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Swiss regulator probes possible manipulation of currency markets Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.

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Swiss currency probe
Swiss regulators have launched a probe into several institutions in connection with what they say was possible manipulation in currency markets.

The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority gave few details in unveiling the investigation today.

It named neither banks nor currencies, and no allegations have been proven. Major Swiss banks would not comment.

“FINMA is currently conducting investigations into several Swiss financial institutions in connection with possible manipulation of foreign exchange markets,” the regulator said in a statement.

“FINMA is co-ordinating closely with authorities in other countries as multiple banks around the world are potentially implicated.”

This follows an investigation announced in June by Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority into the issue, manipulation of foreign exchange rates used as benchmarks.

It also could be another black eye for the banking industry in the wake of the financial crisis and other scandals, such as that over manipulation of key interest rates.

While the Swiss regulator gave no details, past reports by Bloomberg News have centred on what is known as a “fix,” which pegs the value of a currency at a certain time of day and is used as a benchmark.

The Bank of Canada, for example, has a noon fix. One of the major ones is that by WM/Reuters.

Last August, Bloomberg reporters Liam Vaughan and Gavin Finch published an investigative piece that looked specifically at the U.S. dollar-Canadian dollar exchange rate, and how the value of the former climbed by 0.6 per cent against that of the latter over the course of just 20 minutes in the run-up to a 4 p.m. fix in London, the most widely watched measure.

There was no mention of the Canadian dollar by the Swiss regulator, and, indeed, it was just one of the currencies mentioned in the original Bloomberg report.

Canada’s bank regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial institutions Bank of Canada, said it’s “aware” of the Swiss probe, but refused further comment, The Globe and Mail’s Barrie McKenna reports.

“OSFI maintains ongoing relationships with the financial institutions we supervise and with our regulatory peers in Canada and other jurisdictions, but we do not publicly discuss our supervisory work,” spokeswoman Annik Faucher said.

The Bank of Canada would not comment.

Markets mixed
Investors are in an anxious mood this morning as the U.S. fiscal fight shows no signs of ending, though markets are mixed.

It’s not just the Washington shutdown, but growing fears that failure to raise the U.S. debt ceiling by mid-month could mean a credit rating downgrade or, in the extreme, a default.

The shutdown has also delayed what was to have been the key U.S. jobs report this morning.

“Without the non-farm payroll data … markets look likely to meander into the close as we await news over the weekend as to when an end to the impasse might come and then more importantly evaluate how the markets are likely to react,” said senior sales trader Nick Dale-Lace of CMC Markets in London, referring to European exchanges.

“Talk of a default seems somewhat premature but the fact that the coffers are predicted to run dry between the 22 and 31 of October is a rather sobering thought, the longer this drags on the more nervous people will become.”

BlackBerry remains below $8
Shares of BlackBerry Ltd. continue to trade below $8 (U.S.) as questions and speculation abound where the proposed bid by Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. is concerned.

The stock was up slightly by 11 a.m. ET at $7.75.

The market appears to doubt whether a Fairfax-led consortium will actually complete a deal at the proposed $9 a share, or $4.7-billion, despite the suitor's repeated optimism.

In a report yesterday, Bank of Nova Scotia analyst Gus Papageorgiou laid out a price range of between $8 a share and $13.20, in a 50-50 scenario, for a takeover of the smartphone maker.

“We have revised  our probability assumption to a 50-per-cent chance there is a competing bid and the company gets taken out at

$13.20,” he said.

“However, if there is no competing bid the  Fairfax offer could go lower, simply because Fairfax will be the only ones at the table. We believe it could go as low at $8. Going too much lower would eventually drive some form of competing bid.”

And today, CanaccordGenuity’s Michael Walkley continued to put a target on the stock of just $7, based on a “sum-of-parts” valuation.

“We maintain our belief BlackBerry will ultimately end up selling the company due to the difficult competitive smartphone market and low probability BlackBerry 10 can return BlackBerry to sustained profitability, even despite planned deep cost cuts,” he said.

“Further, while we believe the most likely exit strategy for BlackBerry remains a sale to Fairfax Financial, we anticipate a lower revised bid post additional due diligence will be required to secure full institutional investor funding for Fairfax’s proposal.”

Bank of Japan holds steady
The Bank of Japan held the line on policy today as it cited an economy that is healing modestly.

“Japan’s economy is recovering moderately,” the central bank said.

“regarding risks, there remains a high degree of uncertainty concerning Japan’s economy, including the prospects for the European debt problem, developments in the emerging and commodity-exporting economies, and the pace of recovery in the U.S. economy,” it added.

Derek Holt and Dov Zigler of Bank of Nova Scotia say they’re not as optimistic as the Bank of Japan.

“The bigger questions concern how the economy will respond to a proposed sales tax hike next year - and if the BoJ might need to accelerate the pace of its purchases to both cushion the blow and more generally to ensure that the economy continues to reflate,” they said today.

“Further, the way in which the BoJ is achieving the end to deflation is disconcerting to us as it is due to higher imported energy prices partly due to yen deprecation and higher electricity prices stemming from shutting down the country’s nuclear reactors.”

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