The European Commission has completed its cartel investigation into the Foreign Exchange (‘Forex') spot trading market by imposing fines on five banks. The Commission has adopted on December 2nd a decision imposing a total fine of €261 million on the four banks that decided to settle the case, namely UBS, Barclays, RBS and HSBC. The Commission has also fined Credit Suisse €83 million under the ordinary procedure.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy said: “Today we complete our sixth cartel investigation in the financial sector since 2013 and conclude the third leg of our investigation into the Foreign Exchange spot trading market. Our cartel decisions to fine UBS, Barclays, RBS, HSBC and Credit Suisse send a clear message that the Commission remains committed to ensure a sound and competitive financial sector that is essential for investment and growth. Foreign exchange spot trading activities are one of the largest financial markets in the world. The collusive behaviour of the five banks undermined the integrity of the financial sector at the expense of the European economy and consumers”.

The Commission's investigation focused on the trading of the G10 currencies, the most liquid and traded currencies worldwide. When companies exchange large amounts of different currencies, they usually do so through a Forex trader. The main customers of Forex traders include asset managers, pension funds, hedge funds, major companies and other banks.                                                                                      

The Commission's investigation revealed that some traders in charge of the Forex spot trading of G10 currencies, acting on behalf of the fined banks, exchanged sensitive information and trading plans, and occasionally coordinated their trading strategies through an online professional chatroom called Sterling Lads.

These information exchanges enabled the traders to make informed market decisions on whether and when to sell or buy the currencies they had in their portfolios, as opposed to a situation where traders acting independently from each other take an inherent risk in taking these decisions.

Occasionally, these information exchanges also allowed the traders to identify opportunities for coordination, for example through a practice called “standing down”, whereby some of them would temporarily refrain from trading to avoid interfering with another trader.

UBS received full immunity

Under the Commission's 2006 Leniency Notice, UBS received full immunity for revealing the existence of the cartels, thereby avoiding an aggregate fine of ca. € 94 million. Barclays, RBS, HSBC benefited from reductions to their fines for cooperating with the Commission's investigation.

The Commission's investigation in the Forex case started with an immunity application under the Commission's Leniency Notice submitted by UBS, which was followed by applications for reduction of fines by the other parties.

In accordance with the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, the Union continues to be competent for this case, which was initiated before the end of the transition period (“continued competence case”). The EU shall reimburse the UK for its share of the amount of the fine once the fine has become definitive. The collection of the fine, the calculation of the UK's share and the reimbursement will be carried out by the Commission.

Source : European Commission

Publié le 02 décembre 2021