EU clears banks barred from bond deals after ‘declaration on honour’

Eight banks previously barred from taking part in bond sales for the EU’s €800bn recovery fund have been cleared to handle future transactions after promising “integrity” and providing evidence of “remedial measures” following historical breaches of antitrust rules.

The EU launched its largest ever borrowing spree earlier this week with a €20bn bond sale, but 10 banks were frozen out of working on the deal due to their previous involvement in market-rigging scandals. Eight of those lenders are now free to handle future bond syndications under the programme, the European Commission said. 

The banks are Deutsche Bank, Crédit Agricole, JPMorgan, Citigroup, Barclays, UniCredit, Bank of America, and Nomura, according to a person familiar with the matter. NatWest and Natixis will continue to be excluded for the time being because they have not yet provided relevant information to the EU, the person said. The two banks declined to comment.

“The eight banks have provided information that allow the Commission to conclude that their further exclusion from participation in syndicated transactions in EU bond issuances is not warranted,” the Commission said in a statement, adding that the decision came after “a thorough analysis taking into consideration the remedial measures applied by the concerned institutions”.

The “remedial measures” included evidence of how the banks police the activities of traders in chat rooms, as well as a document known as a “declaration on honour” stating adherence to a range of EU standards, bankers said.

Banks excluded from EU deals ran the risk of missing out on a major new source of fees in European bond markets, as the recovery fund transforms Brussels into one of the region’s biggest borrowers. The Commission paid out €20m in fees on Tuesday’s inaugural transaction.

Bank of America, Natixis, Nomura, NatWest and UniCredit had been prevented from taking part in EU syndications because of a commission antitrust ruling last month that they participated in a bond trading cartel during the eurozone debt crisis a decade ago.

Citigroup, JPMorgan and Barclays, in addition to NatWest, were barred following a finding two years ago that they were involved in manipulating currency markets between 2007 and 2013. Deutsche Bank and Crédit Agricole were also excluded because of an April ruling that they were involved in a different bond trading cartel.

The banks initially excluded from syndications included seven of the 10 largest by volume of European government and supranational debt sold this year, according to figures from Dealogic.

All 10 banks are on a list of 39 “primary dealers” — banks that participate in regular debt auctions, which the EU will begin in September.

The responsibility to bid at auctions can sometimes prove costly, so banks generally see syndication fees as a sweetener for taking on primary dealer status.

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