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Barclays and Red Kite settle market abuse case

Red Kite, the world’s best-known metals hedge fund, reached a settlement with Barclays Plc over claims traders at the bank engaged in abusive trading and manipulated global copper prices on the London Metal Exchange.

The two parties have agreed to a confidential settlement, according to a statement from Red Kite. In the lawsuit, the hedge fund said the actions by Barclays traders cost it at least $850 million between 2010 and 2013. A spokesman for Barclays wasn’t immediately able to comment.

The lawsuit has been closely watched in the metals market and legal circles. Many were awaiting the outcome of a trial scheduled for 2020, which would have pitted the commodities hedge fund against a bank that has been rocked by claims of manipulative trading spanning interest rates, currencies and precious-metal markets.

The hedge fund said that two Barclays traders, Iain Macrae and Christian Saunders, used their knowledge of Red Kite’s account with the bank to trade heavily against it, eventually leading to it being stopped out of its positions. Disclosures in the lead-up to the trial revealed that Barclays suffered losses of nearly $400 million when it eventually unwound the trades built up by Macrae and Saunders during the battle with Red Kite.

The losses — some of the biggest ever disclosed by a bank in the commodities markets — were denied by Barclays at the time, with a spokeswoman saying there had been no abnormal trading in its commodities business. Macrae was fired in 2011 for “irresponsible risk taking,” while Saunders was “summarily dismissed,” Red Kite said in legal filings, citing disclosures by Barclays.

The settlement means that some of the broader allegations in the case — such as the claim that the traders successfully manipulated global benchmark prices for copper, helped by traders at rival firms — will be left unexplored in court. The LME has said it has robust measures in place to prevent abusive trading on its open-outcry trading floor, one of the last of its kind in the world.

Red Kite’s claims date back to a time when banks like Barclays, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley were powerful players in global commodities, able to make big bets with the banks’ own money. Many have since reduced their presence in commodities amid pressure from heightened regulations and tough trading conditions, with Barclays withdrawing from the LME floor in 2014 and JPMorgan Chase & Co. quitting in 2015.

Even after a rebound in metal and energy prices, the trend is continuing this year. Goldman Sachs has made cuts to its base and precious metals trading team and Societe Generale — the last Western bank with a presence on the LME floor — is closing its over-the-counter commodities derivatives business.

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