“Please don’t tell anyone what happened today lads x,” one of a group of traders dubbed “the Essex Boys” texted his colleagues as they reportedly made $700m on the collapse of the oil price in 2020.
The text and others were unsealed in a Chicago court on Tuesday as a US judge gave the green light to a proposed class-action lawsuit filed against the traders.
Twelve traders with Essex-based Vega Capital London have been accused of manipulating markets and violating antitrust laws by the US coin, metals and jewelry dealer Mish International Monetary. The defendants had moved to have the suit thrown out, arguing they were simply following what their lawyer has called “blaring” market signals.
“The content of their communications, along with the high degree of correlative trading among most of them, give rise to a highly plausible inference of an agreement among them,” US district judge Gary Feinerman wrote in his order, which included excerpts of messages between the traders.
He gave the go-ahead for the case to proceed against eight of the traders.
On 20 April 2020 oil prices dropped below zero for the first and, so far, only time after the coronavirus brought much of the world to a halt and triggered an oversupply of oil.
Messages on the traders’ WhatsApp group, which was titled “Legends XXX”, showed the traders trying to push prices for WTI crude oil futures – an actively traded oil commodity – lower and exchanging information about their positions, according to the court filing.
“We pushed each other so hard for years for this one moment … And we fucking blitzed it boys,” read one message. “Just keep selling it every 5 points,” another said. “You’ve just got to keep selling,” said another. “Everyone is going to be short and have ammo,” read another. “Fucking mental. I wanna see negative WTI prices,” read another.
Mish has accused the traders of acting in “virtual lockstep” to sell oil contracts in an attempt to depress oil prices.
Between 96.2% and 99.7% of their trades were highly correlated, according to the suit, and moved “in the same direction at the very same time”. In the 30 minutes between 1 and 1.30pm, when the market closed, the traders were allegedly responsible for 29.2% of the total volume in WTI crude oil futures.
According to an investigation by Bloomberg News, the traders at Vega Capital mostly lived and worked out of their homes in the same neighborhood in Essex and were brought together by an experienced trader named Paul Commins, known as “Cuddles”.