Money & Banking

Morgan Stanley gets $22-m fine for manipulation of bond prices

Bloomberg December 10 | Updated on December 10, 2019 Published on December 10, 2019

Morgan Stanley was fined €20 million ($22.1 million) by French regulators after the bank’s London desk was accused of using pump and dump tactics to manipulate sovereign bond prices.

The enforcement committee of the Autorite des Marches Financiers (AMF) said the bank manipulated the prices of 14 French government bonds and 8 Belgian bonds in June 2015. The lender also manipulated the price of a French government bond futures contract, the AMF said in a statement on Tuesday. The seriousness of the infringements is also reinforced by the sophistication of the contentious transactions conducted by the traders, the French watchdog said.

The traders on the desk knew that on June 16, 2015, there was high volatility and low liquidity on the market, which would necessarily increase the impact of their operations.

At a hearing last month, AMF investigators said the bank’s London desk was long on French bonds and short on German debt, betting the yield spread would narrow. But the opposite scenario played out as the fallout from Greece’s impasse with creditors spread, causing the desk to lose $6 million on June 15, and another $8.7 million when markets opened the next day.

To narrow its losses and avoid hitting a $20-million loss-limit set by Morgan Stanley’s management, the London desk allegedly acquired futures on French bonds on June 16, 2015, with the sole objective of increasing the market value of French and Belgian bonds before aggressively selling the latter. French and Belgian bonds are considered interchangeable, according to the AMF.

The activities were undertaken in accordance with market practice and as part of the firm’s role and obligations as a market maker, and Morgan Stanley remains confident that it has acted in the best interests of the market and its clients, the bank said in a statement.

Published on December 10, 2019
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