King and Country: Reflections on the Costs of Market Misconduct

1 04 2016

Read as updated SSRN paper with reference to the Panama Papers. Because of the Budget 2016, the chancellor has been accused of “looking more like Gordon Brown as a purveyor of gimmicks.” In difficult times when calls for his scalp over the row regarding the budget seemed to have eclipsed everything else, the rare bit of good news for George Osborne is that he can use the opportunity provided by the threat of Brexit – “a leap in the dark” which may cost the UK £100 billion or 5 per cent of GDP and 950,000 jobs by 2020 – to camouflage and obfuscate the real problems of conduct in the world of economics and finance. On the other hand, in an important interview with Charles Moore the former Bank of England governor Mervyn King showed hallmark signs of euroscepticism and said the people need to make up their own minds about the upcoming referendum. King also warned that lenders have not stopped taking excessive risks with savers’ money and the result is “bankers have not learnt the lessons of the Great Crash”. Unsurprisingly, in his somewhat controversial new book The End of Alchemy he makes the case against financial sorcery by arguing that it must be squeezed out of the world’s banking system. Perhaps, such failings are amplified further because “financial crises are a fact of life” and we are “moving into a rerun of the credit crunch”. Indeed, Lord King calls banks “the Achilles heel of capitalism.”

Below I sketch important/emerging issues in the intersecting themes of economics, law and misconduct as seen in the media, especially through the lens of “conduct costs” – some other themes are also explored. Mentioning Walter Bagehot and his classic text Lombard Street, which argued that the BoE should provide short-term financial support in times of crisis, King advises us that the old “lender of last resort” model (LOLR) is in need of revision because “banking has changed almost out of recognition since Bagehot’s time.” The former governor argues that the time has come to replace LOLR with the pawnbroker for all seasons (PFAS) system. For him, it is time for financial institutions to drop LOLR and embrace PFAS and be prepared to advance funds to just about anyone who has sufficient collateral. “The essential problem with the traditional LOLR,” argues King “is that in the presence of alchemy, the only way to provide sufficient liquidity in a crisis is to lend against bad collateral – at inadequate haircuts and low or zero penalty rates.” Read the rest of this entry »





Navinder Sarao: ‘Flash Crash’ Trader’s Extradition Request Upheld

28 03 2016

The Government of the United States of America v Navinder Singh Sarao (23 March 2016)

The case of Nav Sarao, the “hound of Hounslow” who faces a potential sentence of 380 years’ imprisonment on 22 counts in the US, has inflamed emotions and commentators have expressed extreme sympathy with the rogue trader who is considered to be the main culprit behind the “flash crash” of 6 May 2010. The disproportionate nature of his predicament is clearly illustrated by the fact that if extradited and punished in America, Sarao may well receive a harsher sentence than Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadic who got 40 years for crimes against humanity and genocide but will enjoy the right to a lengthy appeals process. It has been argued that Sarao had to be caged because he discovered a way to beat the HFTs at their own game. At the time of his arrest, senior traders even made public statements about footing his legal bill. Seldom has a corporate crime case aroused such a passionate response. Fellow traders dubbed Sarao “our spoofing hero” and the case against him was labelled “ridiculous”. Yet in the Westminster magistrates’ court judge Quentin Purdy disagreed and found that Sarao was extraditable to the US on the charges levelled against him. On the other hand, in making factual findings in the case, judge Purdy found that the downturn in the market was not attributable to a single event and the cause of the flash crash “cannot on any view be laid wholly or mostly at Navinder Sarao’s door” because even though he was active on 6 May 2010 the date “is only a single trading day in over 400 relied upon by the prosecution.”

Against this, the Commodities Trading Futures Commission accuses the Brit of exacerbating the flash crash and claims he “was at least significantly responsible for the order imbalances” in the derivatives market which affected stock markets to make matters worse on the day. The judge found that if found guilty of market abuse under UK law, Sarao’s activity would result in a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment being imposed on him and so the dual criminality test in section 137 of the Extradition Act 2003 was satisfied. He also stressed the importance of the public interest in upholding the controversial UK-US Extradition Treaty. Sarao is accused of engaging in a ferocious campaign to manipulate the price of the E-mini S&P 500 on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange by relying on a variety of exceptionally large, aggressive and persistent spoofing tactics. Read the rest of this entry »





Tom Hayes: LIBOR Fraudster’s Sentence Reduced, But Conviction Upheld

29 12 2015

750x-1Regina (Respondent) v Tom Alexander William Hayes (Appellant) [2015] EWCA Crim 1944 (21 December 2015)

In this redacted judgment, the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) upheld Tom Hayes’s conviction but reduced his brutal sentence from 14 years to 11 years. The clawback of three years will come as a blow to the resurgent fortunes of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd CJ, Sir Brian Leveson PQBD and Gloster LJ reduced the sentence because Hayes was not in a managerial position and also suffered from autism (see here). Expressing mixed emotions about the outcome of his appeal against conviction and sentencing Hayes said that he “was immensely disappointed” by the overall result but was nonetheless “relieved and grateful” that the “immensely disproportionate” sentence passed by Cooke J was reduced. “I never asked for a dishonest or inaccurate LIBOR rate to be submitted. I was at secondary school when these practices started,” is how Tom Hayes still places himself in the grand scheme of things. The three judges found that Cooke J was right to conclude that the expert evidence sought by Hayes was of low probative value. He initially entered into an agreement with the prosecution under section 73 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) in order to avoid extradition to the US but later withdrew and changed his plea to not guilty. In more ways than one, Hayes is somewhat of a comeback kid and Cooke J had called him a “gambler”.

However, the Court of Appeal held that ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people, rather than the standards of the market or a group of traders, determined judging the extent to which a banker had acted dishonestly in manipulating financial markets. The court was clear that an example had to be made of Hayes so as to deter others with similar ideas from misbehaving. “I continue to maintain my innocence. I look forward to pursuing every avenue available to me to clear my name,” is how he intimated a possible appeal to the Supreme Court. In relation to his conviction, Hayes advanced six grounds of appeal but was granted permission to appeal on only one. The details contained in paragraphs 38 to 60 of the court’s judgment cannot be reported until the conclusion of Trial 2 (see here) before Hamblen J. Read the rest of this entry »





SFO v Standard Bank: First UK Deferred Prosecution Agreement

7 12 2015

The director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), David Green QC, has overseen a turnaround in the ailing agency’s fortunes. Green is reportedly paid £175,000 annually and the press suggests he is likely to continue his role for another two years after his four-year term expires in April 2016. With successes such as the conviction of benchmark fraudster Tom Hayes (presently jailed in Lowdham Grange Prison) already under his belt, Green has his sights set on securing further convictions in other ongoing benchmark prosecutions. In Hayes’s appeal, Sir John Thomas LCJ has directed that a medical report should be filed by 9 December 2015. Hayes argued the Nuremberg defence and said that he was merely following orders. But he failed miserably in winning the jury’s sympathy and is a broken man. He suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but that did not stop Sir Jeremy Cooke from sentencing him to 14 years’ imprisonment for his fraudulent ways. Of course, only recently the SFO also secured the UK’s first deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). In SFO v Standard Bank Plc, the president of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir Brain Leveson approved the UK’s first DPA in a bribery case connected to a £397/$600 million sovereign note deal involving Tanzania.

Two things stand out about this case. It is the first example of a UK prosecutor entering into a DPA or a “plea deal”. Moreover, the situation was equally novel because it was the very first time that the offence of failing to prevent bribery – under section 7 of the Bribery Act – was used since its introduction in 2010. The government considers DPAs as a new and important enforcement tool to deal with corporate economic crime. DPAs came into existence in the UK by virtue of section 45 and schedule 17 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. The present case turned on the Tanzanian government’s wish to raise funds by way of a sovereign note private placement. The bribe took place when, in March 2013, Standard Bank’s former sister firm Stanbic Bank Tanzania paid £4/$6 million to Enterprise Growth Market Advisers (EGMA). The SFO contended that the improper payment’s purpose was to induce a representative of the Tanzanian government to favour Standard Bank and Stanbic’s proposal for the sovereign note deal. Stanbic and Standard Bank shared the transaction fees of £5.6/$8.4 million that were generated by the placement. Read the rest of this entry »





Notable Economic Forecasts

19 11 2015

The UK has recently been dubbed by the Legatum Institute as “the third cheapest place in the world to start a business, far cheaper than the US or Germany.” The strength of the UK economy, which makes it one of the world’s most prosperous countries, is the underlying reason for creating successful businesses and opportunities for those seeking entrepreneurial roles. The Legatum Institute 2015 Prosperity Index, which is a league table ranking countries on the basis of economic success and a series of wellbeing indicators, ranks the UK (behind Germany) as the fifteenth most prosperous country in the world. (Norway has topped the ranking for the seventh consecutive year as the world’s most prosperous country.) However, as observed on this blog, misconduct in financial services is spiralling and no end to the conundrum appears to be in sight. In relation to trade, contrary to the findings of the Legatum Institute, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has also found that business confidence in the UK is weakening and that investment is muted and exports are low.

For example, the Q4 2015 ICAEW/Grant Thornton UK Business Confidence Monitor results argue that though “still firmly in positive territory … the post-election honeymoon maybe over”. Exports and manufacturing have not been rebalanced which means there is continued reliance on domestic demand. In addition to the fall in business confidence after the post-election bounce, the Q4 2015 ICAEW/Grant Thornton report further found that exports are sliding below domestic sales, firms are restricting their budgets for R&D because they lack long-run confidence and skills shortages are rising – albeit wages are increasing steadily. The upshot is that business confidence is at its lowest level since 2013. Confidence in the services sector remains positive but is declining in the production sector. Read the rest of this entry »





Navinder Sarao: ‘Flash Crash’ Trader’s Extradition Appeal Adjourned

29 09 2015

Like Tom Hayes who got burned for benchmark rigging – but is appealing both his conviction and his sentence – Navinder Singh Sarao also suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome (autism). People like them only see the world in black and white and are unable to see shades of grey. Hayes got 14 years which seems to be disproportionate given that UBS had distributed a manual on rigging LIBOR. But he managed to play the Serious Fraud Office and achieved his main objective, i.e. to dodge extradition to the US. Sarao faces a potential sentence in the US, on 22 counts, which may be as long as 380 years’ imprisonment. The charges against Sarao include wire fraud, commodities fraud, commodity price manipulation and attempted price manipulation. He is charged with using his trading algorithm to spoof markets. After being granted bail in August he got his second lucky break and his extradition hearing was adjourned for four months because of changes, which seek to vary the start date of the allegation of the criminal activity by six months, in the charges levelled at him. Sarao was arrested on 21 April 2015. The US authorities, led by the Department of Justice and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) believe that Sarao is a malevolent individual.

But then again the Americans are also still running Guantánamo Bay despite the Obama administration’s promise to close the prison which Lord Steyn famously described by as a “legal black hole”: see post on Shaker Aamer’s return after 14 long years of being held there without charge. Because he does not have a spouse or a child, Sarao was initially refused bail because of posing a “quintessential flight risk” but was finally released on 14 August 2015 by Westminster magistrates’ court when his bail was reduced from £5 million to £50,000. His extradition appeal was due to be heard this month. Hitherto attempts to postpone the hearing scheduled on 25 September 2015 were unsuccessful: see posts here and here. The reasons for postponing the extradition hearing are related to the fact that the US authorities are pressing further charges against him and want to back date his criminal activity by six months to January 2009. Sarao told that Westminster magistrates’ court that he did not consent to being extradited to America. Read the rest of this entry »





Hunter into Prey: City Watchdog Exposes its Achilles’ Heel – Part 2

6 07 2015

HeelThe issues in the last post must be examined in light of the scandal which erupted in late 2014 when the FCA came under heavy fire from the Davis Report because of the highly irresponsible way in which it had leaked sensitive data to the media earlier in March that year. Simon Davis, a partner in the Magic Circle firm Clifford Chance, stressed that there had been nothing less than systemic failure. Davis was adamant that the FCA failed to address the issue of whether the information given out might be price sensitive. The conclusion was unsurprising because the leak culminated in an article in the Telegraph headlined Savers locked into ‘rip-off’ pensions and investments may be free to exit, regulators will say which claimed that the regulator was planning an investigation of 30 million pension policies, some sold as far back as the 1970s. Consequently, big insurance companies had billions wiped off their share prices. The misapprehension that selected annuity products would be picked out meant that major UK insurers saw their share prices plummet. The insurers called for Wheatley’s resignation. Even the Chancellor George Osborne bemoaned he was “profoundly concerned” by the episode. In his inquiry, Davis unearthed multiple failures symbolic of a dysfunctional organisation, and he emphasised that the regulator was “high-risk, poorly supervised and inadequately controlled.”

Davis – who was unsparing in his criticism – held the FCA’s Board responsible for the flaws in the regulator’s controls on the identification, control and release of price sensitive information. The buck ultimately stopped with the board because it “failed in its oversight of the FCA’s executive and … failed to identify the risks inherent in the FCA’s communications strategy.” The episode required urgent action and an external organisation needed to review the board’s practices and effectiveness. So serious were the mechanical failures of corporate governance of the City watchdog. To scotch the confusion, in light of public hearings that ensued, on 17 March 2015 the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee (the Treasury Committee) published Thirteenth Report (2014-2015): Press briefing of information in the Financial Conduct Authority’s 2014/15 Business Plan (HC881). Read the rest of this entry »