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Commodity-market regulators are investigating whether energy-market players are injecting false data into the marketplace to influence perceptions about crude-oil supply and demand, people familiar with the probe say.
Among other things, regulators are concerned that companies may be reporting inventory levels that benefit their own trading positions but that may not be accurate, people familiar with the regulators' thinking say.
Unexpected drops in oil inventories reported each Wednesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration can spark price spikes on the main oil futures benchmark on the New York Mercantile Exchange. A company could theoretically underreport barrels in its tanks, for example, at a key hub to suggest oil is scarcer than it really is, and then sell its physical oil at a premium when oil prices jump on misleading news.