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Wednesday, 12 June 2013 10:57

Yet Another Big Money Financial Scandal: Five Traders Say Foreign Currency Exchange Rates Rigged

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foreigncur6 12Despite widespread criticism that the titans of the financial world engage in illegal or destructive profiteering practices – and escape punishment except for a few scapegoats, evidence and reports of trading improprieties continue to emerge.

Of all publications, Bloomberg.com headlines the most recent alleged global financial scandal: "Traders Said to Rig Currency Rates to Profit Off Clients."  Yes, Bloomberg reports that five big-time currency traders (as in converting dollars to yen for example) say that they have engaged in or witnessed the fixing of exchange rates for greater profit.

In a rather complicated scheme that involves split-second timing, foreign currency traders, executing orders on behalf of clients, game the system to make larger profits at the expense of those who have retained them to convert currencies.

That's a wordy way of saying clients get cheated by some of the foreign currency traders, because the traders are driving up exchange rates and making money on the increased margin.

As a June 12 Bloomberg article reports:

“The FX [foreign currency exchange] market is like the Wild West,” said James McGeehan, who spent 12 years at banks before co-founding Framingham, Massachusetts-based FX Transparency LLC, which advises companies on foreign-exchange trading, in 2009.

“It’s buyer beware.”The $4.7-trillion-a-day currency market, the biggest in the financial system, is one of the least regulated. The inherent conflict banks face between executing client orders and profiting from their own trades is exacerbated because most currency trading takes place away from exchanges.

Given the lawlessness and recklessness of the global financial giants in weakly regulated markets, imagine the larcenous behavior that likely occurs in a completely unregulated market.  

Doesn't it appear that large "too big to fail" institutions – whether they be financial, corporate or the federal government spying on us – appear guilty as charged when their response to charges of illegality and impropriety is a limp, "Trust us."

Okay, trust a used-car salesman who when you lift up the hood of a rusty car -- parked on a lot of broken asphalt -- only to find no engine, and you gasp and tell the salesman that you won't buy the car without a motor, and his cool-as-a-cumber response is, "Trust me, it will run."

Bloomberg financial news quotes an expert as to the toll of gaming the foreign currency exchange system: “The price mechanism is the anchor of our entire economic system,” said Tom Kirchmaier, a fellow in the financial-markets group at the London School of Economics. “Any rigging of the price mechanism leads to a misallocation of capital and is extremely costly to society.”

So guess what?  When it comes to foreign currency exchange profiteering abuses, there is no regulatory recourse, according to Bloomberg:

While U.K. regulators require dealers to act with integrity and avoid conflicts, there are no specific rules or agencies governing spot foreign-exchange trading in Britain or the U.S. That may make it harder to bring prosecutions for market abuse, according to Srivastava, the Baker & McKenzie partner.

Spot foreign-exchange transactions aren’t considered financial instruments in the same way as stocks and bonds. They fall outside the European Union’s Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, or Mifid, which requires dealers to take all reasonable steps to ensure the best possible results for their clients. They’re also exempt from the Dodd-Frank Act, which seeks to regulate over-the-counter derivatives in the U.S.

“Just because Mifid doesn’t apply, the spot FX market shouldn’t be a free-for-all for banks,” said Ash Saluja, a partner at CMS Cameron McKenna LLP in London. “Whenever you have a client relationship, there is a duty there.”

Ah, a duty!  Just trust the traders.  After all, their firms have signed a voluntary "code of conduct."

Nothing like that old free market neo-liberal Chamber of Commerce "let them regulate themselves" cover-up for financial hanky panky.

So if you have a yen for trading dollars into another currency, try the unlicensed street traders in the shady part of cities around the world.

They'll probably cut you a better deal.

But, of course, what Bloomberg is analyzing is big institutional movement of different currencies.  There's not enough profit in manipulating the street action.

(Photo: bradipo)