They were known as the “Cartel” or the “Mafia” among their peers. The unsubtle nicknames were given to a group of traders who at one time worked for five of the six banks that reached settlements on Wednesday with regulators over allegations they rigged the foreign exchange markets.
Transcripts from chatrooms used by those traders and others as they attempted to manipulate forex benchmarks and engaged in misleading sales practices towards their clients were published as part of the settlements.
Below is a selection of the exchanges (including original punctuation) from the settlements between Barclays and the New York State Department of Financial Services and the UK's Financial Conduct Authority:
- Membership of the chatroom used by the "Cartel" was by invitation only. The FT has previously named the members of the "Cartel" as Rohan Ramchandani, Citi's European head of spot trading, and Richard Usher, who moved from RBS to become JPMorgan's chief currency dealer in London, and Matt Gardiner, who was at Barclays before joining UBS.
- One Barclays trader, Chris Ashton, was desperate to join the chatroom when he became the bank's main euro trader in 2011. After discussions as to whether the trader "would add value", he was invited to join for a one-month "trial" but was warned by Mr Ramchandani: "Mess this up and sleep with one eye open at night." Mr Ashton passed his "trial" and remained in the chatroom until it was shut down at some point in 2012.
- Traders used various strategies to try to manipulate fix rates, according to the NYDFS.
One method, known as “building ammo”, involved one trader building a large position in a currency and then unloading it just before or during the “fixing period” — a short period of time during which an average price is produced, at which large client transactions are executed — in an attempt to move the price favourably.
On January 6th 2012, the head of Barclays' FX spot desk in London attempted to manipulate the reference rate set by the European Central Bank by unloading €500m at the time of the fix. He wrote in the Cartel chatroom "I saved 500 for last second" and in another, "i had 500 to jam it."
Another method was for traders at rival banks to agree to stay out of each other’s way at the time of the fix.
In one example, from June 2011, a Barclays trader told a counterpart at HSBC that another trader was building orders to execute at the fix contrary to HSBC's orders. But the Barclays trader assisted HSBC by executing trades ahead of the fix to decrease the other trader's orders. He wrote: "He paid me for 186…so shioud have giot rid of main buyer for u."
In another chat in December 2011, a Barclays trader told another at Citigroup: "If u bigger. He will step out of the way…We gonna help u."
In the another example, traders in the US dollar-Brazilian real market colluded to manipulate it by agreeing to boycott local brokers to drive down competition. In October 2009, a trader at Royal Bank of Canada wrote: "everybody is in agreement in not accepting a local player as a broker?" A Barclays forex trader replied: "yes, the less competition the better."
- Then there were numerous occasions, according to the NYDFS, from at least 2008 to 2014 when Barclays employees on the forex sales team engaged in misleading sales practices with clients by applying “hard mark-ups” to the prices that traders gave the sales team.
The level of mark-up was determined by calculating the best rate for Barclays that would not lead the client to question whether executing the transaction with the bank was a good idea.
One Barclays forex salesperson wrote in a chat to an employee at another bank in December 2009: “hard mark up is key? but i was taught earl??u dont have client…u dont make money…so dont be stupid.”
These mark-ups were a key source of revenue to Barclays, and generating them was made a high priority for sales managers. As a Barclays’ vice-president in New York (who later became co-head of UK FX hedge fund sales) wrote in a November 2010 chat: “markup is making sure you make the right decision on price…which is whats the worst price i can put on this where the customers decision to trade with me or give me future business doesn’t change?…?if you aint cheating, you aint trying.”
- In the FCA settlement, the regulator details an exchange between traders at Barclays and three other firms, refered to as X, Y and Z. Barclays was trying to trigger a client stop-loss order to buy £77m at a rate of 95 against another currency. If it could trigger the order, it would result in Barclays selling £77 million to its client and the bank would profit it the average rate at which the bank had bought sterling in the market was below the rate at which the client had agreed to buy it.
In one exchange, firm X asked Barclays and firms Y and Z if they had any stop-loss orders — “u got...stops?” Barclays replied to say it had one for “80 quid” at a level of 95 and noted it was “primed like a coiled cobra...concentrating so hard...[as if] made of wax...[haven’t] even blinked”.
- While most of the settlements concerned manipulation of foreign exchange benchmarks, UBS inked a deal with the US Department of Justice in which it agreed to plead guilty to rigging Libor.
In once example, a broker commented to a UBS trader after a Yen Libor fix on June 10 2009: “mate yur getting bloody good at this libor game … think of me when yur on yur yacht in monaco wont yu”
In another conversation with a UBS trader after a Libor Yen fix on August 22 2008, a broker, identified as A1, commented about another broker, A2: “think [broker-A2]is your best broker in terms of value added :-)”.
The trader replied: “yeah … i reckon i owe him a lot more”, to which broker-A1 responded: “he’s ok with an annual champagne shipment, a few [drinking sessions] with [his supervisor] and a small bonus every now and then.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015