Could this be the oil industry's Libor?

Shell, BP, Statoil and pricing agency Platts investigated for price manipulation.

The offices of several European oil companies, including Shell, BP, Statoil and pricing agency Platts, were yesterday raided by investigators from the European Commission, who are looking into the potential price manipulation of oil, refined products and biofuel, dating back more than a decade.

A Commission statement confirmed they were examining the possibility that; “the companies may have colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products."

"Furthermore, the commission has concerns that the companies may have prevented others from participating in the price assessment process, with a view to distorting published prices," it said.

It also made clear that although investigations were ongoing, it did not mean the companies involved are guilty of any wrongdoing.

The four companies all confirmed that the Commission had made what it called “unannounced inspections” yesterday, and that each was cooperating fully with both EU and national anti-competition authorities over the matter, with Statoil adding the suspected collusion could go back as far as 2002.

Even slight distortions in the assessed prices of oil products can have a massive impact on the price end-users pay. Echoing the recent Libor rigging scandal, which saw Barclays and UBS heavily fined by UK and US authorities over the fixing of the London Interbank Offered Rate, this investigation is the latest in a series of such probes around the world, signalling increased scrutiny on financial benchmarks across a range of markets.

If the allegations are proven to be true, it could prove to be another PR disaster for Britain’s beleaguered oil companies, particularly BP, whose reputation, and balance sheet, has not yet fully recovered from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010; recently receiving a record $17.6 billion fine in the US, having already spent billions on the clean-up operation in the Gulf of Mexico.

Photograph: Getty Images

Mark Brierley is a group editor at Global Trade Media

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.