UBS, Nomura Hit Hardest as EU Fines Crisis-Era Bond Cartel

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UBS Group AG and Nomura Holdings Inc. and UniCredit SpA were fined a total of 371 million euros ($452 million) by the European Union for colluding on euro government bond trading during the region’s sovereign debt crisis.

UBS was fined 172 million euros and Nomura will have to pay 129.6 million euros for a traders’ cartel that swapped commercially sensitive information from 2007 to 2011 when euro region bond yields soared. UniCredit was fined 69 million euros.

It was “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,” Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s antitrust chief, said in an emailed statement.

The EU has spent more than a decade probing how bank traders swapped information in chatrooms, leading to billions of euros in fines. At the same time it approved billions of euros in government support to keep many European lenders alive during the financial crisis.

Vestager’s criticism seems to be aimed at two banks that weren’t fined. A Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc unit escaped a fine because it was the first to tell regulators. It received a U.K. bailout in 2008. Portigon AG, the successor bank to bailed-out and failed German lender WestLB, avoided a levy because it had no revenue last year.

Bank of America Corp. and Natixis SA participated in the cartel but weren’t fined because they had quit the cartel five years before the EU started its probe. The finding against them means they would be seen as repeat offenders and would face higher fines from any future EU cartel. Institutional investors could also sue all members of the cartel for damages.

Appeals

UBS said the fine could hurt second-quarter results by as much as $100 million. It’s considering an appeal and has “taken appropriate action years ago to mitigate and improve processes,” it said in a statement.

Nomura said the fine “relates to historic behavior” by two former employees “for an approximate 10-month period in 2011.” The fine won’t have an impact on the current financial year and the bank has made provision for the levy. The bank “will consider all options, including an appeal” and “has introduced increased measures to ensure that we conduct our business with the highest levels of integrity,” it said in an emailed statement.

UniCredit “vigorously contests” the fine and will appeal to the EU courts, it said in a statement. The bank “maintains that the findings do not demonstrate any wrongdoing.”

The EU said traders on European government bond desks, and mostly in London, were in regular contact, mainly on chatrooms, where they “informed and updated each other on their prices and volumes offered in the run-up” to euro zone government bond auctions “and the prices shown to their customers or to the market in general.”

The EU didn’t seek to show that traders’ actions affected bond yields, with their case focusing on the illegality of sharing commercially sensitive information.

Citigroup Inc., RBS and JPMorgan Chase & Co. were among five banks that agreed in 2019 to pay EU fines of over 1 billion euros for colluding on foreign-exchange trading strategies. The EU is still investigating some banks for a related cartel.

Bank of America, Credit Suisse Group AG and Credit Agricole were fined about 28.5 million euros last month over chatrooms where traders swapped information on trading of U.S. supra-sovereign, sovereign and agency bonds.

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