Broker Fined for Manipulating Oil Prices

Britain's financial regulator has fined and banned a former broker for manipulating oil prices by buying more than seven million barrels while on a drinking binge.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) said it fined Steven Perkins, a former employee of PVM Oil Futures Ltd, 72,000 pounds ($108,000) and banned him from working in financial services for at least five years for carrying out trades without the authority of clients or his employer, according to Reuters. Perkins’ unauthorized trading pushed the price of Brent crude oil futures up to almost $73.50 a barrel — at that point the highest level prices had hit on the InterContinental Exchange in 2009.  

According to the news report, in the days leading up to the trades, Perkins had been drinking heavily at a company golf weekend and had carried on drinking on the Monday afternoon. Perkins started the trades by telephoning in eight orders to PVM’s Brent trading desk, saying they were all on behalf of a trader described by the FSA as ‘Client A’, who had only ordered one initial deal.  

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Perkins then started to trade Brent crude from his laptop at home, accumulating a total of 7,125,000 barrels in just over two hours. 

PVM uncovered the trades as clerks and compliance officers came into the office Tuesday morning. Perkins initially lied to the firm, saying Client A had been with him through the night before the company shut off his ability to trade.  

The FSA said Perkins claims to have limited recollection of events and claims to have been in an alcohol-induced blackout at the time he traded.  

“Perkins’ drunkenness does not excuse his market abuse,” said Alexander Justham, director of markets at the FSA, in the news report. “Perkins has been banned because he is not a fit and proper person to be involved in regulated activities, and his behavior posed a risk to the proper functioning of the market.”  

According to Reuters, the ruling marks only the second action by the FSA against market abuse in commodities in London. Earlier this month, former Sucden Financial coffee broker Andrew Kerr was banned and fined 100,000 pounds after being caught on a recorded phone line planning to artificially inflate the price of London-based coffee futures.   

The British financial regulator is expected to conclude more investigations into market abuse in commodities this summer, following criticism it neglected the sector in the past.