Foreign-exchange trading under investigation by U.K. authorities

The U.K. markets regulator opened a formal investigation into currency-rate trading amid allegations the $5.3 trillion-a-day market was manipulated, following probes in the U.S. and Switzerland.

“We are gathering information from a wide range of sources including market participants,” the Financial Conduct Authority said in an e-mailed statement today. “Our investigations are at an early stage and it will be some time before we conclude whether there has been any misconduct which will lead to enforcement action.”

Traders at some banks may have pooled information about their positions through instant messages and used client orders to move benchmark currency rates, Bloomberg News reported in June. The FCA said at the time it was reviewing the allegations.

The London-based regulator said it is conducting the probes “alongside a number of other agencies both in the U.K. and abroad into a number of firms.”

Authorities are scrutinizing currency traders’ electronic messages as part of an investigation of potential manipulation of the market, a person with knowledge of the talks who requested anonymity because the matter isn’t public has said. The FCA is focusing on trading around the so-called WM/Reuters rates, benchmarks used to value trillions of dollars of investments, the person said.

After an investigation into the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, exposed widespread manipulation, regulators around the world are reviewing whether benchmarks for oil, derivatives and interest rate swaps were also rigged.

Criminal Probe

Switzerland’s Financial Market Supervisory Authority and the country’s competition commission said this month they were also opening probes into foreign-exchange rates, while the U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into possible manipulation, a person familiar with the matter said last week. European Union antitrust regulators said on Oct. 7 they were reviewing the market.

The FCA sent requests for information to four banks, including Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank AG and New York-based Citigroup Inc., a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified said in June. The request doesn’t indicate any wrongdoing, the person said.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc has handed over records of instant messages to the FCA after concluding a former currency trader’s communications with counterparts at other firms may have been inappropriate, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Instant Messages

WM/Reuters rates are published hourly for 160 currencies and half-hourly for the 21 most-traded. They are the median of all trades in a minute-long period starting 30 seconds before the beginning of each half-hour. Rates for less-widely traded currencies are based on quotes during a two-minute window.

The WM/Reuters rates are used by fund managers to determine what they pay for currencies and to compute the day-to-day value of their holdings, and by index providers such as FTSE Group and MSCI Inc. that track stocks and bonds in multiple countries. While the rates aren’t followed by most investors, even small movements can affect the value of what Morningstar Inc. estimates is $3.6 trillion in funds including pension and savings accounts that track global indexes.

The data are collected and distributed by World Markets Co., a unit of Boston-based State Street Corp., and Thomson Reuters Corp.

Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, competes with Thomson Reuters in providing news and information as well as currency-trading systems.

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