Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Upholds Administrative Law Judge Ruling that Imposes $30 Million Penalty on Former Amaranth Trader Brian Hunter for Natural Gas Market Manipulation During 2006

Defendant Brian Hunter (Hunter) was an executive and head natural gas trader at hedge fund manager Amaranth Advisors, LLC (Amaranth).  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which has jurisdiction over interstate sales of natural gas and electricity, has upheld in all respects the findings of a FERC administrative law judge who found Hunter guilty of manipulation of the natural gas market and imposed a $30 million penalty on him.  At the end of February, March and April 2006, Hunter sold large volumes of natural gas futures contracts on their expiration dates in order to drive down the settlement prices of those contracts.  Gas futures contracts trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX).  FERC argued that, unbeknownst to traders on the NYMEX, Hunter had amassed short positions in natural gas swap agreements that referenced the settlement prices of the gas futures contracts.  Consequently, he stood to profit from the drop in the settlement price of gas futures contracts that occurred when Amaranth dumped those contracts on their expiration dates.  Amaranth collapsed in late 2006, in large part because of the bets it had made on the natural gas market.  FERC determined that Hunter’s trading was intended to manipulate the price of natural gas futures contracts, was done knowingly and had an effect on the market for natural gas.  FERC bills this case as the “first fully litigated proceeding involving FERC’s enhanced enforcement authority under section 4A of the Natural Gas Act, which prohibits manipulation in connection with transactions subject to FERC jurisdiction.”  The trading at issue occurred only in the futures market, rather than in the physical gas market.  We summarize FERC’s decision.  See also “Federal District Court Dismisses Lawsuit Brought by San Diego County Employees Retirement Association against Hedge Fund Manager Amaranth Advisors and Related Parties for Securities Fraud, Gross Negligence and Breach of Fiduciary Duty,” Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 3, No. 12 (Mar. 25, 2010).

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