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Let's Double Team Them': Banks Face $3.4 Billion in Fines as Traders Stand Accused of Rigging Currency Markets

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"...we protect each other against our own branches."

(Image via Ben Andreas Harding/flickr)

LONDON (TheBlaze/AP) — Trillions of dollars change hands every day in the global foreign-exchange markets. Major currencies like dollars, euros and yen are traded in a scantly regulated market dominated by a group of elite banks.

Regulators in the U.S., Britain and Switzerland are accusing several international banks of conspiring to manipulate the rates for exchanging currencies and on Wednesday announced a total of $3.4 billion in fines against Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS.

A combination of file pictures made in London on November 12, 2014, shows the logos of the Royal Bank of Scotland, (RBS) JP Morgan Chase, UBS, Citibank and HSBC. Britain's Financial Conduct Authority on Wednesday November 12, 2014, imposed fines totalling £1.1 billion ($1.7 billion, 1.4 billion euros) on five banks to settle allegations of foreign exchange rigging. The FCA regulator said in a statement it had fined British banks HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland, US groups Citibank and JPMorgan Chase, and Swiss bank UBS, for 'failing to control business practices in their foreign exchange trading operations'. AFP PHOTO/STAFF AFP Photo/Staff

WHAT HAPPENED?

Regulators in the U.S. and Europe found that the banks had failed to adequately train and supervise foreign currency traders. As a result, traders were able to form groups that shared information and sought to manipulate the market.

The Commodities Futures Trading Commission posted lengthy examples of traders conspiring to manipulate markets online here.

In one exchange, traders offered to "join forces" with one another and "double team" competitors...

Image via Business Insider Image via Business Insider

...while in another exchange, three traders had a lengthy debate over whether to bring a fourth trader into their confidences — betraying deep knowledge that what they were doing was wrong as they discussed how the fourth trader would need to "protect" them "like we protect each other against our own branches."

Image via Business Insider Image via Business Insider

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

The scandal could become even bigger than the one surrounding the rigging of the London interbank offered rate, or LIBOR, which resulted in billions in fines for the banks implicated. Experts say that because the forex probe goes to the integrity of the markets, rather than just a single rate, it could have greater repercussions.

Jeffrey Bergstrand, a University of Notre Dame finance professor and former Federal Reserve economist, said it is possible the case will result in tougher regulations for the markets — but that it would have to be coordinated internationally.

"The foreign exchange market is going to be difficult because it is so diffuse," he said "The boundaries are the market itself."

WHO GOT INVOLVED?

The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority levied the fines announced Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office, Swiss Competition Commission and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority are also investigating.

Business Insider reported a breakdown of the charges:

  • $1.4 billion in fines from US regulators (the Commodity Futures Trading Commission).
  • $138 million in fines from the Swiss regulator.
  • $1.7 billion in fines from UK regulators (the Financial Conduct Authority).

According to Bloomberg, the five banks will pay the following fines:

  • UBS: $800 million in fines.
  • Citigroup: $668 million in fines.
  • JPMorgan $662 million in fines.
  • RBS: $634 million in fines.
  • HSBC: $618 million in fines.

WHO KNEW AND WHEN?

Regulators found that the manipulation occurred between Jan. 1, 2008 and Oct. 15, 2013.

The scandal touched the Bank of England earlier this year, when it suspended an employee and launched a sweeping investigation that examined 15,000 emails, 21,000 Bloomberg and Reuters chat room records and 40 hours of telephone recordings.

(Image via Ben Andreas Harding/flickr) Image via Ben Andreas Harding/flickr

Results of the Bank of England's investigation released Wednesday showed that the bank's chief foreign currency dealer was aware that bank traders were sharing information from at least May 16, 2008. From at least Nov. 28, 2012, he had concerns this could involve "collusive behavior," but failed to inform his superiors. This was "an error of judgment," but the chief dealer was not involved in any unlawful behavior, the investigation found.

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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