top of page

Dismissed: Antitrust Lawsuit Against the Largest US. Treasury Security Traders


On the 8th of June 2015, the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation into the possible treasury market manipulation and collusion between the defendants. The litigation began in July 2015 and the lawsuits were filed in September 2015, this litigation has finally reached a conclusion.


This antitrust lawsuit accused (defendants): Bank of America, Barclays, BNP Parias, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, NatWest Group, UBS and Tradeweb Markets (trading platform operator) of colluding between 2007 and 2015.


It was believed that the defendants carried out auction conspiracy through the use of online chat rooms to “coordinate strategies” and to share “confident customer orders.” Through this litigation, the plaintiffs accused the defendants of two “interrelated conspiracies” that attempted to suppress competition within the $23.2 trillion USD market for U.S. Treasury securities.


1. Sharing of confidential order information

In the treasury action, the primary dealers receive private and confidential order information, such as the price and quantity, from indirect bidders. The defendants were accused of routinely sharing this information, in such a way that traders were given information that was useful for making bets. With this information the defendants coordinated how they would “bid at the auction, to ensure” they achieved their “desired allocation at” an “optimal price.” During the June 8th treasury auction, Goldman Sachs “won almost all auctions for US treasury bonds.” Analysis of the treasury patterns showed that when the defendants knew the demand would be low, their bidding strategies were altered; they submitted “higher yields” so that they could get their “desired allocation” at a lower price. When there was information that the auction was going to be in high demand, the defendants collectively big higher prices and lower yields, so that other biddings were crowded out. This again allowed the defendants to get their desired allocation, which could then be on-sold in a hot secondary market.

Impact:

  • The defendants were able to coordinate “dumping in advance of a known cold auction.” Consequently, artificially low when-issued and secondary market prices harmed individuals who had taken long positions in when-issued securities.

  • In high-demand actions, the secondary and when-issued prices were artificially high.

Defendants Claim

  • Under Rule 12 (b)(6) the Plaintiffs failed to state a claim. Because the complaint “improperly relies on group pleading and fails to allege any agreement” among the defendants.

2. Boycotting of electronic trading platforms

The defendants are consistently in the top eight dealers, with the highest average daily volume of trades in the secondary Treasury market. The plaintiffs accuse the defendants of exploiting their market power by boycotting electronic platforms that offered anonymous trading and better prices. In effect, the defendant's boycotts were perceived to have prevented the natural progression to an “anonymous, all-to-all trading venue,” so that the would be able to continue to “misuse valuable client information.” This conspiracy suggested that the defendants were willing to threaten a platform’s existence by “depriving it of liquidity and fees.” The plaintiffs believed that the defendants did this to “enrich themselves, at the expense of investors” as there was increased trading cost within the segment.


Evidence:

  • After NASDAQ purchased eSpeed in 2013, the defendants jointly removed trading and liquidity from eSpeed, in such a manner that eSpeed lost 10% of its market share.

  • Morgan Stanley refused o trade on eSpeed for two years.

  • RBS ceased trading (except for occasional expectations) on eSpeed.

Defendants Claim:

  • Claim that eSpeed was untrustworthy

  • Boycott claims should be dismissed because the complaint “fails even to allege that Tradeweb engaged in any of the supposed parallel conduct that Plaintiffs allege against the” defendants.


Hon. Paul G. Gardephe of the United States District Court (Southern District of New York) dismissed this antitrust lawsuit in March 2021. His justification was that the evidence from the “chat excerpts, statistical analyses of the banks’ trading, and alleged pressure to boycott” platforms was not sufficient evidence to “establish illegal collusion.”


Glossary:

  • Defendants - an individual, company, or institution sued or accused in a court of law.

  • Antitrust lawsuits - a type of class-action lawsuit which is filed by individuals, organisations or agencies for claims of anticompetitive business practices which led to unfair competition, price fixing or other types of fraud.

  • Plaintiffs - a person who brings a case against another in a court of law.

  • U.S. Treasury Securities - including Treasury bills, notes, and bonds are debt obligations issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

  • Treasury Auction - the process of selling short and long-term government bonds to investors in an attempt to minimize the cost of financing the national debt.

  • When-issued securities - transaction that is made conditionally because security has been authorized but not yet issued.

  • Rule 12(b)(6) - Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, authorises dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

  • eSpeed - an electronic trading platform that provides real-time institutional trading of benchmark U.S. Treasury Securities


Works Cited






bottom of page