Nomura, UBS and Unicredit Fined $451 Million for Rigging European Bond Prices
21st May 2021 | Hong Kong
The European Commission has fined Nomura, UBS and Unicredit $451 million for rigging European Government Bond prices between 2007 to 2011. Bank of America, Natixis, RBS (now NatWest) and WestLB (now Portigon) that have breached European Union (EU) antitrust rules and involved in the rigging of European bond prices are not fined because their infringement falls outside the limitation period for imposition of fines and for WestLB, it did not generate any net turnover in the last business year (fine imposed is a percentage of revenue)
7 Investment Banks, Traders Collude on European Government Bond Prices
Traders from 7 investment banks (Nomura, UBS, Unicredit, Bank of America, Natixis, RBS, WestLB) on the European Government Bond desk had participated in a cartel, operating in a close circle of trust to rig European bond prices.
The traders were in regular contact mainly in chatrooms on Bloomberg terminals, exchanging sensitive information, providing prices and volumes offered in auctions and prices shown to customers or to the market. They discussed bidding strategy on auctions of Euro denominated bonds on the primary market and trading information on the secondary market.
The rigging took place between 2007 and 2011, in differing periods of participating by the traders from the 7 investment banks.
European Government Bonds or EGB are debt securities issued in Euro by the central governments of the Eurozone Member States. The governments issue EGB to raise funds in international financial markets: they borrow money for a fixed term and predefined interest rate. The bond holder periodically receives the interest (coupon) and the principal amount at the agreed maturity date.
Bonds are first issued on the primary market where a limited number of investment banks, the ‘primary dealers’ can bid for the bonds in auctions or sometimes acquire them via syndication. The primary dealers then place and trade the bonds with other investors on the secondary market. These investors include other banks, asset managers, pension funds, hedge funds and major companies. They can hold the bonds as investments or further trade them via brokers like any other financial instrument.
Nomura, UBS and Unicredit Fined $451 Million
The 7 investment banks had violated European Union rules that prohibit anticompetitive business practices such as collusion on prices. Nomura, UBS and Unicredit are fined $451 million (EUR 371 million) while NatWest avoided fine of $316 million (EUR 260 million) for revealing the cartel and thereby receiving full immunity.
- UBS – EUR 172.378 million
- Nomura – EUR 129.573 million
- UniCredit – EUR 69.442 million
- NatWest (RBS) – 0 (immunity from fines)
- Bank of America – N/A (outside limitation period)
- Natixis – N/A (outside limitation period)
- Portigon (WestLB) – EUR0 (fine capped at 10% of turnover)
Individual fines were reduced or not imposed for the following reasons:
- NatWest received full immunity for revealing the cartel, thereby avoiding an aggregate fine of ca. 260 million
- UBS was benefitted from reduction of its fine by 45% for its cooperation with the Commission investigation.
- Portigon’s fine of EUR 4,888,000 was reduced to zero because fines cannot exceed 10% of the total turnover and the undertaking did not generate any net turnover in the last business year.
- No fines were imposed on Bank of America and Natixis, because these undertakings left the cartel more than five years before the Commission started its investigation. They therefore fall outside the limitation period for imposition of fines, but this does not prevent the Commission from establishing their participation in the infringement. Natixis cooperated with the Commission under the leniency program.
Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Margrethe Vestager:
“A well-functioning European Government Bonds market is paramount both for the Eurozone Member States issuing these bonds to generate liquidity and the investors buying and trading them. Our decision against Bank of America, Natixis, Nomura, RBS, UBS, UniCredit and WestLB sends a clear message that the Commission will not tolerate any kind of collusive behavior.
It is unacceptable, that in the middle of the financial crisis, when many financial institutions had to be rescued by public funding these investment banks colluded in this market at the expense of EU Member States.”
The Commission has set up a tool to make it easier for individuals to alert it about anti-competitive behaviour while maintaining their anonymity. The tool protects whistleblowers’ anonymity through a specifically-designed encrypted messaging system that allows two way communications. The tool is accessible via this link.
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About European Union
The European Union is a unique economic and political union between 27 EU countries that together cover much of the continent. The Union currently counts 27 EU countries. The United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union on 31 January 2020. The euro (€) is the official currency of 19 out of 27 EU countries. These countries are collectively known as the Eurozone.