Five major banks broke the law by sharing sensitive information about government bond trading in online chatrooms, the UK competition watchdog has provisionally ruled.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) alleges Citi, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Morgan Stanley and RBC unlawfully shared information in one-to-one conversations in Bloomberg chatrooms.
The conversations were allegedly had by a small number of traders between 2009 and 2013.
The discussions related to the buying and selling of UK government bonds – specifically, gilts and gilt asset swaps.
Conversations included details on parts of trading strategies, such as pricing, the CMA said.
Deutsche Bank and Citi have admitted to participating in the alleged conversations relating to them, the regulator said.
HSBC, Morgan Stanley and RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) have not admitted any wrongdoing, it added.
Michael Grenfell, executive director of enforcement at the CMA, said: “Our provisional decision has found that, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, five global banks broke competition law by taking part in a series of one-to-one online exchanges of competitively sensitive information on pricing and other aspects of their trading strategies on UK bonds.
“This could have denied taxpayers, pension savers and financial institutions the benefits of full competition for these products, including the minimisation of borrowing costs.
“A properly functioning, competitive bond market benefits tens of millions of taxpayers and pension savers as well as being at the heart of the UK’s reputation as a global financial hub.
“These alleged activities are therefore very serious and warrant the detailed investigation we have undertaken.”
The CMA said the probe is ongoing and it could ultimately hand out fines if it concludes that two or more of the banks engaged in anti-competitive activity.