Banks Sued on Claims of Fixing Price of Gold – by Alan Feuer (New York Times – May 5, 2014)

http://www.nytimes.com/

Frustrated traders and offbeat activists have complained for years in whispers and in online screeds that the price of gold has been subject to collusion. On Monday, these accusations of manipulation found a more august arena for expression: the federal courts.

At a 40-minute hearing, lawyers for more than 20 plaintiffs gathered in Federal District Court in Manhattan to coordinate their linked lawsuits against the five banks that make up what is known as the London gold fix. The suits, filed by hedge funds, private citizens and public investors like the Alaska Electrical Pension Fund, contend that the banks have used their privileged positions as market makers to rig the price of gold to their benefit.

The lawsuits — the first of which was filed in March — question the integrity of the gold fix, which dates to 1919, when a handful of bankers began to meet in the wood-paneled offices of N. M. Rothschild & Sons in London. The purpose of the fix is to set a benchmark price for gold, which is subsequently used by dealers, central banks and mining firms to buy and sell the precious metal and its various derivatives.

These days, the fix takes place by phone twice a day — at 10:30 a.m. London time and again at 3 p.m. — and generally lasts 10 minutes to an hour. According to one of the suits, “The ‘great flaw’ of the gold fixing process is that the member banks trade on the information exchanged during the call to manipulate the price of gold and gold derivatives before publication of the gold fix to the wider market.”

Each of the banks — Barclays, Scotiabank, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Société Générale — denied, or declined to comment, on the accusations of collusion, which — at least traditionally — have been dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Nonetheless, concerns that the gold fix may be rigged have escalated of late in part because of investigations into the setting of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and suspicions about manipulation of global foreign exchange rates.

“A lot of conspiracy theories have turned out to be conspiracy fact,” said Kevin Maher, a former gold trader from New York, who filed the first suit against the banks. (The case is Maher v. Bank of Nova Scotia, 14-cv-01459.) “We now know that Libor was manipulated and that a bad odor is coming out of the Forex market. So why not gold?”

Mr. Maher, who started trading gold in 1993, said he filed his suit reluctantly and only after he became convinced that official regulators were unwilling or unable to investigate the fix. “I didn’t feel like there was any oversight, either from the government or from self-regulating entities,” he said in an interview last month. “A lawsuit seemed to be the only means to rectify the problem.”

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