JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay $65 million to settle charges that its traders attempted to rig a global benchmark for interest rate products to benefit its derivatives positions.
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission said Monday that the bank attempted to manipulate the U.S. Dollar International Swaps and Derivatives Association Fix, or ISDAfix, over a five-year period, beginning in at least January 2007.
ISDAfix rates and spreads are published daily after a process that begins at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time and are meant to indicate the prevailing mid-market rate, at a specific time of day, for the fixed leg of a standard fixed-for-floating interest rate swap.
“Pension funds and local governments often rely on products priced off the benchmark rate to help hedge against future interest rate changes,” Reuters noted.
According to the CFTC, JPMorgan traders executed trades in targeted interest rate products, including swap spreads and U.S. Treasuries, at or near the critical 11:00 a.m. fixing time “to affect rates on the electronic interest rate swap screen known as the ‘19901 screen’ and thereby increase or decrease the swaps broker’s reference rates and influence the final published USD ISDAfix.”
These “efforts to manipulate or ‘muscle’ the USD ISDAFIX and prices on the 19901 screen were common knowledge and openly joked about by certain JPMC traders,” the commission said.
In one electronic communication, a senior trader on the swaps desk openly mocked a colleagure to maninpulate the 11:00 a.m. fixing, writing, “remember when i moved the screen in 2y[year] spreads at the 11am setting? … noone [sic] was paying attention and i [sic] lifted it up and then it went down.”
Other big banks including Goldman Sachs, Barclays, and Citigroup settled similar charges relating to the ISDAfix benchmark with the CFTC in 2015 and 2016.
The JPMorgan case “is one in a series of CFTC actions that clearly demonstrates the commission’s unrelenting commitment to root out manipulation from our markets and to protect those who rely on the integrity of critical financial benchmarks,” James McDonald, CFTC director of enforcement, said in a news release.