rogue trader" defense that we've seen at other times in markets like copper and market index futures.
If BP really did do this with senior management approval, I think the company is colossally stupid. For starters, it is alleged to have made only about $20 million from the disputed action -- an amount of money that is insignificant compared to the company's 2005 EBITDA of over $42 billion. Second, with these first cuts from the government, blood is in the water and the class action lawyers are circling. It's only a matter of time before we see the ads on TV -- "Did you use propane in the winter of 2004? Call us and we'll sue BP for you."
I'm also fairly sure that companies like ExxonMobil
I have no idea what the ultimate resolution of this matter will be, but BP will continue on as before. And just maybe this will turn into enough of a scandal that savvy investors will get a chance to buy shares on the cheap.
While we're on the subject of propane, though, maybe it's worth an income-oriented Fool's time to check out Suburban Propane Partners
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).