The CFTC hasn’t begun a formal investigation, but it is examining whether the setting of prices for gold, as well as for silver -- a smaller market -- is transparent, the Journal reported. Twice a day, a number of banks meet in London -- the world's largest gold market -- to set the price for a troy ounce of physical gold, according to WSJ.com.
The commission has been a key player in the investigation of financial institutions accused of rigging interest rates. Three large banks agreed to pay penalties that total $2.5 billion for the alleged manipulation of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.
According to WSJ.com, the daily price of gold has an effect on the price of jewelry throughout the world, and it affects “how much mining companies earn selling raw metals to refineries.”
“It also helps determine the value of derivatives whose prices are tied to the metals,” the Journal noted. According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, commercial banks in the U.S. had $198 billion of precious metals-related contracts outstanding at the end of September 2012, WSJ.com continued.
The CFTC is headed by former Goldman Sachs executive Gary Gensler, who has “called for reforms to Libor and other benchmarks that would require them to be based on actual transactions, rather than estimates submitted by industry firms,” the Journal reported. Gensler co-chairs a task force of regulators that plans to release new guidelines this spring.
"The idea that pervasive manipulation, or attempted manipulation [of interest rates], is so widespread should make us all query the veracity of the other key marks," CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton said at a Feb. 26 roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C., on financial benchmarks, according to the Journal. "What about energy, swaps, the gold and silver fixes in London and the whole litany of 'bors'?" Chilton said, in regard to benchmarks such as Euribor and Libor.