Deutsche Bank Gets Six-Month Trading Ban in South Korea

South Korea's Financial Services Commissioner Choi Kyu Yun
Choi Kyu Yun, standing commissioner of South Korea's Financial Services Commission, speaks at a briefing in Seoul. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Deutsche Bank AG was given the heaviest penalty ever levied on any securities firm in South Korea for triggering a Nov. 11 stock market rout that erased $26 billion of value.

Deutsche Bank will be banned from trading shares and derivatives for its own account in the country for six months, the Financial Services Commission said yesterday. The regulator will ask prosecutors to investigate five employees at the Frankfurt-based firm.

The slump in the benchmark Kospi index during the last minutes of trading on Nov. 11 prompted regulators to limit the number of equity derivative contracts investors can hold. The penalty against the local unit comes amid heightened scrutiny globally of equity-market swings since a 20-minute drop in U.S. equities on May 6 briefly erased $862 billion of market value.

“Regardless of how much money Deutsche Bank might lose from the business suspension, the damage to its reputation is humiliating,” said Namgil Nam, a research fellow and head of derivatives at Korea Capital Market Institute in Seoul. “The severe penalty will show the market that South Korean authorities are determined to clamp down on irregularities.”

Deutsche Bank said it was “disappointed” by the recommendations and will cooperate with Korean authorities, according to a statement from the firm yesterday. Michael West, a Hong Kong-based spokesman for the bank, declined to comment on any revenue loss estimates from the trading restriction.

Korean Prosecutors

Seoul prosecutors have begun an investigation into Deutsche Bank’s Korean operations at the request of the regulators, television broadcaster YTN reported today, citing prosecutors.

The FSC said yesterday that it didn’t file a complaint with prosecutors against Deutsche Securities Korea Co.’s parent company. Still, the commission has notified Korean prosecutors and the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority of Germany about potential misconduct by the parent company, it said.

Deutsche Bank said it will hold an independent review of systems and controls at its Asian Equities Absolute Strategies Group. The regulator didn’t identify the five employees.

Regulators began investigating Deutsche Bank units in Seoul and Hong Kong after the Financial Supervisory Service said about 1.6 trillion won ($1.4 billion) of sell orders were made through the company’s Korean brokerage unit.

‘Program’ Selling

Korea Exchange Inc. said the Kospi’s tumble on Nov. 11, when options expired, was caused by “program” selling. Deutsche Bank breached stock exchange rules governing the disclosure of computer-driven trades by filing a report one minute late that day, the bourse said on Nov. 15.

The Kospi fell 0.6 percent to 1,949.88 at the 3 p.m. close in Seoul. It has gained 1.8 percent since the incident.

Korea Exchange will hold a meeting Feb. 25 to discuss penalties for the local brokerage unit, Lee Cheol Jae, an executive director at the bourse operator’s market oversight division, said by telephone.

The five Deutsche Bank staff conspired to manipulate the market by selling 2.44 trillion won worth of shares in the last minutes of trading on Nov. 11, with the “purpose” of making gains from “speculative” derivatives positions built in advance, the FSC said yesterday. The German lender’s units made 45 billion won of “unfair” trading profit that day, according to the regulator.

The government will take decisive steps on any violation of rules to ensure the financial market is transparent and trustworthy, FSC Chairman Kim Seok Dong told reporters today in Seoul.

Crossing Line

“I’m confident that the measures we took against Deutsche Bank this time are acceptable anywhere,” Kim said. “No market player should fall under the illusion that they can do anything. Once they cross that line, we’ll make sure they pay for it.”

The six-month ban was the first business suspension handed down to any foreign broker in Korea since the FSS was set up in 1999, according to its data. The supervisory service is a non-governmental body that helps the FSC and the stock exchange police South Korean financial markets.

Under the tightened rules on South Korean derivatives holdings announced by the Financial Services Commission on Jan. 11, institutional investors will be allowed a maximum 10,000 futures and options contracts in any “speculative” transaction.

While institutions are now limited to 7,500 futures contracts and individuals can hold 5,000 futures contracts, there are no limits on options. The nation’s bourse operator said on Jan. 31 that the new rule would start from March 7.

Deutsche Securities Korea accounted for 1.8 percent of the total trading value of Kospi-listed shares last year, according to Koscom Corp., which provides financial data from Korea Exchange Inc.

The unit had 118 employees as of Dec. 31 and posted nine-month profit of 26.9 billion won through December, according to the company’s filing to the FSS on Feb. 14. The brokerage earned annual profit of 32.2 billion won in the previous year.

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