By Karin Matussek and Oliver Suess Jan 17, 2014 6:11 AM CT
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
A 'Currencies' sign sits on the window of a private brokerage firm in London.
Germany’s top financial regulator said possible manipulation of currency rates and prices for precious metals is worse than the Libor-rigging scandal, which has already led to fines of about $6 billion.
The allegations about the currency and precious metals markets are “particularly serious because such reference values are based -- unlike Libor and Euribor -- typically on transactions in liquid markets and not on estimates of the banks,” Elke Koenig, the president of Bonn-based Bafin, said in a speech in Frankfurt yesterday.
Koenig is the first global finance regulator to comment publicly on the investigations as probes into the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, expand into other benchmarks. Joaquin Almunia, the European Union’s antitrust chief, said this week that its preliminary probe into possible foreign-exchange manipulation covers similar practices as in the regulator’s probe into Libor-rigging.
Investors should short Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) stock because of probes into currency manipulation and as a rally in banking shares reverses, Berenberg Bank said in a report today. “The investigations by regulators into the bank’s foreign-exchange trading remain a significant risk considering Deutsche is the world’s largest foreign-exchange dealer,” Berenberg said.
Bafin said this week it is investigating currency trading, joining regulators in the U.K., U.S. and Switzerland, who are examining whether traders at the world’s largest banks colluded to manipulate the WM/Reuters rates, used by money managers to determine the value of holdings in different currencies.
Libor Scandal Sets Off Probes
At least a dozen firms have been contacted by authorities and more than 13 traders suspended, fired or put on leave in the currency case. Regulators are examining how traders, who communicated in instant-message groups, exchanged information on client orders and agreed how to trade at the time of the fix, five people with knowledge of the probes said last month.
“That the issue is causing such a public reaction is understandable,” Koenig said. “The financial sector is dependent on the common trust that it is efficient and at the same time, honest. The central benchmark rates seemed to be beyond any doubt, and now there is the allegation they may have been manipulated.”
Bafin interviewed Deutsche Bank employees as part of a probe of potential manipulation of gold and silver prices, a person with knowledge of the matter has said in December. The U.K. finance regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, is also reviewing gold benchmarks as part of its wider investigation into how rates are set.
Firms including Barclays Plc (BARC) and UBS AG (UBSN) have been fined for manipulating Libor and related rates. The European Union fined six firms, including Deutsche Bank and Societe Generale SA (GLE), a record 1.7 billion euros ($2.3 billion) in December for rate-rigging. Ten people have also been charged in parallel U.S. and U.K. criminal investigations into the matter.
A proposal by the European Commission to regulate reference valuesis going “in the right direction, but not far enough,” Bafin’s Koenig said. It relies too much on self-control, she said, adding that trading on currency and precious-metals markets is “decentralized and to a large scale done bilaterally and not on exchanges or exchange-like platforms” and therefore hard to monitor.
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