Tag Archives: CME Group

More Bad News for the LBMA Silver Price, but an Opportunity for Overhaul

On Friday 3 March 2017, in a surprise announcement with implications for the global silver market, the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) informed its members that the current administrator and calculation agent of its recently launched LBMA Silver Price auction, Thomson Reuters and the CME Group respectively, will be pulling out of providing their services to the problematic London-based silver price benchmark within the near future. Thomson Reuters and the CME Group issued identical statements.

This is surprising because Thomson Reuters and the CME Group only began administering / calculating the LBMA Silver Price auction two and a half years ago in August 2014, when, amid much hubris, the duo were awarded the contract after a long-drawn-out and high-profile tender process. Notably, the Thomson Reuters  / CME contract with the LBMA was for a 5-year term running up to and into 2019. So the duo are now pulling out mid-way through a contract cycle.

More surprisingly, in their statements of 3 March, the LBMA / Thomson Reuters and CME allude to the European Benchmark Regulation being in some way responsible for the hasty departure. However, given that the units of CME and Thomson Reuters that are parties to the LBMA contract are their specialist benchmark units “CME Benchmark Europe Limited” and “Thomson Reuters Benchmark Services Limited”, which specialise in administering and calculating benchmarks, this excuse makes no sense.

In essence, this development is an embarrassment for all concerned and could lead to further reputational damage for the parties involved. It also now re-focuses market scrutiny on an area which the LBMA and its associates could well wish to forget, i.e. the former London silver fixing run by the infamous London Silver Market Fixing Limited, a company which itself is still one of the defendants, along with HSBC, Bank of Nova Scotia and Deutsche Bank, in a live New York class action suit that is scrutinizing the manipulation of the London silver price.

LBMA Silver Price: A Regulated Benchmark

Note that the LBMA Silver Price benchmark is now a “Regulated Benchmark” under United Kingdom HM Treasury Legislation, and is one of 8 financial market benchmarks regulated by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). So this is not some backwater obscure benchmark that we are talking about here. This is a benchmark with far-reaching effects on the global precious metals markets and a sister of the LBMA Gold Price benchmark. The reference prices from these benchmarks are used from everything from valuing Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) to being the price reference points in ISDA swaps and bullion bank structured products such as barrier options.

According to the LBMA’s usual public relations mouthpiece Reuters, which relayed the news to the broader market on 3 March, the LBMA will be:

“looking to identify a new provider in the summer, and have the new platform up and running in the autumn”

This dramatic “exit stage right” by Thomson Reuters and the CME Group is a far cry from their initial and continued corporate spin of being committed to the silver price auction, which they claimed both at auction launch in August 2014, and also as recently as 2016 when they grovelled with promises of process improvement and wider participation in the auction in the wake of the silver price manipulation fiasco in the LBMA Silver Price auction on 28 January 2016.

It was on 28 january 2016 that the midday auction took a whopping 29 rounds to complete and the price derived in the auction was manipulated down by a massive 6% under where silver spot and silver futures prices were trading at that time. See the beginning of BullionStar blog “The LBMA Silver Price – Broken Promises on Wider Participation and Central Clearing” for further details about the 28 January auction.

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Where is the Commitment?

On 15 August 2014, the day the LBMA Silver Price auction was launched, William Knottenbelt, MD at CME Group stated:

“Through our existing relationships with market participants and the broader silver marketplace we are uniquely positioned to provide a seamless transition for the spot silver benchmark in London.” 

“CME Group has a long and successful history of offering benchmark risk management and price discovery solutions for the global precious metals markets.” 

Then, on 22 March 2016, when CME and Thomson Reuters introduced some changes to the auction in the wake of the 28 January 2016 auction price manipulation, both parties released more spin on their continued commitment to the auction. Thomson Reuters’ Head of Benchmark Services, Tobias Sproehnle, in a statement that now looks to be hollow, said:

“these changes together with a comprehensive consultation with the broader silver community – producers, intermediaries and consumers - are a further demonstration of Thomson Reuters and CME Group’s commitment to providing innovative, market leading benchmarks for the Silver market.

While Gavin Lee, the head of CME Benchmark Services, led with an equally hubristic statement that:

“in consultation with Silver market participants, we are always looking for new ways to develop this benchmark further

These statements from CME and Thomson Reuters, less than a year ago, run totally contrary to the fact that the duo are now going to abandon the LBMA Silver Price auction ship, which will necessitate the appointment of a replacement administrator and calculation agent. Where is the continued “commitment” to the silver benchmark and the silver market that they were we eager to espouse last March?

Why the Hasty Departure?

According to the Reuters news report last Friday 3 March:

A spokesman for Thomson Reuters confirmed the company was stepping down from the process. CME could not immediately be reached for comment.

Not very informative or cooperative from either party when one of the providers was not even available to explain its exit rationale, and the other merely confirms a fact to its in-house news arm, a fact which the LBMA had already announced earlier that day to its members.

However, if you look at the CME Group website, a short announcement was added to its website on 3 March 2017, which states:

The forthcoming European Benchmark Regulation, due to be implemented in January 2018, prompted a review of the existing LBMA Silver Price administration arrangements and, in consultation with the LBMA, CME Group and Thomson Reuters have decided to step down from their respective roles in relation to the LBMA Silver Price auction.

This statement was also added to the Thomson Reuters website on 3 March.

Before briefly looking at the relevance of this “European Benchmark Regulation”, which the Reuters news article even failed to mention, its notable that the CME / Thomson Reuters early withdrawal was also covered on 3 March by the MetalBulletin website.

According to MetalBulletin (subscription site), the above statement by CME is apparently part of an identical statement which the LBMA released to it members on Friday 3 March (the LBMA statement).

MetalBulletin adds in its commentary that:

“CME is looking to streamline its precious metals division, with contracts in this area being its fastest growing asset. The exchange wants to focus on its core products, Metal Bulletin understands.”

What MetalBulletin means by this I don’t know. The logic doesn’t make any sense. The sentence doesn’t even make sense. Benchmarks are a core product of CME group. CME even states that it offers:

“the widest range of global benchmark products across all major asset classes”

CME Benchmark Europe Limited was specifically set up in 2014 to provide the calculation platform for the LBMA Silver Price. Furthermore, CME has just launched a suite of silver and gold futures contracts for the London market (launched in late January 2017), the silver contract being the “London Spot Silver Futures (code SSP)“. Even though these CME contracts have had no trading interest so far, the CME claims that it is currently “working with major banks to synchronize their systems to start trading” these contracts (London Spot Silver Futures and London Spot Gold Futures).

So why would CME want to voluntarily ditch the provision of a high-profile London silver benchmark, when it could attain trading synergies between the LBMA Silver Price and its new London silver futures contracts, or at the very least improve brand recognition in the market?  And not to forget CME and Thomson Reuters claim a”commitment to providing innovative, market leading benchmarks for the Silver market“.

European Benchmark Regulation

Turning to the new “European Benchmark Regulation”, what exactly is it, and why would it be relevant for the LBMA and CME and Thomson Reuters to mention the European benchmark Regulation in the context CME and Thomson Reuters pulling out of the LBMA Silver Price auction?

At its outset, the European Benchmark Regulation was proposed by the European Commission. The Commission’s proposal was also issued in coordination with a range of entities and initiatives such as MiFID, the Market Abuse Directive, the benchmark setting processes of the  European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) and European Banking Authority (EBA), and also the IOSCO financial benchmark principles.

According to law firm Clifford Chance:

The new [EU] Regulation is a key part of the EU’s response to the LIBOR scandal and
the allegations of manipulation of foreign exchange and commodity benchmarks

“The Regulation imposes new requirements on firms that provide, contribute to or use a wide range of interest rate, currency, securities, commodity and other indices and reference prices.”

“Most of the new rules will not apply until 1 January 2018″

“The new Regulation imposes broad ranging and exacting requirements
on a wide range of market participants. It may reinforce the trend to discontinue benchmarks and reference prices

According to law firm Simmons & Simmons:

The Regulation seeks to:

  • improve governance and controls over the benchmark process, in particular to ensure that administrators avoid conflicts of interest, or at least manage them adequately
  • improve the quality of input data and methodologies used by benchmark administrators
  • ensure that contributors to benchmarks and the data they provide are subject to adequate controls, in particular to avoid conflicts of interest
  • protect consumers and investors through greater transparency and adequate rights of redress.

The Regulation aims to address potential issues at each stage of the benchmark process and will apply in respect of:

  • the provision of benchmarks
  • the contribution of input data to a benchmark, and
  • the use of a benchmark within the EU.

All of these goals aspired to by the legislation of the European Benchmark Regulation seem reasonable and would benefit users of the LBMA Silver Price auction, so given the above, it seems very bizarre that CME and Thomson Reuters and the LBMA stated last Friday 3 March that:

The forthcoming European Benchmark Regulation, due to be implemented in January 2018, prompted a review of the existing LBMA Silver Price administration arrangements

Remember that the CME and Thomson Reuters service providers to the LBMA Silver Price are their specialist benchmark units “CME Benchmark Europe Limited” and “Thomson Reuters Benchmark Services Limited”. That is what these units do, administer and calculate benchmarks. This European benchmark Regulation has been known about for a few years. Especially known about by the benchmark units of CME and Thomson Reuters. The Regulation didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere last week, as the above statement is appearing to hint at.

And why such a brief and unclear statement from CME, Thomson Reuters and the LBMA? Is this European Benchmark Regulation just an excuse being thrown out to distract from other issues that might really be behind CME and Thomson Reuters stepping down.

Or perhaps CME and Thomson Reuters are aware of issues within the current administration of the LBMA Silver Price that would make it difficult to comply with the new legislation or that would make it too onerous to comply? But such rationale doesn’t make sense either because why are CME and Thomson Reuters not bailing out of the all the benchmarks that they are involved in? Furthermore, if the European Benchmark Regulation is a factor, why would any other benchmark service provider such as ICE Benchmark Administration (IBA) bother to pitch in the LBMA’s forthcoming tender process to find a replacement for Thomson Reuters and CME?

Perhaps CME and Thomson Reuters are worried about future reputation damage of being associated with the LBMA Silver Price due to some brewing scandal? Or perhaps the powerful bullion banks within the LBMA wanted to scupper any change that there will ever be wider participation or central clearing in any future version of the auction?

I will leave it to readers to do their own research on this and draw their own conclusions.

A Banking Cartel vs. Wider Auction Participation

One issue which has dogged the LBMA Silver Price auction since launch is that it never gained any level of “wider participation” or market representative participation. There are only 7 bullion banks authorised by the LBMA to be direct participants in the auction, and there are zero direct participants from the silver mining, silver refineries, and silver sectors.

This is despite the LBMA, CME and Thomson Reuters all misleading the global silver market on this issue on many occasions, and claiming that there would be very wide participation in the auction after it was launched. See BullionStar blog “The LBMA Silver Price – Broken Promises on Wider Participation and Central Clearing” for a huge amount of factual evidence to back up this statement, including webcasts by CME, Thomson Reuters and the LBMA, and an interview by Reuters with LBMA consultant Jonathan Spall, formerly of Barclays. Here are a few examples:

The LBMA’s Ruth Crowell was claiming back in July and August 2014 that they were interested in having 111 direct participants:

“clear demand for increased direct participation, and we had 25% of those 444 coming back saying they would be interested, and we’re still interested in having all of those participants on board”

“The advantage with centralised clearing, particularly for the pricing mechanism, is that we can really exponentially grow the amount of direct participants

Jonathan Spall, LBMA Consultant stated that:

“The hope of course is that we get many more participants in the new benchmark process….while it is likely that we will start by having banks involved it is ultimately hoped that the wider market will participate, be they refiners, miners etc.

“Ultimately – and as I said before – the intention is that there is much wider participation. So yes, refiners, miners etc.

Harriett Hunnable, then of the CME Group, stated:

“So this is really the new world, this is not the old fixing…..this is wider participation…and the London bullion market is really encouraging that…this is the new world, or the LBMA Silver Price!”.

According to the CME / LBMA / Thomson Reuters presentations, there was supposed to be a “phase 3 introduction of centralised clearing

Central counterparty clearing will enable greater direct participation in the London Silver Price

In summary, central clearing would allow direct participants to participate directly in the auction without the need for bi-lateral credit lines. However, the plan for central clearing was quietly dropped. The CME and Thomson Reuters have now had 32 months in which to introduce central clearing into the silver auction and it hasn’t happened. Nor will it now. The fact of the matter is that the LBMA banks do not want wider participation and they don’t want central clearing of auction trades either. These banks, which at the end of the day are just costly intermediaries, essentially want to monopolise the silver auction and prevent wider participation, and prevent true silver price discovery. Could it be the banks through their LBMA front that have sabotaged the contract with CME and Thomson Reuters so as to reset the contract and re-start another tender process that will ensure that no wider participation can ever see the light of day?

It’s also important to note that there is no way for miners and refiners to be direct participants in the auction. This is because the LBMA has designed the auction participant rules to keep out refiners and miners (and anyone else that is not a bullion bank). The rules are specifically designed so that only bullion banks can satisfy the LBMA’s Benchmark Participant criteria. See section 3.13 of the LBMA Silver Price auction methodology document accessible here.

Currently only 7 bullion banks are direct participants in the auction, namely HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of Nova Scotia (ScotiaMocatta), Toronto Dominion, UBS, Morgan Stanley, and China Construction Bank.  Most of these banks are very influential on the LBMA Management Committee. HSBC, Scotia and Mitsui were in the auction from Day 1 on 15 August 2014. UBS joined the auction on 26 September 2014, JP Morgan Chase Bank joined on 14 October 2014, Toronto Dominion Bank joined on 6 November 2014. Mitsui left in either late 2015 or January 2016 (the exact date is unclear). China Construction Bank only joined the auction on 6 May 2016.

Lastly, Morgan Stanley only joined the LBMA Silver Price auction on 25 October 2016 (which is just 4 months ago), at which point the LBMA / CME and Thomson Reuters had the audacity to spin that 7 LBMA bullion banks trading in a shadowy auction of unallocated silver accounts in London somehow represents the global silver market:

CME: “The addition of another member brings greater depth and diversity to the market and underlines the ongoing globalisation of the Silver Price as a leading, liquid precious metals benchmark.”

Thomson Reuters: “With the addition of Morgan Stanley to the panel, the LBMA Silver Price provides even deeper insight into the global silver market. We continue to welcome new participants to this essential mechanism for the markets.”

LBMA: “They [Morgan Stanley] add depth and liquidity to the auction and I look forward to other market participants joining in the future.”

LBMA Silver Price is NOT Representative of Silver Market

But, to reiterate (and as was stated previously in this blog), the LBMA Silver Price auction is not representative of the global Silver Market whatsoever, and it does not meet some of the simplest IOSCO benchmark requirements:

“IOSCO benchmark principles state that a benchmark should be a reliable representation of interest, i.e. that it should be representative of the market it is trying to measure. Interest is measured on metrics such as market concentration. In the Thomson Reuters methodology document (linked above), on page 11 under benchmark design principles, the authors estimate that there are 500-1000 active trading entities in the global silver market.”

The Thomson Reuters methodology document from August 2014 also admitted that “volumes in the LBMA Silver Price are a fraction of the daily volume traded in the silver futures and OTC markets”.

Why then are 7 LBMA bullion banks allowed to monopolize the representation of 500 – 1000 active trading entities from the global silver market within the auction, an auction that its worth remembering generates a silver reference price which is used as a global silver price reference and pricing source?

BullionStar investment silver bars and coins

Refiners and Miners

Based on the current rules, the vast majority of the world’s silver refiners cannot directly take part in the LBMA Silver Price auction.

Only 8 precious metals refiners are Full Members of the LBMA while 25 refiners are associates of the LBMA. Of the 8 full members, 5 of these refiners are on the LBMA refiner Referee panel, namely, Argor-heraeus, Metalor and PAMP from Switzerland, Rand Refinery from South Africa, and Tanaka Kikinzoki Kogyo from Japan. These refiners were added to the panel as LBMA Associates in 2003, and were only made Full Members in 2012. The only reason they happened to be fast-tracked as full members of the LBMA was due to their status as Referees for the LBMA good delivery list. Even the other major Swiss based refinery Valcambi is still not a full member of the LBMA.

Based on the current participant criteria of the Silver auction, where only full LBMA members could conceivably become direct participants, 25 of the refiners that are LBMA Associates cannot directly take part in the auction even if they wanted to. Candidates for Full LBMA Membership also have to jump through a number of hoops based on sponsorship by existing members, business relationships, due diligence, and involvement in the precious metals markets.

For a refiner to even become a LBMA associate, the refiner must have already attained Good Delivery Status for its silver or gold bars. There are about 80 refineries on the LBMA’s current Good Delivery List for silver. The chance of the vast majority of these refiners taking part in the LBMA silver auction is nil since not only are they not LBMA full members, they aren’t even LBMA associates.

Based on the current auction criteria, it’s without doubt literally impossible for nearly all silver producers / miners on the planet to directly participate in the LBMA Silver Price auction. Precious metal mining companies are not normally officially connected to the LBMA, and would more naturally be members of the Silver Institute or World Gold Council or another mining sector organization. So it’s confusing as to why the LBMA even mentions mining companies as possible auction participants since there are no mining companies that are Full Members of the LBMA, so they cannot be participants in the silver auction. The only mining companies that are even “Associates” of the LBMA are Anglogold Ashanti and Coeur Mining.

In 2014, Coeur Mining’s treasurer, referring to the LBMA Silver auction said:

“We hope to have the opportunity to become a direct participant down the road and look forward to working with the LBMA, CME and other silver producers to drive the evolution of this market.”

The unfortunate Coeur Mining now looks like it has been strung along by the LBMA with empty promises that it can somehow someday participate in the silver auction, but this is literally a fiction given the way the auction rules are currently set up.

Conclusion

In its announcement on 3 March, the LBMA said that it will shortly launch a tender process to appoint a replacement provider. The LBMA told Reuters News:

“We would be looking to identify a new provider in the summer, and have the new platform up and running in the autumn”

However, given the abysmal track record of the LBMA Silver Price, the question that should really be asked at this time is why is the bullion bank controlled LBMA even allowed to be in charge of such an important “Regulated Benchmark” as a global silver price benchmark, a benchmark that has far-reaching effects on global buyers and sellers of silver.

Take a brief look back at how the last tender process run by the LBMA for the London silver price was handled.

A Silver Price Seminar held by the LBMA on 19 June 2014 was not even open to the wider bullion market. As Ruth Crowell, CEO of the LBMA, told the publication MetalBulletin in an October 2014 interview:

“Not just our members, but ISDA members, and any legitimate members of the market were invited to the seminar. We also had observers from the FCA and the Bank of England. We wanted to keep [attendance] as wide-ranging as possible but to avoid anyone who perhaps would be disruptive

What is this supposed to mean? To prevent anyone attending the seminar who might have a different view on how the global silver price benchmark should be operated that doesn’t align with the view of the LBMA?

The actual process of selecting the winning bid from the shortlist of tender applicants was only open to LBMA Full members and Seminar attendees via a 2nd round voting survey. The independent consultant review that was part of the selection process, was conducted by someone, Jonathan Spall, who was not independent of the former fixings and so should not have been involved in the process.

Promises of wider participation involving refiners and miners were abandoned. Promises of central clearing of auction traded were thrown out the window. Prior to launch, the auction platform was hastily built by Thomson Reuters and CME without an adequate market-wide solution for clearing silver trades. Another of the bidders, Autilla/LME, had a working auction solution which would have allowed wider market participation at August 15 2014 go-live, but this solution was rejected by the LBMA Management Committee, LBMA Market Makers and the LBMA Data Working Group, the groups which had the ultimate say in which applicant won the tender.

There were only 3 participants in the LBMA Silver Price auction (all of them banks) when it was launched in August 2014, and two of which, HSBC and Scotia, were parties to the former London Silver Fixing. The LBMA Silver Price auction was therefore an example of same old wine in a new bottle. The same 2 banks, HSBC and Scotia are now defendants in a silver price manipulation class action suit in New York. There are now only 7 direct participants in the LBMA Silver Price. These are all bullion banks. This is 32 months after the auction has been launched. The LBMA accreditation process specifically prevents refiners and miners from joining the auction. As there are 500 – 1000 trading entities of silver globally, the LBMA Silver Price mechanism is totally unrepresentative of the silver market.

The defection of CME and Thomson Reuters now provides a one-off opportunity for the global silver market to insist that the current scandal ridden current auction be scrapped and taken out of the hands of the bullion bank controlled London Bullion Market Association (LBMA). It is also an opportunity to introduce a proper silver price auction in its place that is structured to allow direct participation by hundreds of silver trading entities such as the world’s silver refiners and miners, an auction that employs central clearing to allow this wider participation, and an auction that is based on trading real physical silver and not the paper credits representing unallocated claims that the participating London bullion banks shunt around between themselves. This could help lead to real silver price discovery in the global silver market. However, the chances of this happening with the LBMA still involved in the new tender process are nil.

Lukewarm start for new London Gold Futures Contracts

The second half of 2016 saw announcements by three exchange providers for plans to compete in the London Gold Market through offerings of exchange-traded London gold futures contracts.

First off the mark was the London Metal Exchange (LME) in conjunction with the World Gold Council with a planned platform called LMEprecious. There were rumblings of this initiative in the London financial media from as early as January 2015,  but concrete details for the actual platform were only announced on 9 August 2016. See LME press release “World Gold Council, LME and key market participants to launch LMEprecious.” The LME plans to call its gold futures contract LME Gold. There will also be an “LME Silver”. Each is a suite of contracts of varying lengths including a daily futures (spot settlement) contract. See also BullionStar blog “The Charade Continues – London Gold and Silver Markets set for even more paper trading” from August 2016 which took a first look at the LMEprecious suite.

Two months after the LME announcement, during the annual conference of the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA), Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) announced on 17 October that it too planned the launch of a gold futures contract in the London market. See Bullion Desk’s “ICE to launch gold futures in 2017, competition in gold market grows” as well as the ICE press release. The ICE contract is named “Gold Daily Futures” and resides on the ICE Futures US platform. It too is a daily futures contract.

Not to be outdone, the CME Group then followed suit on 1 November 2016 and it too announced plans for a “London Spot Gold Futures contract” as well as a “London Spot Silver futures contract”. See CME press release “CME Group Announces New Precious Metals Spot Spread” from 1 November 2016, and “CME to launch London spot gold, silver futures for spot spread” from the Bullion Desk, 1 November 2016. The CME contract was to trade on COMEX (Globex and Clearport) as a daily futures contract, and was devised so as to offer traders a spot spread between COMEX and London OTC Spot gold.

As of August 2016, the LME’s target launch date was said to be “the first half of 2017”. ICE was more specific with a target launch of February 2017 (subject to regulatory review). In it’s announcement, CME went for an even earlier planned launch date of 9 January 2017 (subject to regulatory approval).

cme ice lme

Two Launches – No Volume

Why the update? Over the 2 weeks, there have been a number of developments surrounding these 3 contracts. The CME and ICE gold futures contracts have both been launched, and additionally, LME has provided more clarity around the launch date of its offering.

Surprisingly, while there was plenty of financial media coverage of these 3 gold futures contracts when their plans were initially publicised from August – November 2016, there has been little to no financial media coverage of the contracts now that 2 of the 3 have been launched.

On 25 January, I took a look at the CME website to see what the status of the CME gold futures contract might be. Strangely, the contract itself was defined on the CME website (with a code of GSP) but it had no trading volume. From the website, it was not clear when the contract actually launched, but it looked to be sometime during the last week of January.

On 25 January, I also sent a short email to CME asking:

“Has the London Spot Gold contract started trading yet?

http://www.cmegroup.com/trading/metals/precious/london-spot-gold.html 

It doesn’t look like it has, even though the contract is defined on your website. Could CME confirm when it will start trading?”

Next day on 26 January, I received this response from the CME:

“Thank you for reaching out to the CME Group with your query.  The London Spot Gold and Silver products are available to trade but at this time no trades have been made in the listed contract months.”

Fast forward to end-of-day 7 February. From the CME website, I still cannot see that there have been any trades in this gold futures since it was launched. The volumes are all zero. The same applies to the London Spot Silver futures contract (code SSP).

Next up the ICE gold futures contract (AUD). Upon checking the ICE website under section “Products”,  the new ICE Gold Daily Futures contract has been defined, and the description states “The Daily Gold Futures contract will begin trading on trade date Monday, January 30, 2017“.

Turning to the ICE reporting section of the website for futures products, and selecting the end of day ICE Futures US report page, and then selecting the reports for AUD, there are 6 daily reports available for download, namely, from 30 and 31 January, and 1, 2, 3 and 6 February. Again, looking at each of these reports, there are varying prices specified in the reports but there are no trading volumes. All of the volumes are zero.

Therefore, as far as the CME and ICE websites show, both of these new gold futures contracts have been launched and are available to trade, but there hasn’t been a single trade in either of the contracts. Not a very good start to what was trumpeted and cheer-led as a new dawn for the London Gold Market by outlets such as Bloomberg with the article “Finance Titans Face Off Over $5 Trillion London Gold Market“.

LMEprecious – To Launch Monday 5 June 2017

Finally, possibly so as not to be forgotten while its rivals were launching their London gold futures offerings, the LME on Friday 3 February announced in a general LME and LME Clear update memo that the planned launch date of its LMEprecious platform is now going to be Monday 5 June, i.e. 4 months from now.

LME update header

LME footer

As a reminder, the LMEprecious contracts will be supported by a group of market maker investment banks, namely Goldman Sachs,Morgan Stanley, Société Générale, Natixis and ICBC Standard Bank.

It’s also important to remember that all 3 of these gold futures contract product sets are for the trading of unallocated gold, (i.e. claims on a bullion bank for gold, aka synthetic / fictional gold). All 3 contracts claim to be physically-settled but this is essentially a play on words, because in the world of the London Gold Market, physically-settled does not mean physically-settled in the way any normal person would define it. LBMA physically-settled just means passing unallocated balances around, a.k.a. pass the parcel. To wit:

ICE London gold futures settle via unallocated accounts:

“The contract will be settled through unallocated loco London gold vault accounts using LBMA Good Delivery Rules.”

CME London gold futures settle via unallocated accounts:

London Spot Gold futures contract will represent 100 troy ounces of unallocated gold

And for LMEprecious, settlement will be:

“Physical settlement one day following termination of trading. Seller transfers unallocated gold to [LME Clearing] LMEC account at any LPMCL member bank, and buyers receive unallocated gold from LMEC account at any LPMCL member bank.”

Conclusion

With neither the CME nor the ICE gold futures contracts registering any trades as of yet (according to their websites), it will be interesting to see how this drama pans out. Will they be dud contracts, like so many gold futures contracts before them that have gone to the gold futures contracts graveyard, or will they see a pick up in activity? All eyes will also be on the LME contract from 5 June onwards.

The lack of coverage of the new CME and ICE London gold futures contracts is also quite unusual. Have the London financial media already forgotten about them? According to Reuters it would seem so. On 22 January, Reuters published an article titled “LME’s pitch for share of gold market faces bumpy ride” which exclusively questioned whether the LME gold contract would be a success, while not even mentioning the CME and ICE contracts. Given that 22 January was right before the CME and ICE contracts were about to be launched, this is quite bizarre. Presumably Bloomberg will come to the rescue of its ‘financial titans’ heros, and will write glowing tributes about the new contracts, but this will be tricky given the zero trade volumes. We await with bated breath.

COMEX and ICE Gold Vault Reports both Overstate Eligible Gold Inventory

Introduction

In the world of gold market reportage, much is written about gold futures prices, with the vast majority of reporting concentrating on the CME’s COMEX contracts. Indeed, when it comes to COMEX gold, a veritable cottage industry of websites and commentators makes its bread and butter commentating on COMEX gold price gyrations and the scraps of news connected to the COMEX. The reason for the commentators’ COMEX fixation is admittedly because that’s where the trading volume is. But such fixation tends to obscure the fact that there is another set of gold futures contracts on ‘The Street’, namely the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) gold futures contracts that trade on the ICE Futures US platform.

These ICE gold futures see little trading volume. Nonetheless, they have a setup and infrastructure rivaling that of COMEX gold futures, for example, in the reporting of the gold inventories from the vault providers that have been approved and licensed by ICE for delivery of gold against its gold futures contracts.

At the end of each trading day, both CME and ICE publish reports showing warehouse inventories of gold in Exchange licensed facilities/depositories which meet the requirements for delivery against the Exchanges’ gold futures contracts. These inventories are reported in two categories, Eligible gold and Registered gold. Many people will be familiar with the COMEX version of the report. A lot less people appear to know about the ICE version of the report. For all intents and purposes they are similar reports with identical formats.

Most importantly, however, both reports are technically incorrect for the approved vaults that they have in common because neither Exchange report takes into account the Registered gold reported by the other Exchange. Therefore, the non-registered gold in each of the vaults in common is being overstated, in a small way for COMEX, and in a big way for ICE. And since COMEX and ICE have many approved vaults in common, technically this is a problem.

The Background

Before looking at the issues surrounding the accuracy of the reports, here is some background about CME and ICE which explains how both Exchanges ended up offering gold futures contracts using vaults in New York. The Commodity Exchange (COMEX) launched gold futures on 31 December 1974, the date on which the prohibition on private ownership of gold in the US was lifted. In 1994, COMEX became a subsidiary of the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX).

In 2001, Euronext acquired the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange (LIFFE) to form the Euronext.LIFFE futures exchange. In April 2007, NYSE and Euronext merged to form NYSE Euronext. Following the merger with NYSE, this merged futures exchange was renamed NYSE Liffe US.

In July 2007, Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) merged with the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) and CME and CBOT both became subsidiaries of ‘CME Group Inc’. CBOT had traded a 100 oz gold futures contract from 2004 and a ‘CBOT mini-sized’ gold futures contract (33.2 ozs) from 2001. During 2007, NYSE Euronext had also been attempting to acquire CBOT at the same time as CME.

In August 2008, the CME Group acquired NYMEX (as well as COMEX), and NYMEX (including COMEX) became a fully-owned subsidiary of holding company CME Group Inc. Just prior to acquiring NYMEX/COMEX and its precious metals products, the CME sold the CBOT products to NYSE Euronext in March 2008. This included the CBOT 100 oz and mini gold futures contracts, and the CBOT options on gold futures. NYSE Euronext then added these gold contract products to its NYSE Liffe US platform.

In 2013, ICE acquired NYSE Liffe. In mid 2014, ICE transferred the NYSE Liffe US precious metals contracts to its ICE Futures US platformICE then spun off Euronext in 2014. ICE Futures US had been formerly known as the New York Board of Trade (NYBOT). ICE had acquired NYBOT in January 2007 and renamed it as ICE Futures US in September 2007.

Both COMEX and ICE Futures US are “Designated Contract Markets” (DCMs), and both are regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Any precious metals vault that wants to act as an approved vault for either COMEX or ICE, or both, has had to go through the COMEX / ICE approval process, and the CFTC has to be kept in the loop on these approvals also.

The Vault Providers

For its gold futures contracts, COMEX has approved the facilities of 8 vault providers in and around New York City and the surrounding area including Delaware. These vaults are run by Brink’s, Delaware Depository, HSBC, International Depository Service  (IDS) Delaware, JP Morgan Chase, Malca-Amit, ‘Manfra, Tordella & Brookes’ (MTB), and The Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotia). Their vault addresses are:

  • Brinks Inc:  652 Kent Ave. Brooklyn, NY and 580 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10036
  • Delaware Depository: 3601 North Market St and 4200 Governor Printz Blvd, Wilmington, DE
  • HSBC Bank USA: 1 West 39th Street, SC 2 Level, New York, NY
  • International Depository Services (IDS) of Delaware: 406 West Basin Road, New Castle, DE
  • JP Morgan Chase NA: 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, New York, NY
  • Malca-Amit USA LLC, New York, NY (same building as MTB)
  • Manfra, Tordella & Brookes (MTB): 50 West 47th Street, New York, NY
  • Scotia Mocatta: 23059 International Airport Center Blvd., Building C, Suite 120, Jamaica, NY

Malca-Amit and IDS of Delaware were the most recent vault providers to be approved as COMEX vault facilities in December 2015/January 2016.

ICE has approved the facilities of 9 vault providers in and around New York City and the surrounding area including Delaware and also Bridgewater in Massachusetts. A lot of the ICE vaults in New York and the surrounding region were approved when its gold futures were part of NYSE Liffe. The ICE approved vaults are run by Brink’s, Coins N’ Things (CNT), Delaware Depository, HSBC, IDS Delaware, JP Morgan Chase, MTB, Loomis, and Scotia. From these lists you can see that Malca-Amit is unique to COMEX, and that CNT and Loomis are unique to ICE. The addresses of CNT and Loomis are as follows:

  • CNT Depository in Massachusetts: 722 Bedford St, Bridgewater, MA 02324
  • Loomis International (US) Inc: 130 Sheridan Blvd, Inwood, NY 11096

There are therefore 10 vault providers overall: Brink’s, CNT, Delaware Depository, HSBC, IDS Delaware, JP Morgan, Loomis, Malca-Amit, MTB, and Scotia. Three of the vaults are run by security transport and storage operators (Brink’s, Malca, and Loomis), three are owned by banks (HSBC, JP Morgan and Scotia), three are parts of US precious metals wholesaler groups (MTB, CNT and Dillon Gage’s IDS of Delaware), and one Delaware Depository is a privately held precious metals custody company.

Importantly, there are 7 vault provider facilities common to both COMEX and ICE. These 7 common vault providers are Brink’s, Delaware Depository, HSBC, IDS Delaware, JP Morgan, MTB, and Scotia.

The Inventory Reports

Each afternoon New York time, CME publishes a COMEX ‘Metal Depository Statistics’ report for the previous trading day’s gold inventory activity, which details gold inventory positions (in troy ounces) as well as changes in those positions within its approved vault facilities at Brink’s, Delaware Depository, HSBC, IDS Delaware, JP Morgan, Malca-Amit, MTB and Scotia. The COMEX report is published as an Excel file called Gold_Stocks and its uploaded as the same filename to the same CME Group public directory each day. Therefore it gets overwritten each day: https://www.cmegroup.com/delivery_reports/Gold_Stocks.xls.

Below are screenshots of this COMEX report for activity date Friday 16 December 2016 (end of week), which were reported on Monday 19 December 2016. For each depository, the report lists prior total of gold reported by that depository, the activity for that day (gold received or withdrawn) and the resulting updated total for that day. The report also breaks down the total of each depository into ‘Registered’, and ‘Eligible’ gold categories.

Eligible gold is all the gold residing in a reporting facility / vault  which is acceptable by the Exchange for delivery against its gold futures contracts and for which a warrant (see below) has not been issued, i.e. the bars are of acceptable size, gold purity and bar brand. In practice, this just applies to 100 oz and 1 kilo gold bars. This ‘eligible gold’ could be gold owned by anyone, and it does not necessarily have any connection to the gold futures traders on that Exchange.

For example, 400 oz gold bars in a COMEX or ICE approved vault would not be eligible gold. Neither would 100 oz bars or kilo bars arriving in a vault if  the bars had been outside the chain of custody and had not yet been assayed.

Registered gold is eligible gold (acceptable gold) for which a vault has issued a warehouse receipt (warrant). These warrants are documents of title issued by the vault in satisfaction of delivery of a gold futures contract, i.e. the vault receipts are delivered in settlement of the futures contract. This is analogous to set-aside or earmarked gold.

For the COMEX 100 oz gold futures contract (GC), physical delivery can be either through 1 unit of a 100 troy ounce gold bar, or 3 units of 1 kilo bars, therefore eligible gold on the CME report would include 100 troy ounces bars of gold, minimum 995 fineness, CME approved brand, and 1 kilo gold bars, CME approved brand. The CME E-Mini gold futures contract (QO) is exclusively cash settled and has no bearing on the licensed vault report. CME E-micro gold futures (MGC) can indirectly settle against the CME 100 oz GC contract through ‘Accumulated Certificates of Exchange’ (ACEs) which represent a 10% claim on a GC (100 oz) warrant. Therefore, the only gold bars reported included on the CME Metal Depository Statistics reports are 100 oz and 1 kilo gold bars.

 

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COMEX Warehouse Inventory Report – Gold. Click to Enlarge

Each afternoon New York time, ICE publishes a “Metal Vault Statistics” report as an Excel file which is uploaded to an ICE public web directory. The report lists the previous trading day’s gold inventory activity, and like the CME report, shows gold inventory positions and changes in those positions (receipts and withdrawals) in troy ounces within its approved vault facilities. The ICE report also breaks down the total of each depository into ‘Registered’ and ‘Eligible’ gold.

The ICE licensed vault reports are saved as individually dated reports. The ICE report dated 19 December 2016 for activity on 16 December 2016, can be seen at https://www.theice.com/publicdocs/futures_us_reports/precious_metals/Precious_Metals_Vault_Stocks_Dec_19_2016.xls.

Two gold futures contracts trade on ICE Futures US, a 100 oz gold futures contract (ZG), and a Mini gold futures contract (YG). YG which has a contract size of 32.15 troy ounces (1 kilo). Both of these ICE gold contracts can be physically settled. The gold reported on the ICE Metal Vault Statistics report therefore comprises 100 oz and 1 kilo gold bars that are ICE approved brands. In practice, CME and ICE approved brands are the same brands.

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ICE Warehouse Inventory Report – Gold. Click to Enlarge

The Rules

The data required to be conveyed to CME each day by the approved depositories is covered in NYMEX Rulebook Chapter 7, section 703.A.7 which states that:

“on a daily basis, the facility shall provide, in an Exchange-approved format, the following information regarding its stocks:

  • a. The total quantity of registered metal stored at the facility.
  • b. The total quantity of eligible metal stored at the facility.
  • c. The quantity of eligible metal and registered metal received and shipped from the facility.”

The ICE Futures US documentation on gold futures does not appear to specifically cover the data that its approved vaults are required to send to ICE each day. Neither does it appear to be covered in the old NYSE Liffe Rulebook from 2014. In practice, since ICE generate a report for each trading day which is very similar to the CME version of the report, then it’s realistic to assume that the vaults send the same type of data to ICE. But as you will see below, the vaults seem to just send each Exchange a ‘number’ specifying the registered amount of gold connected to warrants related to the Exchange, and then another ‘number’ for acceptable gold that is not registered to warrants connected to that Exchange.

The Comparisons

What is immediately obvious when looking at the CME and ICE reports side by side is:

  • a) they are both reporting the same total amounts of gold at each of the approved facilities (vaults) that they have in common, and also reporting the same receipts and withdraws to and from each vault. This would be as expected.
  • b) CME and ICE are reporting different amounts of ‘Registered’ gold at each facility because they only report on the gold Registered connected to their respective Exchange contracts…
  • c)… which means that CME and ICE are also reporting different amounts of ‘eligible’ gold at each approved facility that they have in common.

In other words, because neither Exchange takes into account the ‘Registered’ gold at the other Exchange, each of CME and ICE is overstating the amount of Eligible gold at each of the vaults that they both report on.

Brink’s Example

Look at the below Brinks vault line items as an example. For activity date Friday 16 December 2016, CME states that at the end of the day there were 588,468.428 troy ounces of gold Registered, leaving 223,946.744 ounces in Eligible, and 812,415.172 ounces in Total. ICE also states the same Total amount of 812,415.195 ounces (probably differs by 0.023 ozs due to rounded balances carried forward), but from ICE’s perspective, its report lists that there were 321.51 ounces (10 kilo bars) registered in this Brink’s vault, so therefore ICE states that there are 812,093.685 ounces of eligible gold in the Brinks vaults. However, CME has 588,468.428 troy ounces of gold ‘earmarked’ or Registered against the total amount of reported 100 oz and 1 kilo gold bars in the Brink’s facility. In practice, if the situation ever arose, the Brink’s vault could issue warrants against ICE gold futures of more than 223,635.234 ozs, because this is the maximum amount of eligible gold in the vault which is neither registered with the COMEX exchange or registered with the ICE exchange.

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CME Brinks gold – Report date: 19 December 2016, Activity date: 16 December 2016

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ICE Brinks gold – Report date: 19 December 2016, Activity date: 16 December 2016

Therefore in this example, both the CME and ICE reports are not fully correct, but the ICE report is far ‘more’ incorrect than the CME report because the ICE report substantially understates the true amount of Eligible (non-registered) gold in the Brink’s vault. This trend is evident across most ‘Eligible’ numbers for the vaults in the ICE report. Since the trading volume in ICE gold futures is very low overall, the number of ICE gold futures contracts that have ultimately generated warrants is also very low.

Although the relatively tiny amounts of ‘Registered’ ounces listed on the ICE report won’t really affect the overall accuracy of the COMEX reporting, a more correct approach to reflect reality would be for the vault providers to combine the Registered numbers from the two Exchanges, and subtract this combined amount from the reported Total at each facility so as to derive an accurate and real Eligible amount for each vault facility.

MTB Example

But what about a scenario in which very little non-registered gold is actually left in a vault right now due to a high Registered amount having been generated from COMEX activity? In such a situation, the ICE report will overestimate the amount of Eligible gold in a big way and a reader of that report would be oblivious of this fact. This is the case for the Manfra, Tordella & Brookes (MTB) vault data on the ICE report.

According to the CME report, as of Friday 16 December, there were 104,507.221 ozs of gold in the MTB vault in the form of acceptable 100 oz or 1 kilo bars, with 99,698.357 ozs of this gold registered against warrants for COMEX, and only 4,808.864 ozs not Registered (i.e. Eligible to be Registered).

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CME MTB gold – Report date: 19 December 2016, Activity date: 16 December 2016

The ICE report for the same date and same vault states that there are the same amount of Total ounces in the vault i.e. 104,507.217 ounces (0.004 oz delta). However, the ICE report states that 104,153.567 ozs are Eligible to be registered, since from ICE’s perspective, only 353.65 ozs (11 kilo bars) are actually Registered. But this ICE Eligible figure is misleading since there are a combined 100,052.007 ozs (99,698.357 ozs + 353.65 ozs) Registered between the 2 Exchanges, and only another 4,455.214 ozs of Eligible gold in total in the vault.

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ICE MTB gold – Report date: 19 December 2016, Activity date: 16 December 2016

IDS Delaware Example

The reporting for International Depository Services (IDS) of Delaware is probably the most eye-opening example within the entire set of vault providers, because when looking at the 2 reports side by side, it becomes clear that there is no ‘Eligible’ (non-Registered) gold in the entire vault. CME states that 675.15 ozs (21 kilo bars) are Registered and that 514.4 ozs (16 kilo bars) are Eligible, giving a total of 1,189.55 ozs (37 kilo bars), but ICE states that 514.4 ozs (16 kilo bars) are Registered and thinks that 675.15 ozs (21 kilo bars) are Eligible. But in reality, between the two Exchanges, the entire 1,189.55 ozs (37 kilo bars) is Registered and there are zero ozs Eligible to be Registered. CME thinks whatever is not Registered is Eligible, and ICE thinks likewise. But all 37 kilo bars are Registered by the combined CME and ICE. IDS therefore sums up very well the dilemma created by the Exchanges not taking into account the warrants held against each other’s futures contracts.

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ICE IDS gold – Report date: 19 December 2016, Activity date: 16 December 2016

 

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ICE IDS gold – Report date: 19 December 2016, Activity date: 16 December 2016

Delaware Depository Example

Based on a report comparison, Delaware Depository (DD) is unusual in that there are different ‘Total’ amounts reported by each of CME and ICE. CME states that there are 110,336.484 ozs of acceptable gold in the DD vault, whereas ICE states that there are 112,008.284 ozs. This difference is 1,671.80 ozs which is equivalent to 52 kilo bars. So, for some unexplained reason, the vault has provided different total figures to CME and ICE.

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CME Delaware Dep gold – Report date: 19 December 2016, Activity date: 16 December 2016

 

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ICE Delaware Dep gold – Report date: 19 December 2016, Activity date: 16 December 2016

The above comparison exercise can be performed for the other 3 vaults that both CME and ICE have in common, namely the 3 bank vaults of HSBC, JP Morgan and Scotia. These 3 vaults  hold the largest quantities of metal in the entire series of New York area licensed vaults. The ICE contracts have very tiny registered amounts in these vaults, but the Eligible amounts listed on the ICE report for these vaults should technically take account of the Registered amounts listed on the CME report for these same 3 vaults.

The licensed vault that is unique to CME, i.e. the vault of Malca-Amit, surprisingly only reports holding 1060.983 ozs of gold (33 kilo bars), with all 33 bars reported as Registered. This is surprising since given that Malca operates a vault in the recently built International Gem Tower on West 47th Street, one would expect that Malca would be holding far more than just 33 gold kilo bars which would only take up a tiny amount of shelf space.

The two vaults that are unique to ICE, namely CMT and Loomis, also report holding only small amounts of acceptable gold. CNT has 9966.154 ozs (310 kilo bars), 90% of which is Registered, while Loomis reports holding just 7064.07 ozs, all of which is non-registered. 

Conclusion

In gold futures physical settlement process, it’s the responsibility of the exchanges (COMEX and ICE) to assign the delivery (of a warrant) to a specific vault (the vault which is ‘stopped’ and whose warehouse receipt represents the gold delivered). Presumably, the settlement staff at both CME and ICE both know about each other’s registered amounts at the approved vaults, and obviously the vaults do since they track the warrants. But then, if this is so, why not indicate this on the respective reports?

The CME and ICE reports both have disclaimers attached as footnotes:

CME states:

“The information in this report is taken from sources believed to be reliable; however, the Commodity Exchange, Inc. disclaims all liability whatsoever with regard to its accuracy or completeness. This report is produced for information purposes only.”

ICE states:

“The Exchange has made every attempt to provide accurate and complete data. The information contained in this report is compiled for you convenience and is furnished for informational purpose only without responsibility for accuracy.”

The exact definition of ‘Eligible’, taken from the COMEX Rulebook, is as follows:

“Eligible metal shall mean all such metal that is acceptable for delivery against the applicable metal futures contract for which a warrant has not been issued

However, in the case of ICE, its report is vastly overstating figures for Eligible gold at the vaults in which COMEX is reporting large registered amounts. In these cases, a warrant has been issued against the metal, it’s just not for ICE contracts, but for the contracts of its competitor, the COMEX. Surely, at a minimum, these footnote disclaimers of the ICE and CME vault inventory reports should begin to mention this oversight?

The LBMA Silver Price – Broken Promises on Wider Participation and Central Clearing

On 28 January 2016, the midday LBMA Silver Price auction took 29 rounds to establish a final price of US$13.58 which was manipulated down by a whopping 6% below where silver spot and futures prices were trading at that time. This auction fiasco and price manipulation has caused deep concern among silver benchmark price users as well as consternation among the Gang of Three companies which own/administer/operate the LBMA Silver Price, namely the London Bullion Market Association, Thomson Reuters Benchmark Services, and CME Group.

Notice in the following financial data distribution screenshot (taken from a US terminal) of the entire set of rounds in the LBMA’s distribution of the Silver Price auction results that day, that a trading entity was progressively increasing the Ask (Sell) volume between each round, thereby causing the auction algorithm to continual try lower opening prices each round, because the Bid volume was not increasing by enough to  meet the tolerance threshold between bid and ask volume (i.e. the imbalance was too great). Notwithstanding the possibility that collectively no participants or other traders felt the desire to arbitrage this price anomaly during the auction, it appears that someone was turning up the sell volume as the price went lower every 30 seconds for at least 14 minutes between midday and 12:15pm that day.

Silver Price auction rounds

Joint statement by Thomson Reuters, CME Group and the independent Silver Price Oversight Committee

On 4 February 2016, after scrambling and squirming for an entire week, Thomson Reuters, the CME Group, and the ‘Independent’ Oversight Committee for the LBMA Silver Price released a statement solely by email. This statement was not published on the websites of either the CME Group, Thomson Reuters, nor the website of the LBMA, hence, many people would not have seen it. Therefore, the full statement that they released is as follows:

“Developments to LBMA Silver Price Benchmark

Joint statement by Thomson Reuters, CME Group and the independent Silver Price Oversight Committee

LONDON, February 4, 2016 – Thomson Reuters and CME Group with the agreement of the LBMA and the independent LBMA Silver Price Oversight Committee today announce a package of measures to further develop the silver benchmark.

In addition to its regular meetings, the Committee has held two extraordinary meetings since the auction on Thursday January 28, 2016 and has been working with the benchmark administrator (Thomson Reuters) and calculator (CME Group) to address concerns. The regulatory authority, the Financial Conduct Authority, has been kept fully informed.

At the meeting, the Committee endorsed an intervention protocol agreed by the administrator and calculator to suspend an auction if they believe the integrity of the auction or participants is threatened.

This protocol has been in place since Friday January 29, 2016. All participants and the FCA have been informed of its implementation.

The Committee, Thomson Reuters and CME Group will present details of the measures to participants, their clients and the Financial Conduct Authority for discussion and implementation at the earliest opportunity.

These include: a blind auction, where only prices and not volumes are disclosed to participants until after the auction has closed; increasing the settlement tolerance where necessary to maintain the integrity of the auction; change the structure for sharing the differential to encourage full participation; and a package of measures to increase participation in the benchmark process and to encourage non-banks’ participation.

In addition we look at the viability of introducing centralized clearing of all auction trades, to make the process easier and less capital-intensive for participants.

“We are committed to maintaining the integrity of the LBMA Silver Price,” said Neil Stocks, chairman of the Oversight Committee. “We are introducing enhancements and are consulting on further developments with the many users who rely on this important benchmark.”

Note to editors

The LBMA Silver Price is calculated daily on a transparent electronic auction platform operated by the CME Group; Thomson Reuters is responsible for administration.

Contact

Brian Mairs, Thomson Reuters

Donal McCarthy, CME Group”

 

The above statement from Thomson Reuters, CME Group and the Oversight Committee is, in my view, misleading from a number of perspectives. As you will see below, the above statement fails to mention that increased participation in the benchmark auction, as well as non-bank participation in the auction, were promised by Thomson Reuters, the CME Group and the LBMA in July and August 2014, which was before the LBMA Silver Price auction was even launched.

The above statement also fails to mention that the introduction of centralized clearing was also promised by Thomson Reuters, CME Group and the LBMA in July and August 2014, again before the LBMA Silver Price auction had even been launched.

It is now February 2016, more than 18 months after the LBMA Silver Price was introduced, and here we have Thomson Reuters and the CME Group with the gall to state that they have suddenly formulated plans for wider participation and central clearing, when all along, these plans were actively discussed by the LBMA and CME Group during July and August 2014 as practical mechanisms that were promised to be implemented to address the pricing concerns of the wider silver market community and the spirit of the IOSCO benchmark Principles.

Given that the details of wider auction participation and central clearing of silver auction trades were quietly dropped and evidence of said discussion was even actively removed from the websites of CME Group and Thomson Reuters, it is not unreasonable to conclude that various powerful entities representing the London Bullion Market have been doing everything they can to prevent wider participation in the Silver auction, and doing everything they can to prevent central clearing being implemented for Silver auction trades.

London Silver Price Seminar – CME Webinar 29 July 2014

On Tuesday 29 July 2014, just over two weeks after the CME Group and Thomson Reuters had been awarded the contract to run the LBMA Silver Price auction process, and just over two weeks before the 15 August 2014 auction go-live date, “CME Group Metals Products and OTC Solutions” held a webinar titled the ‘London Silver Price Seminar’.

Recall that at that time, the new auction was still being referred to as the ‘London Silver Price’, and not the ‘LBMA Silver Price’. Critically, at various points in the 29 July webinar presentation (38 minutes long), reference was made to the new silver auction eventually using CME Clearing Europe as a central clearing counterparty (CPP) for all trades in the LBMA silver price auction.

The webinar consisted of presentations by four CME Group staff, namely, Jack Allen of the CME business team, Michel Evaraert, Head of OTC solutions for CME, Harriet Hunnable, CME’s Global Head of Precious Metals, and Anindya Boral, also of the CME business team. There was also a selection of Q&A from attendees at various points in the webinar.

From July 2014 to October 2014, a link to this CME webinar presentation was prominently listed on the CME Group’s LBMA Silver Price web page under the section ‘Additional Resources’, with the description “Our recent webinar covers a range of topics to the new LBMA Silver Price“. The following screenshot from the 9th October 2014 Wayback Machine archive link to the page in question can be seen below, with the Webinar link highlighted.

CME 9th October 2014 site

Sometime between October 2014 and early January 2015, but at least before 12th January 2015, the CME’s webinar link had been removed from the ‘Additional Resources’ section of the same webpage.

CME 12th January 2015 site

Now, why would such a useful ‘Additional Resources’ link in the form of a webinar covering “a range of topics to the new LBMA Silver Price” suddenly be removed from the website of the LBMA Silver Price calculation agent (CME) just a few shorts months after the new silver fixing auction was launched?

For those who want to see this webinar, don’t panic, because the full CME webinar from 29 July 2014 on the LBMA Silver Price can be seen here:

The CME webinar can also be played at this direct CME website. Let’s see how long this link stays live: http://cmegroup.adobeconnect.com/p3o9n3qj6gr/

At the outset of the 29 July 2014 webinar, the CME Group  displayed a power point slide showing a timeline divided into three phases:

  • Phase 1 was listed as ‘Today (July 29th) till August 15th’, described as ‘Day 1 participation’ and ‘business as usual’.
  • Phase 2 was titled ‘Broader base Participation”, including “Tier 2 participation”.
  • Phase 3 was ‘Extended Participation’, ‘Central Clearing via CME Clearing Europe’, and an ‘on-boarding process’, and also ‘EUR & GBP ability’.

Harriet Hunnable introduced the webinar, by saying:

“We wanted to make sure that we were addressing some of the questions that were coming to us from end-users, from silver producers and refiners and the like with regard to this transition that is happening in the London silver market. We wanted to make sure we were doing this pretty quickly given the number of inquiries we were getting and also the depth of business change that end-users were trying to prepare themselves for.”

Harriett Hunnable also stated that the CME wanted to”

enable more wide participation over time, directly towards this key market benchmark and reference price.”

Harriett Hunnable introduced Jack Allen of the CME business team, saying that Jack Allen:

“will be talking about what the banks are doing now and other participants can do over time to be part of this new London Silver Price”.

 

Both Jack Allen and Michel Everaert highlighted that the CME Group seemed to be under time pressure to deliver the new electronic based silver auction between July 11 and August 15:

Jack Allen said

“Time is short, 5 weeks, from when we were mandated, which is tough, it’s tough.”

Michel Evaraert said that:

“this really is what we call phase 1 of this effort. We were under very tight timelines to move the auction process into this new model…..we fully expect more functional changes over time…..we have simply electronified this (existing) process and we’ve introduced an audit trail and significantly more transparency to that process…”

Jack Allen’s explanation of the CME’s three phases highlights how the CME planned that the LBMA Silver Price would progressively evolve over the period after it was launched:

For Day 1 participation, what have we got? We’re looking at the LBMA Market Makers with consistent and constant bilateral credit facilities. These are very much encouraged due to restrictive timelines, and we know that this as a core participation that will work.”

“For the corporate and commercial user it will be business as usual. As a commercial user from day 1 please reach out to your correspondent banks and trading counterparties. There will be very little difference to what you previously had and what you’re going to be getting on 15th August”.

On Phase 2, Allen said:

Phase 2 we are looking for broader participation. On Day 1 our market makers may not be up and ready really yet. We will be very much again encouraging them to join, as well as suitable bilateral, what I would call, upper echelon banks with a good credit basis”.

On Phase 3, Allen said:

Extended Participation, we envisage central clearing via CME Clearing Europe under the auspices of the UK and European regulated authorities which should effectively open the door for most participants.

 

There were a number of Q&A breaks during the CME’s 29 July 2014 webinar. Many of the questions and answers from the webinar are very important and revealing, and are therefore documented below. Jack Allen read out the questions that came in from webinar participants:

Question: We have a question around getting the banks signed up and negotiating the legal documentation.

Jack Allen: “I can answer that. Basically it’s going pretty well at the moment, in terms of numbers without being specific. I think we can pretty much say in category one, two and three, with one being the top-tier, we’ve probably got between 6 and 7 verbal interests, good interests… I would say there’s probably a couple of mid-term ones on the lower scale, 5 of those are still considering what they are going to do. But it’s actually looking very good at the moment.

Question: “Is the platform open by invitation or is there a process for new participants to go through?”

There seemed to be hesitation by Jack Allen to answer this question (listen to the webinar to see what I mean), and Harriet Hunnable then stepped in and answered the question:

Harriet Hunnable: “The LBMA is going to be running the accreditation for phase 2 participants, they are setting up some criteria, and it will be open for people to apply.

 

Question: “What is the targeted timeframe for moving to centralised clearing?

Jack Allen: We’re basically starting the process as soon as possible. Let’s get this up and running by 15th August and then it’s all hands to the pumps on the clearing side so hopefully it will happen soon.”

 

Harriet Hunnable added:

“It’s possible to clear some trades already today on CME Europe and also in the US, to clear silver forwards and spot trades already, these are for loco London delivery. The work we’ve got to do is to set this up so that’s it’s part of the platform so it’s a level playing field for participants

Anindya Boral will be starting to do a big drive to enable cleared transactions through our clearing house and wider participation in August, so if you’re interested in that please get in contact with your broker or clearer or current bank. Boral is going to be doing a lot of work across CME Europe to facilitate that.”

There then followed a short discussion by Anindya Boral addressing central counterparty clearing through CME Clearing Europe, and a discussion of the slide which follows below. This is a very important slide because a variant of this slide appeared in the Thomson Reuters / CME Group / LBMA webinar presentation on 19 August 2014 (see below), but by then, the reference to CME Clearing Europe in the 19 August version of the same slide had been watered down significantly.

SLIDE 7 from CME Webinar:

CME 29th July phase 3

Slide text

Phase 3, Centralised Clearing

“Central counterparty clearing will enable greater direct participation in the London Silver Price”.

  • We anticipate using CME Group’s London Clearing House – CME Clearing Europe – for the London Silver Price

 By serving as the counterparty to every transaction, CME Clearing Europe will become the buyer to every seller and the seller to every buyer, virtually eliminating credit risk between market participants

  • Client connectivity to the Clearing House and clearing firm readiness will be the key to delivering centralised clearing for the London Silver Price
  • Please contact one of CME Clearing Europe’s 20+ clearing firms, or your preferred clearing firm or broker

That slide concluded the CME Group webinar on 29 July.

 

Reuters Global Gold Forum – 17 July 2014

On 17 July 2014, less than a week after the CME Group and Thomson Reuters had won the LBMA silver contract, Jonathan Spall of G Cubed Metals (and formerly of Barclays Capital) appeared in a Thomson Reuters Global Gold Forum webinar session where he was interviewed by Jan Harvey of Thomson Reuters about the new silver auction and associated topics.

A LBMA press release from 11 July 2014, titled “LBMA SILVER PRICE SOLUTION: CME GROUP & THOMSON REUTERS“, stated that the market consensus (to choose CME and Thomson Reuters)…

“…was also supported by the independent review conducted by Jonathan Spall of G Cubed Metals Ltd. As part of his review, Jon carried out in-depth interviews with the seven companies who delivered presentations at the seminar on the 20th June.”

So the review written by Jonathan Spall, the ‘independent consultant’ hired by the LBMA, also supported the choice of CME Group and Thomson Reuters to operate the new LBMA Silver Price auction. The regular Thomson Reuters global gold forum over the Reuters platform is hosted by Reuters journalists, and takes the form of a question and answer session with precious metals industry representatives, often facilitated by Jan Harvey.

Jan Harvey (Thomson Reuters):

“What made the successful proposal successful, as far as you were concerned?”

Jonathan Spall (G Cubed Metals Ltd)         (part of answer to the above question)

“The hope of course is that we get many more participants in the new benchmark process….while it is likely that we will start by having banks involved it is ultimately hoped that the wider market will participate, be they refiners, miners etc. The idea of starting with banks is that they are likely to have credit lines with each other, and without centralised clearing that is obviously vital.”

 So, centralised clearing precludes the need for using bilateral credit lines in the auction, and therefore removes one of the barriers to entry that favours the bulllion banks as the exclusive direct participants in the auction. The Thomson Reuters Forum continued:

Jan Harvey: (with a question from the floor):

“How is this going to work, as not everyone has credit with everyone. What if the algo (algorithm) matches you against someone with whom you don’t have credit?”   

Jonathan Spall (G Cubed Metals Ltd):

That’s why it’s starting with the banks. Ultimately, there may be some form of agreement such that if a refinery, for example, wants to become part of the benchmark (and I very much hope that they do) – then a bank could agree that if the algo matches the refiner/miner etc to a name where they do not have credit lines, the bank would be allowed to intermediate.”

Jan Harvey:

“Another question from the floor: ‘Will there be a published parallel run of the silver fix? And will only banks get access to the platform and also the run of the auction?’

Jonathan Spall (G Cubed Metals Ltd):

“There all be parallel testing – so basically during August we can see if the system and software works. But it will not take place at noon. The idea of the auction is that volumes and the number of buyers and sellers will be published unlike now. So you can see that there were 3 buyers and 1 seller perhaps with 3 million ounces of silver taking place the names of the buyers and sellers will not be released though.

Ultimately – and as I said before – the intention is that there is much wider participation. So yes, refiners, miners etc.

 

Jan Harvey (also from the floor):

“Will the volumes and number of sellers be published in real-time?”

Jonathan Spall (G Cubed Metals Ltd):

“My understanding is that it will be.”

Jan Harvey

“From the same questioner – ’Will that be the case as of 15th August or not initially?’”

Jonathan Spall (G Cubed Metals Ltd):

“There is an enormous amount to sort out in less than a month – certainly the intention is there but not necessarily from day 1. There will also be the ability to see orders of the bank themselves and clients – again this will follow later. So orders will be gross – ultimately – and not net. The intention is to make it as transparent as possible but it will not be all singing and dancing on day 1.”

 

 

Thomson Reuters Webinar 19 August 2014 – including Ruth Crowell (LBMA) and Harriet Hunnable (CME)

On Tuesday 19 August 2014, Thomson Reuters hosted two sessions (London morning and afternoon) of a broadcast webinar titled “The New LBMA Silver Price, Greater Transparency, Facilitated by Thomson Reuters, CME Group, and LBMA”. The morning session took place from 9.30am – 10:30am London time. Note that by August 19 2014, the CME’s Phase 1 had by that time passed (i.e. it was after the 15 August 2014 launch date of the LBMA Silver Price).

Douglas Pollack, Thomson Reuters Head of Market Development for Commodities in Europe, hosted the webinar. Other speakers included Bernd Sischka, Global Metals Proposition Manager for Thomson Reuters, Ruth Cowell, LBMA CEO, and again, Harriet Hunnable, of CME metals products.

This webinar was available on the following link but has been taken down: http://edge.media-server.com/m/p/j82fcpca/st/TR/. Accessing this link now returns an error message:

denied

Lucky however, the morning session of the LBMA – Thomson Reuters – CME Group 19 August 2014 webinar can still be viewed in full here:

 

Attendees at the 19 August 2014 could post questions to the panel during the webinar to be answered in the Q&A parts of the session.

Bernd Sischka began the 19 August 2014 webinar, and said that he would cover methodology and auction process, and then cover the details of participation:

“The third point I will highlight, who can participate in the LBMA Silver Price auction, and highlight the requirements for any new market participants who are looking and aiming to participate in the auction”.

This is what Bernd Sischka then said about auction ‘Participation’:

“So who can participate in the LBMS Silver Price auction? There are a number of market participants which have signed up for Day 1 participation and successfully participated in the auction process, but obviously given that this benchmark is meant to provide access for a wider range of market participants, and also increase the transparency and establish the LBMA Silver Price as a widely used benchmark, there obviously are certain ways that other participants who have heard about the new LBMA Silver Price, who can actually fulfill certain criteria for participation.

However, Bernd Sischka did not explain or even list what the LBMA accreditation criteria consisted of:

“So I will just briefly highlight what those requirements are. First of all there are certain benchmark criteria which are set out by the LBMA, given that the LBMA is accrediting all the market participants. That is probably one of the key requirements that have to be fulfilled..

.. followed on by from the Thomson Reuters side, we’ve got a participant code of conduct which is a legal document which we require as the administrator, for every market participant to sign up to, and then thirdly from the CME side, obviously given that the CME operates the electronic auction platform, there are technological requirements and documents, and legal documents, that need to be signed off by the individual market participants, in order to be able to participate in the auction platform.”

About the methodology document, Bernd Sischka said:

“the second key document is a very extensive methodology document which goes into much more detail which was drafted by the CME, LBMA and Thomson Reuters as a joint document”.

 

During Ruth Crowell’s part of the session, she discussed the survey that the LBMA had launched in May 2014 to solicit views on improvements to the then existing Silver Fixing. This survey received 444 responses from interested parties in the Silver Market. While discussing slide 19 of the presentation, Crowell stated that there was a:

clear demand that came out that there was market satisfaction with the current mechanism, but demand for some improvement, particularly further transparency, as well as increased direct participation, and we had 25% of those 444 coming back saying they would be interested, and we’re still interested in having all of those participants on board, and I can talk a little bit about that later, and I know Harriett will as well.”

However, the later discussion in the webinar from Ruth Crowell and Harriet Hunnable did not talk about extended participation until an attendee of the webinar specifically asked a question about it.

After the formal presentation completed, there was a Q&A session for the attendees, with the questions submitted via the webinar and read out by Douglas Pollack.

Question:

“According to the presentation, phase 3 introduction of centralised clearing and CCP….Does this mean that the London price, trading loco London, becomes more exchange based, rather than OTC market?”

Harriett Hunnable:

“Lets go ..to slide 27,..ehm..central clearing is not something we’ve spoken about here because we wanted to focus on what’s up and running on Day 1 and how it’s set up”

Note: By 19 August 2014, the CME’s slide on ‘Phase 3 – Centralised Clearing’ had been distorted and the first bullet point which had previously stated…

Central counterparty clearing will enable greater direct participation in the London Silver Price”

had now become…

“CME Group’s London Clearing House – CME Clearing Europe – can facilitate central clearing CCP of spot transactions such as the LBMA Silver Price”

TR 15 Aug 2014 phase 3

Harriett Hunnable continued:

We have discussed with the LBMA and with a number of interested participants…., it is possible today to centrally clear through our clearing houses, at CME Group silver spot and silver forward transactions and it is possible that at a later stage we introduce under the auspices of the LBMA, central clearing, into this model…

..and we’ve called that phase 3, just to illustrate that there are several steps that need to be gone through to get there. ….to answer that question, will it become an exchange traded market, no, this remains an over the counter product, it is not listed on a recognised investment exchange, so whether it remains like it is today, whether it is bilaterally cleared, from one participant to another participant, or centrally cleared with a clearing house in the middle, it will remain an over-the-counter marketplace, and it will not be an exchange marketplace.”

 

Ruth Cowell:

The advantage with centralised clearing, particularly for the pricing mechanism, is that we can really exponentially grow the amount of direct participants, and that was something that was really highlighted during the working group and the testing is that credit is an issue, and obviously in the old model, the participants in it had quite high credit with one another, but managing the credit in the new system is something that we’ve …..addressed, but there is a limit when it comes to.. there’s a difference between a small participant and one of the larger institutions credit wise, you still want to allow liquidity, but centralised clearing is a way to get to meet all of those things …..”

Question:

“What happens to London Precious Metals Clearing Limited?”

Ruth Cowell:…. nothing happens to London Precious Metals Clearing Limited. It remains the institution which is separate from the LBMA…..and.. it continues business as usual..”

Harriett Hunnable: “..business as usual in London.

Douglas Pollack:Nice easy answer on that one!”

It appears to me that there was a reluctance of the presenters to talk about London Precious Metals Clearing Limited (listen to the webinar to see what I mean).

 

Question:

“Will actual direct participating members who are direct participants become brokers for their underlying clients?”

Harriett Hunnable:

“They may do and some of them may decide not to…so it is very possible that we have a major producer who wants to become a direct participant and does so. It is possible that we have a trading company and a bank who are…both of whom act as brokers for other participants, and accept their orders and place them on the fixing …so the model allows for clear direct participation and what you might call aggregated direct participation…so yes, we expect some of the participants to take direct orders from others but it’s not a requirement.”

Ruth Cowell:

“And that’s the way it has traditionally worked…I think for a lot of participants, particularly those who haven’t been involved in the process, if you’re looking at institutions, like producers, if they have significant business to do during the auction then they could probably make a business case to become a direct participant, ..put the controls and the governance in place, however, if it’s something that they are just doing a few times per year, they probably, I would expect, would do business the way they traditionally have, through their metals partner”

That said…many of the accredited participants have made it clear that if you’re someone who is another bank or trading house, they may not be willing to take your orders on the long-term basis, and that is something that has got to change….and because there is direct participation that is comparable…if you’re the type of player that should be directly involved from their perspective, they reserve the right to say no.”

Harriett Hunnable:

So this is really the new world, this is not the old fixing…..this is wider participation…and the London bullion market is really encouraging that…this is the new world, or the LBMA Silver Price!”.

Question:

“Why have some participants refused to take others from a lot of semi-pros for the new LBMA Silver Price?

Ruth Cowell:

What we want to see is more direct participation. If you’re an institution who should be directly involved or able to have the controls, because you’re participating in another benchmark, the market would like to see those people there as well, which is why a lot of the traditional players have said we will not take your orders. We don’t want to have just the liability on ourselves, we want everyone to put direct participation in, so it stops being only a few institutions.

In the new mechanism it’s definitely a big change….in that there’s not the ownership and liability that we had with the old,…..ultimately everyone is a participant, they are not obliged to participate every day, if they don’t participate then they don’t share the differential so it is something that you can be accredited for and when you have business, you put that business in, it’s not a blind ….in the same way as the past.”

 

Question:

What phase is the current implementation, is there a roadmap to phase 3?”

Ruth Cowell:

There is a roadmap for phase 3, there is also a roadmap for phase 2..and that’s something we’ve been working with the participants and potential participants on, in conjunction with the CME Group and Thomson Reuters. So if there is interest I invite you to engage with the LBMA and we can put you in touch with the right people to start sharing and building that roadmap together.

 

I think the above spin speaks for itself. No comment necessary. But I advise readers and especially journalists to listen to the 2 webinars above, and to begin asking proper questions to the LBMA, to Thomson Reuters, and to the CME Group.

The above webinar was the morning Thomson Reuters webinar session. Coverage of the 19 August 2014 afternoon webinar session (London afternoon) by a Resource Clips article ‘Claims of greater transparency fail to satisfy critics of the LBMA silver price referred to it thus:

“Phase II will bring more participants, possibly including trading houses, large refiners and producers, according to the CME, which expects to see “a big jump in terms of who can take part.” Those who seldom trade or can’t meet the LBMA criteria may do business through a broker or banker.

Wider participation will further enhance transparency says Harriet Hunnable, CME head of precious metals”.

There was also a Q&A session at the second August 19 webinar and the Resource Clips web site covered some of the Q&A topics. The questions chosen to be answered in the second webinar were far less challenging than those in the morning webinar session, and, according to Resource Clips, covered topics such as regulation of the auction, purpose of the algorithm, reason for having a minimum 100,000 ounce lot size and ‘physical’ delivery.

Even so, Resource Clips concluded in its article that:

Some of those (Q&A) replies might have benefited from greater conviction, not to mention clarity.”

 

LBMA distances itself from the scandal

Some journalists, such as in Platts, have admittedly now begun to ask the pertinent questions. But the ‘Gang of 3′ entities that should be answering the questions are refusing to do so.

Apart from the mis-leading and disingenuous 4 February “Joint statement by Thomson Reuters, CME Group and the independent Silver Price Oversight Committee” (see above), the auction owner (LBMA), administrator (Thomson Reuters) and calculation agent (CME Group) have not co-operated with those asking the questions, such as Platts. From a Platts article on the afternoon of 4 February 2016:

“The LBMA, which does not participate in daily operations, declined to comment on the matter.

Both CME and Thomson Reuters declined to comment, pending an investigation into last week’s settlement issues.”

The LBMA looks to be running scared and has distanced itself from the latest silver price manipulation controversy. The one noncommittal acknowledgement that the LBMA did communicate on 2 February (after pressure and contact from silver market participants) was only transmitted via a link to a page that had been uploaded to an obscure email management software app called createsend.com – See link http://createsend.com/t/j-85A8744E09A02D2B and below is the screenshot.  Notice how the LBMA seeks to highlight in a few places in its release, the roles and responsibilities of Thomson Reuters and the CME Group. Rats on a sinking ship perhaps:

 

crisis mgt lbma

The above bereft LBMA update does not even acknowledge that the LBMA owns the intellectual property rights to LBMA Silver Price (as well as similar ownership rights to the LBMA Gold Price). The LBMA registered the Trademarks for both the LBMA Silver Price and the LBMA Gold Price on the same day, August 15 2014. See LBMA Silver Price Trademark and LBMA Gold Price Trademark.

The LBMA also updated its website after 28 January 2016 by adding an entire ‘Governance and Oversight’ section near the top of its LBMA Silver Price description page pinning the responsibility on Thomson Reuters and the CME Group.

The first screenshot is from a Google cache imprint on 28 January 2016. This cache has now updated but a Wayback Machine imprint with the same information from 22 September 2015 shows the same imprint.

silver with Mitsui

The second current version of this LBMA Silver Price web page shows the hastily added ‘Governance and Oversight’ paragraph, with similar text to that which appeared in the LBMA’s arms-length email stunt using createsend.com.

Governance added - silver without Mitsui

In the above 2 screenshots, you will notice that the ‘Accredited Price Participants’ paragraph has also been highlighted. It was only after the 28 January 2016 silver price fiasco auction that the LBMA suddenly changed its text and pulled Mitsui and Co Precious Metals Inc from the list of 6 participants of the LBMA Silver Price. Why were there 6 participants accredited on 28 January, but only 5 participants accredited on 29 January? And why was Mitsui still listed as a silver auction participant when it was reported in October 2015 to be “shutting down precious in London and New York in December” according to Reuters “Mitsui to shut precious metals business in London, New York-sources“.

Even an early version of an article from BullionDesk on 28 January reported that

The [silver] price is set every day by six participants – HSBC, JPMorgan Chase Bank, Mitsui & Co Precious Metals, The Bank of Nova Scotia, Toronto Dominion Bank and UBS – using a system run by CME and Thomson Reuters“.

Thomson Reuters (as administrator of the LBMA Silver Price) only very recently added a number of compliance type documents to its website. In one of them, the ‘silver price participant code of conduct‘, there is a paragraph about a participant needing to give 1 month’s notice of withdrawing from the auction:

Participants Notice of Withdrawal
1.5 Participants considering withdrawing from the LBMA Silver Price Benchmark auction process must endeavor to provide Thomson Reuters with at least one calendar month’s notice in order to protect the continuation of the Benchmark.

On launch day in August 2014, the LBMA trumpeted the addition of Mitsui to the LBMA Silver Price but has now reverted to very quietly amending its website when Mitsui has departed.

 

The Gang of Six

The new LBMA Silver Price was launched on 15 August 2014, administered by Thomson Reuters, with CME Group as auction calculation agent. On launch day there were only 3 direct participants, Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotia Mocatta), HSBC Bank USA NA, and the now infamous Mitsui & Co Precious Metals Inc. HSBC and Scotia had been existing members of the London Silver Market Fixing Limited company, in conjunction with Deutsche Bank.

On 15 August 2014, the LBMA  claimed that it “fully expects the list of price participants will grow over the coming weeks” and that “these participants include banks, trading houses, refiners and producers”. This growth of participants, as readers will be aware, never happened. Scandalously, only 3 further participants ever joined the LBMA Silver Price auction, and these 3 participants were all banks which had representatives on the 10 person LBMA Management Committee. UBS joined the Silver auction on 26 September 2014JP Morgan Chase Bank joined the Silver auction on 14 October 2014, and The Toronto Dominion Bank signed up to the auction on 6 November 2014.

During that time, the 10 person LBMA Management Committee of the LBMA included Steven Lowe of Bank of Nova Scotia-ScotiaMocatta (Vice-Chairman), Peter Drabwell of HSBC Bank USA NA, Kevin Roberts of JP Morgan Chase Bank, Philip Aubertin of UBS AG, Robert Davis of Toronto Dominion Bank, and Anne Dennison of Mitsui. The chances of the only 6 participants ever to join the LBMA Silver Price auction being 6 of the 8 banks which were represented on the LBMA Management Committee when they signed up, is infinitely small.

 

Gates and Obstacles to Wider Participation crafted from Day 1 in August 2014

On August 15, a document titled Commodities Benchmark Methodologies: LBMA Silver Price was published under the name of Thomson Reuters, the administrator of the new LBMA Silver Price benchmark. Some of this was covered in a section of the BullionStar blog post “Chinese Banks as direct participants in the new LBMA Gold and Silver Price auctions? Not so fast!“, but is critical here to understand which entities can and can’t participate in the Silver auction.

This Silver Price methodology guide was jointly written by the LBMA, Thomson Reuters, and the CME Group and discusses the methodology that the three groups have established for the silver price benchmark, including the criteria that qualifies an applicant to be authorised as a silver auction participant.

This LBMA Silver Price Methodology document states that:

 “Participation in the auction is open to all silver market participants who meet the following conditions:

  1. meet the Benchmark Participant criteria set out by the LBMA
  2. meet the Participation criteria set out by Thomson Reuters as the Administrator
  3. meet the requirements set by CME Benchmark Europe Ltd to use the technology platform and

participate in the auction market place.

The market participants are accredited by the LBMA; access to the auction platform is approved by CME Benchmark Europe Ltd.

It’s important to look at each of these three sets of criteria/requirements as these criteria/requirements are the basis under which the LBMA plays the role of gatekeeper in deciding which applicants to allow to join the new silver auction process. It’s also important to note the distinction between participant criteria and participation criteria:

The LBMA’s Benchmark Participant criteria

In a section titled “Benchmark Participant criteria”, the document states:

  • A participant has to be a Full Member (Ordinary or Market Making) of the LBMA.
  • The participant also needs to have a Loco London Clearing account.
  • Applicants to be a Full LBMA Member must demonstrate that they:
  • actively trade spot, options or forwards in the London Bullion Market
  • Pass KYC (know your customer) procedures
  • Declare conformance with the Non-Investment Products Code
  • Applications are subject to review and ultimate approval by LBMA
  • The participant has to accept and implement the Thomson Reuters LBMA Silver Price Participant Code of Conduct
  • Participation is additionally subject to the requirements set by CME Benchmark Europe Ltd for use of the technology platform and for participation in the auction (e.g., in respect of credit arrangements)

In a further section titled “Accreditation of Participants” the document states:

  • Participants will be accredited by the LBMA based on the Benchmark Participant Criteria
  • Accredited Price Participants will be listed separately on the LBMA website

There is no reference in the Thomson Reuters document to the phrase to the concept of ranking participants based on ‘credit ratings’ or ‘credit scores’ as Jack Allen of CME stated in the CME webinar when he said “LBMA Market Makers with consistent and constant bilateral credit facilities“.

Note that all of the market-making members of the LBMA already meet the LBMA’s benchmark participant criteria and just need to receive formal LBMA authorisation and sign up to the CME’s platform and participation requirements.

Thomson Reuters’ Participation Criteria

Thomson Reuters’ participation criteria refer to the fact that “all participants are required to adopt the LBMA Silver Price Participant Code of Conduct. This is addressed in a section titled “Benchmark Participant Codes of Conduct”.

CME Benchmark Europe Ltd Requirements

The CME Benchmark Europe Ltd also has requirements which participants must adhere to. These requirements relate to the use of the technology platform and to participating in the auction.

One participation requirement cited in the document is “in respect of credit arrangements”. These credit arrangement refer to the bi-lateral credit lines between the participating bank in the auction.

According to the methodology guide, the auction platform also has a credit screener built-in which ensures “that an order entered by a participant will not result in that participant exceeding their pre-set credit limit”.

Auction participants also need to sign the CME Benchmark Europe Ltd Participation Agreement.

 

Limitations of the Silver Price Auction in terms of IOSCO

The most obvious limitation of the LBMA participant criteria is that auction participants are required to be Full Members of the LBMA, and so the auction is not representative of the global Silver Market.

The IOSCO benchmark principles state that a benchmark should be a reliable representation of interest, i.e. that it should be representative of the market it is trying to measure. Interest is measured on metrics such as market concentration. In the Thomson Reuters methodology document, on page 11 under benchmark design principles, the authors estimate that there are 500-1000 active trading entities in the global silver market.

4.2 Financial Benchmarks Design Principles

Reliable representation of the interest:

“Market concentration Estimated ~500-1000 active trading entities; an estimated 5 market markets at launch date rising to approximately 15 spot market makers in the auction.”

Yet there are only 75 full members of the LBMA, 61 of which are Ordinary members, and some of these ordinary members are just logistical and infrastructure type entities. Even the 66 Associates and 9 affiliates of the LBMA cannot even apply to participate directly in the Silver auction. Therefore, due to the strict auction participant criteria, a handful of LBMA market-makers are being assigned to globally represent the 500-1000 active trading entities. The Methodology document also foresaw 15 spot market makers in the auction. Where too are these 15 spot market makers?

 

The IOSCO benchmark design principles, page 11, also recommend measuring a metric called “relative size of the underlying market in relation to the volume of trading (the volume of trading that is being used to form the benchmark)”.

iii. Relative size of the underlying market in relation to the volume of trading

Volumes in the LBMA Silver Price auction are a fraction of the daily volume traded in the silver futures and OTC markets

The Thomson Reuters methodology document admits that “volumes in the LBMA Silver Price are a fraction of the daily volume traded in the silver futures and OTC markets”.

The first day of the LBMA Silver Price auction only saw a net 525,000 ounces of silver offered and a net 325,000 ounces bid. Since the CME group and Thomson Reuters don’t provide any other volume data beyond this net data, on face value this looks like a miniscule amount of silver compared to global daily silver trading, and it not representative of anything in particular. Net auction volume data is not useful without the pyramid of gross trade data that may or may not lie underneath it.

 

All for One and One for All

Finally, since this article started with the Statement jointly issued by Thomson Reuters, CME Europe and the ‘Independent’ Silver Price Oversight Committee, let’s look at what exactly these 3 entities are.

The new LBMA Silver Price is therefore being ‘run’ by a combination of three entities, namely, the LBMA, CME Group and Thomson Reuters, but more specifically, the LBMA, CME Benchmark Europe Ltd. (“CMEBEL”), and Thomson Reuters Benchmark Services Ltd. (“TRBSL”).

There is now an extensive disclaimer on the LBMA website addressing the LBMA Silver Price (which obviously wasn’t there during the time of the London Silver Market Fixing Limited company). Given the involvement of the three parties, LBMA, CME and Thomson Reuters, together they now comprise the ‘Disclaiming Parties’. The introduction of this (long) disclaimer is as follows:

LBMA Silver Price (“Benchmark”) is owned by The London Bullion Market Association (“LBMA”), calculated by CME Benchmark Europe Ltd. (“CMEBEL”) and administered by Thomson Reuters Benchmark Services Ltd. (“TRBSL”).

None of LBMA, CMEBEL, TRBSL, their group companies, nor any of their or their group companies’ respective directors, officers, employees or agents (collectively the “Disclaiming Parties”) shall be liable in respect of the accuracy or the completeness of the Benchmark or the market data related thereto (“Market Data”) and none of the disclaiming parties shall have any liability for any errors, omissions, delays or interruptions in providing the Benchmark or market data.”

So who are CEMBEL and TRBSL?

 

Thomson Reuters Benchmark Services Limited

The administrator of the LBMA Silver Price process is a freshly established subsidiary of Thomson Reuters called “Thomson Reuters Benchmark Services Limited” (TRBSL).

Thomson Reuters Benchmark Services Limited is a private limited company, company number 08541574 which was incorporated on May 25, 2013, but only really ‘launched’ in March 2014. TRBSL has a registered address of “The Thomson Reuters Building, 30 South Colonnade, Canary Wharf, London E14 5EP”.

Initially the directors appointed to TRBSL were legal and compliance staff from Thomson Reuters including David Mitchley, Global Compliance Controller. From October 2013 onwards these directors were replaced by other directors from Thomson Reuters, namely Peter Moss, Head of Trading, Mark Beaumont, Global head of Treasury, John Cooley, Global Head of Indexes and Reference Rates, and Philip Wellard, Head of Transaction Services. TRBSL was then publicly launched in March 2014 via various press releases. Philip Wellard resigned from TRBSL in May 2014.

Mark Beaumont was a director of TRBSL all the way through the LBMA consultation and selection process but then dropped off the director list on July 17 2014, a few days after the LBMA had selected Thomson Reuters to administer the auction. On July 17 2014, another Thomson Reuters executive, Stephen Turner, Global head of Planning and Deployment, Real Time Technology, was appointed as a director of TRBSL. Julian Day, Global Head of Fixing Operations at Thomson Reuters was appointed to TRBSL in October 2014, Peter Moss dropped off in March 2015, Tobius Sproehnle, Global head of Benchmark Services at Thomson Reuters was appointed to TRBSL in June 2015, and interestingly, the company’s Auditor resigned on 1 October 2015. Why would the auditor have resigned?

Thomson Reuters established TRBSL so as to have a separately governed and registered entity to provide benchmark services. This was partially done for compliance reasons in light of regulatory guidance and client expectations in the wake of the LIBOR scandal, when regulators took action against some of the banks that contributed to BBA LIBOR. TRBSL is now regulated by the FCA.

LIBOR had been administered by BBA LIBOR Ltd and calculated and published by Thomson Reuters. John Ewan (see below), a director of BBA LIBOR Ltd, left BBA LIBOR Ltd in 2012 and joined Thomson Reuters as Head of Fixings Business Development, and worked with Mark Beaumont on promoting the benchmark calculation and publication services of Thomson Reuters (see below). Ultimately, the senior people listed above are responsible for the LBMA Silver Price given that they are directors of TRBSL.

Note that LIBOR is now a regulated benchmark and regulated by the FCA since April 2015. ICE Benchmark Administration is the administrator of ICE LIBOR and also oversees the methodology and calculation process of this benchmark.

 

CME Benchmark Europe Limited

CME Benchmark Europe Ltd is a newly incorporated legal entity, purely set up for the LBMA Silver Price. CME Benchmark Europe Ltd (CMEBEL) is a private limited company, company number 09165067, which was only incorporated on 6 August 2014, a week before the new LBMA Silver Price auction went live.

On 6 August 2014, CEMBEL had a registered address of “3 More London Riverside, London SE1 2AQ”, which is the same address as law firm Norton Rose LLP, located near London Bridge Station. The secretary of the company is “Norose Company Secretarial Services Limited”, also of 3 More London Riverside, London SE1 2AQ. Norton Rose acts as outside legal counsel for CME Europe.

On 6 August 2014, the sole director of the company was Clive Weston, 3 More London Riverside, London SE1 2AQ. Clive Weston is listed with an occupation of company secretary. On 7 August 2014, the registered office of CME Benchmark Europe Ltd was re-registered to 4th Floor, One New Change, London EC4M 9AF, which is CME’s London headquarters office.

On 1 October 2014, two Appointment of Director forms were filed with Companies House on behalf of CMEBEL, appointing two CME employees as directors of CMEBEL. These forms were backdated to 6 August 2014. So, technically, the CME auction was being run for over six weeks by a company that had only one director and this director was a company secretary employed by law firm Norton Rose, who was not a direct employee of the CME Group. The forms filed on 1 October 2014 appointed William Knottenbelt and Adrienne Seaman as directors of CMEBEL. William Knottenbelt is CEO of CME Europe. Adrienne Seaman is CME Group associate general counsel for EMEA.

In February 2015, Richard Bodnum, md Tax, Jill Harley, md Corp Fin Services and Harriet Hunnable (Global Head of Precious Metals) were appointed to CMEBEL, with Bodnum and Harley both stepping down as directors in June 2015, after which Thomas Krabbe, director of Corporate Finance and Development and Julie Winkler, md Research, Product Development, were appointed as directors the same month, and Gavin Lee was appointed as a director in September 2015. On 11 December 2015, Harriet Hunnable’s directorship of CMEBEl was terminated, since she left the CME Group at that time.

CME Europe Benchmark Limited performs the roles of ‘auction platform operator’ and ‘calculation agent’ for the LBAM Silver Price. Immediately prior to each daily auction the ‘operator’ performs a calculation on diverse CME market data silver price sources in order to establish an opening or seed price that starts the whole auction process. CME Direct is used as the auction platform. This is an electronic trading platform for trading OTC and exchange traded markets.

According to Thomson Reuters, “the calculation agent is a legal entity with delegated responsibility for determining a benchmark through the application of a formula….with the methodology set out by the administrator”.

CME Europe Benchmark Limited also has an ‘Auctions Market Team’. This team is part of the CME Global Command Center (GCC) some of whom are located in the CME’s London office at One New Change in the City of London.

Additionally, according to the LBMA Silver Price methodology paper “CME Benchmark Europe Ltd will conduct limited monitoring of live auction activity for suspicious bids, offers, or trades.” As to why this monitoring of live auction activity is limited and not constant is not addressed by the administrator, Thomson Reuters.

 

‘Independent’ Silver Price Oversight Committee

You may recall that the statement on the LBMA Silver Price issued on 4 February was issued by Thomson Reuters, the CME Group and “the independent Silver Price Oversight Committee”. Who and what is this independent committee?

In March 2015, I asked Thomson Reuters by email as to who was on this committee. The question was precipitated by the fact that the LBMA Gold Price, administered by ICE Benchmark Administration (IBA) had just launched the LBMA Gold Price (on 20 March 2015) and had appointed its Oversight Committee. The Silver Price methodology guide had referred to a LBMA Silver Price Oversight Committee, but it did not explain who was on such as committee or whether it actually existed in practice.

Thomson Reuters replied to me in March 2015 that:

“Yes we are pleased to confirm there is an LBMA Silver Price Oversight Committee, as mentioned in our methodology guide. We will release the committee members names in due course (we have not yet made them public) and committee procedures will be in full compliance with all FCA requirements when silver becomes an FCA-regulated benchmark on April 1.” [2015]

This list had still not been published on the Thomson Reuters website by September 2015, as this Archive (Wayback) link makes clear. So 6 months after Thomson Reuters said they would release the list ‘in due course’ it still wasn’t on the website. The list was eventually published sometime between September and December 2015.

Fast forward to the end of January 2016 when the embarrassing LBMA Silver Price auction took place, and this was probably the first time in quite a while that Thomson Reuters and CME Group and LBMA had actually given any thought to the ‘Independent Oversight Committee’. For in a google cache link from 29 January, it still listed a version of the Committee list with Harriet Hunnable listed as the CME Group representative, and Harriet Hunnable left the CME Group in December 2015, as explained above, and as Reuters reported:

CME Group Inc’s executive director for metals products, Harriet Hunnable, will leave the company later this month, a CME spokesman said on Wednesday.

Where does Hunnable’s departure from CME leave all of the improvements of wider participation and central clearing for the LBMA Silver Price that she promised the attendees during those 2 webinars in July and August 2014?

HH

You can see a Bing cache of this page from 24 January 2016 here. Bing sometimes has its uses. It was only after the suspect price auction on 28 January that the named CME representative was amended on the list from Harriet Hunnable to Gavin Lee, suggesting that no one even noticed the out of date information until Thomson Reuters realised that there were lots of eyes looking for this list. Importantly, there are NO published minutes of ANY meetings held by this LBMA Silver Price Oversight Committee, ever. Contrast that to the LBMA Gold Price Oversight Committee which has published minutes of 6 of its meetings since 27 February 2015.

As the 4 February ‘joint statement’ at the top of this article said:

“In addition to its regular meetings, the [Silver] Committee has held two extraordinary meetings since the auction on Thursday January 28, 2016″

So, where are the minutes for these meeting and for any of the ‘regular’ meetings, which obviously hadn’t taken place at least since Harriet Hunnable left CME Group in early December 2015.

Lets look at these 8 individuals on the Silver oversight committee?

Gavin Lee is head of benchmark services at CME. Courtney Lynn is treasurer at Coeur Mining. She also says in her Linkedin profile that she is on the “LBMA Silver Price Oversight Committee” and joined this committee in April 2015, and that the “LBMA Silver Price oversight committee reviews and maintains the definition, setting, scope and methodology of the LBMA Silver Price benchmark.” This is the same Courtney Lynn of Coeur Mining who told Bloomberg in August 2014 in relation to new LBMA Silver auction, that:

“We hope to have the opportunity to become a direct participant down the road and look forward to working with the LBMA, CME and other silver producers to drive the evolution of this market.”

Hope springs eternal….because with price manipulation in the Silver auction, and Mitsui now departed from the Silver auction, it looks like the evolution of the market is being driven backwards rather than forwards. Even being on the Oversight Committee doesn’t seem to be enough for the LBMA to allow Coeur to become a direct participant in the LBMA Silver Price auction.

The “Neil Stocks”, who is “Independent chairman” of this committee, appears to be the Neil Stocks who is global head of compliance at UBS. There can’t be many “Neil Stocks” in London that fit the role of being able to be appointed as chair of a Silver Price oversight committee, but Thomson Reuters doesn’t see fit to ascribe Neil Stocks to any organisation, presumably because that would make him less independent. If it is the Neil Stocks from the infamous precious metals manipulator UBS (that made clear attempts to manipulate the prices of precious metals), than that is not independent since UBS is one of the 5 remaining direct participants in the Silver auction. Sakhila Mirza is the general counsel for the LBMA and a member of the LBMA Gold Price Oversight Committee.

Now we come to the infamous John Ewan from Thomson Reuters, and remember that Thomson Reuters is the officially retained administrator of the LBMA Silver Price benchmark. This is the same John Ewan who worked at the British Bankers Association and was managing director of BBA Libor Ltd (surely with oversight?) and was subsequently referred as Mr Libor. This is also the same John Ewan, who according to the Wall Street Journal article from 2012:

assured participants that the BBA had rigorous quality-control measures to prevent any problems, the minutes indicate” and “advocated further expansion, touting the potential revenue from broadening Libor’s reach”

 This is also the same John Ewan whose senior at Thomson Reuters, wrote a letter in Q4 2012 introducing Ewan to benchmark contributor associations:

I am writing to introduce myself and some key contacts at Thomson Reuters, to provide an update on our recent activities with regard to benchmark fixings and to make some proposals to improve fixings to the advantage of both you as a sponsor and partner as well as the broader market and end users of the data.”

There has been regulatory action taken against contributors to BBA LIBOR, by authorities acting in co-ordination.  Regulators and other authorities have announced inquiries, consultations and other actions”

Thomson Reuters has unrivalled experience in calculating and publishing fixings and benchmarks.

We invest in teams of experts, close to key markets, who specialize in the collation, calculation, publication and onward distribution of fixings content. These teams can also provide the specialist   analysis and reporting required to guide your decisions on potential changes, challenges to contributors and process improvements.”

In short we are passionate about fixings and proud to provide a service which assures data of the highest quality.

The global regulatory community is currently focussing on BBA LIBOR.

Please address any correspondence to either John Ewan, whose contact details are below, or directly to myself.

John Ewan, Head of Fixings Business Development, Thomson Reuters, The Thomson Reuters building, South Colonnade, London E14 5EP, Email:    john.ewan@thomsonreuters.com

“We believe that accurate well-governed benchmarks, fixings and indices are vital tools that allow market participants to have confidence that markets are clean and efficient and we welcome any level of debate on the topic.

Mark Beaumont, Global Head of OTC Market Content, Thomson Reuters, mark.beaumont@thomsonreuters.com

The final 3 committee members are Martyn Smith, bullion development manager at The Royal Mint, Bernhard Fuchs, senior vp at Umicore, Simon Weeks, md at Scotiabank, who is also former chairman of the LBMA, former chairman and director of the London Gold Fixing, former chairman of the London Silver Fixing etc.

 

Conclusion – Can’t get Fooled Again?

Such a strong Libor scandal to LBMA Silver Price connection in the form of Mr. Libor becoming ‘Head of Fixings’ business development at Thomson Reuters is in my view problematic, even from an image point of view. You could not make this up. The guy in charge of BBA Libor is now the Oversight Committee representative of the Administrator of the LBMA Silver Price benchmark, a benchmark which trust in is rapidly disappearing, just like the trust in Libor evaporated. It also brings to mind the famous George Bush junior quote, when he said:

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once,… shame on.. — ..shame on… you. Fool me,.eh,. — you can’t get fooled again!”

Furthermore, what happened to “increased direct participation” as Ruth Crowell said was needed, and what happened to her interest in having 25% of 444 participants (or 111 participants) come on board?

Why was there an initial rush in 5 weeks in July-August 2015 that pressured the CME Group to come up with a rudimentary system that could not handle central clearing, and yet 18 months later there has been no evolution of the system?

Why was there mis-leading evidence from the LBMA, CME Group and Thomson Reuters in July-August 2014 that wider participation and central clearing would happen in the Silver auction and then these developments never happened? Who leaned on CME to back off on central clearing?

Why is the joint statement from Thomson Reuters, the CME Group and the ‘Independent’ LBMS Silver Price Oversight Committee referring to wider participation and central clearing as if it was a fresh plan, when in fact it was the original plan in July – August 2014 that got pushed to one side. And why did it get pushed to one side. Cui bono?

Why is the LBMA giving an advantage to the bullion bank participants in the LBMA Silver Price auction by perpetuating a system where direct participants are required to maintain bilateral credit limits?

Where is the Financial Conduct Authority in all these developments and why has it not made any statement? Remember, the LBMA Silver Price is now a Regulated benchmark.

Where are the Chinese banks that said that they wanted to become direct participants in the LBMA Silver Price auction?

Which trading entity was putting massive and increasing sell orders into the midday Silver fixing on 28 January?

These are just some of the questions that remain outstanding in what has surely been the most suspicious financial benchmark launch of all time.