Market manipulation: latest in a long line of problems at Barclays

Barclays in hot water over gold price setting failures. Photo: Uli Deck/DPA/Press Association Images

A £26 million fine slapped on Barclays for failing to stop a trader manipulating the price of gold sounds like a lot but when you compare it to the £290 million it had to pay after the Libor rate-fixing scandal and the £4 billion the insurance mis-selling has cost the bank, it's peanuts.

So why does today's fine matter? Let's look at the facts, first. The regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, found that a senior trader, Daniel James Plunkett, a director on Barclays' precious metals desk, deliberately manipulated the price of gold lower, thus avoiding paying a client on a contract related to the gold price (a hedge). He saved Barclays $3.9 million (£2.3 million) and boosted his own trading book by $1.75 million (£1.04 million).

System reforms were enforced on banks by the Financial Services Authority. Credit: PA
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A cut-and-dried case of manipulation - and here's the rub: it came only one day after the regulator announced action against Barclays in Libor and Euribor. If ever there were a time for traders and the bank's management to be cleaning up their act, this was it.

Yet Barclays has been fined - again - for "a lack of controls." The regulator goes on to say "Barclays failure to identify and manage the risks in its business was extremely disappointing."

The FCA has only acted on this one instance of manipulation on June 28, 2012 - which was spotted by the Barclays customer. It won't say whether there are any other investigations either current or pending.

Barclays joined the Gold-Fixing price-setting mechanism eight years earlier and the failings to "adequately manage conflicts of interest between itself and its customers as well as systems and controls failings, in relation to Gold Fixing … continued from 2004 and 2013," says the FCA. That's a year after Libor kicked off.

When I asked a Barclays spokesman this morning whether this was an isolated incident he said: "one can never say something you don't know about hasn't happened" but that the bank has investigated the matter. "We were fined for not having the systems in place to prevent this, we do now have them in place," he went on.

Antony Jenkins, Group Chief Executive of Barclays bank. Credit: PA

In a statement released this morning, Barclays chief executive said:

We very much regret the situation that led to this settlement...

While there is much more to do to achieve the deep-rooted cultural change we embarked upon at the start of 2013, Barclays today has significantly changed for the better.

Shares in Barclays are actually up half a per cent as I write this. To investors of a bank worth almost £40 billion, today's fine matters not a jot. To its customers, whether at High Street branches or in high finance, the damage to their trust in the bank may be rather more costly.

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