What does a trader mean when he says he will “spank the market”?

Where’s the “spank” button?
Where’s the “spank” button?
Image: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao
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Traders say the darnedest things.

Classics of the chat-log genre include this message from an RBS trader“its just amazing how libor fixing can make you that much money”—which regulators got their hands on and used to hit the British bank with more than $600 million in fines for manipulating Libor benchmark rates. There’s standard homosocial flirting, like the broker who told a UBS trader, after some dodgy market deeds: “mate yur getting bloody good at this libor game …think of me when yur on yur yacht in monaco wont yu.” And then there are straight-up admissions of guilt, like the Barclays vice president who succinctly observed (paywall), “if you aint cheating, you aint trying.”

There are also prime candidates among the statements made to Robert Bogucki, the former head of Barclays foreign-exchange trading in New York. Bogucki is charged with wire fraud (pdf), as part of a 2011 scheme to manipulate dollar-pound exchange rates to profit the bank’s trading positions at the expense of client Hewlett-Packard. The US tech company was preparing a big UK acquisition at the time, so it hired Barclays to hep it move lots of money between dollars and pounds. Bogucki’s jury trial started this week in San Francisco (paywall).

Back in 2015, Barclays pleaded guilty to manipulating exchange rates and was fined more than $2 billion by US and UK authorities.

Chats between Bogucki and other traders at Barclays paint a complicated picture, heavy with vibrant verbal pageantry and idiosyncratic metaphor. One trader promised Bogucki that they would respectively “spank the market like good and proper” and “basically bash the shit out of this.” Another told fellow traders in an online chat to “HAMMER THE MKT LOWER.” Is this simple enthusiasm or something more sinister? That’s the conundrum facing the jury, who will have to employ their shrewdest close-reading techniques to get to the heart of the transcripts.

In a somewhat less ambiguous conversation detailed in the indictment, Bogucki promised Hewlett Packard representatives that he would keep the company’s market positioning “very quiet” and said a breach of this agreement would be a “fire-able offense.”