Tag Archives: LBMA Silver Price

Guest Post: How to Trigger a Silver Avalanche by a Pebble: “Smash(ed) it Good”

UBS and other precious metals traders on how to wreak havoc in silver markets

Written by Allan Flynn, specialist researcher in aspects of gold and silver.

avalanche

“An avalanche can be triggered by a pebble if you get the timing right” 

Earlier this year at April’s hearings for London Silver and Gold Fix lawsuits, the judge and defendant’s attorney quipped about trader chats named “the mafia” and “the bandits” published in prosecutors findings of Forex investigations but conspicuously absent from precious metals investigation findings, and the silver and gold antitrust lawsuits under consideration.

THE COURT: “Those were bad facts for the defendants.”

LACOVARA: “I think, your Honor, that if we had chat rooms that said “The Cartel”, we might be having a different focus to oral argument today.”

THE COURT: “I think that is correct.”

Given the judges skepticism of the allegations described in an earlier article, it came as a surprise early October when the banks listed were ordered by magistrate Valerie E. Caproni to face charges. More surprising perhaps was the exemption granted Swiss bank UBS, which despite having been found guilty and fined for “precious metals misconduct” by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA in November 2014, was granted motion to dismiss from both silver and gold lawsuits.

All that may be about to change according to documents filed in a New York district court December 7th, where plaintiffs claim that transcripts showing conspiracy to manipulate silver, provided by Deutsche Bank as part of an April settlement agreement, includes extensive smoking gun evidence involving UBS and other banks. Plaintiffs describe a “multi-year, well-coordinated and wide-ranging conspiracy to rig the prices of silver and silver financial instruments that far surpasses” that of the previous complaint, including potentially incriminating evidence of UBS precious metals traders allegedly conspiring with other banks.

Five additional banks to the remaining defendants HSBC and Bank of Nova Scotia are mentioned including Barclays Bank, BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered Bank, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. The Memorandum of Law signed by Vincent Briganti on behalf of Lowey Dannenberg Cohen & Hart for plaintiffs on Wednesday 7th December seeks leave to amend the existing complaint filed with the United States District Court Southern District of New York.

Included in the memo are numerous astounding transcripts indicating coordination between UBS and other banks of “pushing,” ”smashing,” ”bending,” ”hammering,” ”blading,” ”muscling,” and “ramping” the prices of silver and silver financial instruments.

In support of claims of conspiracy to manipulate the price of silver downward the following gem is attributed to UBS Trader A: “so we both went short” “f*cking hell it just kept going higher” “63,65, then my guy falls asleep, it goes to 69 paid!” “then finally another reinforcement came in.

Discussions supposedly of coordination between UBS and their competitors about fixing the price of physical silver by offering only wide spreads between the bid and ask (where a “lac” is reference to an Indian measure equaling 100,000 units) go like this:

UBS Trader B: “what did u quote let me check”

Deutsche Bank Silver Fix Trader-Submitter A: “44/49”

UBS Trader A: “just quote wider if they call me in 1 lac I will quote 7-8 cents”

Deutsche Bank Trader B: “how wide u making 1 lac today 5 cents?”

UBS Trader A: “silver actually steadier than gold i would make 5-6 cents wide in silver”

UBS Trader A: how wide would you quote 5 lacs silver?”

Deutsche Bank Trader B: “10cu>?”

Deutsche Bank Trader B:”how wide u quote for 3 lacs?”

UBS Trader A: 10 cents”).

Manipulation of the Silver Fix price to benefit their silver trading positions in derivatives by UBS is claimed in the following exchanges:

Deutsche Bank Trader B: “u guys short some funky options” “well you told me to no one u just said you sold on fix”

UBS Trader A: “we smashed it good.”

Deutsche Bank Silver Fix Trader-Submitter A: “UBS boring the market again”…”just like them to bid it up before the fix then go in as a seller…they sell to try and push it back.”

It’s further alleged by plaintiffs that UBS implemented an “11 oclock rule” where both UBS and Deutsche Bank would short silver at 11A.M.

As examples of the comparative ease by which UBS moved the silver market the memo reveals Deutsche Bank Trader B added UBS Trader A to a chat with HSBC Trader B, which UBS Trader A deemed “the mother of all chats,” and leading to the trader’s own analysis:

UBS Trader A to Deutsche Bank Trader B: “if we are correct and do it together, we screw other people harder”

UBS Trader A: “an avalanche can be triggered by a pebble if you get the timing right” and “silver still here, u can easily manipulate silver”, and in reference to UBS supposed manipulative influence by an unnamed party: “u guys WERE THE SILVER MKT.”

hobo

UBS intended to reap financial rewards by manipulation of the price of physical silver and associated financial instruments, the memo says as UBS Trader A suggested: “go make your millions now jedi master…”pls write me a check when u aer a billionare,” and “i teach u a fun trick with silver” to which Deutsche Bank Trader B replied: “show me the money.

Confident of their ability to manipulate UBS made bold predictions according to the following alleged extracts:

UBS Trader A: “gonna bend this silver lower”; “i will bend it lower told u”; ”hah cool its gonna get ugly”; “use the blade on silver rg tnow it’ll hold it up,

Deutsche Bank Trader B: “yeah,

UBS Trader A: “gona blade silver now.

Of course all the secrecy in the world about the operations was required of the chat groups by UBS Trader A stating: “pls keep all these trick to yourself,” “btw keep it to yourself…,” and “ok rule of thumb EVERYTHING here stays here.

Examples of other banks alleged transcripts are included in the following:

Barclays

Deutsche Bank Trader B instructing Barclays trader A: “today u smash,

Barclays Trader A: “yeah” and “10k silver” “im short.

It’s alleged that Barclays and Deutsche Bank shared information so often that Barclays Trader A remarked “we are one team one dream.”

Materials in the memo even include the Deutsche Bank and Barclays precious metals traders agreeing at one stage to “stay away” from silver for a week.

The traders of course knew it was terribly wrong with Barclays Trader A responding to Deutsche Bank’s Trader B instruction to “push silver”: “HAHAHA lol i don’t think this is politically correct leh on chat.

Merrill Lynch

Allegedly fixing the bid-ask spread they offered clients on silver:

Merrill Lynch Trader A: “How wide r u on spot? Id assume 10 cents for a few lacs?

Deutsche Bank Silver Fix Trade-Submitter A: “im getting ntg but stops”

…Merrill Lynch Trader A: “we had similar” “I sweep them…Fuk these guys.

Showing disregard to global regulators even after noting their activities the two continued to “sweep” the silver market, allegedly observing at one stage: “Someone got stopped messily.

smash

BNP Paribas Fortis

Fortis Bank Trader B allegedly conspired with Deutsche Bank to manipulate silver prices, using what he termed a “bulldozer” on the silver market.

Standard Chartered

Conversations between Deutsche Bank Silver Fix Trade-Submitter A and Standard Chartered Trader A as follows:

 “Yeh” “small long out of the fix…” “ok where to sell sivler then?

23.40 thru that use it as a stop profit and let it runnnnnnnnnnnnn

were on the same wavelength

im long silver”…”ilke both [silver and gold] to get the absolute sht squeezed out of them” “im longer silver than i am gold

Conclusion

Assuming the transcripts submitted are accepted and plaintiffs are permitted to file their Third Amended Complaint, the possible pending “avalanche” of settlements in silver lawsuits will speak volumes for the investigative prowess of the CFTC and the DOJ, both of which were commissioned to investigate long running allegations of silver and precious metals market manipulation over recent years, and came up completely empty.

It appears Judge Caproni, former FBI General Counsel, was on the money when considering the potential of ineptitude in government investigations of precious metals markets at April’s gold hearing: “I don’t put a lot of stock in the fact that there are investigations because I was a government lawyer for a long time and I know what you need to open an investigation. By the same token, the fact that they closed it without charging anybody doesn’t mean that everybody is innocent. So I don’t put a lot of stock in it one way or the other.”

The CFTC proudly announced in September 2013 they had spent five years and seven thousand enforcement hours investigating complaints of manipulation in the silver market, including with assistance by the Commission’s Division of Market Oversight, the Commission’s Office of Chief Economist, and outside experts, but yet found nothing.

The Department of Justice Antitrust Division which were so confident of their investigation of collusion in precious metals they went to the extraordinary lengths in January of this year of providing a letter to silver and gold lawsuit defendants advising they had closed their investigation without findings of wrongdoing.

The Swiss Financial Services watchdog FINMA investigated, published and prosecuted UBS for forex and precious metals trading misconduct but yet said so little about precious metals findings in their November 2014 investigation report, it was impossible for the court to withstand UBS motion to dismiss in both metals.

And finally of the ability of authorities to reign in rogue banks in the precious metals or any other markets, the memorandum flags a fact that should draw the attention of those trying to figure out if they can indeed trust that their bullion bank has their best interests at heart simply by banning participation in trader chat rooms.

“The chats contained in the DB material are just the tip of the iceberg, as evidence suggests that Defendants intentionally communicated in undocumented ways to keep their manipulation hidden.”

For example the memo includes the salient reminder that banks will always find a way “to evade detection,” in this case where two traders are described as also communicating “via email and personal cell phone.”

The above article was first published at Allan Flynn’s website here.

Allan Flynn is a specialist researcher in aspects of gold and silver. He is currently investigating for future publication on the same topic and works in property and commercial architecture when he needs to eat. He holds shares in precious metals producers and banks.

 

Deutsche Bank agrees to settle with Plaintiffs in London Silver Fixing litigation

In a surprising development, a group of plaintiffs in an antitrust litigation case against Deutsche Bank, HSBC Bank plc, the Bank of Nova Scotia, and UBS AG, have just announced that Deutsche Bank is in the process of negotiating the formal terms of a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs. Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Scotia are the only members of the London Silver Market Fixing Limited, a private company that had operated the London Silver Fixing auctions until mid August 2014, after which time that auction was superseded by the LBMA Silver Price auction.

The case (# 1:14-md-02573-VEC) is being overseen as a class action suit by federal judge Valerie E Caproni in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. A large number of different plaintiffs had taken similar actions and the cases were consolidated into one class action suit. The plaintiffs allege in the suit that Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Scotia colluded to fix the price of silver futures by publishing false silver prices, so that they, as members of London Silver Market Fixing Company would benefit (from the price movements).

The full 1 page letter from the plaintiffs legal representatives Lowey Dannenberg, Cohan & Hart can be read here -> Deutsche letter to Caproni – 13 April 2016 – London Silver Fixing – Lowey Dannenberg Cohen Hart.

In a shocking development for the remaining defendants and the entire future of the current LBMA Silver Price auction, owned by the LBMA, administered in London by Thomson Reuters and calculated by the CME Group,  the letter states that:

“In addition to valuable monetary consideration, Deutsche Bank has also agreed to provide cooperation to plaintiffs, including the production of instant messages, and other electronic communications, as part of the settlement. In Plaintiff’s estimation, the cooperation to be provided by Deutsche Bank will substantially assist Plaintiffs in the prosecution of their claims against the non-settling defendants.

The plaintiffs include Modern Settlings LLC (of New York and Florida), American Precious Metals Ltd, Steven E Summer, Christopher Depaoli, Kevin Maher, Jerry Barrett, Rebeccca Barrett, KPFF Investment Inc, Don Tran, and Laurence Hughes.

The defendants include Deutsche Bank AG and various other Deutsche Bank entities, HSBC Bank Plc, HSBC Bank USA NA, HSBC Holdings Plc, and various other HSBC entities, The Bank of Nova Scotia, and various other Scotia entities, and finally The London Silver Market Fixing Ltd.

Coming on the heels of the unresolved and unexplained fiasco that is the LBMA Silver Price auction and the broken promises by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) about greater auction transparency and wider participation in the new Silver auction (see BullionStar blog “The LBMA Silver Price – Broken Promises on Wider Participation and Central Clearing“) it seems difficult to envisage that the LBMA Silver Price can survive in its current form, with its current participants, of which 2 of the remaining 5 participants are HSBC and Scotia. It will also be interesting to see what the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will say about this development with Deutsche Bank, especially in light of the fact that HSBC and Scotia are now participating in a ‘Regulated Benchmark’ (the LBMA Silver Price), where price manipulation can be criminally prosecuted.

London Silver Market Fixing Limited

The directors of the London Silver Market Fixing Limited company in the months before it ceased doing the London Silver Fixing auctions, were Simon Weeks of Scotia, Matthew Keen of Deutsche Bank, and David Rose of HSBC, with alternate directors of David Wilkinson of Scotia, James Vorley of Deutsche Bank and Peter Drabwell of HSBC. Since the above list was drawn up, UK Companies House filings show that, for London Silver Market Fixing Limited, David Rose ceased to be a director on 5 January 2016, David Wilkinson ceased to be a director on 16 October 2015, James Vorley ceased to be a director on 27 May 2014, and Matthew Keen ceased to be a director on 18 February 2014. According to those filings, it means that Simon Weeks of Scotia and Peter Drabwell of HSBC are still directors of the company that is a defendant in the above New York class action suite.

Surprisingly to some, Simon Weeks of Scotia is listed on the website of LBMA Silver Price administrator Thomson Reuters as still being a member of the LBMA Silver Price Oversight Committee. See list here. Furthermore, the same Simon Weeks is still listed as being a member of the LBMA Gold Price Oversight Committee, chaired by ICE Benchmark Administration. See list here.

Some of the above directors names will also be familiar to readers as directors of the London Gold Market Fixing Limited company, as profiled in the ZeroHedge article “From Rothschild To Koch Industries: Meet The People Who “Fix” The Price Of Gold“.

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.


Six months on ICE – The LBMA Gold Price

It’s now been 6 months since the LBMA Gold Price auction, the much touted replacement to the London Gold Fixings, was launched on an ICE Benchmark Administration (IBA) platform on Friday 20 March 2015.

For anyone not au fait with the gold price auction, the LBMA Gold Price is a twice daily auction that produces the world’s most widely used gold price benchmark, which is then used as a daily pricing source in gold markets and gold products across the globe.

The 6 month anniversary of the LBMA Gold Price’s launch thus provides an opportune time to revisit a few unresolved and little-noticed aspects of this recently launched auction a.k.a. global benchmark.

 

Manipulative Behaviour and the FCA

From 1 April 2015, the LBMA Gold Price also became a ‘Regulated Benchmark’ of the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) along with 6 other systemically important pricing benchmarks, namely, the LBMA Silver Price, ISDAFix, ICE Brent, WM/Reuters fx, Sonia, and Ronia. These 7 benchmarks join the infamously manipulated LIBOR in now being ‘Regulated Benchmarks’.

Manipulating or attempting to manipulate prices in a Regulated Benchmark is now a criminal offence under the Financial Services Act 2012.

Benchmark administrators and contributors must comply with the FCA’s ‘key requirements’ for a regulated benchmark which “include identifying potentially manipulative behaviour, controlling conflicts of interest, and implementing robust governance and oversight arrangements.

The specifics are set out in Chapter 8 of the FCA’s Market Conduct sourcebook (“MAR”), with the details on ‘identifying potentially manipulative behaviour’ covered in MAR 8.3.6 which says that a benchmark administrator must:

identify breaches of its practice standards and conduct that may involve manipulation, or attempted manipulation, of the specified benchmark it administers and provide to the oversight committee of the specified benchmark timely updates of suspected breaches of practice standards and attempted manipulation

and also:

notify the FCA and provide all relevant information where it suspects that, in relation to the specified benchmark it administers, there has been:

(a) a material breach of the benchmark administrator’s practice standards 

(b) conduct that may involve manipulation or attempted manipulation of the specified benchmark it administers; or

(c) collusion to manipulate or to attempt to manipulate the specified benchmark it administers.”

and furthermore that the arrangements and procedures referred to above:

“should include (but not be limited to):

(1) carrying out statistical analysis of benchmark submissions, using other relevant market data in order to identify irregularities in benchmark submissions; and

(2) an effective whistle-blowing procedure which allows any person on an anonymous basis to alert the benchmark administrator of conduct that may involve manipulation, or attempted manipulation, of the specified benchmark it administers.”

Section 91 of the UK Financial Services Act 2012 deems it a criminal offence to intentionally engage “in any course of conduct which creates a false or misleading impression as to the price or value of any investment” which creates “an impression may affect the setting of a relevant benchmark”.

 

Recent Manipulation of Auction Starting Price

All of these FCA  rules and the criminalisation of price manipulation offences sound very good in principle.

It is therefore expected that the ICE Benchmark Administration Gold Price Oversight Committee have been liaising with the FCA about the following developments in the LBMA Gold Price auction that occurred within the period between 20 March 2015 and end of May 2015, which were documented as agenda item 4, on page 2 of the ‘redacted’ minutes of the ICE Benchmark Administration Gold Price Oversight Committee held on 1 June 2015 in London:

“4. Findings since go-live: IBA shared with the Committee that:

 • IBA, and some direct participants, had observed the price of futures spiking during the minutes immediately before the afternoon gold auction starts.
IBA are now de-emphasising use of the futures as a related market to consider when determining the starting price .”

The fact that IBA has deemed it necessary to follow this course of action (i.e. de-emphasise the use of futures as a starting price determinant), and the fact that some entity or entities have been pushing around futures prices as a means of influencing the LBMA Gold Price starting price suggests that nothing has changed in the gold market since the introduction of the new auction, and that the same players who were actively manipulating the gold price back in 2012 are still doing so, despite this becoming a criminal offence under UK law.

Recall that on 23 May 2014 when the  FCA “fined Barclays £26 million for failings surrounding the London Gold Fixing“, in its ‘Final Notice’ explanation it included the following comments on futures prices influencing the fixing price during the protracted and manipulated afternoon fixing of 28 June 2012 :

4.12. At the start of the 28 June 2012 Gold Fixing at 3:00 p.m., the Chairman proposed an opening price of USD1,562.00. However, the proposed price quickly dropped to USD1,556.00, following a drop in the price of August COMEX Gold Futures (which was caused by significant selling in the August COMEX Gold Futures market, independent of Barclays and Mr Plunkett).

“4.18. …before the price was fixed, there were a number of further changes in the levels of buying and selling in the 28 June 2012 Gold Fixing, which coincided with an increase in the price of August COMEX Gold Futures.

4.19. As a result of these changes, the level of buying at USD1,558.50 exceeded the level of selling (155 buying/45 selling), and the proposed price was likely to move higher. Given that the price of August COMEX Gold Futures was trading around USD1,560.00 at this time, if the Chairman did move the proposed price in the 28 June 2012 Gold Fixing higher, it was likely to be to a similar price level (which was higher than the Barrier).”

You can read the entire FCA account of the saga of the 28 June 2012 afternoon fixing here, and think about the consequences and meaning of the IBA move to de-emphasis futures prices and what it signals.

HSBC Gold Vault pallet and gate in background

Publicly Available Procedures – Not!

Which brings us to the procedures for establishing the auction starting price and subsequent prices for each round of the auction. On 28 April 2015, the IBA LBMA Gold Price web page, under ‘Auction Process’, stated that:

“The chairperson sets the starting price and the price for each round based on publicly available procedures.

 I was interested in reading these publicly available procedures, and learning about the price sources and price hierarchies used within the set of price determinants,  so on 28 April 2015, I emailed the IBA communication group and asked:

“I have a question on the LBMA Gold Price methodology.
 
On the IBA LBMA Gold Price web page (https://www.theice.com/iba/lbma-gold-price) under ‘Auction Process’, point 1 states that “The chairperson sets the starting price and the price for each round based on publicly available procedures“.
 
Can you direct me to where these ‘publicly available procedures’ are view-able?
 

Incredibly, IBA received my email that day, and then changed point 1 under ‘Auction Process’ by deleting the original reference to ‘publicly available procedures’ and by copying and pasting in the FAQ answer that I had referred to about ‘in line with current conditions and activity in the auction.

IBA then responded to my email on the same day, 28 April, without answering the question. The IBA response was:

Please note the updated text: ‘The chairperson sets the starting price and the price for each round in line with current market conditions and the activity in the auction’. Thank you for pointing this out.

So, not only did IBA avoid explaining the ‘publicly available procedures‘,  they also covered it up and had the cheek to thank me for pointing it out to them. You can see for yourself the reactionary and firefighting tactics used by IBA in perpetuating non-transparency.

Furthermore, the fact that the original web page said that the procedures were publicly available and then they pulled it suggests that at least someone with responsibility in IBA, maybe naively, originally had been of the view that the pricing procedures were to be publicly available.

I emailed IBA again and said:

“This FAQ answer (to the question “How are the prices set for each round of the auction?) doesn’t really explain anything at all.

My question though is, apart from this one line FAQ answer, are there no more in depth ‘publicly available procedures’ available that explain how the opening price is set, what the price sources used are, what pricing hierarchy is used to select an opening price etc..?”

I’ve looked on your web site and in the FAQs and can’t find them. The only brief reference to price determination in the FAQs is that the chairperson”sets the price in line with current market conditions and activity in the auction.”

To which IBA replied:

This information is not available on our website. However, as you seem to have a few questions, would you be interested in me setting up an off the record briefing with IBA in the next few weeks?”

I did not take IBA up on that offer since I do not think that an off the record briefing is appropriate for something that should be in the public domain. It also highlights the extent to which the vast majority of the financial media are happy to use unidentified sources, off the record briefings, and quotes, and willingly act as the mouthpieces for entities that they are too scared of offending lest they will not get ‘access’ to write their next regurgitated press release for, nor get invited to that entity’s Christmas party.

Next we come to the Chairpersons.

 

Chairpersons Я‘Us

According to a Reuters article on 19 March about the new auction:

“‘Four ex-bankers have been appointed as chairs and will rotate in their duty in the initial six months‘, one source said.”

And who are these four ex-bankers? Well, that is the billion dollar question, because, as Bulliondesk reported on 19 March in its article titled “ICE will not disclose names of chairs in new gold benchmark process“, after attending a press briefing with ICE:

“‘The names of those selected to oversee ICE’s new gold price benchmarking process will not be disclosed, Finbarr Hutcheson, president of ICE Benchmark Administration (IBA), said.

We are keeping that anonymous – we don’t think that it’s meaningful to the marketplace to know who’s running that auction and, frankly, the more we kind of feed the story, there’s just going to be more speculation around that,” he said at a briefing at its offices here.

There’s a legitimate desire to know but actually we don’t want this process to focus on any individual or names of people,” he added.

Not “meaningful to the marketplace to know who’s running the auction“? What sort of statement is that in a free market? If there is a legitimate desire to know, as Hutcheson concedes there is, then why hide the identities?

If anyone needs reminding, the predecessor to the LBMA Gold Price auction was a trading process which, on 23 May 2014, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) saw fit to fine Barclays £26 million “for failings surrounding the London Gold Fixing.” This was also the first and only precious metals trading process in the UK ever to receive a fine from the FCA.

I would suggest that given the history of a ‘proven to have been manipulated daily gold price auction’, whose successor on launch day primarily consisted of the 4 incumbent participants that comprised the previous Gold Fixings auction (including Barclays), then it certainly is meaningful to the marketplace to know who’s running the new auction.

Bulliondesk continued:

“’We have a panel of chairpeople that we are going to use and we have internal expertise as well on that, but we are not disclosing the names of those chairmen,’ Hutcheson said. “It will rotate through the panel but we have a significant bench of available external expertise with back-up if you like.”

Hutcheson declined to name how many chairpeople are on the panel.

But if the oversight committee were to feel that it was appropriate for the names to be disclosed, this stance may change, he suggested.”

And why would the oversight committee feel it to be appropriate or not to divulge the names of the chairpersons of the most important gold pricing benchmark in the world?

J119 and J120

The Changing of the Guard

Its interesting to see how ICE Benchmark Administration’s description of the chairpersons evolved over a short period after the LBMA Gold Price auction was launched on 20 March.

This was the initial version of the ICE IBA web site description of the Chairperson on 20 March (see screenshot 1 below also):

“The chairperson has extensive experience in the gold market, and is appointed by IBA, and therefore independent of the auction process.”

A week later, a revised, more lengthy version of the Chairperson description had appeared on the ICE IBA web site (see screenshot 2 below also):

“The Chair is appointed by IBA and is independent of any firm associated with the auction, including direct participants. The chair is externally sourced, but works with the IBA team to deliver a robust process for determination of the LBMA Gold Price.”

The Chair facilitates the determination of the LBMA Gold Price by providing his extensive market experience to assist in setting the price in each round of an IBA gold auction.”

By July, the second paragraph of the second version above had been changed to read:

“Both the initial and subsequent round prices are selected by the Chair using their extensive market experience and applied based on an agreed pricing framework.”

So, there is a panel of chairpeople, as Hutcheson told Bulliondesk, who are 4 ‘ex-bankers’ according to Reuters, and who have ‘extensive experience in the gold market’ according to the IBA web site. So these people were previously bankers (which means investment bank staff) who gained their experience of the gold market in investment banks, and who have extensive knowledge of how a gold auction works, and since they are working with London-based IBA on a London-based daily auction, the chairpersons are either London-based or live proximate to London. And finally, according to one of the web site versions above, it’s a ‘He’ or set of ‘Hes’ so we know they are male.

And yet these same people are said to be “independent of any firm associated with the auction, including direct participants.”

Given that there are now 11 direct participants in the LBMA Gold Price auction, namely,  Barclays, Bank of China, Goldman Sachs, HSBC Bank USA, JPMorgan Chase Bank, Morgan Stanley, Societe Generale, Bank of Nova Scotia – ScotiaMocatta, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Standard Chartered and UBS, how could ex-bankers based in London with extensive experience of the gold market collectively be independent of all of these banks?

And that’s just the direct participants. What about all the firms associated with the auction, for example, indirect participants who route their auction orders via direct participants?

It would be interesting to hear what IBA and the LBMA define as ‘independent’. Is there any precedent on a definition of ‘independent’ for persons connected to a daily gold auction? Luckily, there is.

A number of policy documents were drawn up and introduced for the previous London gold price auction, the London Gold Fixing, in approximately mid 2014. One of these documents was a “Terms of Reference for a Supervisory Committee of the Board of the London Gold Market Fixing Limited (LPMCL)“. That document describes the composition of a supervisory committee and deems that the  Board of directors of LPMCL may:

“appoint up to two independent qualified individuals to serve on the Committee. A person will be considered to be independent for the purposes of these Terms of Reference if he/she is not, and has not been at any time in the preceding year, an employee or consultant of any Member and does not otherwise have a personal interest in the fixing price or the Fixing Process.”

While this document was referring to a committee whose Members were the directors of the banks running the former auction, at least there is some semblance of a definition of the concept of ‘independent‘ when applied to a gold auction.

So using that yardstick, it would be interesting to measure up the ex-banker chairpersons in the current auction as to how long exactly have they and their handler have been ‘ex’ bankers. Less than a calendar year before 20 March 2015 (i.e. 01 January 2014) would not cut it under a  “has not been at any time in the preceding year, an employee or consultant of any Membertest.

And it also begs the question, why is the automated algorithm alluded to by ICE not being used in this LBMA Gold Price auction instead of a human chairperson?

 Chairperson description 1

19 March

 

 Chairperson description 2

26 March

 

Chairperson description version 3 

chairperson v3

 The Algorithm

You will notice from the first description screenshot of the chairperson (above) that on 20 March 2015, ICE IBA stated that:

“Feedback from the market is that the price in the first round of the auction, as well as the prices for the following rounds, is of paramount importance.

As a result, BA has appointed a chairperson from Day 1. In due course, IBA will evaluate developing an algorithm in consultation with the market.

Then notice that in the second version screenshot about the chairperson, there is no mention of any algorithm. It just vanished.

A slightly different version of the algorithm text appeared in the IBA gold price FAQ document published at launch time:

“Why are you using a Chairperson and not an algorithm for day one?

Feedback from the market is that the setting of the initial price of the first round of the auction, as well as prices for the following rounds, are important. As a result, it is appropriate to have a Chairperson on day one. In due course, IBA will consult on automating the auction process using an automated algorithm.”

A point of information at this juncture. When IBA and LBMA refer to ‘the Market’ they are referring exclusively to LBMA members of the wholesale gold market and not to any of the other hundreds of thousands of global gold market participants who rely on the LBMA Gold Price benchmark as a pricing source. In fact it seems that ‘the Market’ means whatever the LBMA Management Committee decide it means.

It is also worth pointing out that many of the LBMA’s claims on consulting ‘the Market’ are just empty rhetoric, and the consultations are purely for window dressing for decisions that they have already decided on, a case in point being the EY bullion market review commissioned by the LBMA  earlier this year that was announced on 27 April and wrapped up by June 2015. This is not too dissimilar to the way FIFA operates, as one correspondent pointed out.

In the case of the above ‘feedback from the market’ about wanting a chairperson, this could very well mean the 4 members of London Gold Market Fixing Limited (LGMFL) who all transitioned from the old auction to the new auction as if nothing had changed. It appears that they did not want anything to change. The old London Gold Fixing with 4 members had a chairperson (most recently Simon Weeks from Scotia) who rotated annually through the directors of (LGMFL), i.e. from Barclays, Scotia Mocatta, HSBC and SocGen.

Finbarr Hutcheson had also referred to this price calculation  ‘Algorithm’ on 19 March, the day before the LBMA Gold Price launch. To quote Bulliondesk again:

“The panel of the independent chairs will be responsible for overseeing the process although ICE has indicated that it will be looking to make the process electronic in future.

 

The LBMA Silver Price Algorithm

The LBMA Silver Price auction has a separate administrator, Thomson Reuters and a separate platform provider, CME Group.  Thomson Reuters has this to say about the opening price on page 8 of its LBMA Silver Price methodology guide:

3.7 Starting Price

The auction platform operator (CME Benchmark Europe Ltd) is responsible for operating the LBMA Silver Price auction, including entering the initial auction price.

The initial auction price value is determined by the auction platform operator by comparing multiple Market Data sources prior to the auction opening to form a consensus price based on the individual sources of Market Data. The auction platform operator enters the initial auction price before the first round of the auction begins….

For intra-auction prices for each round, the methodology guide says that:

3.8 Manual Price Override

In exceptional circumstances, CME Benchmark Europe Ltd can overrule the automated new price of the next auction round in cases when more significant or finer changes are required. When doing so, the auction platform operator will refer to a composition of live Market Data sources while the auction is in progress.

In the LBMA Silver Price methodology, only the first round is manually input. Subsequent rounds are calculated automatically by the ‘platform’. See page 7 of the guide:

“3.4 End of Round Comparison

[bullet point 2] If the difference between the total buy and sell quantity is greater than the tolerance value, the auction platform determines that the auction is not balanced, automatically cancels orders entered in the auction round by all participants, calculates a new price, and starts a new round with the new price.”

So this is different to the LBMA Gold Price where:

“The chairperson sets the starting price and the price for each round in line with current market conditions and the activity in the auction.”

 

Conclusion

Six months after the fanfare launch on 20 March 2015, unanswered questions remain:

  • How robust is the LBMA Gold Price auction mechanism, when within 3 months of launch date, IBA have to tinker with the price sources used to determine the starting price, and de-emphasise one price source due to volatile and seemingly delibrately manipulative futures price movements?
  • Why does the LBMA Gold Price auction needs a human chairperson throughout the auction and the LBMA Silver Price does not?
  • What happened to the plans for introducing an algorithm into the auction?
  • Why have ICE gone to great lengths to prevent the public knowing the identities of the chairpersons?
  • Why did ICE backtrack on a reference to ‘publicly available procedures‘ that would have explained how the starting price and round prices are determined?
  • What’s going to happen when the initial six months of the chairpersons’ rotating duties run out on Monday 21 September, as Reuters alluded to back in March?

ICE ICE

To that list some further questions could be added:

  • Where are the Chinese banks ICBC and China Construction, Bank which both expressed interest in becoming direct participants in the LBMA Gold Price auction, going to join?
  • Where are all the gold mining and gold refining entities that have expressed interest in being direct participants going to join, participants that the ICE auction platform can accommodate right now?
  • When will the LBMA Gold Price auction move to central clearing on an exchange distinct from LMPCL’s monopoly on clearing predominantly unallocated metal?
  • When will the prohibitive credit lines enforced by the LBMA be removed as as to allow other non-bank participants to directly participate in the auction without maintaining credit arrangements with the incumbent bullion banks?

These are just some of the questions which financial journalists cannot bring themselves to write about when covering this topic.