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 »





Benchmark Manipulation and Corporate Crime: Insights on Financial Misconduct

22 03 2016

In the second innings things were different. The reverse swinging old ball meant that the Serious Fraud Office’s openers came back to the pavilion with a duck and those charged with misconduct and put in the dock began to eye up the opportunity of scoring a hat trick. Coupled with the reduction in Hayes’s sentence by the Court of Appeal (Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd CJ, Sir Brian Leveson PQBD and Gloster LJ, see here) on the ground that he was not in a managerial position and suffered from autism, the fact that Darrell Read, Danny Wilkinson and Colin Goodman, Noel Cryan, Jim Gilmour and Terry Farr were found not guilty of LIBOR manipulation casts doubt over future successful prosecutions in benchmark rigging cases. Hamblen J directed the jury to convict the brokers if they had played a “significant” role in helping him rig LIBOR. Apparently they had not. The Court of Appeal’s refusal to grant Hayes permission to appeal to the Supreme Court may provide limited comfort to the SFO but the acquittal of the above brokers charged in the second “sham” LIBOR trial has reversed the momentum gained by the authorities. The brokers’ exoneration exposes the SFO to the accusation that it has been wildly swinging a sledgehammer to smash a nut. So, having tasted blood after Tom Hayes’s conviction, taking a gung-ho approach to weeding out the City’s “bad apples” seems to have backfired because the clever brokers had simply let Hayes believe whatever he wanted.

According to the brokers, the SFO “didn’t investigate it properly and didn’t listen”. Despite big increases to its funding, claims that the SFO’s director David Green QC has overseen a “string of successes” and that the extension of his contract for two years is a “boon” for justice are proving to be totally without merit. These days it is the SFO which is in the dock and Tom Hayes’s tormented father Nick Hayes used the opportunity to defend his son and said: “Today Tom Hayes stands tall. He refused to testify versus the LIBOR brokers and paid the price … I’m proud of him.” Of course, measured against such poor performance, the fact that the embattled agency wants a top-up of £21.5 million in emergency funds for “blockbuster” probes to bolster its dwindling fortunes amounts to expecting rewards for failure; it is completely unjustified. Read the rest of this entry »





Narratives of Misconduct: Emerging Trends in the Finance Sector

26 11 2015

As seen on this blog, the spectre of misconduct hangs over the finance sector. Even after seven painful years of conduct related revelations, the fall out from the global financial crisis (GFC) continues to haunt consumers and banking institutions alike. To conceal the low-point in public confidence, empty rhetoric and hollow buzzwords such as “social licence” and “real markets” reign supreme while regulatory spin seeks to reconstruct the common person’s trust in the system. Equally, to make themselves palatable to the public, market pundits can be heard trumpeting the mantra of “inclusive capitalism”. Yet an overall lack of ethics permeates corporate culture and a continuing tendency to act in a twisted way can still be gleaned from events. If anything, the deficit in trust is increasing because resort to outright cheating can still be evinced in numerous instances. For example, along with Deutsche Bank, Barclays is in the spotlight yet again after paying £320 million in forex manipulation fines to the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) earlier this May; today, it has been fined £72 million by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for poor handling of financial crime risks. Equally, The Review into the failure of HBOS Group highlights the legacy of negligence in holding the finance sector to account. In addition to everyday outrage arising out of economic inequality, public anger in the finance sector has risen to a crescendo because the nadir of people’s sufferings has been reached. As the National Audit Office finds, state funds totalling £1,162 billion have been injected into the UK banking system to save it from collapse.

The paradox, of course, is that unlimited funds have been made available to rescue recklessly managed and overexposed banks – concerned less with integrity and more with ways to exploit token regulation – whereas the neediest in society are being shunned from basic necessities such as healthcare, care services, welfare and all the savage cuts that accompany the long-term goal of shrinking the state to 36% of GDP. Even to those who earnestly believe in the free market, official viewpoints and narratives often directly contradict reality. Most of all, officials fail to acknowledge wholesale abdication of duties owed to citizens and their attitude exposes a continuing tendency to overlook capitalism’s corruption. In the roundup below, among other things, further light is shed on developments trending in the bullring of financial misconduct and the theoretical jargon used by regulators is paired up with a cogent critique – by O’Brien, Gilligan, Roberts and McCormick – of the trickle down reforms enacted to positively anchor the finance sector to society’s needs. 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 »