The European Commission raided the offices of Shell, BP and Norway’s Statoil as part of an investigation into suspected attempts to manipulate global oil prices spanning more than a decade.
None of the companies have been accused of wrongdoing, but the controversy has brought back memories of the Libor rate-rigging scandal that rocked the financial world last year.
A review ordered by the British government last year in the wake of the Libor revelations cited “clear” parallels between the work of the oil-price-reporting agencies and Libor.
“[T]hey are both widely used benchmarks that are compiled by private organizations and that are subject to minimal regulation and oversight by regulatory authorities,” the review, led by former financial regulator Martin Wheatley, said in August . “To that extent they are also likely to be vulnerable to similar issues with regards to the motivation and opportunity for manipulation and distortion.”
In a report issued in October, the International Organization of Securities Commissions — an association of regulators — said the ability “to selectively report data on a voluntary basis creates an opportunity for manipulating the commodity market data” submitted to Platts and its competitors.
Responding to questions from IOSCO last year, French oil giant Total said the price-reporting agencies, or PRAs, sometimes “do not assure an accurate representation of the market and consequently deform the real price levels paid at every level of the price chain, including by the consumer.” But Total called Platts and its competitors “generally… conscientious and professional.”
“Even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers,” the European Commission said this week.
USA Today notes:
The Commission … said, however, that its probe covers a wide range of oil products — crude oil, biofuels, and refined oil products, which include gasoline, heating oil, petrochemicals and others.
The EU said it has concerns that some companies may have tried to manipulate the pricing process by colluding to report distorted prices and by preventing other companies from submitting their own prices.
Unlike oil futures, which set prices for contracts, the data used in the MOC process is based on the physical sale and purchase of actual shipments of oil and oil products.
According to Statoil, the EU investigation stretches back to 2002, which is when Platts launched its MOC price system in Europe. The suspicion is that some companies may have provided inaccurate information to Platts to affect the oil products’ pricing, presumably for financial gain.
Fox points out:
At issue is whether there was collusion to distort prices of crude, refined oil products and ethanol traded during Platts’ market-on-close (MOC) system – a daily half-hour “window” in which it sets prices.
But the European Commission also is examining whether companies were prevented from taking part in the price assessment process.
The Guardian writes:
The commission said the alleged price collusion, which may have been going on since 2002, could have had a “huge impact” on the price of petrol at the pumps “potentially harming final consumers”.
Lord Oakeshott, former Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said the alleged rigging of oil prices was “as serious as rigging Libor” – which led to banks being fined hundreds of millions of pounds.
He demanded to know why the UK authorities had not taken action earlier and said he would ask questions of the British regulator in Parliament. “Why have we had to wait for Brussels to find out if British oil giants are ripping off British consumers?” he said. “The price of energy ripples right through our economy and really matters to every business and families.”
Shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint said: “These are very concerning reports, which if true, suggest shocking behaviour in the oil market that should be dealt with strongly.
“When the allegations of price fixing in the gas market were made, Labour warned that opaque over-the-counter deals and relying on price reporting agencies left the market vulnerable to abuse.
“These latest allegations of price fixing in the oil market raise very similar questions. Consumers need to know that the prices they pay for their energy or petrol are fair, transparent and not being manipulated by traders.”
Shadow financial secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said: “If oil price fixing has taken place it would be a shocking scandal for our financial markets.
The Telegraph reports:
“97 per cent of all we eat, drink, wear or build has spent some time in a diesel lorry,” said a spokesman for FairFuel UK, the lobbyists. “If it is proved, they have been gambling with the very oxygen of our economy.”
Platts – to determine the benchmark price – examines just trades in the final 30 minutes of the trading day. A group of half a dozen analysts gather round a trading screen and decide on the final price. As with much that goes on in the City, it is a surprisingly old-fashioned method, reliant on gentlemanly conduct. Critics say it leaves the market open to abuse, and the price can suddenly spike or fall in the final minutes of the day.
Their influence is extensive. Total, the French oil giant, estimated last year that 75 to 80 percent of crude oil and refined product transactions were linked to the prices published by such agencies.
The Observer writes that manipulation of the oil markets has long been an open secret:
Robert Campbell, a former price reporter at another PRA, Argus – he is now a staffer at Thomson Reuters, which also competes with Platts and others on providing energy news and data – said this a few days ago in a little-noticed commentary: “The vulnerability of physical crude price assessments to manipulation is an open secret within the oil industry. The surprise is that it took regulators so long to open a formal probe.”
Reuters points out that the probe may be expanding to the U.S.:
In Washington, the chairman of the Senate energy committee asked the Justice Department to investigate whether alleged price manipulation has boosted fuel prices for U.S. consumers.
“Efforts to manipulate the European oil indices, if proven, may have already impacted U.S. consumers and businesses, because of the interrelationships among world oil markets and hedging practices,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Wyden also asked Justice to investigate whether oil market manipulation was taking place in the United States.
Not only are petroleum products a multi-trillion dollar market on their own, but manipulation of petroleum prices would effect virtually every market in the world.
For example, the Cato Institute notes how many industries use oil:
U.S. industries use petroleum to produce the synthetic fiber used in textile mills making carpeting and fabric from polyester and nylon. U.S. tire plants use petroleum to make synthetic rubber. Other U.S. industries use petroleum to produce plastic, drugs, detergent, deodorant, fertilizer, pesticides, paint, eyeglasses, heart valves, crayons, bubble gum and Vaseline.
The India Times explains that:
The price variation in crude oil impacts the sentiments and hence the volatility in stock markets all over the world. The rise in crude oil prices is not good for the global economy. Price rise in crude oil virtually impacts industries and businesses across the board. Higher crude oil prices mean higher energy prices, which can cause a ripple effect on virtually all business aspects that are dependent on energy (directly or indirectly).
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco points out:
When gasoline prices increase, a larger share of households’ budgets is likely to be spent on it, which leaves less to spend on other goods and services. The same goes for businesses whose goods must be shipped from place to place or that use fuel as a major input (such as the airline industry). Higher oil prices tend to make production more expensive for businesses, just as they make it more expensive for households to do the things they normally do.
Oil price increases are generally thought to increase inflation and reduce economic growth.
Oil prices indirectly affect costs such as transportation, manufacturing, and heating. The increase in these costs can in turn affect the prices of a variety of goods and services, as producers may pass production costs on to consumers.
Oil price increases can also stifle the growth of the economy through their effect on the supply and demand for goods other than oil. Increases in oil prices can depress the supply of other goods because they increase the costs of producing them. In economics terminology, high oil prices can shift up the supply curve for the goods and services for which oil is an input.
High oil prices also can reduce demand for other goods because they reduce wealth, as well as induce uncertainty about the future (Sill 2007). One way to analyze the effects of higher oil prices is to think about the higher prices as a tax on consumers (Fernald and Trehan 2005).
The Post Carbon Institute notes (via OilPrice.com) that high oil prices raise food prices as well:
The connection between food and oil is systemic, and the prices of both food and fuel have risen and fallen more or less in tandem in recent years (figure 1). Modern agriculture uses oil products to fuel farm machinery, to transport other inputs to the farm, and to transport farm output to the ultimate consumer. Oil is often also used as input in agricultural chemicals. Oil price increases therefore put pressure on all these aspects of commercial food systems
Figure 1: Evolution of food and fuel prices, 2000 to 2009
Sources: US Energy Information Administration and FAO.
Economists Nouriel Roubini and Setser note that all recessions after 1973 were associated with oil shocks.
Interest Rates Are Manipulated
Unless you live under a rock, you know about the Libor scandal.
For those just now emerging from a coma, here’s a recap:
The big banks have conspired for years to rig interest rates … upon which $800 trillion in assets are pegged
This was the largest insider trading scandal ever … and the largest financial scam in world history
Local governments got ripped off bigtime by the Libor manipulation
Libor is still being manipulated
Derivatives Are Manipulated
The big banks have long manipulated derivatives … a $1,200 Trillion Dollar market.
Indeed, many trillions of dollars of derivatives are being manipulated in the exact same same way that interest rates are fixed: through gamed self-reporting.
Gold and Silver Are Manipulated
The Guardian and Telegraph report that gold and silver prices are “fixed” in the same way as interest rates and derivatives – in daily conference calls by the powers-that-be.
Everything Can Be Manipulated through High-Frequency Trading
Traders with high-tech computers can manipulate stocks, bonds, options, currencies and commodities. And see this.
Manipulating Numerous Markets In Myriad Ways
The big banks and other giants manipulate numerous markets in myriad ways, for example:
Engaging in mafia-style big-rigging fraud against local governments. See this, this and this
Shaving money off of virtually every pension transaction they handled over the course of decades, stealing collectively billions of dollars from pensions worldwide. Details here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here
Charging “storage fees” to store gold bullion … without even buying or storing any gold . And raiding allocated gold accounts
Committing massive and pervasive fraud both when they initiated mortgage loans and when they foreclosed on them (and see this)
Pledging the same mortgage multiple times to different buyers. See this, this, this, this and this. This would be like selling your car, and collecting money from 10 different buyers for the same car
Cheating homeowners by gaming laws meant to protect people from unfair foreclosure
Pushing investments which they knew were terrible, and then betting against the same investments to make money for themselves. See this, this, this, this and this
Engaging in unlawful “frontrunning” to manipulate markets. See this, this, this, this, this and this
Engaging in unlawful “Wash Trades” to manipulate asset prices. See this, this and this
Otherwise manipulating markets. And see this
Participating in various Ponzi schemes. See this, this and this
Charging veterans unlawful mortgage fees
Cooking their books (and see this)
Bribing and bullying ratings agencies to inflate ratings on their risky investments
Everything Is Rigged: The Biggest Price-Fixing Scandal Ever
The Illuminati were amateurs. The second huge financial scandal of the year reveals the real international conspiracy: There’s no price the big banks can’t fix
Conspiracy theorists of the world, believers in the hidden hands of the Rothschilds and the Masons and the Illuminati, we skeptics owe you an apology. You were right. The players may be a little different, but your basic premise is correct: The world is a rigged game. We found this out in recent months, when a series of related corruption stories spilled out of the financial sector, suggesting the world’s largest banks may be fixing the prices of, well, just about everything.
You may have heard of the Libor scandal, in which at least three – and perhaps as many as 16 – of the name-brand too-big-to-fail banks have been manipulating global interest rates, in the process messing around with the prices of upward of $500 trillion (that’s trillion, with a “t”) worth of financial instruments. When that sprawling con burst into public view last year, it was easily the biggest financial scandal in history – MIT professor Andrew Lo even said it “dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets.”
That was bad enough, but now Libor may have a twin brother. Word has leaked out that the London-based firm ICAP, the world’s largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by American authorities for behavior that sounds eerily reminiscent of the Libor mess. Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world’s largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps.
Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It’s about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.
It should surprise no one that among the players implicated in this scheme to fix the prices of interest-rate swaps are the same megabanks – including Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and the Royal Bank of Scotland – that serve on the Libor panel that sets global interest rates. In fact, in recent years many of these banks have already paid multimillion-dollar settlements for anti-competitive manipulation of one form or another (in addition to Libor, some were caught up in an anti-competitive scheme, detailed in Rolling Stone last year, to rig municipal-debt service auctions). Though the jumble of financial acronyms sounds like gibberish to the layperson, the fact that there may now be price-fixing scandals involving both Libor and ISDAfix suggests a single, giant mushrooming conspiracy of collusion and price-fixing hovering under the ostensibly competitive veneer of Wall Street culture.
The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia
Why? Because Libor already affects the prices of interest-rate swaps, making this a manipulation-on-manipulation situation. If the allegations prove to be right, that will mean that swap customers have been paying for two different layers of price-fixing corruption. If you can imagine paying 20 bucks for a crappy PB&J because some evil cabal of agribusiness companies colluded to fix the prices of both peanuts and peanut butter, you come close to grasping the lunacy of financial markets where both interest rates and interest-rate swaps are being manipulated at the same time, often by the same banks.
“It’s a double conspiracy,” says an amazed Michael Greenberger, a former director of the trading and markets division at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and now a professor at the University of Maryland. “It’s the height of criminality.”
The bad news didn’t stop with swaps and interest rates. In March, it also came out that two regulators – the CFTC here in the U.S. and the Madrid-based International Organization of Securities Commissions – were spurred by the Libor revelations to investigate the possibility of collusive manipulation of gold and silver prices. “Given the clubby manipulation efforts we saw in Libor benchmarks, I assume other benchmarks – many other benchmarks – are legit areas of inquiry,” CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton said.
But the biggest shock came out of a federal courtroom at the end of March – though if you follow these matters closely, it may not have been so shocking at all – when a landmark class-action civil lawsuit against the banks for Libor-related offenses was dismissed. In that case, a federal judge accepted the banker-defendants’ incredible argument: If cities and towns and other investors lost money because of Libor manipulation, that was their own fault for ever thinking the banks were competing in the first place.
“A farce,” was one antitrust lawyer’s response to the eyebrow-raising dismissal.
“Incredible,” says Sylvia Sokol, an attorney for Constantine Cannon, a firm that specializes in antitrust cases.
All of these stories collectively pointed to the same thing: These banks, which already possess enormous power just by virtue of their financial holdings – in the United States, the top six banks, many of them the same names you see on the Libor and ISDAfix panels, own assets equivalent to 60 percent of the nation’s GDP – are beginning to realize the awesome possibilities for increased profit and political might that would come with colluding instead of competing. Moreover, it’s increasingly clear that both the criminal justice system and the civil courts may be impotent to stop them, even when they do get caught working together to game the system.
If true, that would leave us living in an era of undisguised, real-world conspiracy, in which the prices of currencies, commodities like gold and silver, even interest rates and the value of money itself, can be and may already have been dictated from above. And those who are doing it can get away with it. Forget the Illuminati – this is the real thing, and it’s no secret. You can stare right at it, anytime you want.
The banks found a loophole, a basic flaw in the machine. Across the financial system, there are places where prices or official indices are set based upon unverified data sent in by private banks and financial companies. In other words, we gave the players with incentives to game the system institutional roles in the economic infrastructure.
Libor, which measures the prices banks charge one another to borrow money, is a perfect example, not only of this basic flaw in the price-setting system but of the weakness in the regulatory framework supposedly policing it. Couple a voluntary reporting scheme with too-big-to-fail status and a revolving-door legal system, and what you get is unstoppable corruption.
Every morning, 18 of the world’s biggest banks submit data to an office in London about how much they believe they would have to pay to borrow from other banks. The 18 banks together are called the “Libor panel,” and when all of these data from all 18 panelist banks are collected, the numbers are averaged out. What emerges, every morning at 11:30 London time, are the daily Libor figures.
Banks submit numbers about borrowing in 10 different currencies across 15 different time periods, e.g., loans as short as one day and as long as one year. This mountain of bank-submitted data is used every day to create benchmark rates that affect the prices of everything from credit cards to mortgages to currencies to commercial loans (both short- and long-term) to swaps.
Gangster Bankers Broke Every Law in the Book
Dating back perhaps as far as the early Nineties, traders and others inside these banks were sometimes calling up the company geeks responsible for submitting the daily Libor numbers (the “Libor submitters”) and asking them to fudge the numbers. Usually, the gimmick was the trader had made a bet on something – a swap, currencies, something – and he wanted the Libor submitter to make the numbers look lower (or, occasionally, higher) to help his bet pay off.
Famously, one Barclays trader monkeyed with Libor submissions in exchange for a bottle of Bollinger champagne, but in some cases, it was even lamer than that. This is from an exchange between a trader and a Libor submitter at the Royal Bank of Scotland:
SWISS FRANC TRADER: can u put 6m swiss libor in low pls?…
PRIMARY SUBMITTER: Whats it worth
SWSISS FRANC TRADER: ive got some sushi rolls from yesterday?…
PRIMARY SUBMITTER: ok low 6m, just for u
SWISS FRANC TRADER: wooooooohooooooo. . . thatd be awesome
Screwing around with world interest rates that affect billions of people in exchange for day-old sushi – it’s hard to imagine an image that better captures the moral insanity of the modern financial-services sector.
Hundreds of similar exchanges were uncovered when regulators like Britain’s Financial Services Authority and the U.S. Justice Department started burrowing into the befouled entrails of Libor. The documentary evidence of anti-competitive manipulation they found was so overwhelming that, to read it, one almost becomes embarrassed for the banks. “It’s just amazing how Libor fixing can make you that much money,” chirped one yen trader. “Pure manipulation going on,” wrote another.
Yet despite so many instances of at least attempted manipulation, the banks mostly skated. Barclays got off with a relatively minor fine in the $450 million range, UBS was stuck with $1.5 billion in penalties, and RBS was forced to give up $615 million. Apart from a few low-level flunkies overseas, no individual involved in this scam that impacted nearly everyone in the industrialized world was even threatened with criminal prosecution.
Two of America’s top law-enforcement officials, Attorney General Eric Holder and former Justice Department Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer, confessed that it’s dangerous to prosecute offending banks because they are simply too big. Making arrests, they say, might lead to “collateral consequences” in the economy.
The relatively small sums of money extracted in these settlements did not go toward reparations for the cities, towns and other victims who lost money due to Libor manipulation. Instead, it flowed mindlessly into government coffers. So it was left to towns and cities like Baltimore (which lost money due to fluctuations in their municipal investments caused by Libor movements), pensions like the New Britain, Connecticut, Firefighters’ and Police Benefit Fund, and other foundations – and even individuals (billionaire real-estate developer Sheldon Solow, who filed his own suit in February, claims that his company lost $450 million because of Libor manipulation) – to sue the banks for damages.
One of the biggest Libor suits was proceeding on schedule when, early in March, an army of superstar lawyers working on behalf of the banks descended upon federal judge Naomi Buchwald in the Southern District of New York to argue an extraordinary motion to dismiss. The banks’ legal dream team drew from heavyweight Beltway-connected firms like Boies Schiller (you remember David Boies represented Al Gore), Davis Polk (home of top ex-regulators like former SEC enforcement chief Linda Thomsen) and Covington & Burling, the onetime private-practice home of both Holder and Breuer.
The presence of Covington & Burling in the suit – representing, of all companies, Citigroup, the former employer of current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew – was particularly galling. Right as the Libor case was being dismissed, the firm had hired none other than Lanny Breuer, the same Lanny Breuer who, just a few months before, was the assistant attorney general who had balked at criminally prosecuting UBS over Libor because, he said, “Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution.”
In any case, this all-star squad of white-shoe lawyers came before Buchwald and made the mother of all audacious arguments. Robert Wise of Davis Polk, representing Bank of America, told Buchwald that the banks could not possibly be guilty of anti- competitive collusion because nobody ever said that the creation of Libor was competitive. “It is essential to our argument that this is not a competitive process,” he said. “The banks do not compete with one another in the submission of Libor.”
If you squint incredibly hard and look at the issue through a mirror, maybe while standing on your head, you can sort of see what Wise is saying. In a very theoretical, technical sense, the actual process by which banks submit Libor data – 18 geeks sending numbers to the British Bankers’ Association offices in London once every morning – is not competitive per se.
But these numbers are supposed to reflect interbank-loan prices derived in a real, competitive market. Saying the Libor submission process is not competitive is sort of like pointing out that bank robbers obeyed the speed limit on the way to the heist. It’s the silliest kind of legal sophistry.
But Wise eventually outdid even that argument, essentially saying that while the banks may have lied to or cheated their customers, they weren’t guilty of the particular crime of antitrust collusion. This is like the old joke about the lawyer who gets up in court and claims his client had to be innocent, because his client was committing a crime in a different state at the time of the offense.
“The plaintiffs, I believe, are confusing a claim of being perhaps deceived,” he said, “with a claim for harm to competition.”
Judge Buchwald swallowed this lunatic argument whole and dismissed most of the case. Libor, she said, was a “cooperative endeavor” that was “never intended to be competitive.” Her decision “does not reflect the reality of this business, where all of these banks were acting as competitors throughout the process,” said the antitrust lawyer Sokol. Buchwald made this ruling despite the fact that both the U.S. and British governments had already settled with three banks for billions of dollars for improper manipulation, manipulation that these companies admitted to in their settlements.
Michael Hausfeld of Hausfeld LLP, one of the lead lawyers for the plaintiffs in this Libor suit, declined to comment specifically on the dismissal. But he did talk about the significance of the Libor case and other manipulation cases now in the pipeline.
“It’s now evident that there is a ubiquitous culture among the banks to collude and cheat their customers as many times as they can in as many forms as they can conceive,” he said. “And that’s not just surmising. This is just based upon what they’ve been caught at.”
Greenberger says the lack of serious consequences for the Libor scandal has only made other kinds of manipulation more inevitable. “There’s no therapy like sending those who are used to wearing Gucci shoes to jail,” he says. “But when the attorney general says, ‘I don’t want to indict people,’ it’s the Wild West. There’s no law.”
The problem is, a number of markets feature the same infrastructural weakness that failed in the Libor mess. In the case of interest-rate swaps and the ISDAfix benchmark, the system is very similar to Libor, although the investigation into these markets reportedly focuses on some different types of improprieties.
Though interest-rate swaps are not widely understood outside the finance world, the root concept actually isn’t that hard. If you can imagine taking out a variable-rate mortgage and then paying a bank to make your loan payments fixed, you’ve got the basic idea of an interest-rate swap.
In practice, it might be a country like Greece or a regional government like Jefferson County, Alabama, that borrows money at a variable rate of interest, then later goes to a bank to “swap” that loan to a more predictable fixed rate. In its simplest form, the customer in a swap deal is usually paying a premium for the safety and security of fixed interest rates, while the firm selling the swap is usually betting that it knows more about future movements in interest rates than its customers.
Prices for interest-rate swaps are often based on ISDAfix, which, like Libor, is yet another of these privately calculated benchmarks. ISDAfix’s U.S. dollar rates are published every day, at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., after a gang of the same usual-suspect megabanks (Bank of America, RBS, Deutsche, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, etc.) submits information about bids and offers for swaps.
And here’s what we know so far: The CFTC has sent subpoenas to ICAP and to as many as 15 of those member banks, and plans to interview about a dozen ICAP employees from the company’s office in Jersey City, New Jersey. Moreover, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, or ISDA, which works together with ICAP (for U.S. dollar transactions) and Thomson Reuters to compute the ISDAfix benchmark, has hired the consulting firm Oliver Wyman to review the process by which ISDAfix is calculated. Oliver Wyman is the same company that the British Bankers’ Association hired to review the Libor submission process after that scandal broke last year. The upshot of all of this is that it looks very much like ISDAfix could be Libor all over again.
“It’s obviously reminiscent of the Libor manipulation issue,” Darrell Duffie, a finance professor at Stanford University, told reporters. “People may have been naive that simply reporting these rates was enough to avoid manipulation.”
And just like in Libor, the potential losers in an interest-rate-swap manipulation scandal would be the same sad-sack collection of cities, towns, companies and other nonbank entities that have no way of knowing if they’re paying the real price for swaps or a price being manipulated by bank insiders for profit. Moreover, ISDAfix is not only used to calculate prices for interest-rate swaps, it’s also used to set values for about $550 billion worth of bonds tied to commercial real estate, and also affects the payouts on some state-pension annuities.
So although it’s not quite as widespread as Libor, ISDAfix is sufficiently power-jammed into the world financial infrastructure that any manipulation of the rate would be catastrophic – and a huge class of victims that could include everyone from state pensioners to big cities to wealthy investors in structured notes would have no idea they were being robbed.
“How is some municipality in Cleveland or wherever going to know if it’s getting ripped off?” asks Michael Masters of Masters Capital Management, a fund manager who has long been an advocate of greater transparency in the derivatives world. “The answer is, they won’t know.”
Worse still, the CFTC investigation apparently isn’t limited to possible manipulation of swap prices by monkeying around with ISDAfix. According to reports, the commission is also looking at whether or not employees at ICAP may have intentionally delayed publication of swap prices, which in theory could give someone (bankers, cough, cough) a chance to trade ahead of the information.
Swap prices are published when ICAP employees manually enter the data on a computer screen called “19901.” Some 6,000 customers subscribe to a service that allows them to access the data appearing on the 19901 screen.
The key here is that unlike a more transparent, regulated market like the New York Stock Exchange, where the results of stock trades are computed more or less instantly and everyone in theory can immediately see the impact of trading on the prices of stocks, in the swap market the whole world is dependent upon a handful of brokers quickly and honestly entering data about trades by hand into a computer terminal.
Any delay in entering price data would provide the banks involved in the transactions with a rare opportunity to trade ahead of the information. One way to imagine it would be to picture a racetrack where a giant curtain is pulled over the track as the horses come down the stretch – and the gallery is only told two minutes later which horse actually won. Anyone on the right side of the curtain could make a lot of smart bets before the audience saw the results of the race.
At ICAP, the interest-rate swap desk, and the 19901 screen, were reportedly controlled by a small group of 20 or so brokers, some of whom were making millions of dollars. These brokers made so much money for themselves the unit was nicknamed “Treasure Island.”
Already, there are some reports that brokers of Treasure Island did create such intentional delays. Bloomberg interviewed a former broker who claims that he watched ICAP brokers delay the reporting of swap prices. “That allows dealers to tell the brokers to delay putting trades into the system instead of in real time,” Bloomberg wrote, noting the former broker had “witnessed such activity firsthand.” An ICAP spokesman has no comment on the story, though the company has released a statement saying that it is “cooperating” with the CFTC’s inquiry and that it “maintains policies that prohibit” the improper behavior alleged in news reports.
The idea that prices in a $379 trillion market could be dependent on a desk of about 20 guys in New Jersey should tell you a lot about the absurdity of our financial infrastructure. The whole thing, in fact, has a darkly comic element to it. “It’s almost hilarious in the irony,” says David Frenk, director of research for Better Markets, a financial-reform advocacy group, “that they called it ISDAfix.”
After scandals involving libor and, perhaps, ISDAfix, the question that should have everyone freaked out is this: What other markets out there carry the same potential for manipulation? The answer to that question is far from reassuring, because the potential is almost everywhere. From gold to gas to swaps to interest rates, prices all over the world are dependent upon little private cabals of cigar-chomping insiders we’re forced to trust.
“In all the over-the-counter markets, you don’t really have pricing except by a bunch of guys getting together,” Masters notes glumly.
That includes the markets for gold (where prices are set by five banks in a Libor-ish teleconferencing process that, ironically, was created in part by N M Rothschild & Sons) and silver (whose price is set by just three banks), as well as benchmark rates in numerous other commodities – jet fuel, diesel, electric power, coal, you name it. The problem in each of these markets is the same: We all have to rely upon the honesty of companies like Barclays (already caught and fined $453 million for rigging Libor) or JPMorgan Chase (paid a $228 million settlement for rigging municipal-bond auctions) or UBS (fined a collective $1.66 billion for both muni-bond rigging and Libor manipulation) to faithfully report the real prices of things like interest rates, swaps, currencies and commodities.
All of these benchmarks based on voluntary reporting are now being looked at by regulators around the world, and God knows what they’ll find. The European Federation of Financial Services Users wrote in an official EU survey last summer that all of these systems are ripe targets for manipulation. “In general,” it wrote, “those markets which are based on non-attested, voluntary submission of data from agents whose benefits depend on such benchmarks are especially vulnerable of market abuse and distortion.”
Translation: When prices are set by companies that can profit by manipulating them, we’re fucked.
“You name it,” says Frenk. “Any of these benchmarks is a possibility for corruption.”
The only reason this problem has not received the attention it deserves is because the scale of it is so enormous that ordinary people simply cannot see it. It’s not just stealing by reaching a hand into your pocket and taking out money, but stealing in which banks can hit a few keystrokes and magically make whatever’s in your pocket worth less. This is corruption at the molecular level of the economy, Space Age stealing – and it’s only just coming into view.
This story is from the May 9th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
Can you trust International Banking?
Judge for yourself
Just a quick look at recent developments
Standard Chartered accused of exposing the US to terrorists, drug dealers, and weapon dealers by hiding $250 billion of transactions with the Iranian government.
Deutsche Bank admits Libor involvement.
Germany’s biggest bank faces regulatory action after admitting complicity in rate-fixing scandal along with Barclays.
HSBC ‘allowed drug cartels to launder money’
Early July –details of Barclay’s bank/ *Libor’s scandal started to emerge (rate fixing)
The governing bank of England was also aware of this illegal manipulation.
In Canada – participants in the Libor scandel include the Canadian branches of the Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Bank, and Citibank, as well as ICAP (Intercapital), an interdealer broker.
USA- In the USA regulators were focusing on Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and UBS AG in their probe of Libor’s rate manipulation.
Goldman Sachs has not yet faced the music for cooking the books of Greece.
This manipulation allowed the Greeks to falsely comply with the requirements for Euro zone admission.
Will they ever be sanctioned and if not why?
What you will understand from the above is all the major banks are involved in illegal rate fixing.
Rate fixing means, you Johnny Citizen gets cheated out of money and the bankers get fat bonus payments
* the London inter-bank offered rate
The Fraudulent Traveller
This rather silly senator appears to be hell-bent on setting a senate record for difficulties with the law. Let us have a look at her track- record. She took her plumber take her to court rather than pay him what he was owed. Had planning permission for a two-story garage refused? She went ahead and built it regardless of the law. Officials recommended demolition of the building due to blatant flaunting of the planning process. However, a “higher” up “official” granted her retention. I wonder if this could be maybe a close by senior say like in Mayo. In early July, this woman received a fine for not having road tax on her Merc c180. She stated that this was an oversight on her part. In Late July fined €100 for not having a train ticket. The very same senator receives €2,424 a month in travel and accommodation expenses. One might say a nice little earner when you do not pay your road tax or train fares. Jesus’ lads but you cannot beat the old gravy train. Some neck on this woman but then again, rules and regulations only apply to the serfs. It might be interesting to check out her overnight accommodation expenses to see how they stack up. Between oversights, lack of foresight and poor visual vision one wonders how this woman can even find her way to the senate let alone claim expenses.
To compound all this nonsense Fine Gael issued this gobbledygook as a damage limitation exercise.
Senator Healy Eames boarded the 6.50am train to Dublin in a rush, at Athenry station yesterday morning (Thursday). She did so on the understanding that she would be able to purchase a ticket on board, as she had previously done on recent occasions. An officer approached her from the revenue protection unit on board who asked her for ID. She produced her Seanad ID card. She offered to buy a ticket as normal. He told her she could not buy a ticket from him and fined her €100.
It appears the true heirs to the Feeling small party are well and truly on board the gravy train.
Daddy says Skippy won’t be going back” to face the prospect of jail in the Republic. Daddy says he has no chance of getting “fair play or justice” because of the corrupt way the authorities have handled the Quinn case. Daddy says Young Skippy is under a lot of pressure, and he deserves our sympathy. If daddy Quinn has evidence of “the corrupt way the authorities handled the case,” then perhaps he might share the information with the Gardai. Let us all remind Daddy Quinn that the entire nation witnessed dear little Skippy on video lying through his teeth. Let’s jog the memory of the old Quinn a little further and say “Sir” you son was given every chance to comply with the law but failed to do so. He skipped court and did a runner. The sheer arrogance and smug self-righteousness by the Quinn family of their wrongdoing defies belief. Hopefully at the end of the day they will all end in Jail. —————————————————————————————————————————-
Are you Ready to be a Bonded Serf?
What the major political parties will not tell you is there is no way forward from the current economic crisis except a doomsday scenario. Are they preparing for it? Yes is the answer. The current system is to be replaced by the new political credo of “Economic serfdom” which means welcome to P.I.G.S. party feudalism. The middle classes and working classes will shortly cease to exist. What this means is that 95% of the population will become bonded serfs to the privileged. Future generations will be born into economic slavery to serve the Elites. They will be controlled by the enforcers of the vested interests until released by death from exhaustion having procreated to keep the supply system going. The Royalty of Banks, the Royalty of Global Business, and the Royalty of Unelected Leaders are now your governors such is your destiny.
The billion barrel oil find off the Cork coast
Hurray, hurrah we are rich once again. Twenty-five per cent of the corporate profit is our cut, however; there are two points to note. They can write off exploration costs against tax. The twenty-five per cent can increase to forty depending on the profitability of the field. This is a red herring, as the number crunchers will ensure this never happens. I guaranteed we will get **** yet once again. It looks like we are destined to remain Kings of the Sardine industry. Now that chap Chavez begins to look rather interesting. Just how did he do it, perhaps time for a government junket to Venezuela?
Mario Draghi the man who pulls the fiscal strings in Europe. Does he represent the people of Europe? Not on your life, he has one interest and that is to take care of his friends in Banking. Consider the following.
2. Worked for Goldman Sucks
3. Former Governor of the Bank of Italy
4. Worked for Italian Treasury
5. Worked for the Bank of International Settlements
6. Worked for the World Bank
Does this look like the CV of a trustworthy man? Be assured he will not work in your interest but he knows how to stir it up. Yes the very same man who insisted we pay penal interest rates for the bailout.
€6000.00 per head per month to the Quinn family
children while people on the Dole starve
The High Court has approved the payment of monthly living expenses €30,000 to the five adult children of bankrupt executive Sean Quinn and three spouses. Well now, you know if your low income nobody gives a toss about you. No social welfare means test for the boys as you can see the elite look after the elk.
WANTED Peter Darragh Quinn If you know the whereabouts of this man please inform the Gardai. Do not approach this man as he is carrying a large amount of lethal coinage
Sean Quinn: Well-known figures who rallied to support
bankrupt tycoon run for cover
PROMINENT figures from GAA and television yesterday ducked for cover when asked to comment on their involvement in a rally supporting fallen tycoon Sean Quinn.
They included Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, left, and former Meath star Colm O’Rourke, right, in the middle is that insufferable clown father Brian D’arsey. These three were among those who marched in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan in support of the Quinn’s. One wonders if the these three attention seekers ever gave a thought to the poor tax payer
Former Bank Chairman arrested on Fraud Charges
Sean Fitzpatrick made “no comment” when he was charged with 16 counts contrary to Section 60 of the Companies Act. The charges allege that before it became nationalized, he permitted the bank to “give unlawful financial assistance” to 16 named individuals for the purpose of or in connection with a purchase by the same people of shares in the then Anglo Irish Bank Corporation Plc. It is claimed the alleged unlawful financial help to buy shares was given between July 10 and July 17, 2008 to 15 people. These include the so-called “Maple Ten” group of Irish Investors and several members of Sean Quinn’s family – and from July 17 until July 30, of the same year, to Patricia Quinn, the wife of now bankrupt quarry tycoon Sean. Among the names on the charges is Sean Quinn Junior, jailed last week by the High Court for contempt of court for hiding €500m of property assets from Anglo, now called the IBRC. Also included in the names of people who allegedly got financial assistance to buy shares in the bank are: Colette Marie Quinn, Aoife Quinn, Ciara Quinn, Brenda Quinn, property developer Patrick McKillen, Seamus Ross, Brian O’Farrell, John McCabe, Gerard Maguire, Patrick Kearney, Gerard Gannon, Gerard Conlon, Sean Reilly and Joseph O’Reilly.
Still At Large
The Bankers Story
The capital of Rotten Island Bud Nil was an ancient and revered city. However, in keeping with the wealth and affluence of the times the city councillors renamed the city “Wonderland.” Somewhere between Never Neverland (North side”) and the inner sanctum of Wonderland there is a sector called” Forever Wonderland’.” This neighbourhood is the financial heart of the nation. In this district, lived a wealthy young banker. His notable attributes were a craving for attention, a bad memory, and a chequered career. He treasured the radiance of other inducements and was a frequent visitor to Feckerland the area of dance, revelry, alcohol, and Chateaubriand. Parochially, friends and acquaintances, knew him as “Disney” Fitzfiddle. Men did travel across the length and breadth of the land to win the friendship of “Disney.” He loved a good story from waiting recipients of fiscal credits, borrowers, whose habitual wrongdoing he totally ignored. In his own words, he stated, I was big. Some came and said “Disney” can you lend me 10 million quid, and I’d say. Sure, no problem at all, we can do it without recourse to Peter and Paul for you know I am a man who can lend without rancour. Let us go for a ride in the Bentley and lunch at the “Incidentally” and later tarry awhile in Dick Gentlys (a well-known brothel). Alas, the good days, now I am but the evil pantomime villain, who only borrowed a handy hundred million. Look at who elevated me, aren’t we all cronies of the Dons of the Feeling Smallers. Why did you know? I even had the occasional game of golf, with the nation’s esteemed Boss, the great incompetent Mr. Buttocks, the pillar of lies and good-byes. Agreed, I may have moved a few loans around a bit, temporarily mislaid them, perhaps duped an auditor or two. Had an odd incriminating letter gone missing here and there? Aha, but my God, me self and “The Little Drummer Boy” good times we had. Now they say I am bankrupt with only three million quid to live on. Understand lads; for me, the attraction was the crack of the fiscal flimflam. Never mind we can bank on ‘Sinister House’ to direct the department of “Fiscal Make Believe” to clear up this Disney quicksand No, no regrets, sure was the problem not global, in all sincerity nothing to do with me.
In the next issue of “Misebogland” the truth behind the
– Finally some information concerning Misebogland is the leading newspaper on the Island of Rotten Island. For those of you who are unaware Rotten Island is a mirror image of the Island of Ireland that happens to exists in a parallel universe. However, as you become familiar with the Misebogland, you will note and observe that there are subtle differences due to mutations that have occurred over the course of time. For example, the Irish Language has disappeared. The current Prime Minister Dame Enda is an outrageous transsexual.