Fixing the forex fix

March 20, 2014

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The scandal that could be more serious than Liebor involves an equally arcane and fundamental component of international finance: London’s daily foreign exchange fixes. These are the rates that traders give to clients, and they are set – “fixed” – at specific times throughout the day. The most important fix is at 4 pm London time. The FT reports that the investigation involves a dozen different regulators in Europe, the US, and Asia, as well as more than 15 commercial banks, and the UK’s central bank.

In early March, the Bank of England reported that it had suspended a staff member following an internal review into allegations that the central bank is involved in the ongoing foreign exchange fixing scandal. Last week, the UK’s Treasury Select Committee called in BoE governor Mark Carney to testify over the allegations. Carney said that the FX manipulation investigation is “as serious as Libor, if not more so, because this goes to the heart of integrity of markets”, and promised to add a fourth deputy governor to oversee markets and banking and look into the investigation internally. He hired Nemat Shafik from the IMF this week.

Today, Reuters reports that chatroom logs from 2012 show that the central bank may have been involved with, or at least condoned, foreign exchange traders sharing their client orders with each other, which amounts to collusion. “By sharing information during these fixings, traders are able to match trades and minimize price swings, thereby lessening the risk they take on big transactions”, writes Reuters.

The investigation has come a long way from its early days (Bloomberg first reported it in June). Even in November, after Barclays suspended six traders who were being investigated, Steven Perlberg wrote that a “smattering of banks will probably cough up fines and fire traders and/or slap wrists”. Now, DealBook’s Chad Bray says that the BoE’s “reputation is at stake”.

BoE minutes Reuters obtained two weeks ago through a Freedom of Information Request showed that the central bank was aware of allegations of rate rigging as far back as seven years ago. The minutes from a July 2006 meeting read:

It was noted that there was evidence of attempts to move the market around popular fixing times by players that had no particular interest in that fix. This was not in the interest of customers if the market was forced away from where it should be when the fixing snapshot was taken. It was noted that ‘fixing business’ generally was becoming increasingly fraught due to this behavior.

The BoE’s head of markets, Paul Fisher, denies the bank had any knowledge of rate manipulation, although he can “see why people might think that from the minutes”. BoE governor Mark Carney says no information “suggests that anyone at the Bank of England condoned manipulation, or facilitated, participated in market manipulation”. — Shane Ferro

On to today’s links:

Big Ideas
The movement to end traffic deaths in New York – Bklynr

In Putin’s Russia, risk prices you – Joseph Cotterrill

Must Read
Moral injury – “a bruise on the soul” – is the signature wound of war – David Wood

The voluntarism fantasy: why a public safety net is better than private charity – Mike Konczal
“There is no other entity in the world with the financial capacity of the federal government” – James Kwak

Old Timey
Trademarked error: adding imaginary towns to maps to prevent piracy – NPR

Study Says
Meet the wealthy-hand-to-mouth: “wealthy people for whom today’s income is a real constraint” on spending – Brookings
Only 1 in 10 long-term unemployed Americans end up finding a stable, full-time job – Brookings

Possibly Useless Data
Silver jewelry has the highest profit margins – Mine Web

“We need more traffic, and that can mean only one thing: more MH370 coverage” – Kevin Drum

Billionaire Whimsy
Amancio Ortega has built a $10 billion global property empire – Bloomberg

The best Black Swan strategy is a boring bond fund – A Wealth of Common Sense

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