July 26, 2018 / 3:55 PM / 21 days ago

Several banks dismissed from U.S. metals price-fixing lawsuits

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge has dismissed five large banks from two antitrust lawsuits by investors alleging multi-year conspiracies to rig prices for hundreds of billions of dollars of transactions in the global silver and gold markets.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni threw out all claims over alleged silver price-fixing against Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), Barclays Plc (BARC.L), BNP Paribas SA (BNPP.PA), Standard Chartered Plc (STAN.L) and UBS Group AG (UBSG.S).

The Manhattan judge also dismissed UBS from the gold-fixing case. Her decisions issued on Wednesday night totaled 87 pages.

Vincent Briganti, a lawyer for the silver investors, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Daniel Brockett, a lawyer for the gold investors, declined to comment.

The cases are among several in Manhattan accusing big banks of manipulating financial markets at investors’ expense.

Silver investors had accused Bank of Nova Scotia (“ScotiaBank”) (BNS.TO), Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE) and HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA.L) of fixing prices from 2007 to 2013.

After settling with Deutsche Bank for $38 million in 2016, the investors obtained 350,000 pages of documents and 75 audio tapes, including chat messages, that they said offered “smoking gun” evidence that the five other banks broke the law despite not being part of the fix.

One chat message came from a Paribas trader who wrote: “CANT WAIT FOR ANOTHER DAY WHEN WE GET THE BULLDOZER OUT THE GARAGE ON GOLD OR SIL, THEY ARE MY FIRST PORT OF CALL HAHAHAHAHAH.”

But the judge found no overarching conspiracy among fixing and non-fixing banks.

“Though the [complaint] plausibly alleges that the fixing banks conspired to depress the Fix Price, it does not explain why the non-fixing banks, which are competitors and counterparties, would be in on the agreement,” she wrote.

Caproni also said that while the chat messages suggested a limited conspiracy to “episodically” manipulate silver prices, the investors lacked antitrust standing to pursue that claim.

The gold investors’ claims covered 2004 to 2013, including alleged manipulation through twice-daily meetings among ScotiaBank, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Barclays and Societe Generale SA (SOGN.PA) to set the London Gold Market Fixing.

Though UBS was not at those meetings, gold investors said it used its large trading position to move prices in tandem with those banks. Caproni disagreed, finding no “plausible link.”

Deutsche Bank settled with gold investors for $60 million in 2016.

Chris Gaffney, president of world markets at TIAA Bank, said Caproni’s reasoning “should help the market because it gives investors more confidence in the pricing mechanism.”

Caproni scheduled an Aug. 24 status conference for both lawsuits.The cases are In re London Silver Fixing Ltd Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-md-02573; and In re Commodity Exchange Inc Gold Futures and Options Trading Litigation in the same court, No. 14-md-02548.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Renita Young; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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