Recent CFTC Settlement Highlights Regulatory Focus on Manipulation of Commodity Futures and High Frequency Trading

On April 19, 2012, Chief Judge Loretta Preska of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York approved a consent order detailing a settlement entered into among the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), high frequency global proprietary trading firm Optiver Holding BV, two of its subsidiaries (collectively, Optiver) and three individual principals.  The settling parties were accused of manipulating the market for light sweet crude oil, New York harbor heating oil and New York harbor gasoline futures contracts.  This settlement demonstrates a renewed government emphasis on stamping out market manipulation in these markets.  While Optiver is a proprietary trading firm that utilizes high frequency algorithmic trading, as opposed to a hedge fund manager, the legal points raised by the action apply with equal force to hedge fund managers that trade commodity futures or that employ high frequency strategies.  For a discussion of a CFTC action brought against a hedge fund trader, see “Recent CFTC Settlement with Former Moore Capital Trader Illustrates a Number of Best Compliance Practices for Hedge Fund Managers that Trade Commodity Futures Contracts,” Hedge Fund Law Report, Vol. 4, No. 30 (Sep. 1, 2011).  This article describes the complaint initially brought by the CFTC in 2008, the terms of the settlement and the stiff sanctions imposed on the defendants, including disgorgement, civil monetary penalties, trading restrictions imposed on Optiver and statutory bars imposed on each of the individual defendants.

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