Big banks in $1.865 billion swaps price-fixing settlement

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Twelve major banks have reached a $1.865 billion settlement to resolve investor claims that they conspired to fix prices and limit competition in the market for credit default swaps, a lawyer for the investors said on Friday.

A man walks along Wall Street in New York September 18, 2008. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The settlement in principle was disclosed at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan.

“We think it’s historic,” Daniel Brockett, the investors’ lawyer, said in an interview. “It’s one of the largest antitrust class-action settlements, and an extraordinary result for the class.”

The defendants include Bank of America Corp BAC.N, Barclays Plc BARC.L, BNP Paribas SA BNPP.PA, Citigroup Inc C.N, Credit Suisse Group AG CSGN.VX, Deutsche Bank AG DBKGn.DE, Goldman Sachs Group Inc GS.N, HSBC Holdings Plc HSBA.L, JPMorgan Chase & Co JPM.N, Morgan Stanley MS.N, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc RBS.L and UBS AG UBSG.VX.

Other defendants are the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) and Markit Ltd MRKT.O, which provides credit derivative pricing services.

Credit default swaps are contracts that let investors buy protection to hedge against the risk that corporate or sovereign debt issuers will not meet their payment obligations.

The market peaked at $58 trillion in 2007, according to the Bank for International Settlements, but shrank to $16 trillion seven years later as investors better understood its risks.

American International Group Inc's AIG.N CDS exposure was a major factor behind the 2008 federal bailout of that insurer.

In the lawsuit, investors including the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association and Salix Capital US Inc claimed that the defendants’ activity caused them to pay unfair prices on CDS trades from late 2008 through the end of 2013, even though improved liquidity should have driven costs down.

They also said the banks tried in late 2008 to thwart the launch of a credit derivatives exchange being developed by CME Group Inc CME.O by agreeing not to use new CDS platforms and pushing ISDA and Markit not to provide licenses to the exchange.

An ISDA spokeswoman said the group is “pleased the matter is close to resolution” and committed to helping ensure the safe and efficient functioning of the CDS market.

Representatives for the other defendants declined to comment.

U.S. and European regulators have also examined potential anti-competitive practices in the CDS market.

Investors’ lawyer Brockett, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, said Cote gave both sides two weeks to iron out details before submitting a settlement for her preliminary approval.

Quinn Emanuel and Pearson, Simon & Warshaw are co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

The case is In re: Credit Default Swaps Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-md-02476.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Christian Plumb, Alan Crosby and Jonathan Oatis