Citigroup Gets a Taste of How the Little Guy Lives

Jonathan Weil joined Bloomberg News as a columnist in 2007, and his columns on finance and accounting won Best in the Business awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 2009 and 2010.
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It has become something of a ritual for the public and the press to decry penny-on-the-dollar settlements between the Securities and Exchange Commission and big banks that got caught ripping off the public. Now some of those banks are getting a sense of what it feels like to be on the other side.

The SEC has approved Nasdaq OMX Group Inc.'s plan to pay a maximum of $62 million to brokers for its botched handling of Facebook Inc.'s initial public offering last May. Nasdaq normally isn't liable for losses arising from the use of its trading systems. However, Nasdaq's rules allow the company to compensate brokers for losses resulting from its systems' failures to process orders correctly. The SEC in its March 22 order said Nasdaq's liability for Facebook-related losses could have been as low as $500,000.

UBS AG told the SEC in a comment letter last year that it entered multiple orders for Facebook shares because it didn't receive confirmations, resulting in losses of more than $350 million. Other brokers that complained to the SEC included Citigroup Inc.

"Market participants suffered hundreds of millions of dollars of losses as a result of Nasdaq's profit-driven conduct prior to and during the Facebook IPO, not as a result of protected regulatory activity by Nasdaq, or routine systems failures," Citigroup said in an August comment letter. "Nasdaq should not be permitted to hide behind regulatory immunity."

How's that for rich? A too-big-to-jail bank complaining that it has suffered because someone else is hiding behind government protections. It might not be justice, but it is poetic justice.

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