Hong Kong’s securities regulator has reprimanded and fined three units of the JP Morgan group for regulatory breaches and/or internal-control failings within its institutional equities business.

JP Morgan Broking (Hong Kong) (JPMBHK), JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) (JPMSAP) and JP Morgan Securities (Far East) (JPMSFE) were, respectively, fined HK$15 million ($1.94 million), HK$12 million and HK$3 million.

An investigation by the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) revealed that the bank had failed to implement adequate systems and controls in its institutional equities business in Hong Kong to ensure compliance with the rules on: short-selling activities; client facilitation and principal trading business; and operation of dark liquidity pool trading services.

Short-selling activities 
Between May 2010 and February 2013, JPMBHK and JPMSAP had incorrectly aggregated the inventory positions controlled by a principal trading desk across two offshore affiliates in determining whether their position in a security was net long or net short. As a consequence, the two firms wrongly conducted more than 41,000 uncovered short sale trades as long sale trades. In Hong Kong, ‘naked’ or ‘uncovered’ short selling is prohibited.

Furthermore, contrary to the rules, 34% of the short-selling orders placed by JPMBHK and/or JPMSAP for principal trading in May 2012 did not have the appropriate documents in place to confirm that the sales were covered when the short-sell orders were placed. 

Client facilitation and principal trading business
Between January 2011 and December 2012 JPMSFE and JPMSAP did not have adequate systems and controls in place to prevent a client-facilitation trade being executed without the client’s consent. 

The SFC also found that JP Morgan granted seven facilitation traders and 14 principal traders incorrect access rights under its network shared drives and/or order management systems between January and December 2012.  As a result, the facilitation and principal traders were able to view client order flow information beyond their defined access rights. 

Furthermore, JP Morgan had set up a reporting structure with potential conflicts, under which the trading desks responsible for handling agency orders had a reporting line to two senior managers who were also facilitation traders prior to August 2012.  

However, JP Morgan had not put in place effective systems and controls to guard against potential misuse or abuse of client agency order flow information by the facilitation traders. 

Operation of dark liquidity pool trading services 
In April 2011, the SFC granted approval to JPMBHK to provide automated trading services (type 7 regulated activity). During and after the application process, JPMBHK represented to the SFC that its client-facing crossing engine, namely JPMX, was a pure agency-to-agency matching platform. 

However, the SFC found that numerous principal orders of JP Morgan were incorrectly routed into the agency pool of JPMX for matching between March and July 2012 due to human and systems errors. None of these orders were crossed in JPMX.  

There were also a number of instances where agency orders were incorrectly routed on two dates in August and December 2012 into a separate, non-client principal pool of JPMX.  

Some of these agency orders were crossed with principal orders in this separate pool, but none of them were executed at a price lower than the prevailing best bid (for sell orders) or higher than the prevailing best ask (for buy orders) price of the Hong Kong stock exchange. 

Many of the above failings were not identified or corrected until the SFC brought them to JP Morgan’s attention in the course of a SFC inspection into the business activities of JPMBHK and JPMSFE. 

In determining this disciplinary action, the SFC took into account that JP Morgan co-operated in resolving the SFC’s concerns; has taken steps to rectify the concerns raised; agreed to engage an independent reviewer to conduct a forward-looking review of the internal controls and systems in respect of the areas mentioned above; and has a clean disciplinary record in relation to its regulated activities.