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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Fast-expanding global investigation into banks, collusion and manipulation

    February 16, 2014 6:15 pm

    Forex in the spotlight

    By FT reporters


    Banks are braced for multibillion-dollar fines and years of litigation from a global probe



    The annual Prime Finance get-together in The Hague is a rather arid affair, with a coterie of academics, lawyers and the odd banker gathering to discuss the finer points of jurisprudence in the international markets.


    But at last month’s event a trader spiced things up. “We’ll figure out ways around any rules, so why do you think anything you’re doing is going to make a difference?” the trader asked, according to an attendee.


    Foreign exchange



    Fallout from inquiries

    More

    ON THIS STORY



    IN ANALYSIS




    The trader’s words capture the cowboy mentality of some working in the murkier areas of the trading world, such as foreign exchange and commodities. But for all the bravado, it may be the mindset of a dying breed.

    Over recent months, a fast-expanding global investigation into alleged collusion and manipulation among foreign exchange traders has rocked the forex units of more than a dozen large banks, raising fundamental questions about the way they operate.


    For many of those banks it is the second such scandal to hit them in short order. Probes into the rigging of benchmark interbank lending rates such as Libor are continuing. To date, the Libor affair has led to the firing of dozens of traders and has cost banks almost $6bn in regulatory penalties. Three chief executives – Bob Diamond at Barclays, Piet Moerland at Rabobank and David Caplin at broker RP Martin – lost their jobs as a direct result of the affair.


    The forex scandal, many believe, could be at least as nasty. Martin Wheatley, head of the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, has called the forex allegations “every bit as bad as . . . Libor”. Banks are braced for a potential barrage of multibillion-dollar fines, years of civil litigation and a host of senior departures. Regulators have given blunt warnings to that effect.


    The scale of the $5.3trillion a day foreign exchange market dwarfs all others. It is also more tangibly linked to a much broader range of clients, many of whom may be able to prove they were short-changed by the alleged collusion and manipulation of rates by traders.

    For the big investment banks – under pressure from post-crisis regulations, higher capital requirements and slack trading volumes across the so-called “Ficc” businesses of fixed-income, currencies and commodities – the affair has come at a particularly bad time.


    “This probe is a monster,” says Bill Michael, European head of financial services at KPMG. “The forex market is used by everyone so the impact could be far-reaching.”


    The shape of the antitrust and fraud probes is vast and muscular. Bank bosses sat up in alarm this month when Ben Lawsky, New York State’s aggressive financial regulator, joined the fray, sending document requests to more than a dozen banks. Mr Lawsky, whose approach is modelled on Eliot Spitzer, former New York attorney-general, shot to prominence 18 months ago when he pursued Standard Chartered for sanctions breaches and secured a $340m settlement.


    In all, more than a dozen regulators across Europe, the US and Asia – from the UK’s FCA to the US Department of Justice – are now either running their own inquiries or assisting investigations into allegations that traders used chat rooms and other forms of electronic communication to share client information and collude to manipulate daily currency benchmarks.


    The scale of the alleged forex abuses is stretching regulatory capacity.

    Top DoJ officials have now shifted some investigators from the Libor cases to work on the currency probe, people familiar with the matter have said.


    Sparked almost a year ago in the UK, the inquiries have spread around the world, engulfing at least 15 banks. Nine of them – Barclays, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank,HSBC, JPMorgan, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Chartered and UBS – have suspended, placed on leave or fired 21 traders. None of the traders has been formally accused of any wrongdoing. All either refused to comment when contacted by the FT, or could not be reached for comment.


    Those traders – from Buenos Aires and New York to London and Tokyo – range from junior staff to global business leaders, from specialists in currencies such as the Mexican peso to generalists who trade common “pairs” such as euro-dollar. A handful of the most senior traders are under particular scrutiny for their membership in a specific chatroom known alternately as the Mafia or the Cartel, a powerful group that was widely respected in the trader community.


    Banks are conducting their own inquiries. People involved say banks are examining hundreds of millions of messages sent by traders in chat rooms, by text or voice mail. They are also studying trading patterns in every currency in all geographies. One lawyer says the banks, having just gone through the Libor investigations, have a better sense of what they are looking for.


    Bank chiefs say the seriousness with which they are taking the forex allegations proves their determination to expose, rather than hide, malpractices. But fear is a factor, too. Some banks, including Barclays, UBS and RBS, have non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreements with the DoJ over Libor manipulation.


    Those contracts force the banks to co-operate with the authorities and put them at serious risk if they are found to have committed crimes in the US in recent years. Mythili Raman, acting chief of the DoJ’s criminal division, told the FT recently: “As part of our Libor resolutions, there have been pledges by banks to co-operate, and indeed requirements by banks to co-operate, not just in connection with Libor but all benchmark manipulations. That has been an important source of information.”


    Barclays admitted in its fourth-quarter financial report last week that “a breach of any of the NPA provisions could lead to prosecutions . . .  and could have significant consequences for the group’s current and future business operations”.

    . . .
    The Libor scandal has taught banks that it may pay to be ruthless in their own investigations. Last December UBS escaped a potential €2.5bn fine from the European Commission in return for information on a cartel that allegedly manipulated Yen Libor. Such treatment has encouraged some banks to hand over evidence to the commission in an attempt to gain leniency or immunity for the antitrust element of their foreign exchange investigation.

    The broader scale of the currencies market – and the direct impact for swaths of corporate clients, asset managers and pension funds – has sharpened the banks’ fears and keenness to co-operate. One person familiar with the commission’s preliminary probe says banks are queueing up to provide incriminating evidence “of startling quality”.


    It is already clear from some banks’ internal investigations that there have been instances of traders sharing information about overall trading books and individual client orders, seemingly in a bid to match up their trades and align trading strategies, four people familiar with the investigations said.


    At the centre of the allegations is the pivotal “WM/Reuters 4pm fix” – the dominant mechanism for setting a benchmark price at the end of the London trading day by averaging the prices of orders from a few traders.


    Collusion, if it is proved, may have been made possible by three things – the archaic structure of the forex market, which still relies on telephone or “voice” trading, rather than more transparent exchange-based electronic orders; a near-total absence of regulatory oversight; and the dominance of the market by a cosy club of currency traders from a few large banks. Four groups – Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Barclays and UBS – account for more than half of the market. The result is an opaque market that gives bank traders a clear “information advantage” over their clients. Traders say that having information about clients’ intentions, particularly with big trades, helps them negotiate a market marked by large daily price swings.


    “The main problem has been an absence of guidance on clear behavioural standards,” a senior compliance banker says. In his opinion, “people weren’t as careful as they should have been in protecting client confidentiality. This would not have been acceptable in other markets, but given that this is not an exchange-traded market no one looked at it closely.”


    In spite of the market’s obvious shortcomings and the alleged manipulation, lawyers caution that internal probes are at an early stage and have yet to uncover much hard evidence. Bank investigators have found some examples of suspicious conduct, the lawyers say, but the hurdle of determining whether any laws were violated, especially in the US, remains.


    Even the four traders who so far have been dismissed have been given vague reasons – “inappropriate use of electronic communications” in the case of Rohan Ramchandani, Citigroup’s former European head of spot trading – or else have been fired for “bad judgment”, as in the case of Robert Wallden, a Deutsche trader in the US.


    “All banks feel the pressure to be seen to be doing something,” the senior banker says. “Some of the suspensions might not even be linked to FX behaviours.”


    Investigators are also being hampered by limited understanding of what one lawyer called the unusual “dialect” used by forex traders.

    “Most of these messages are crushingly boring and pure garbage. [But] they are difficult to decipher,” a senior banker involved in an investigation says.


    The hurdle for regulators in Brussels is far lower, however. Under EU law even an attempt to collude would be sufficient for a cartel case, and mere information exchange alone has brought fines in other investigations.

    . . .
    It will be some time before anything definitive emerges from the forex probes. But with the floodlights turned on, there are signs that poor past practices have been tightened up. Many forecast that the regulatory onslaught will speed an already advanced change from voice spot traders towards “system engineers” who oversee electronic trading platforms. “You would expect a further push towards electronic trading. It may essentially move from a risk-taking approach to a more agency-type model,” says Tony Murphy, managing director at Promontory Financial Group, a regulatory consultancy.

    Not all of the changes in market practices may be positive. “The market participants are all hamstrung,” says the head of one European investment bank. “People are intentionally making less money with their trades; they are less aggressive in pricing and take lower risks.”


    That diminished appetite for risk, combined with regulatory curbs on proprietary trading – whereby traders seek to make money for the bank by taking bets on the direction of rates themselves – will be seen by the authorities as early evidence of a successful crackdown on the industry. But there is a sting in the tail. The shrunken activity in foreign exchange trading – lower levels of “liquidity” in the jargon – means that when big client orders come through they are more likely to spook the market.


    “When the market is less liquid,” says one big London hedge fund manager, “there will be bigger price swings.” Spikes of nervousness in emerging markets currency prices in recent weeks were compounded by just this kind of liquidity shortage, he says. “A cleaner market is obviously a good thing. But one consequence is probably a more volatile market.”

    -------------------------------------------
    Painting the screen to fix the rate
    What are regulators looking for in the forex inquiries? What is the nature of the alleged misbehaviour? Here is a list of alleged “techniques” that some traders may have used:
    Sharing information about individual client orders. This enables traders to match up their trades ahead of the fix or to gauge upcoming market movements.
    Front-running: using knowledge about impending client orders to build up positions ahead of the fix. For example, a client wants to buy $100m at the price of the fix. The trader then “pre-hedges” by buying dollars in the hour before the fixing, thereby driving up the exchange rate, to the possible detriment of the client who potentially faces a higher price at the fix.
    Banging the close: placing a high number of small orders before and around the fix to move the price. Given that the WM/Reuters fix is based on a median of transactions in a short timeframe, many such trades can influence the price.
    Painting the screen: engaging in fake transactions with other traders during the fixing period to manipulate the exchange rate.
    Hunting for the stops: buying or selling currencies to move exchange rates to a level where stop-losses – orders to automatically sell once a certain price has been reached – are triggered.
    Personal account trading: using private money to trade ahead of market-moving client orders.

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a296da48-9579-11e3-8371-00144feab7de.html

    Last edited by JohnDoe2; 02-17-2014 at 01:48 PM.
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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Definition of 'Forex - FX' The market in which currencies are traded.

    The forex market is the largest, most liquid market in the world with an average traded value that exceeds $1.9 trillion per day and includes all of the currencies in the world.
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    Feb. 17, 2014, 8:08 p.m. EST

    Charges Open New Front in Libor Probe

    By David Enrich and Margot Patrick , The Wall Street Journal

    LONDON—British prosecutors filed criminal charges against three former bank traders for alleged fraud, opening a new front in a global investigation into alleged rigging of benchmark interest rates, with more charges in the pipeline.


    The U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office said Monday that it charged three former Barclays PLC traders with conspiracy to defraud for their alleged roles rigging the London interbank offered rate, or Libor. The agency, which opened its criminal investigation in July 2012, also is likely to file charges against three former ICAP PLC brokers for allegedly helping bank traders manipulate rates, according to people familiar with the case.


    Libor: What You Need to Know What it is : Libor—the London interbank offered rate benchmark—is supposed to measure the interest rates at which banks borrow from one another. It is based on data reported daily by banks. Other interest rate indexes, like the Euribor (euro interbank offered rate) and the Tibor (Tokyo interbank offered rate), function in a similar way.

    Libor, including $350 trillion in swaps and $10 trillion in loans, including auto and home loans, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Even small movements—or inaccuracies—in the Libor affect investment returns and borrowing costs, for individuals, companies and professional investors.


    The U.K.'s latest charges represent a broadening of the Libor investigation, which got under way in 2008. They serve as a reminder of the scandal's scope and the pervasive nature of the alleged misconduct, even as the Libor investigation begins to be overshadowed by nascent criminal and civil examinations into potential manipulation of other financial benchmarks.


    Monday's charges bring to 13 the number of people criminally charged in the U.S. or U.K. investigations into Libor, a benchmark used to set interest rates on trillions of dollars of loans and other financial contracts.


    Until now, criminal charges filed against people in the U.S. and U.K. have all been in connection with an alleged rate-manipulation ring led by a single trader: Tom Hayes , who used to work in Tokyo for UBS AG and Citigroup C -0.68% Inc. and who has pleaded not guilty to U.K. charges.


    But the charges against the former Barclays employees— Peter Johnson , 59 years old, Jonathan Mathew , 32, and Stylianos Contogoulas , 42—don't appear to relate to that investigation. Most of their alleged activity took place during a different time period, and Barclays wasn't part of Mr. Hayes's alleged ring, according to people familiar with the U.S. and U.K. investigations. A lawyer for Mr. Mathew declined to comment. Lawyers for Messrs. Johnson and Contogoulas didn't respond to requests for comment.


    Other alleged rings remain under scrutiny. Authorities in the U.S., U.K. and European Union have been investigating a group of former traders from several banks for allegedly working together to manipulate the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, according to people familiar with that case.


    Authorities allege that bank traders tried to push Libor and other benchmarks up or down to increase the value of their trading portfolios, which included contracts that were based largely on the benchmarks' levels.

    The likely U.K. criminal charges against the former ICAP brokers— Colin Goodman ,Darrell Read and Daniel Wilkinson —are notable in part because the U.S. Justice Department last September charged the men with similar fraud-related offenses. They haven't entered pleas to the U.S. charges.


    "We would not be surprised to find that he would be charged," said Matthew Frankland, a London lawyer representing Mr. Wilkinson.


    After the U.S. filed charges, lawyers for the former ICAP brokers were in the unusual position of pushing the U.K. Serious Fraud Office to file criminal charges against their clients, according to people familiar with the case. The reason: Being charged in the U.K. likely would preclude the men from being extradited to the U.S. to face similar charges, these people said. The former brokers would prefer to be tried in Britain because the penalties they would face if convicted are much lighter than in the U.S.


    Relations between the Justice Department and the Serious Fraud Office soured in late 2012 over a similar incident. U.S. officials informed their British counterparts at the time that they planned to file criminal charges against Mr. Hayes. Within days, the Serious Fraud Office arrested Mr. Hayes, a move that the Justice Department perceived as impeding the U.S. from nabbing a prime suspect, these people said. The dispute escalated to senior officials on both sides of the Atlantic.


    Mr. Hayes hasn't pleaded to the U.S. charges. He told The Wall Street Journal last year that "this goes much much higher than me."


    People close to the Serious Fraud Office said the agency has been in close contact with the Justice Department about its decisions about whom to charge and that the two agencies have patched up their relationship since the 2012 fracas.


    The flurry of announced and anticipated charges by U.K. authorities comes as the agency tries to regain momentum in its Libor case. People involved in the investigation said it was nearly derailed last year when Mr. Hayes, who had been cooperating with the agency, changed his mind and decided to fight the charges against him. The agency had been counting on Mr. Hayes to testify against his alleged co-conspirators, and without his help it became much harder to bring charges against other people, these people said.


    The former ICAP brokers allegedly worked with Mr. Hayes and other bank traders to rig rates, according to the Justice Department.


    ICAP, which serves as a middleman for large institutions looking to buy and sell financial products, last September settled the U.S. and British Libor investigations, agreeing to pay $87 million. Its chief executive at the time admitted that the firm's employees engaged in gross misconduct and apologized for the firm's actions.


    Barclays was the first bank to resolve its case, paying about $450 million in June 2012 and admitting wrongdoing. A political furor over the settlement led to the abrupt resignations of Barclays's chairman, chief executive and chief operating officer.


    Write to
    Margot Patrick at margot.patrick@wsj.com and David Enrich atdavid.enrich@wsj.com

    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/sfo...-02-17-7449043

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    Banks review forex dealers' trading on own accounts - sources

    4 hours ago


    .View photo

    A sign is seen outside a Royal Bank of Scotland building in central London January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

    (Reuters) - Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) (LSE:RBS) and Deutsche Bank (GER8 BK) are reviewing rules on currency dealers trading with their own money, sources said on Tuesday, as regulators investigate possible price fixing in foreign exchange markets.

    Related Stories




    Deutsche Bank, a major player in the $5.3 trillion a day market, now requires staff to seek approval for personal foreign exchange trades before conducting them, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

    The bank already asked employees to get approval for stock purchases from senior managers before doing deals.


    RBS is assessing processes and procedures in its foreign exchange operations, including personal accounts, another source said.


    The state-backed bank has already cut some of its foreign exchange fixing services following an internal review.


    Swiss bank UBS (VTX:UBSN) was also looking at its policies on private trades, the Financial Times reported, citing people familiar with the plans.

    UBS launched an internal review of its forex business when irregularities in the currency markets first emerged last year, according to its fourth quarter earnings report.

    UBS and RBS declined to comment.


    Deutsche Bank said it has long-existing policies that forbid employees from using confidential client information to benefit their personal dealings. Those policies are constantly reviewed, it said.


    Regulators are looking at whether traders at some of the world's biggest banks with advance knowledge of customer orders tried to manipulate benchmark foreign-exchange rates used to set the value of trillions of dollars of investments.


    Since the investigations started last year, 20 traders have been fired, suspended or put on leave and banks are considering ways to clean up trading floors, including banning chat rooms.


    No charges of any kind have yet been brought.


    The Financial Times said in November that the UK's Financial Conduct Authority was investigating the use of private accounts by forex traders.


    In Switzerland, regulator FINMA is trying to gauge whether forex traders had been manipulating the euro-Swiss franc and U.S. dollar-Swiss franc fixes through their personal accounts and for personal gain, according to currency traders.


    Germany's financial watchdog Bafin is also investigating the use of the private accounts, a third source said.


    FINMA declined to comment as the investigation is ongoing. Bafin had no comment.


    Personal account or "PA" trades are usually declared to the bank by employees and are recorded via automatic emails.


    Foreign exchange benchmarks are scheduled to be reviewed by the Financial Stability Board, which coordinates regulation for the Group of 20 (G20) leading economies.


    Last year, banks including Barclays (LSE:BARC) and UBS were fined $6 billion for rigging Libor benchmark interest rates. Some of the banks are cooperating with regulators in the forex probe.


    Britain's fraud agency started criminal proceedings against three former bankers at Barclays on Monday for the alleged manipulation of Libor rates.


    http://news.yahoo.com/banks-review-f...171056843.html
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    Moved to Other Topics. Topic - International banking
    Last edited by Newmexican; 03-18-2014 at 05:40 PM.
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