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Barclays fined £26m for trader’s gold price fix

London (UK) - 23 May 2014 – The Times/OTCEER - Barclays has been fined £26 million by regulators after one of its trader’s manipulated the setting of the price of gold, in the latest scandal to hit the banking industry.

A former director of the bank’s precious metals desk abused weaknesses in Barclays’ (risk management) systems to bolster his order book by $1.8 million at the detriment of the customer, the Financial Conduct Authority found.

The regulator’s investigation into the gold fix widens the array of misconduct probes into the industry that already includes price manipulation and rate-rigging.

One instance of gold price fixing came only the day after Barclays was fined £290 million for a similar manipulation of Libor, the interest rate at which banks lend to each other.

As a result of the scandal, Bob Diamond was forced to quit as boss of Barclays in 2012.

The FCA said: “On 28 June 2012, former Barclays trader Daniel James Plunkett exploited the weaknesses in Barclays’ systems and controls to seek to influence that day’s 3:00pm gold fixing and thereby profited at a customer’s expense.

“As a result of Plunkett’s actions, Barclays was not obligated to make a $3.9 million payment to its customer, although it later compensated the customer in full. Plunkett’s actions boosted his own trading book by $1.75 million (excluding hedging).”

The FCA has banned Mr Plunkett and fined him £95,600.

Tracey McDermott, the FCA’s director of enforcement and financial crime, said Barclays’ lack of controls and a trader’s “disregard for a customer’s interests” have “sullied” the industry’s reputation again.

“Plunkett’s actions came the day after the publication of our Libor and Euribor action against Barclays. The investigation and outcomes in that case meant that the firm, and Plunkett, were clearly on notice of the potential for conflicts of interests around benchmarks.”

Shares in Barclays were up 0.49 per cent at 244.70 following the fine.

Postscript from OTCEER
Gold price fixing
The London gold fixing is the procedure by which the price of gold is determined twice each business day on the London market by the five members of The London Gold Market Fixing Ltd, on the premises of N M Rothschild & Sons.

It is designed to fix a price for settling contracts between members of the London bullion market, but informally the gold fixing provides a recognized rate that is used as a benchmark for pricing the majority of gold products and derivatives throughout the world's markets. The gold fix is conducted in United States dollars (US$), Pound sterling (GBP), and the euro (€) daily at 10.30am and 3pm, London time, via a dedicated telephone conference facility.

How is the Price Fixed?
Immediately prior to the commencement of the Fixing the Chairman determines what is considered to be the then prevailing US Dollar spot price for loco London gold in the market and such price will be used as the opening price for the Fixing process.

Each of the five Fixing Members will declare whether, at the opening price, they have buying, selling or no interest.

If there is no buying and no selling interest at the opening price from any Member the Chairman may announce the price as “Fixed” at that opening price.

If at the opening price there is only selling or buying interest the Chairman will ask for figures and may then either i) declare the price as Fixed if the quantity offered or wanted is 50 bars or less (see further comment below regarding pro-rata Fixings) or ii) move the opening price lower or higher until there is two way interest.

If at a price being tried there is two way interest the Chairman will call for figures. Sellers will declare the number of bars they wish to sell first and then the buyers will disclose the number of bars they wish to buy. Members are required to declare their interest in increments of five bars, but there is no such requirement as far as Members’ underlying customers are concerned.

If for example 100 bars are on offer but only 25 bars are wanted then the Chairman will progressively move the price downwards and at each stage ask for expressions of buying and selling interest and then for figures. Likewise if 100 bars are wanted and only 25 bars are on offer then the Chairman will progressively move the price being tried upwards. This process continues until supply meets demand or the imbalance is 50 bars or less and the Chairman decides to declare a pro-rata Fixing and the price Fixed.

In the event that it proves impossible to exactly meet supply and demand or the difference is 50 bars or less then the Chairman may declare the price Fixed and the Members will pro-rata the difference between themselves. For example if there is more buying than selling interest with two buyers and three sellers and the difference is 25 bars both of the buyers will reduce their buying interest by five bars and each of the sellers will increase their selling interest by five bars each. This pro-rata arrangement is purely between the Members and will not affect their underlying customer orders.

At any time a Member, or their underlying customer, may increase or decrease or withdraw a previously declared selling or buying order or place a completely new order. In such circumstances if a Member requires a short pause in order to enable them to recalculate their overall level of interest the Member may call “flag” which brings the Fixing to a temporary halt. The term flag arises from the days when all the Fixing Members met in a room, as opposed to the current practice of conducting the Fixing via a conference call, when a Member requiring a pause in the Fixing process in order to recalculate their overall selling / buying interest would raise a small flag on the desk in front of them and then lower it when they were ready to continue with the Fixing process. The Chairman cannot fix the price whilst a flag situation prevails.

When supply meets demand at a price being tried or the Chairman has declared a pro-rata Fixing and the price as Fixed he will then provide equivalent Fixing prices in Sterling and Euros using the then prevailing exchange rates.

The US Dollar Fixing price is the price for one troy ounce of gold loco (delivery) in London in the form of LBMA Good Delivery bars of approximately 400 troy ounces each.

The 5 banks in the gold price fixing
1.    Société Générale Bank
2.    Scotiabank
3.    HSBC
4.    Deutsche Bank
5.    Barclays Bank


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