Moonlighting

The rules never apply to the 1%, of course. And after all, they keep telling us no one’s rigging energy prices, nope, not here, must be your imagination. Ryan Chittum at CJR reports:

Reuters unloads another outstanding scoop on the sketchy doings of Chesapeake Energy Aubrey McClendon, reporting that the CEO ran a hedge fund inside Chesapeake from 2004 to 2008 that bet on natural gas.

While Reuters notes up high that insider trading isn’t illegal in commodities, McClendon’s moonlighting as a fund manager was never disclosed to investors and perhaps not even to the company’s overly friendly board of directors.

In Chesapeake’s case, McClendon would have been aware of major decisions that could affect natural gas prices before that information became public. Accounting for 5 percent of U.S. natural gas production, Chesapeake holds tremendous sway over markets. On January 23, the company announced sharp output curbs in response to low prices. In response, U.S. natural gas futures surged by 8 percent the same day.

“If the company needs to make an operating decision which might move the market against the CEO’s positions, there’s a risk that will influence the decision-making at the top of the company,” said Jeff Harris, former chief economist at the market’s U.S. regulator, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and now professor of finance at Syracuse University.

Another potential problem is known as “front-running.” That’s when a trader buys or sells a commodity in advance of a client’s or his company’s orders. In theory, McClendon’s first-hand knowledge of Chesapeake’s own plans to trade would enable him to profit by trading ahead of Chesapeake – a move that could raise costs for the company.

 

I’d imagine the CFTC is going to want to take a very close look at this latest McClendon mess. And you’d have to guess Chesapeake shareholders would like to have known that the guy they were paying $112 million to run their company in 2008 was also “engaged in ‘near daily’ communications and ‘exhaustive’ calls to help direct the fund’s trading.”

This story follows closely on the heels of another one Reuters helped turn into a major headache.

After The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette very good scoop in late March that McClendon was borrowing against his share of Chesapeake’s wells, Reuters expanded the story in a major way, reporting that the CEO had borrowed more than a billion dollars against the assets from lenders that included a private-equity fund that was purchasing Chesapeake assets. Chesapeake’s top lawyer said that the company’s board was “fully aware” of the deals, something the directors themselves later disputed (check out the company’s snippy PR response too.)

Hitman-in-chief

Yeah, that about sums things up:

There is something particularly degrading about the use of a state killing—in which dozens of heavily armed special ops troops mowed down the fugitive in front of his wives and children—to promote a political campaign. Obama presents himself, not so much even as commander-in-chief, but as “hitman-in-chief,” appealing to the worst social instincts.

Bank of Coal

I’m really happy that these kind of public actions are becoming more common, because for too long, Americans have been operating on automatic pilot and now, thanks to a crushing recession, extreme weather and the Occupy movement, they’re actually beginning to connect the dots. This action by Rainforest Action Network raises awareness as to how intertwined our problems are. When we learn how banks are heavily invested in the things that destroy the environment, we understand why it’s been almost impossible to save our planet:

CHARLOTTE, NC — The much-politicized Bank of America stadium received a facelift today when five people with Rainforest Action Network skillfully unfurled a 70-foot by 25-foot banner off the top of the building, rebranding the stadium the “Bank of Coal.” Just days before the bank’s annual shareholder meeting, the act was intended to call attention to the bank’s role as the leading financier of the coal industry, one of the main concerns for bank critics.

The advocates, all trained climbers with safety gear, hung from the outside of the stadium more than 100-feet above the ground.

In the past two years alone, Bank of America has pumped $6.74 billion into the U.S. coal industry according to Bloomberg data. The Bank of America Stadium is where President Obama will accept the Democratic Party’s nomination to a second term in early September, and, to many, symbolizes the cozy relationship between banks and government highlighted throughout the Occupy protests.

“Today, Rainforest Action Network has taken our message to extraordinary heights because the risk that coal poses to our health and our climate is nothing less than extraordinary. It’s past time Bank of America take a leadership role in transitioning our economy away from this dangerous and outdated industry,” said Todd Zimmer, a lifelong Charlotte resident and organizer with Rainforest Action Network.

Today’s action kicks off a week of events leading up to Bank of America’s annual shareholder meeting on May 9 where organizers predict more than 1,000 people plan to protest the company.

Not only is coal burning responsible for one third of U.S. carbon emissions — the main contributor to climate change — but it is also a major public health risk. In 2012, one in every four children living in Charlotte will develop asthma or other respiratory problems, while 3,000 North Carolinians die prematurely every year, all due to air pollution.

There are four coal plants in the Charlotte area. Duke’s Riverbend plant, which Bank of America finances, is within 12 miles of Uptown Charlotte.

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