Five banks have been fined over a billion euros for colluding with one another to manipulate foreign exchange markets.
The European Commission (EC), a legislative body in the European Union that was responsible for issuing the fine, released a statement on Thursday saying that Barclays, RBS, MUFG, Citigroup and JP Morgan ran two ‘cartels.’
According to that same statement, the five banks manipulated the prices of eleven currencies, including the US dollar, British pound, Japanese yen, and Swiss franc.
The EC split the fines in two, noting that there were two ‘cartel’ operations, with some of the banks operating in both.
The larger fine – totaling just over 811 million euros ($909 million) – was given to Barclays, RBS, Citigroup and JP Morgan for running the so-called ‘Three Way Banana Split’ cartel.
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Alongside that was the ‘Essex Express’ cartel which, comprised of Barclays, RBS and MUFG Bank, resulted in a fine of just under 258 million euros ($289 million) for those banks.
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The seemingly strange names of the cartels come from a series of online chatrooms which traders at the various banks were active in.
One of these was called ‘Essex Express ‘n the Jimmy’ because all of the traders, except for one named Jimmy, lived in the spiv-loving county of Essex just east of London. According to the EC, the traders – except for Jimmy – would also meet in person on a train coming into London each morning from Essex.
Other chatrooms were called ‘Three way banana split,’ ‘Two and a half men,’ ‘Only Marge,’ and ‘Semi Grumpy Old men.’
According to the EC, traders using these chatrooms discussed outstanding customer orders, bid-ask spreads, risk positions, and details of trading activity.
“Foreign exchange spot trading activities are one of the largest markets in the world, worth billions of euros every day,” said EC commissioner Margrethe Vestager.
“Today we have fined Barclays, The Royal Bank of Scotland, Citigroup, JPMorgan, and MUFG Bank and these cartel decisions send a clear message that the Commission will not tolerate collusive behaviour in any sector of the financial markets. The behaviour of these banks undermined the integrity of the sector at the expense of the European economy and consumers.”