Hedge Fund Manager’s Arrest Shows How Market Manipulation Works

Hedge fund manager Neil Phillips has been arrested in Spain this week.

He is charged with masterminding a market manipulation scheme that reached from the UK to Asia. His strategy shows how hedge funds manipulate markets from currencies to stocks.

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From a new report in Bloomberg:

Phillips was charged with conspiring to manipulate the US dollar-South African rand exchange rate in late 2017. The indictment, which was returned in March but previously sealed, describes at least two co-conspirators, raising the possibility of charges against more people.

Neil Phillips

Phillips faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. His scheme involved buying an option on the dollar-rand exchange rate, then manipulating the exchange rate to make his option pay off:

With the option set to expire, Phillips began making spot trades in an effort to push the exchange rate lower late on Christmas Day, while directing a Singapore-based employee of an unidentified bank to sell $725 million in exchange for more than 9 billion rand, according to prosecutors. That pushed the exchange rate below the barrier, triggering the $20 million option. Phillips collected more than $15.6 million from the deal and also allocated $4.34 million to an unidentified client.

Phillips’ moves show us how market manipulation works.

He took advantage of thin trading late Christmas Day. Markets are easier to manipulate when trading is light.

He also used trades in an underlying asset to benefit an options position. The same approach is likely common in stocks.

Phillips even went as far as involving a co-conspirator on the other side of the world in the hopes of hiding his illegal trades. But he was foolish enough to discuss the whole thing in chat messages on his Bloomberg terminal.

Bloomberg routinely gives chat records to the government in subpoenas. Phillips might not be facing prison had he used an encrypted app like Signal.

I find the Phillips case fascinating for how it trains us to spot hedge fund manipulation of markets.

If we suspect price manipulation, we should look for big trades at odd times. Major sell order right before the close on the last trading day of the year?

It might be worth a look.

Where do you see signs of market manipulation? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

There will be no post on Monday for the holiday. Have a great Labor Day weekend everyone! 👋🥳

More on markets:

AMC Fails to Deliver Pass 700,000 in New Report

Why Hedge Funds May Pile into APE Shares

Is Melvin’s Gabe Plotkin Headed to Prison?

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Photo: “prison fence” by Brad.K is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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