The following editorial was written for Scripps Howard News Service:
Whatever happened to the "greedy speculators"? They were a staple of campaign rhetoric by politicians trying to assure voters that the villains behind $4-a-gallon gasoline would not go unpunished.
Here's what happened: Crude oil prices have fallen by almost 20 percent, and they continued to fall this week despite the threat posed to supplies by the Russian invasion of Georgia. Natural gas, a related commodity, has fallen by 37 percent.
The Wall Street Journal cited one analyst who sees oil falling from its current price of about $114 a barrel to $100 next year and $85 in 2010 and quotes one portfolio manager who is receiving calls from "anguished clients," who presumably bet on the market continuing to rise, asking if the bull market in oil is over. (He says not.)
When oil prices were inexorably rising, the politicians felt it was their duty to tax the speculators' "obscene" profits and impose regulation to prevent a repeat of that windfall. Now that the market is falling, and indeed seeming to pick up some momentum, do you hear any talk about sharing in the speculators' losses? You bet not.
Markets go up, markets go down. You bet wrong you lose, you bet right you're a greedy speculator.