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Following news coverage of the charging of five precious metals traders and three banks in January, Commodities Futures Trading Commission and Department of Justice documents reveal a global criminal cabal of 16 traders operating in at least four major financial institutions between 2008 and 2015 to defraud COMEX gold and silver futures markets.
Of the many examples published, one reveals a UBS AG precious metals trader known as “The Legend,” spoofed sell orders to push down the price of gold futures on September 6, 2011, the day the gold market attained, and commenced a lengthy retreat, from its historic peak of US $1,923.70.
Jury trials are sought for Cedric Chanu and James Vorley of Deutsche Bank, Edward Bases and John Pacilio of Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith, and Andre Flotron of UBS AG. The traders are indicted with multiple offences including spoofing, manipulation and attempted manipulation of the precious metals futures market. FBI investigations found many of the traders had placed “thousands” of fake orders over “hundreds” of occasions during the relevant period. Some even more.
Enforcement orders totalling $46.6 million were issued to Deutsche Bank, UBS AG and HSBC. Bank of America Merrill Lynch, parent company of Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith, although implicated by the alleged actions of its subsidiaries traders, has not been sanctioned.
The agencies said traders placing genuine orders to buy or sell and concurrently huge opposite spoof orders to present a false picture of supply or demand. Other traders were thus tricked into accepting the genuine orders at prices favourable to the manipulators. The spoof orders being placed far enough away from the current price to safeguard against their actual execution were then swiftly cancelled. The traders had the ability using spoofing to move prices up or down.
By correlating details among multiple court documents and public sources it has been possible, with a high degree of certainty, to match the sample chats provided with the indicted traders, and banks they worked for.
Deutche Bank trader and Informant David Liew thought so highly of senior cabal member and co-conspirator, Trader F, according to Bloomberg’s disclosure of a sealed indictment, that he called him “The Legend.”
Trader F, as CFTC UBS Orders name, dominated the world of precious metals spoofing at UBS, appearing in nine of 12 manipulation samples listed in the CFTC UBS AG Orders, seven of which involve David Liew, Deutsche Bank informant. While the regulators describe four UBS traders as involved in the scandal, they currently seek a jury trial for only one.
Veteran UBS precious metals specialist Andre Flotron’s term at the trading desk predates the bank itself.
His LinkedIn timeline says he began trading gold and silver in 1982 with the Swiss Banking Corporation, Zurich. While still at the SBC precious metals desk, the corporation amalgamated with the Union Bank of Switzerland becoming UBS AG in 1999.
In over 15 years at UBS, the 55 year old worked two stints each in Zurich and Stamford. In addition to trading, he held also managerial and training responsibilities until January, 2014, when placed on leave from Zurich following an internal investigation.
An FBI affidavit describes how from July, 2008, Flotron mentored a new UBS employee in the art of spoofing. Trader#1 sat with Flotron for 2 months at his trading desk in Stamford, Connecticut “shadowing and observing” him with the aim of then transferring to the UBS precious metals desk in Singapore. The unnamed Trader#1 is now assisting the FBI investigation in return for immunity from prosecution.
In a teaching moment with a colleague about best practice for spoofing, on April 30, 2010, The Legend instructed:
“u gotta be quick with spoofs cause everyone else knows the trick too … except for smaller shops … and algos of course.”
Then contrasting the ease at which spoofing could be pulled off in years past:
“u know i use[d] to do that is Stamford so i can get filled … i’d be short 10k, show a bid for 35 lots … mkt chases it … i shift it lower … and lower.”
As the FBI investigators found, a hallmark of Flotron’s operation became placing spoof orders in quantities such as 22, 33, 44, 55, or 99 contracts by “automated trading software which had the ability to … place, modify, and cancel multiple orders nearly simultaneously.”
In one example allegedly aiming to manipulate the market down to his favourable purchase orders on October 17, 2013, Flotron placed and then withdrew three large fake sell orders for futures worth $30.5 million in gold over a 2.5 minute period.
The largest of his fake orders was placed, a parcel of 99 lots worth $13 million in gold, immediately doubled the volume of sell orders compared to buy orders, while “never intending” it to be executed, the indictment says. The multi-million dollar spoof order was sufficient to immediately bring sellers down from $1319.30 to $1,319.20 filling several of the trader’s partially concealed 1-contract bids totalling $1.5 million gold value.
Sometimes the traders could move COMEX much more.
On January 28, 2009, Deutsche Bank’s Edward Bases allegedly shifted the gold futures price two dollars in one attack alone by placing and quickly cancelling a number of large bids in order to “help” his then colleague Cedric Chanu’s resting orders fill.
As a post-spoof chat shows, the technique and camaraderie bore a strong semblance to computer gaming.
Bases: “so glad i could help…got that up 2 bucks…hahahahah.”
“that does show u how easy it is to manipulate so[me]times.”
Chanu: “yeah yeah of course.”
Bases: “that was alot of clicking”
Chanu: “basically you tricked alkll [sic] the algorythm”
Bases: “good man. Correct.i know how to “game” this stuff…”
Chanu: “THAT IS BRILLIANT.”
Bases: “I just dotn have the time to do it.. but i do it a lot in the
aftermakete. i f..k the m[ar]k[e]t around a lot…not alot of people…had it figgied out…thats [sic] why i love electronic trading.”
Bases: “im just glad we got you out…”
Besides helping each other achieve better than market prices, the Deutsche Bank traders helped UBS traders and traders from another global financial institution, Bank of America Merrill Lynch. One of the traders worked directly for two of the banks.
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