Treasury market manipulation?

John Dimsdale Oct 30, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The federal government’s tightening its belt just a bit. The Treasury Department announced today it’ll cut the amount of money it borrows 39 percent this quarter. Down to a relatively thrifty $63 billion. To borrow money the government sells Treasury bonds. Notes and bills. Securities is the fancy name for them. And the Wall Street Journal reports today regulators are looking into whether the market has been manipulated. It’s a huge market. Four-and-a-half-trillion dollars worth. So our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports any whiff of hanky-panky gets a swift response from the financial cops.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Neither the government nor targeted companies are talking, but the Wall Street Journal says the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether traders tried to control the availability of Treasury bonds, thereby artificially increasing their value. Companies under scrutiny include two Swiss financial services conglomerates: UBS and Credit Suisse.

MARILYN COHEN: What’s at risk is the integrity of the Treasury market.

Marilyn Cohen of Envision Capital says the world financial system depends on keeping Treasury securities trading above board.

COHEN: That is a big, big deal. Large investors from the central bank of China to a mom-and-pop really rely on the Treasury market being the most efficient, squeaky cleanest and fairest of any of the sectors of the bond market.

Back in 1991, traders at Salomon Brothers were caught purchasing large blocks of government issued bonds in an attempt to squeeze the market. Regulators slapped new restrictions on the number of bonds a single firm could buy.

But Vanderbilt University’s Hans Stoll, cautions against overreaction in the current case.

HANS STOLL: The very size of the Treasury market is in a sense its own guarantor that no one will typically be able to manipulate it very far, if at all. You need a lot of capital.

Some dealers point to low interest rates as proof that Treasuries are not being manipulated. But regulators apparently don’t want to take any chances.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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