Louis Dreyfus wants traders' antitrust lawsuit tossed

Tue Nov 13, 2012 8:24pm EST

Nov 13 (Reuters) - A lawsuit accusing Louis Dreyfus Commodities BV of inflating cotton prices last year has failed to allege any legal violations and amounted to complaints by traders whose bets "fared poorly," the commodity trading house said in a court filing.

In letter filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Thursday, Louis Dreyfus said the two plaintiffs, including former senior Glencore trader Mark Allen, were "speculative" short sellers whose lawsuit failed to provide a case that it broke federal antitrust laws.

Louis Dreyfus said it plans to seek dismissal of the lawsuit, one of the highest-profile commodity market-manipulation cases in years.

Christopher Lovell, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The letter provided the first sign of the legal strategy Louis Dreyfus would take to escape antitrust claims first asserted in June by Allen, who lost his job at Glencore last year after his firm lost $300 million in the market.

The putative class action accuses Louis Dreyfus of alleged manipulation and monopolization of IntercontinentalExchange cotton futures contracts expiring in May 2011 and July 2011.

Prices on the cotton market that year hit highs in March not seen since the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s before falling dramatically.

The traders accused Louis Dreyfus of "uneconomically" overpaying for cotton and forcing deliveries "that could have been satisfied more cheaply in the cash market."

In its letter, Louis Dreyfus said Allen and another trader named as a lead plaintiff in the case, Stuart Satullo, incurred $400,000 in losses as their "speculative short selling of cotton futures fared poorly."

"In this litigation, plaintiffs allege that these losses were caused not by plaintiffs' own ill-timed and poorly executed speculation, but by the defendants' monopolization and manipulation of the cotton futures market," Louis Dreyfus said.

Lawyers for Louis Dreyfus at the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP argued that even if the traders' claims were true, the lawsuit failed to establish a case that shouldn't be dismissed.

Louis Dreyfus said the traders had made no allegations that it had "cornered" the cotton. Such an allegation is required to establish liability under the Commodity Exchange Act, the letter said.

As for the federal antitrust claims, the traders failed to identify any third-parties Louis Dreyfus agreed to restrain trade with, the letter said. And "overpaying" for a product is not anticompetitive, Louis Dreyfus said.

The plaintiffs, in a separate letter also filed on Thursday, sought to rebut Louis Dreyfus's arguments, contending they "plausibly allege" their antitrust claims.

The case is In Re: Term Commodities Cotton Futures Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, 12-cv-05126.

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