By ZeroHedge.com

There was a time when the merest mention of gold manipulation in "reputable" media was enough to have one branded a perpetual conspiracy theorist with a tinfoil farm out back. That was roughly coincident with a time when Libor, FX, mortgage, and bond market manipulation was also considered unthinkable, when High Frequency Traders were believed to "provide liquidity", or when the stock market was said to not be manipulated by the Fed, and when the ever-confused media, always eager to take "complicated" financial concepts at the face value set by a self-serving establishment, never dared to question anything. Luckily, all that changed in the past several years, and it has gotten to the point where even the bastions of "serious", if 3-5 years delayed, investigation are finally not only asking how is the gold market being manipulated, but are actually providing answers.

Such as Bloomberg.

The topic of gold market manipulation during the London AM fix is not new to Zero Hedge: in fact we have discussed both the historical basis and the raison d'etre of the London gold fix, as well as the curious arbitrage available to those who merely traded the AM-PM spread, for years. Which is why we are delighted that none other than Bloomberg has decided to break it down for everyone, as well as summarize all the ways in which just this one facet of gold trading is being manipulated.

Bloomberg begins:

« Every business day in London, five banks meet to set the price of gold in a ritual that dates back to 1919. Now, dealers and economists say knowledge gleaned on those calls could give some traders an unfair advantage when buying and selling the precious metal. The London fix, the benchmark rate used by mining companies, jewelers and central banks to buy, sell and value the metal, is published twice daily after a telephone call involving Barclays Plc, Deutsche Bank AG, Bank of Nova Scotia, HSBC Holdings Plc and Societe Generale SA.

The fix dates back to September 1919, less than a year after the end of World War I, when representatives from five dealers met at Rothschild’s office on St. Swithin’s Lane in London’s financial district. It was suspended for 15 years, starting in 1939. While Rothschild pulled out in 2004 and the discussions now take place by telephone instead of in a wood-paneled room at the bank, the process remains much the same. »

That much is known. What is certainly known is that any process that involves five banks sitting down (until recently literally) and exchanging information using arcane methods (such as a telephone), on a set schedule that involves a private information blackout phase, even if temporary, and that does not involve instant market feedback, can and will be gamed. "Traders involved in this price-determining process have knowledge which, even for a short time, is superior to other people’s knowledge,” said Thorsten Polleit, chief economist at Frankfurt-based precious-metals broker Degussa Goldhandel GmbH and a former economist at Barclays. “That is the great flaw of the London gold-fixing."

There are other flaws.

« Participants on the London call can tell whether the price of gold is rising or falling within a minute or so, based on whether there are a large number of net buyers or sellers after the first round, according to gold traders, academics and investors interviewed by Bloomberg News. It’s this feature that could allow dealers and others in receipt of the information to bet on the direction of the market with a high degree of certainty minutes before the fix is made public, they said. »

Yes, the broader momentum creation and ignition perspective is also known to most. At least most who never believed the boilerplate that unlike all other asset classes, gold is somehow immune from manipulation.

“Information trickles down from the five banks, through to their clients and finally to the broader market,” Andrew Caminschi, a lecturer at the University of Western Australia in Perth and co-author of a Sept. 2 paper on trading spikes around the London gold fix published online in the Journal of Futures Markets, said by phone. “In a world where trading advantage is measured in milliseconds, that has some value.”

Ah, hypothetical - smart. One mustn't ruffle feathers before, like in the case of Libor, it becomes fact that everyone was in on it.

« There’s no evidence that gold dealers sought to manipulate the London fix or worked together to rig prices, as traders did with Libor. Even so, economists and academics say the way the benchmark is set is outdated, vulnerable to abuse and lacking any direct regulatory oversight. “This is one of the most concerning fixings I have seen,” said Rosa Abrantes-Metz, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business whose 2008 paper, “Libor Manipulation?” helped spark a global probe. “It’s controlled by a handful of firms with a direct financial interest in where it’s set, and there is virtually no oversight -- and it’s based on information exchanged among them during undisclosed calls.” »

Unless we are wrong, there was no evidence of Libor manipulative collusion before there was evidence either. And since the cabal of the London gold fix is far smaller than the member banks of Libor, it is exponentially easier to confine intent within an even smaller group of people. But all that is also known to most.

As is the fact that when asked for comments, 'spokesmen for Barclays, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Societe Generale declined to comment about the London fix or the regulatory probes, as did Chris Hamilton, a spokesman for the FCA, and Steve Adamske at the CFTC. Joe Konecny, a spokesman for Bank of Nova Scotia, wrote in an e-mail that the Toronto-based company has “a deeply rooted compliance culture and a drive to continually look toward ways to improve our existing processes and practices."

Next, Bloomberg conveniently goes into the specifics of just how the gold price is manipulated first by the fixing banks, then by their "friends and neighbors" as news of the fixing process unfolds. [...] 

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