Were Markets Tipped to Obama's Tap?

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"In retrospect, oil's price move following the Strategic Petroleum Reserve tap is starting to look fishy."

CNBC, Jeff Cox

Tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was supposed to lower oil prices but instead has only raised questions about market manipulation.

The price of U.S. crude actually is higher now than when the Department of Energy and International Energy Agency made the controversial move on June 23 to hit up the SPR in an effort to ease the gasoline burden on consumers and goose the economy.

At the time, critics blasted the move because oil prices already had fallen considerably—more than 16% in just two weeks' time, in fact.

In retrospect, the price move is starting to look fishy to some traders.

Dennis Gartman, a hedge fund manager and author of the widely followed "Gartman Letter," constructs a timeline of how the oil release came to be and the trading action surrounding it.

He notes the most recent peak of oil on May 2, discussions with Gulf oil ministers on May 5 as the price started to decline, and the ultimate announcement seven weeks later, when oil was around its near-term bottom.

The price drop leading into the SPR release indicates that the market may have been anticipating the move and selling oil accordingly.

"When presented this information in this simple but elegant format, how can we not believe that someone in a position of some authority did indeed know what was in the works regarding the SPR?" Gartman wrote. "We are not conspiratorialists here at TGL, but certainly this is worthy of investigation."

For the record, officials at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority would neither confirm nor deny any such probes.

Oil has traded in a fairly tight range over the past three weeks but is clear of the $94.40 opening level the day of the SPR announcement.

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