Citigroup, Commonwealth Bank Received Australia Data Early

Citigroup, Commonwealth Bank Received Australia Data Early
A Citigroup Inc. Citibank branch in New York. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Citigroup Inc. and Commonwealth Bank of Australia received Australian retail sales data for March about 18 minutes before the general public because of a mix-up at the country’s statistics bureau, documents showed.

Spreadsheets e-mailed prior to the 11:30 a.m. scheduled release May 7 “contained seasonally adjusted data and sufficient information from which the seasonally adjusted and volume movements can be derived,” according to statistics bureau e-mails and other documents Bloomberg News obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents revealed that there were six recipients, including Citigroup and Commonwealth Bank’s brokerage division, called CommSec.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics employee sent the data to the companies at about 11:12 a.m., according to the documents released today. Internal correspondence indicated that the agency, after recognizing the breach, sought to gauge any market reaction prior to the official release.

The early release covered retail sales for March that showed a gain of 0.9 percent, or four times greater than the median forecast of economists surveyed. The currency rose just after the official release at 11:30 a.m.

“There was a slight move in the Australian dollar at 11:15 a.m. but it fell back prior to the release of the data at 11:30 a.m.,” Paul Williams, regional director in New South Wales for the bureau, said in an e-mail to colleagues. The release “does not appear to have moved the stock market,” he said.

‘Full Review’

CommSec acknowledged receipt of the e-mail at 11:27 a.m., Williams wrote in his e-mail. The department “will undertake a full review of the circumstances that lead to the early release of the data with the view of avoiding any future incidents of this nature,” he wrote.

Steve Batten, a Sydney-based spokesman for Commonwealth Bank, said: “We were aware that it was issued earlier than it should’ve been and as a result we did nothing with the information until the normal release time of 11:30, which we also communicated to the ABS.”

Judy Hitchen, a spokeswoman for Citigroup in Sydney, confirmed that the New York-based bank received the data and didn’t act on the information.

Strong or weak data frequently drives rises and falls in the nation’s currency, the world’s fifth-most traded.

Australian Statistician Brian Pink issued a press release May 7 announcing the early release, pledging “a full review of the circumstances leading up to the release to understand why it happened and to prevent it from happening again.”

Bruce Hockman, head of the macroeconomics statistics division at the bureau, said in an interview today that the review is still being finalized and will likely lead to changes in the issuance of “special data requests.”

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