The dreaded risk premium was subject to manipulation during the crisis in the euro zone by up to eight banks, according to a statement of charges sent Thursday by the European Commission to the entities involved in a presumed financial cartel. The department of Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, suspects that between 2007 and 2012 several brokers of those banks, still not identified, coordinated their movements to fully exploit the operations of buying and selling sovereign bonds during the most acute period of the crisis, in which the risk premium of several countries, including Spain, suffered tremendous oscillations, not always justifiable by the economic data of the moment.
The Commission accuses the eight entities of distorting competition, by agreeing through the so-called chatrooms operations related to the public debt of European countries. The agents of the banks, according to Competition, exchanged commercially sensitive information and coordinated their strategy, which could push prices towards the most lucrative position for them. If Brussels confirms its accusations, the entities could face fines of up to 10% of its annual worldwide turnover.
The contracts were closed mainly, but not exclusively, through those chatrooms, which points to a more widespread illegal practice. Even so, the Commission points out that the manipulation was the work of a few employees in each bank and that does not necessarily imply that it was a general practice in the public debt sector.
Last December the Commission already launched a similar investigation against Deutsche Bank, Crédit Agricole, Credit Suisse and a fourth bank not identified by manipulating the operations of sale of bonds issued in dollars.
The depth of the new research, however, is much greater, both by the number of entities allegedly involved (double) and by the fact that they would have manipulated the market at a time when up to four countries in the euro zone (Greece , Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus) lost access to credit as a consequence of the unstoppable escalation of their risk premium.
In 2011 and 2012 Spain and Italy were also at risk of losing it and only the blunt intervention of the European Central Bank put out tensions that came to endanger the integrity and even the survival of the euro zone.
The existence of financial signs is not new, and has been detected by Brussels on several occasions. In 2013, when the Spaniard Joaquín Almunia was still a Competition Commissioner, a group of six banks received millionaire sanctions by manipulating interbank interest rates Libor and Euribor and artificially influencing the prices of derivatives, which in principle allowed them to earn even more money than other banks that were not aware of the trap.
Specifically, Deutsche Bank (725.4 million euros), Societe Generale (445.9 million), Royal Bank of Scotland (391.1 million), JPMorgan (79.9 million), Citigroup (70 million) and the corridor RP Martin (247,000 euros). Two other entities involved, Barclays and UBS, were only freed because they were the ones that revealed the plot.
Three years later, in 2016, Commissioner Vestager pointed to three other banks: JPMorgan, HSBC and Crédit Agricole, which were punished with 485 million fine for performing similar operations.