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RBC to pay USD35m penalty for illegal wash sales, fictitious sales and non-competitive transactions

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The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is to pay a USD35 million penalty for engaging in more than 1,000 illegal wash sales, fictitious sales, and noncompetitive transactions over a three-year period.  

US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Director of Enforcement Aitan Goelman says: “Illegal wash trades may seem innocuous. They are not.  They provide misleading signals to the market and are thus prohibited, whether their purpose is to lessen a foreign tax bill or another reason.  This matter clearly demonstrates that the CFTC will vigorously enforce this prohibition to protect the integrity of our markets.”

The CFTC originally filed a complaint against RBC on 17 October, 2012, alleging illegal wash sales, fictitious sales, and noncompetitive transactions involving stock futures contracts, among other illegal conduct. A subsequent court order found that between 1 June, 2007 and 31 May, 2010, RBC knowingly executed 1,026 illegal wash sales and fictitious sales of narrow-based stock index futures (NBI) and single stock futures (SSF) contracts.  RBC conducted the transactions as block trades through its branches and internal trading accounts trading opposite two of RBC’s off-shore subsidiaries, and executed the trades on the OneChicago, LLC futures exchange in Chicago, Illinois.  The court also found that RBC’s NBI and SSF transactions were noncompetitive transactions prohibited by CFTC Regulations.  

According to the order, senior RBC personnel designed the trading strategy, which was motivated in part by tax benefits it generated for the RBC corporate group.  The Order states that, as designed, RBC and its subsidiaries entered into the NBI and SSF trades so that RBC entities would be both buyer and seller in the transactions, initiated with the express or implied understanding that they would later unwind the positions opposite each other through offset or delivery, and that the trades were equal and offsetting in all material respects:  They involved the trading of the same quantity of the same futures contracts at the same price and time, and therefore achieved a wash result for RBC.  Further, the Order states that the employees who oversaw RBC’s NBI and SSF trading knew that the trades negated the market risk inherent in normal futures transactions because the profits and losses that accrued to the RBC entities participating in the trades were ultimately consolidated in the RBC corporate group’s overall profits and losses, where they netted to zero, and were therefore economic and futures market nullities for the bank.  

Finally, the Order finds that RBC’s trades were noncompetitive because RBC failed to timely report part of each trade to the OneChicago futures exchange, in violation of the exchange’s written rules.  Because the trades did not comply with the written rules of the exchange, they violated a CFTC Regulation requiring futures transactions to be executed openly and competitively on designated contract markets in accordance with the exchange’s written rules. 

CFTC Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this action are David Slovick, Lindsey Evans, Susan Gradman, Amanda Harding, Joseph Patrick, Scott Williamson, Rosemary Hollinger, and Richard Wagner.   

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