Gold futures were going bonkers in the fall of 2013 and early 2014.
On a weekly and sometimes daily basis, unbelievably massive gold contracts were coming on the market at non-peak trading hours, only to be withdrawn almost instantaneously. In one particularly alarming instance in January 2014, the yellow metal plummeted $30, from $1,245 an ounce to below $1,215, in as little as 100 milliseconds.
Whatever the cause of this behavior—“fat finger” errors, as some people suggested, or “quote stuffing,” as others suspected—markets were effectively shaken.
From the very beginning, we reported on these anomalies in a series of commentaries that read now like notes from a foxhole. In the September 13, 2013 edition of our Investor Alert, the USGI investments team wrote:
The bullion plunge this week sent the yellow metal breaking below the 100- and 50-day moving averages. Strange dealing patterns are adversely affecting the gold price. These dealings revolve around the “flashing” of massive gold contracts for sale to traders, at a time of day that there is normally little or no activity in the markets, and no news story being released.
Then, on October 25:
You can see massive trading volumes every day of over 5,000 contracts, all around the same time. On the first of October, as well as on October 10, there were massive trades of over 20,000 contracts. This amount represents well over two million ounces, or around $2.6 billion. It’s safe to say nobody has that amount of physical gold, apart from the big central banks, so these trades are being done by entities trading gold they do not have in a manner designed primarily to trigger stop loss orders.
And again, on December 20, 2013:
In recent weeks, there have been concerns among market participants and regulators that the process for establishing the price of gold may lend itself to insider trading and other forms of unfair dealing. The spot price of gold tends to drop sharply around the London evening fixing, or 10:00 a.m. Eastern. A similar, if less pronounced, drop in price occurs around the London morning fixing. For both commodities, there were, on average, no comparable price changes at any other time of the day. These patterns appear to be consistent with manipulation in both markets.
Although these “strange dealing patterns” eventually tapered off, it remained a mystery who or what was behind them.