EU fines five banks €344m in forex trading probe
European antitrust regulators have fined HSBC, Credit Suisse, Barclays and RBS a total of €344m for colluding to rig the global currency market, bringing to an end a long-running investigation.
Authorities in Brussels on Thursday levied the penalties on the banks after finding that their foreign-exchange traders had used online chat rooms, including one called Sterling Lads, to share information and sometimes co-ordinate trading strategies.
“Foreign exchange spot trading activities are one of the largest financial markets in the world,” said Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner. The collusive behaviour of the banks “undermined the integrity of the financial sector at the expense of the European economy and consumers.”
The settlement brings the total amount of fines handed down by Brussels over the scandal to €1.4bn since the investigation began.
Authorities imposed a collective fine of €261m on Barclays, RBS and HSBC, a figure reduced because the banks co-operated with the investigation. Credit Suisse was fined €83m, missing out on any reduction because the European Commission said it did not co-operate.
However, EU regulators said they did shave 4 per cent of the penalty because the bank “is not held liable for all aspects of the case”. Authorities also settled with UBS, which was spared a €94m fine for first revealing the existence of the cartels.
The third and final investigation by regulators found that traders had used the Sterling Lads professional chatroom to share sensitive information and trading plans “and occasionally co-ordinated their trading strategies”.
The existence of the chatroom allowed some traders to “stand down”, whereby they would temporarily withdraw from the market to avoid interfering with another trader, the commission said.
Authorities settled their first two investigations into the currency market in May 2019 for €1.1bn with fourteen banks. The total fines are smaller than those Brussels levied after its probe into the manipulation of the Libor market.
In a statement, RBS parent company NatWest said it was “pleased to have reached the settlement”. UBS said: “We are pleased the matter is resolved.” HSBC, Credit Suisse and Barclays declined to comment.
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