Just when you thought it was possible to get a handle on predicting fuel prices, you read a piece of news that makes you realize economic fundamentals can only go so far.

News broke last week that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission accused two traders of running a market manipulation scheme that may have impacted the price of crude during its runup in 2008. According to the lawsuit, in January of 2008, the traders purchased millions of barrels of crude, which created the impression that supplies were running low at the nation’s central oil hub in Cushing, OK. This drove up the prices of future contracts the traders’ firm already held. The traders then allegedly pocketed the profits and dumped the oil back into the market, sending the contract price back down. They then took positions that profited from that decline. The scheme was allegedly repeated in March of 2008. The activity stopped when the traders became aware that the CFTC had begun to investigate excessive speculation.

The case is the first to result from a recent Presidential Justice Department directive to root out fraud and manipulation in the oil markets.

On the bright side, manipulative activity such as this likely diminished when the CFTC probe was first made public. And given the current lawsuit, speculators should now be even more cautious. However, if there’s one thing we should know by now, it’s that Wall Street is continually inventing new ways to exploit loopholes.

Bottom line: We “little guys” will continue to make educated guesses on oil prices based on the information we have available. The big wild card will continue to be the influence of speculation.