The National Treasury said the alleged manipulation of the rand did not affect the currency’s value and is not the reason behind the rand’s decline over the past decade.
The Treasury released a statement on Friday afternoon where it noted with concern Standard Chartered Bank’s admission that it manipulated the rand-dollar exchange rate.
“National Treasury views this matter in a serious light and welcomes the sanction in terms of which Standard Chartered Bank agrees and undertakes to pay an administrative penalty worth R42.7 million.”
The company’s admission of guilt resulted in widespread condemnation of South Africa’s banking sector in particular and the private sector more generally.
Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said, “The performance of the rand and sometimes the performance of the economy has been manipulated by the private sector, which has no interest in the development of this country”.
“They continue to engineer and do machinations to make sure that the government collapses.”
“That’s why they also self-feed in the narrative that there’s a collapsing state and a collapsing economy because that’s what they wish for, and their actions do that.”
She emphasised the importance of consequences for the companies involved in manipulating the rand.
“They cannot be left untouched because they wanted to collapse this country. There must be consequences, and there will be consequences.”
However, Treasury official Christopher Axelson said there is no evidence that the price-fixing, which he explained ended in 2013, strengthened or weakened the rand.
Axelson told Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance last week that the reasons for weak economic growth and the declining value of the rand were the “significant constraints on our economy”.
These constraints include load-shedding and logistics challenges, which have resulted in the country’s economic output remaining stagnant.
“It is highly unlikely that there are large impacts on the currency today from [what occurred] back in 2013,” Axelson said.
South Africa’s big banks have also denied allegations that they made excessive profits from manipulating the currency and affecting the rand’s value.
Standard Bank said in a statement that it has not manipulated the value of the rand and has not engaged in any anti-competitive or criminal conduct.
“These comments incorrectly link unrelated and unfounded allegations with the Competition Commission inquiry currently under adjudication before the Competition Appeal Court,” it said.
“Standard Bank has not manipulated the value of the rand. Standard Bank has not engaged in any anti-competitive or criminal conduct. All such claims are false.”
While manipulating the South African rand may have led to substantial profits for the involved banks and companies, claims that these entities were reaping R1 trillion in profits daily and significantly impacted the currency’s long-term value are exaggerated.
TreasuryOne director Andre Cilliers emphasised the importance of differentiating between short-term transaction flows and the broader economic fundamentals that ultimately dictate the long-term direction of a currency.
He explained that currency manipulation, often associated with large-scale transactions such as mergers and acquisitions, involves collaborating banks influencing the bids and offers of a currency within a specific timeframe.
Banks can enhance their outcomes when acquiring or selling currencies by manipulating the difference between a currency’s buying and selling prices.
However, Cilliers stressed that this tactic is limited to so-called “big-ticket” deals and cannot override the impact of global events and economic fundamentals that shape the long-term trajectory of a currency.
He emphasised that this tactic is confined to these specific transactions and cannot fundamentally alter the long-term value of the rand.
For example, if two banks were to manipulate the spread between a bid and an offer in a big ticket deal today, but on the same day, a war breaks out, skyrocketing the oil price by 20%, the spread manipulation’s influence on the rand would be overshadowed.
Cilliers also addressed the claims of R1 trillion profits per day allegedly generated by the entities involved in the rand manipulation.
He finds these claims implausible, considering South Africa’s annual GDP of R4.58 trillion at the end of 2022 and the sporadic nature of the collaboration between the involved parties.
He explains that the collusion did not occur daily but during specific major transactions and none of the entities collaborated with every other entity daily.