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Forex scandal: How to rig the market

By Sebastian ChrispinBusiness reporter, BBC News


12 November 2014

From the sectionBusiness

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The foreign exchange market is not easy to manipulate.


But it is still possible for traders to change the value of a currency in order to
make a profit.
As it is a 24-hour market, it is not easy to see how much the market is worth on
a given day.
Institutions find it useful to take a snapshot of how much is being bought and
sold. This happens every day in the 30 seconds before and after 16:00 in
London and the result is known as the 4pm fix, or just the fix.
The fix is very important, as it is the peg on which many other financial markets
depend.
So how do you make currency prices change in the way you want?

Traders can affect market prices by submitting a rush of orders during the
window when the fix is set.
This can skew the market's impression of supply and demand, so changing the
price.

This might be where traders obtain confidential information about something


that is about to happen and could change prices. For example, some traders
shared internal information about their clients' orders and trading positions.
The traders could then place their own orders or sales in order to profit from the
subsequent movement in prices.
This can relate to the 4pm fix, with a trader placing a trade before 4pm because
he knows something will happen at around 4pm.

It is easier to move prices if several market participants work together.


By agreeing to place orders at a certain time or sharing confidential information,
it is possible to move prices more sharply.
That could result in traders making more profits.
Collusion can be "active", with traders speaking to each other on the phone or
on internet chatrooms. It can also be "implicit", where traders don't need to
speak to each other but are still aware of what other people in the market are
planning to do.

'Hooray nice teamwork'


The UK's financial watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) gave some
examples of how traders at banks calling themselves names such as "the
players", "the 3 musketeers", "1 team, 1 dream" and "the A-team" attempted to
manipulate foreign exchange markets.
In one example, it said traders at HSBC had colluded with traders from at least
three other firms to attempt to drive the fix for the sterling-dollar rate lower.
It said traders had shared confidential information about client orders prior to
the fix, and then used this information to attempt to manipulate the fix
downwards.

The sterling/dollar exchange rate fix fell from 1.6044 to 1.6009 in this
particular example, making HSBC a $162,000 profit.
Afterwards, traders congratulated themselves, saying: "Loved that mate...
worked lovely... pity we couldn't get it below the 00", "there you go.. go early,
move it, hold it, push it", "nice works gents..I don my hat" and "Hooray nice
teamwork".
In another example, the FCA said Citi traders had attempted to drive the
euro/dollar fix upwards by sharing information on its buy orders with traders at
other firms.
Traders at these firms then transferred their buy orders to Citi, giving it more
influence on the market
Ultimately, the euro/dollar fix rose and Citi's profit for the trade reached
$99,000.
After the trade was completed, traders shared congratulatory messages such as
"lovely", "yeah worked ok" and "cn't teach that".

Who gets hurt?


The price movements arising from the manipulation are so small that
holidaymakers are unlikely to notice a big difference when buying foreign
currency.
The biggest losers are companies found guilty of manipulation. Even for big
banks 2bn is a lot of money.
The regulators say that some of the banks' clients could have suffered from the
market being skewed. That could affect the value of pension funds and
investments.
This kind of manipulation also further undermines trust in the financial system,
which has been through a series of scandals.

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Last updated: November 12, 2014 2:09 pm

Traders forex
chatroom banter
exposed
Claer Barrett and John Aglionby

Next Thumbnails
The traders that attempted to manipulate the foreign exchange markets used
chatrooms to share information about currency orders and gave themselves
macho pseudonyms such as The players, the A team and the 3 musketeers,
the UK financial watchdogs investigation has revealed.
On Wednesday, the Financial Conduct Authority published chatroom messages
showing how traders worked together to manipulate the benchmark, including
how can I make free money with no fcking heads up [sic] and cheers for
saying you were same way helped me go early.

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Other messages showed the traders fear of being found out: [dont] want other
numptys in mkt to know [about information exchanged within the group] but
not only that is he gonna protect us like we protect each other.
The shared information allowed them to match up orders and align trading
strategies at and around the fix. A fix is a benchmark rate based on trades taking
place in a given time window; and certain fixings, especially the WM Reuters
rate used in calculating key global bond and equity indices, are popular with
asset managers who want to trade at the same rate used to value their portfolios.
Foreign exchange dealers usually quote two prices for buying or selling a
particular currency pair making their money from the spread between the two
rates. But banks offering a fixing service guarantee their clients the market midrate at this point in time. Traders with big orders to process therefore risk losing
a significant amount if the market moves against them in the run-up to the fix
and the incentive to collude and try to make the exchange rate move in their
favour is strong.
Citi
The FCA detailed one example of how some traders at Citi were able to
manipulate the 1.15pm daily fix of exchange rates by the European Central
Bank.
On the day in question, Citi had net buy orders of 200m and would benefit if it
was able to move the ECB fix rate upwards.
Traders were able to build this order to 542m by using chatrooms to coordinate with traders at other firms who transferred their buy orders to Citi.
Furthermore, traders in a chatroom with net orders in the opposite direction to
the desired movement at the fix sought to transact before the fix with traders
outside the chatroom. The FCA said this practice was commonly referred to as
leaving you with the ammo, building the volume of orders held by the traders

in the chatroom in the desired direction and increasing their potential influence
on the fix.
Having netted off its sell order with another party, one trader commented in the
chatroom: U shud be nice and clear to mangle. The FCA said: We read the
word mangle in this context as an attempt to manipulate the fix.
More video

In the 15 seconds before the ECB fix, Citi placed four buy orders of increasing
size and price which were priced at a level above the prevailing offer price. The
FCA said Citis trading in this case generated a profit of $99,000.
After the fix, traders in the chatroom commented: impressive, lovely and
cnt teach that.
HSBC
The FCA gave an example of how on one day it believed HSBC was involved in
the manipulation of the 4pm WM/Reuters fix for the sterling-dollar rate. It
allegedly colluded with traders from at least three other banks who, like it, were
wanting to drive the rate lower.
From transcripts of chatroom conversations, about half an hour before the 4pm
fix, a HSBC trader says Lets go. Reply from Firm A: yeah baby, then:
hopefuulyl a fe wmore get same way and we can team whack it [sic].
A trader from Firm D tells the trader from Firm A to bask the fck out of it.
Firm A then tells HSBC that a deal has been done with Firm E, which is buying.
Taken him out...so shud have iot rid of main buyer for u...im stilla seller of
90...gives us a chance [sic].
In depth
Forex trading probes

After the manipulation of Libor is rigging foreign currency markets the next big scandal to hit some of the
worlds biggest banks?
Further reading

HSBC ended up selling 70m between 3.32pm and the start of the fix window.
The FCA said these early trades were designed to take advantage of the expected
downwards movement in the fix rate following the discussions within the
chatroom.
In that time, the rate fell from $1.6044 to $1.6009.
HSBC then sold 311m during the fix window. HSBC and Firms A-C accounted
for 63 per cent of the value of sales on the Reuters platform that day. The fix
price was eventually $1.6003.

After the fix the traders said the following in the chatroom:
Nice work gent...I don my hat, dont mess with our ccy [currency], loved
that mate...worked lovely...pity we coldnt get it below the 00 and we need
a few more of those for me to get back on track this month.
HSBCs profit in this trade was $162,000, the FCA said.
JPMorgan
The FCA gave an example of a day when it says JPMorgan attempted to
manipulate the 4pm WMR euro-dollar fix rate.
JPMorgan had net buy orders of 105m and wanted to move the fix rate up.
In a chatroom conversation, it offers to transfer this order to Firm A. Firm A
says maybe. Firm A is buying 150m at the fix for a top [account], adding
id prefer we join forces. JPMorgan replies perfick...lets do this...lets
double team em. Firm A replies YESsssssss. Later Firm A says to JPMorgan;
I got the bookies covered, referring to dealers in the interdealer broker
market.
By the fix, JPMorgan had built orders of 278m while Firm As orders were
240m.
We were EPIC at the fix yest
- Firm A
Tweet this quote

JPMorgan bought 57m in the two minutes before the fix window. The FCA said
these trades were designed to take advantage of the expected upwards
movement in the fix rate following the discussions within the chatroom.
During the fix window, JPMorgan bought 134m and Firm A bought 125m.
Between them they accounted for 41 per cent of the euro-dollar trade.
So couldnt have been that $hit a week!!
- Firm B
Tweet this quote

JPMorgans profit in this trade was $33,000.


RBS
The FCA used an example of RBS attempting to manipulate the WMR
GBP/USD fix on a day when it had net client sell orders at the fix and would
benefit if it was able to manipulate the WMR fix rate lower.
Ahead of the fix, RBS shared information with other traders in the chatroom
causing two of them to net off their buying and selling orders. Another firm
responds by netting off part of its sell order with two other parties outside the
chatroom.
The FCA said this practice was known as clearing the decks as traders netted
off their orders with third parties outside the chatroom reducing the volume of
orders that might otherwise be transacted at the fix in the opposite direction.

In a separate chatroom, RBS told three other traders: We getting a lot Betty at
fix which the FCA said was trader slang for sterling/dollar, coming from Betty
Grable which rhymes with cable.
We fooking killed it right
- Trader
Tweet this quote

In the period leading up to the 4pm fix, RBS built the volume of currency it sold
to 399m which the FCA said was designed to take advantage of the expected
downwards movement in the fix rate following the discussions within the
chatroom.
The FCA said that RBS made $615,000 profit on this trade.
UBS
The FCA gave an example of an occasion when it says UBS attempted to
manipulate the 1.15pm ECB euro-dollar fix. UBS was a net seller and wanted to
move the rate lower.
Ahead of the fix UBS had net sell orders of 250m, Firm A was selling 200m,
while Firm B was selling 100m. Firm As orders dropped to 100m but it said
hopefully taking all the filth out for u..., meaning it had netted off some of its
orders with people who might have traded against UBS.
Firm A and UBS then said they had done short trades, each of 25m. Firm B
then indicated that these short positions should be held for only 12 minutes, i.e
until the ECB fix.
Firm A says it is now selling 50m at the fix. I getting chipped away at a load of
bank filth for the fix...back to bully [meaning 50m]...hopefully decks a bit
cleaner.
By the fix, UBS had sell orders of 200m and had increased its short position to
50m. Firm B had a short position of 50m. Firm C, a buyer, netted off with
Firm A and Firm B, leaving it with 10m to buy at the fix.
Firm B then advised Firm C to go late, when the rate will be lower. Firm B
copied into the chat a note from UBS, which said an earlier fix was the best fix
of my ubs career... Firm B then added: challenge. Firm C replied stars
aligned.
UBSs net sell orders were 211m at the time of the fix.
At 13.14.59 UBS placed an offer to sell 100m at 1.3092, 3 basis points below
the prevailing best bid. The ECB subsequently published the fix rate for eurodollar at 1.3092. UBSs order accounted for 29 per cent of the orders at the
1.15pm fix.
UBSs trading in this example generated a profit of $513,000.
.............................................
In the US, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission also published
transcripts from chatroom conversations between traders:

Three traders from Citi, JPMorgan and UBS discuss whether to


invite a fourth into their private chatroom:
Will he tell rest of desk stuff...or god forbid his nyk [New York office], one
trader asks. Thats really imp[ortant] q[uestion], another trader responds,
adding: dont want other numptys in mkt to know [sic]...is he gonna protect
us like we protect each other against our own branches?
A trader from HSBC visits multiple chatrooms in an attempt to
manipulate the 4pm WMR fix, declaring he is a net seller in cable
(a slang term for GBP/USD currency pairing):
Hopefully a [few] more get same way and we can team whack it, one trader
responds. ill do some digging, says another prompting others to disclose their
positions.
Simultaneously, in a separate private chatroom, the same HSBC trader informs
other traders they should buy cable at the fix:
Get lumpy cable at the fix ok he said. A second trader replied ta mate. As the
4pm fix period closes, the HSBC trader comments: I sold a lot up there and
over sold by 100 hahaha.
In another private chatroom, the HSBC trader discloses his position with
traders at other banks before the closure of the fix period. The traders then
share information about the size and direction of the orders at the fix period:
You getting betty [Betty Grable, rhyming slang for cable] on the mumble still?
We have nowt, one trader asks. He then says: Get it up to 60/70 then bash the
fck out of it.
Traders from Citi and JPMorgan co-ordinate within a private
chatroom in an attempt to manipulate the EUR/USD fix:
OK, I got a lot of euros, says the first trader. A second trader responds: ill
take it if u dont want it. The first trader replies: lets double team it...how
much u got? and they jointly agree a trading strategy. Just after the 4pm fix,
the first trader reported he was hosed and the second trader responded
ditto.
Traders from UBS share their scores in a private chatroom:
Traders from UBS and three other banks exchanged their positions leading into
the WMR 4pm fix. Once all four determined they were going to be trading in the
same direction, one asked if we gonna be able to get it to 05 to which another
responded: is that the royal fkn we?. After the fixing window had closed, the
chatroom members gave their scores or profits from the fix each claiming they
made between $60,000 and $220,000 prompting one to add: nice call.