Commercial Court grants summary judgment in favour of defendant bank in FX de-pegging case

The Commercial Court has granted summary judgment in favour of a bank defending a claim brought by a foreign exchange (“FX“) broker seeking to recover losses it suffered when the Swiss franc was de-pegged from the euro in 2015: CFH Clearing Limited v MLI [2019] EWHC 963 (Comm).

The decision represents a robust approach by the court in response to an attempt to shift losses caused by market forces to the defendant bank, through a suite of alleged express/implied contractual obligations and tortious duties. It is an example of how the court will be prepared – in appropriate cases – to summarily determine claims, without the need for a full trial and all the time and costs involved. As such, the decision should be welcomed by financial institutions.

In the present case, the broker argued that since its FX transactions with the bank were entered into at a time of severe market disruption, the bank was obliged to make a retrospective adjustment to the price of those transactions (which the broker said were automatically liquidated at a price below the official low), or to cancel them. In particular, the broker relied upon: (i) an alleged express/implied contractual obligation to follow market practice; (ii) the alleged incorporation of a contractual term based on the bank’s own best execution policy; and (iii) an alleged tortious duty to take reasonable care to ensure that transactions were priced correctly and, in circumstances where orders were wrongly priced due to market turbulence, to retrospectively re-price them.

The Commercial Court rejected all of the alleged contractual/tortious duties and granted summary judgment in favour of the defendant bank. In doing so, it emphasised the significance of the ISDA Master Agreement governing the specific FX transactions, which it said prevailed over the bank’s standard terms and conditions (rejecting the broker’s submission that the standard terms should be regarded as having primacy). The court held that the ISDA Master Agreement did not incorporate any express provisions relating to market practice/disruption, and pointed against the incorporation of an implied term to that effect and the alleged tortious duty.

Background

This case concerned FX transactions which the claimant broker entered into with the defendant bank on 15 January 2015, in which the claimant bought Swiss francs and sold euros, and were documented by an ISDA Master Agreement together with an electronic confirmation. The FX transactions took place on the same day (and shortly before) the Swiss National Bank ‘depegged’ the Swiss franc from the euro, by removing the currency floor with respect to the value of the Swiss franc against the euro. This led to severe fluctuations in the foreign exchange market. The extreme rates triggered automatic liquidation of certain client positions of the claimant at prices below the official low set by the e-trading platform for Swiss franc interbank trades, known as the Electronic Broking Service (“EBS“). Later that day, other banks amended the pricing of trades which they had executed with the claimant to prices at or above the official EBS low. The bank agreed to improve the pricing of its trades, but to a level below the EBS low.

The claimant’s case was that since the FX transactions were entered into at a time of severe market disruption, the bank was obliged to make a retrospective adjustment to the price of those transactions (e.g. to adjust the price to a rate to the EBS low, in accordance with alleged market practice), or to cancel them, in accordance with its express or implied contractual obligations and/or pursuant to a duty of care in tort.

The bank applied for strike out and/or summary judgment.

Decision

The court granted summary judgment in respect of all claims, holding there was no real prospect of the claim succeeding/no other compelling reason for a trial. The key issues which are likely to be of broader interest to financial institutions are summarised below.

1. Express term as to market practice

To establish an express term as to market practice, the claimant relied on clause 7 of the bank’s terms and conditions, as follows:

All transactions are subject to all applicable laws, rules, regulations howsoever applying and, where relevant, the market practice of any exchange, market, trading venue and/or any clearing house and including the FSA Rules (together, the “applicable rules”). In the event of any conflict between these Terms and applicable rules, the applicable rules shall prevail subject that nothing in this preceding clause shall affect our rights under clause 15.” (Emphasis added)

The claimant alleged that the effect of the words “subject to” was to incorporate all applicable laws rules and regulations (and market practice) into the contract. It said that this imposed a number of obligations on the bank. In particular, in the case of extreme events where deals took place outside of the market range (i.e. those shown on the EBS platform), to immediately adjust the deal within the EBS range or to cancel it. The claimant alleged that the bank was in breach of clause 7 because it did not act in accordance with good market practice, by failing to rebook the relevant trades within the EBS range at the time or cancel the trades.

Applying established principles of contractual interpretation, the court held that the objective meaning of the language of clause 7, was that market practice was not imported into the contract as an express term of the contract giving rise to contractual obligations. Rather, clause 7 was intended to relieve a party of contractual obligations that would otherwise place it in breach of its contract, where it was unable to perform its obligations by reason of relevant market practice.

One of the key factors influencing the court’s decision was that the standard terms stated they were subject to any specific transaction documentation, which the court held clearly included the ISDA Master Agreement governing the FX transactions. The court held that the ISDA Master Agreement prevailed over the standard terms (rejecting the claimant’s submission that the standard terms should be regarded as having primacy), and added that the ISDA Master Agreement was the appropriate place for the parties to have specified express provisions dealing with market disruption, and they had not done so in this case.

In the court’s view, this was not a case where there were reasonable grounds for believing that a fuller investigation into the facts would add to or alter the evidence on the issue of the express term. Accordingly, the court was prepared to “grasp the nettle” and decide the point finally on the application.

2. Implied term as to market practice

In the alternative, the claimant asserted that it was an implied term of the contracts relevant to the FX transactions that the parties would act in accordance with market practice.

Applying the test for implied terms in Marks & Spencer plc v BNP Paribas Securities Services Trust Co (Jersey) Ltd [2015] UKSC 72, the court held that there was no real prospect of the claimant establishing the implied term as alleged. In particular, the court noted that in circumstances where the parties had entered into an ISDA Master Agreement, which contained extensive and comprehensive provisions used widely in the market, it could not be said that a general implied term for the incorporation of relevant market practice was either necessary for business efficacy or so obvious that it went without saying.

3. Contractual term based on the bank’s best execution policy

The claimant also alleged that the bank’s best execution policy was incorporated into the standard terms and conditions. It relied again upon clause 7, which stated (in addition to the part of the clause quoted above in relation to an alleged implied term as to market practice):

“Your orders will be executed in accordance with our order execution policy (as amended from time to time), a summary of which will, where applicable, be provided to you separately…”

The court held that the fact that the bank was obliged to follow the best execution policy did not mean that it was incorporated as a contractual term. In particular, the court highlighted that the best execution policy derived from the regulatory rules and emphasised that it was clear from the authorities that obligations on banks to comply with the Conduct of Business rules did not confer direct rights on their clients except and to the extent that the statute expressly provided. Further, given that only a summary of the best execution policy was provided to the claimant, this supported the bank’s submission that the best execution policy was not intended by the language of clause 7 to be incorporated into the standard terms and conditions as a contractual term. In the court’s view, even if the best execution policy was incorporated as a contractual term, there was no real prospect that it would extend to a requirement to retrospectively adjust the pricing of the trades, or to cancel them, where the price of the trades was affected by market turbulence.

4. Duty of care in relation to execution and settlement of orders

The claimant alleged that the bank assumed a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that transactions were priced correctly and, in circumstances where orders were wrongly priced due to market turbulence, to retrospectively re-price them.

The court found that there was no real prospect of the claimant establishing such a duty of care in the circumstances, given that both parties were professionals dealing at arm’s length. The court relied in particular on the terms of the ISDA Master Agreement and the standard terms and conditions, which expressly provided that the bank was not acting as a fiduciary. In the court’s view, the duty alleged had not been breached in any event.

Accordingly, the court granted the bank’s application for summary judgment, holding that there was no real prospect of the claim succeeding and no other compelling reason to allow the claim to proceed.

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Commercial Court gives guidance on definition of ‘consumer’ under Recast Brussels Regulation in cryptocurrency futures trading case

An individual investor, with substantial means and more knowledge and experience than the average person, may still be considered a ‘consumer’ for the purposes of Article 17 of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 on jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (“Recast Brussels Regulation“), even when contracting to trade a specialised product such as cryptocurrency futures.

The recent Commercial Court decision in Ramona Ang v Reliantco Investments Limited [2019] EWHC 879 (Comm) has confirmed the purposive test to be applied when considering whether an individual investor is a consumer under the Recast Brussels Regulation. While this decision arguably gives a generous interpretation as to who is a consumer under Article 17, it does provide some helpful clarification for financial institutions contracting with retail clients. In particular:

  1. The court held that the key question when assessing if an individual investor is a consumer is the purpose for which the investment was entered into. Specifically, whether the individual entered into the contract for a purpose which can be regarded as being outside his or her trade or profession. While the circumstances of the individual and the nature of the investment activity (including the use of intermediaries/advisers) will be considered, the court emphasised that these factors will not be determinative of the issue.
  2. This decision is a good example of how each case will be fact-specific and will turn on whether the individual is considered to be contracting for a non-business purpose. In this instance, the court held that despite the specialised nature of the products themselves, a wealthy individual committing substantial capital to speculative transactions in the hope of making investment gains was a consumer for the purposes of Article 17 of the Recast Brussels Regulation. It disagreed with the suggestion from other EU Member State courts that such activity must necessarily be a business activity, i.e. cannot ever be a consumer activity.
  3. In cases where a person does meet the ‘consumer’ test, if they have nonetheless given the other party the impression that they are contracting for business purposes, they will not be able to rely upon Article 17. (However, that was not the case here).
  4. This case is a reminder that if an individual investor meets the criteria under Article 17 of the Recast Brussels Regulation and brings a claim in the courts of their choice as a consumer under Article 18, this may trump an exclusive jurisdiction clause under Article 25 (unless certain exceptions apply, such as agreeing the exclusive jurisdiction clause after the dispute has arisen).

It is worth noting that the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU“) has recently published an Advocate General (“AG“) opinion in a similar case, concerning a preliminary ruling on whether a natural person who engages in trade on the currency exchange market is to be regarded as a consumer within the meaning of Article 17: Jana Petruchová v FIBO Group Holdings Limited Case C 208/18. The AG opinion is largely consistent with the decision of the High Court in this case, save that it goes further by stating that no account should be taken of the circumstances of the individual and the nature/pattern of their investment (whereas in the instant case, the High Court said such factors would be considered, but would not be determinative – see the first point above).

Background

The claimant (an individual of substantial means) invested in Bitcoin futures, on a leveraged basis, through an online trading platform (UFX), owned by the defendant. The claimant had no education or training in cryptocurrency investment or trading and was not employed at the time, but she played a part in looking after the family’s wealth and assisting her husband, a computer scientist with cybersecurity and blockchain expertise, who has identified himself publicly as being “Satoshi Nakamoto”, the online pseudonym associated with the investor of Bitcoin.

During the account opening process on the UFX platform, the claimant provided certain information about herself, including that she was self-employed, familiar with investment products including currencies and was a frequent trader (75+ trades). She was provided with and accepted the defendant’s terms and conditions.

The defendant terminated the claimant’s UFX account, the claimant alleged that the defendant did so wrongfully and brought a claim in the English High Court for compensation for the loss of her open Bitcoin positions. In response, the defendant challenged the jurisdiction of the English High Court, by reference to an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of Cyprus in the terms and conditions (and relying upon Article 25 of the Recast Brussels Regulation).

Decision

The claimant argued that the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the defendant’s terms and conditions was ineffective, either because she was a consumer within Section 4 of the Recast Brussels Regulation or because the clause was not incorporated into her UFX customer agreement in such a way to satisfy the requirements of Article 25 of the Recast Brussels Regulation.

The High Court held that the claimant was a consumer within Article 17 of the Recast Brussels Regulation, on the basis that she was contracting with the defendant for a purpose outside her trade or profession. As a result, she was permitted under Article 18 of the same regulation to continue her claim in the High Court and the defendant’s challenge to the jurisdiction was dismissed. The court’s decision in relation to Article 17 is discussed further below.

Test to be applied to an individual under Article 17 of the Recast Brussels Regulation

Article 17 of the Recast Brussels Regulation applies to contracts “concluded by a person, the consumer, for a purpose which can be regarded as being outside his trade or profession“. The court noted that the concept of ‘consumer’ had been considered a number of times by the ECJ/CJEU and had an autonomous meaning under EU law, which was independent of national law.

The defendant contended that the ECJ/CJEU had ‘glossed’ the definition of consumer, relying in particular upon the ECJ’s statement in Benincasa [1997] ETMR 447 that “only contracts concluded for the purpose of satisfying an individual’s own needs in terms of private consumption” were protected by the consumer rule under Article 17. The High Court rejected this contention, however, following the approach taken by Longmore J in Standard Bank London Ltd v Apostolakis [2002] CLC 933 and holding that this reference to “private consumption” was not a new or different test to the one under the Recast Brussels Regulation. The court reaffirmed that there were “end user” and “private individual” elements inherent in the notion of a consumer, but that an individual acting for gain could nonetheless meet the test.

In doing so, the court made the following key observations:

  • The court confirmed that the issue as to whether an individual investor is a consumer will be fact-specific in any given case. It emphasised that the question of purpose is the question to be asked, and must be considered upon all of the evidence available to the court and not to any one part of that evidence in isolation.
  • It agreed with the decision in AMT Futures Limited v Marzillier [2015] 2 WLR 187that any assessment of whether an individual investor is a consumer is “likely to be heavily dependent on the circumstances of each individual and the nature and pattern of investment“. However, it emphasised that these factors cannot determine the issue, as to do so would be to effectively replace the non-business purpose test set by the Recast Brussels Regulation.
  • It disagreed with the conclusion reached by the Greek courts in both Standard Bank of London v Apostolakis [2003] I L Pr 29 and R Ghandour v Arab Bank (Switzerland) [2008] I L Pr 35 that “the purchase of moveable property for the purpose of resale for profit and its subsequent actual resale…” was intrinsically commercial, so that engaging in such trading was necessarily a business activity and not a consumer activity.

Application of the test

Applying the purposive test as set out in the Recast Brussels Regulation, the court’s view was that the claimant had contracted with the defendant for a non-business purpose. It is worth noting that the court reached this conclusion despite finding that the claimant had over-stated the extent of her prior trading experience. Given that such over-statement did not go as far as creating the impression that the claimant was opening an account for a business purpose, it did not affect the court’s overall conclusion.

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Court of Appeal finds ISDA jurisdiction clause trumps competing clause in related contract

The Court of Appeal’s judgment in BNP Paribas SA v Trattamento Rifiuti Metropolitani SPA provides further assurance that jurisdiction clauses within standard form ISDA documentation will not readily be displaced by contrary jurisdiction clauses in related contracts. The Court of Appeal gave effect to an English jurisdiction clause in an ISDA Master Agreement over an apparently competing Italian jurisdiction clause in a related financing agreement, despite a provision in the Schedule to the ISDA Master Agreement stating that, in the event of conflict, the financing agreement would prevail. The first instance decision of the Commercial Court was upheld (see our banking litigation e-bulletin).

Key to the Court of Appeal’s decision was its conclusion that there was no conflict between the jurisdiction clauses, which were found to govern different legal relationships and were therefore complementary, rather than conflicting. The Court emphasised that factual overlap, between potential claims under the ISDA Master Agreement and a related financing agreement, did not alter the legal reality that claims under the two agreements related to separate legal relationships.

The Court of Appeal’s decision is not unexpected, as it is in line with the recent Court of Appeal decision in Deutsche Bank AG v Comune Di Savona [2018] EWCA Civ 1740 (see our banking litigation e-bulletin) – which expressly approved the first instance decision in the present case. However, it will be welcomed as further evidence of the English court’s emphasis on construing commercial contracts, and in particular standard form ISDA documentation, in order to achieve market certainty and predictability.

Following the recent publication of French and Irish ISDA Master Agreements in light of Brexit, the court’s emphasis on predictability may serve as a timely reminder of the advantages of selecting English jurisdiction for ISDA Master Agreements.

Background

In 2008, a syndicate of banks led by the claimant, BNP Paribas S.A. (the “Bank“), entered into a loan agreement (the “Financing Agreement“) with the defendant, Trattamento Rifiuti Metropolitani S.p.A (“TRM“), an Italian public-private partnership, to fund the building of an energy plant. The Financing Agreement included an obligation for TRM to enter into an interest rate swap with the Bank to hedge the interest rate risks associated with the loan (the “Hedging Requirement“).

In 2010, pursuant to the obligation in the Financing Agreement, the parties executed a 1992 form ISDA Master Agreement (the “ISDA Agreement“) and an interest rate swap.

The Financing Agreement included an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Italian court. The ISDA Agreement contained an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English court. A clause in the Schedule to the ISDA Agreement stated that, in case of conflict between the terms of the ISDA Agreement and those of the Financing Agreement, the latter should “prevail as appropriate” (the “Conflicts Clause“).

In 2016, the Bank issued proceedings in the English Commercial Court against TRM seeking declarations of non-liability “in connection with a financial transaction pursuant to which [TRM] entered into interest rate hedging arrangements with the [Bank]“. In 2017, TRM sued the Bank before the Italian court and then issued an application in the Commercial Court to challenge its jurisdiction.

Commercial Court decision

The Commercial Court dismissed TRM’s application challenging jurisdiction. Applying Article 25(1) of the Recast Brussels Regulation, under which parties may agree to refer disputes to the court of a Member State, the Commercial Court found that the Bank had much the better of the argument that the dispute fell within the English jurisdiction clause of the ISDA Agreement. Of particular relevance are the Commercial Court’s findings that:

  1. There was no conflict between the two jurisdiction clauses. They could readily bear the interpretation that one concerned disputes relating to the Financing Agreement and the other concerned disputes relating to the ISDA Agreement. As there was no conflict, the Conflicts Clause in the Financing Agreement was not engaged.
  2. The parties’ decision to use ISDA documents was a “powerful point of context” which signalled that the parties wanted to achieve “consistency and certainty” in the interpretation of the contract. The use of ISDA documentation by commercial parties shows that they are “even less likely to intend that provisions in that documentation may have one meaning in one context and another meaning in another context“.

Grounds of appeal

The claimant appealed on the following principal grounds:

  1. The judge was wrong to conclude that there was no conflict between the jurisdiction clauses in the Financing Agreement and the ISDA Agreement. The Conflicts Clause therefore should have been engaged.
  2. In any event, the dispute arose in connection with the parties’ legal relationship set out in the Financing Agreement.

Court of Appeal decision

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on all grounds. The key aspects of the judgment which are likely to be of broader interest (particularly in relation to whether apparently competing jurisdiction clauses are, in fact, in conflict with one another) are considered further below.

Guidance on competing jurisdiction clauses

The Court of Appeal set out useful guidance on how to interpret apparently competing jurisdiction clauses in related contracts:

  1. The starting point is that a jurisdiction clause in one contract was probably not intended to capture disputes more naturally seen as arising under a related contract. There is therefore a presumption that each clause deals exclusively with its own subject matter and that they do not overlap, provided the language and surrounding circumstances allow. The most obvious subject matter of a generally worded jurisdiction clause will be the legal relationship created by the contract.
  2. It is unlikely that sensible business people would intend that similar claims should be subject to inconsistent jurisdiction clauses. However, if the language or surrounding circumstances make clear that a dispute falls within both clauses, the presumption that the clauses deal with separate legal relationships can be displaced.
  3. A broad, purposive and commercially minded approach to construction should be taken which interprets jurisdiction clauses in the context of the overall scheme of the agreements.

Do the jurisdiction clauses conflict?

Applying this approach to the present case, the Court of Appeal held that the natural interpretation of the two jurisdiction clauses was that the clause in the Financing Agreement governed claims relating to the background lending relationship set out in that agreement, and the clause in the ISDA Agreement governed claims relating to the specific interest rate swap relationship set out in that agreement. The Court of Appeal noted that this conclusion was strongly supported by the decision in Savona.

TRM sought to distinguish Savona on a number of bases, including by relying on the Conflicts Clause. With respect to the Conflicts Clause, the Court of Appeal held that the two juridisction clauses governed different legal relationships and were therefore complementary, rather than conflicting. Accordingly, the first instance judge was correct to find that the Conflicts Clause was not engaged.

Overlapping legal relationships

TRM also sought to distinguish Savona on the basis that the inclusion of the Hedging Requirement in the Financing Agreement meant that there was overlap between the legal relationships under the Financing Agreement and ISDA Agreement. It claimed that, as a result, the dispute fell within the legal relationship under the Financing Agreement. However, the Court of Appeal firmly rejected this argument:

  • The Court of Appeal distinguished between factual and legal overlap. TRM alleged that there was overlap between the two agreements, as certain claims regarding the sale of the swap could be brought under both the Financing Agreement (for breach of the Hedging Requirement) and the ISDA Agreement. However, the Court of Appeal held that factual overlap between potential claims under the Financing Agreement and the ISDA Agreement did not alter the legal reality that claims under the two agreements related to separate legal relationships.
  • TRM’s approach would lead to fragmentation of jurisdiction, whereby different terms within the ISDA Agreement would be subject to different jurisdiction clauses in separate contracts. The Court of Appeal considered this to be undesirable and that it was generally unlikely to be the intention of sensible commercial parties.

Declarations sought

Having rejected TRM’s attempts to distinguish Savona, the Court of Appeal proceeded to consider the specific declarations of non-liability sought by the Bank. Subject to the amendment of one of the declarations, the Court found that all of the declarations sought fell within the jurisdiction clause of the ISDA Agreement.

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Court of Appeal confirms ISDA 1995 Credit Support Annex does not provide for payment of ‘negative’ interest

The Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court’s decision that ‘negative interest’ is not payable by a Transferor of cash collateral under the standard form ISDA 1995 Credit Support Annex (“CSA“): The State of the Netherlands v Deutsche Bank AG [2019] EWCA Civ 771.

The Court of Appeal’s confirmation of this point is useful, because the lack of any express terms in the CSA in relation to the payment of negative interest had given rise to significant uncertainty (leading to publication of the ISDA 2014 Collateral Agreement Negative Interest Protocol). However, while the Court of Appeal reached the same result as the High Court, it commented that the High Court had adopted “too simplistic an approach” (see our banking litigation e-bulletin on the High Court’s decision).

The Court of Appeal gave three key reasons for its judgment. Firstly, the Court of Appeal agreed with the central reason given by the High Court, which was in summary: that paragraph 5(c)(ii) of the CSA covered positive (but not negative) interest; that this paragraph was the most obvious place to find a reference to negative interest if it had been intended; and the fact that negative interest was actually excluded from paragraph 5(c)(ii) was a powerful indicator that it was not contemplated as payable.

Secondly, both the High Court and Court of Appeal relied on the User’s Guide to the ISDA Credit Support Documents under English Law (published in 1999) as an aid to interpretation. However, the Court of Appeal also relied on other “background materials“, including a Best Practice statement issued just after the CSA was amended in 2010, which said in express terms that interest rates under the CSA should be floored at zero and not drop into a negative figure. The Court of Appeal noted that it would not normally be possible to look at post-contractual documentation as being indicative of factual matrix, but said this was significant as it showed ISDA’s thinking around the time of the CSA.

Finally, as a general and overarching reason, the Court of Appeal could see nothing in the CSA read as a whole that gave the impression that negative interest was contemplated or intended. It suggested this may be a situation of the kind envisaged in Arnold v Britton & Ors [2015] UKSC 36 (see our litigation blog post) where an event subsequently occurs which was plainly not intended or contemplated by the parties – or in this case the market – judging from the language of their contract. Excluding negative interest was not unfair, as was argued, it was just a function of what was actually agreed and not agreed.

The Court of Appeal therefore concluded that the CSA did not provide for the payment of negative, as opposed to positive interest, and dismissed the appeal.

Background

In March 2001 the State of the Netherlands (the “State“) and Deutsche Bank (the “Bank“) entered into an agreement comprising the 1992 ISDA Master Agreement, Schedule and CSA. The CSA was amended in 2010 to delete and replace paragraph 11.

The parties subsequently entered into a number of derivative transactions pursuant to these contractual arrangements. Under these transactions, where the State had a net credit exposure to the Bank: (i) the Bank was required to provide credit support to the State by way of cash collateral; and (ii) the State was required to pay the Bank interest on the collateral.

The State did, in fact, have a net credit exposure to the Bank and the Bank accordingly posted collateral. However, from June 2014, the interest rate applicable to the State’s obligation to pay interest on the collateral was less than zero. The State brought a claim against the Bank for negative interest in respect of the collateral.

High Court Decision

The High Court held that the State’s claim for negative interest failed. For a detailed explanation of the High Court’s decision, please see our banking litigation e-bulletin.

The main reason for the High Court’s decision was that paragraph 5(c)(ii) of the CSA only required the Transferee (the State) to pay interest to the Transferor (the Bank); there was no express reciprocal obligation for negative interest to be paid by the Bank to the State, in that paragraph or elsewhere in the CSA. The High Court agreed with the Bank that if there was an obligation to pay negative interest “it would be spelled out“. In the High Court’s view, had the parties wished to, they could have included an obligation on the Bank to pay negative interest, and paragraph 5(c)(ii) was the obvious place for such an obligation to appear.

Grounds of appeal

The State appealed. It contended that while paragraph 5(c)(ii) of the CSA provided only for the transfer of positive interest from the State to the Bank, other provisions of the CSA required that negative interest was accounted for. In essence, the State submitted that the defined term “Interest Amount” could include negative interest, and the definition of “Credit Support Balance” required that that negative interest should “form part of” that Credit Support Balance.

Court of Appeal decision

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, holding that on its true interpretation the CSA could not be taken as providing for the payment of negative (as opposed to positive) interest. However, the reasoning of the Court of Appeal differed quite significantly to the High Court, which it felt had adopted “too simplistic an approach“.

Considering the authorities on contractual interpretation relied on by the parties, the Court of Appeal first addressed Re Lehman Brothers (No 8) [2016] EWHC 2417 (Ch), which stated in an ISDA context that the focus should be on the words used “which should be taken to have been selected after considerable thought and with the benefit of the input and continuing review of users of the standard forms and of knowledge of the market”. It commented that while this was undoubtedly right to say, it did not take the matter much further in the instant case. Rather, in the Court of Appeal’s view, Wood v Capita Insurance Services Limited [2017] 2 WLR 1095 was more instructive (see our banking litigation e-bulletin). That case emphasised the need to consider the contract as a whole, consider rival meanings in the context of what is more consistent with business common sense, and consider the quality of the drafting when striking a balance between the language of the clause and its commercial implications.

With those points on the authorities in mind, the Court of Appeal gave three key reasons for its judgment, which are summarised below.

1. User’s Guide and background materials

In the Court of Appeal’s view, the User’s Guide to the ISDA Credit Support Documents under English Law (published in 1999) and background materials did not show that ISDA thought that negative interest was intended to be payable. The Court of Appeal said it was significant that the User’s Guide made no reference to negative interest being provided for. It is worth noting here that the User’s Guide was accepted before the High Court as being admissible factual matrix in relation to the interpretation of the CSA, having been published both before the original CSA was entered into in 2001 and amended in 2010.

Interestingly, the other “background materials” referred to by the Court of Appeal, and treated as influential in its thinking, actually post-dated the amendment of the CSA in 2010. The Court of Appeal noted that it would not normally be possible to look at post-contractual documentation as being indicative of factual matrix. However, a Best Practice statement issued just after the CSA was amended in 2010 expressly stated: “[a]t no point should the interest accrual (rate minus spread) drop into a negative figure. If this occurs the rate should be floored at zero”. The Court of Appeal said this was significant as it showed ISDA’s thinking around the time of the CSA (and even though it was not placed before the trial judge, it had been publicly available since 2010). The Court of Appeal accepted that while these (and later) documents were not conclusive, they could not be ignored.

2. Asymmetries created by the State’s interpretation

The Court of Appeal agreed with the Bank that there were a number of asymmetries created by the State’s interpretation of the CSA. The most significant of these was that paragraph 5(c)(ii) covered positive, but not negative, interest. The Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court that this paragraph was certainly the most obvious place to find a reference to negative interest if it were intended. It said the fact that negative interest was actually excluded from paragraph 5(c)(ii) was a powerful indicator that it was not contemplated as payable.

3. Negative interest not contemplated by the parties

As a general and overarching reason, the Court of Appeal could see nothing in the CSA read as a whole that gave the impression that negative interest was contemplated or intended. It suggested this may be a situation of the kind envisaged in Arnold v Britton where an event subsequently occurs which was plainly not intended or contemplated by the parties – or in this case the market – judging from the language of their contract. The result (that negative interest was not payable) was not unfair to the State and was simply a function of what had been agreed and not agreed.

The Court of Appeal accepted that the commercial background could be argued both ways. Having undertaken the process of iterative checking and re-checking of the competing interpretations against each part of the CSA, it concluded that the CSA did not provide for the payment of negative, as opposed to positive interest, and dismissed the appeal.

Harry Edwards
Harry Edwards
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Ceri Morgan
Ceri Morgan
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Court of Appeal emphasises the need to plead conspiracy claims in full

In a recent decision arising out of long-running litigation relating to alleged mis-selling of interest rate hedging products (“IRHPs“), the Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court’s refusal to allow the claimants to pursue claims in unlawful means conspiracy: Elite Property Holdings Ltd & Anor v Barclays Bank plc [2019] EWCA Civ 204. We considered the High Court decision in an earlier banking litigation e-bulletin.

While this decision did not involve new law, it serves as a reminder of the difficulties of bringing a claim based on conspiracy and, in particular, that it is not sufficient simply to plead a claim and hope something turns up in disclosure. The claimant must be able to plead full particulars of all elements of the claim at the outset. Further, as the case makes clear, release clauses in settlements may be construed widely and it is important to be clear as to precisely what claims (if any) are intended to survive the settlement. Both elements of the decision are likely to be welcomed by financial institutions.

The effect of the present judgment is finally to dispose of these proceedings (subject to any attempted appeal to the Supreme Court). The majority of the claimants’ claims relating to the sale of their IRHPs were previously struck out by the High Court (see our e-bulletin), in relation to which the Court of Appeal refused permission to appeal last year (see our e-bulletin). In its strike out judgment, the High Court had ordered the claimants to particularise properly their claims for conspiracy, giving the claim a potential lifeline, but the Court of Appeal has now refused permission to amend to include such claims, bringing this long-running dispute to an end.

Background

The detailed background is set out in our earlier e-bulletin, but in summary, following earlier decisions to strike-out parts of their claim, the claimants sought permission to amend their claim to add claims relating to unlawful interference and conspiracy with a predominant intention to injure, and conspiracy to use unlawful means. In particular, they sought to allege that the defendant bank (the “Bank“) combined with BDO to enable the Bank to foreclose the claimants’ loan facility (in connection with which the IRHPs were entered into) in breach of an undertaking given by the Bank.

The application to amend was dismissed by the High Court, whose judgment also dealt with other issues. The appeal in this case was concerned with the High Court’s decision to refuse permission to amend in relation to the claim for conspiracy to use unlawful means.

Decision

The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision. It agreed that, for the amendments to be allowed, the claimants needed to show that they had a real as opposed to fanciful prospect of success which was more than merely arguable and carried some degree of conviction: ED&F Man Liquid Products Ltd v Patel [2003] EWCA Civ 472.

The 2014 Release

The Bank argued it had made a redress offer concerned with the sale of the IRHPs (excluding consequential loss) which the claimants had accepted on 29 November 2014 (the “2014 Release“) and which settled any claims, including tortious claims for unlawful means conspiracy.

The claimants sought to argue that the 2014 Release did not, on its proper construction, include claims in unlawful means conspiracy. However, the Court of Appeal considered that, based on the drafting of the relevant agreement, the definition of “Claims” in the 2014 Release was extremely wide and was sufficient to include all claims of unlawful means conspiracy. As a result, it dismissed the appeal because the only claim in the amended pleading which was now pursued could have no real prospect of success.

Elements of unlawful means conspiracy

Although the appeal had been disposed of based on the 2014 Release, the Court of Appeal went on to consider the appeal against the High Court’s decision to refuse permission to amend on the grounds that the essential elements of the tort of conspiracy had not been pleaded.

The Court of Appeal confirmed the basic elements of the tort of conspiracy summarised by Morgan J in Digicel (St Lucia) Ltd v Cable & Wireless plc [2010] EWHC 774 (Ch):

“The necessary ingredients of the conspiracy alleged are: (1) there must be a combination; (2) the combination must be to use unlawful means; (3) there must be an intention to injure a claimant by the use of those unlawful means; and (4) the use of the unlawful means must cause a claimant to suffer loss or damage as a result.”

The claimants accepted that they needed to show that BDO and the Bank had combined to do something unlawful, and that they had simply pleaded an inference that there must have been a combination, rather than setting out a detailed pleading. However, the claimants submitted that pending disclosure it was not possible for them to plead more and that it was legitimate for an inference to be drawn.

The Court of Appeal held that this was not sufficient; it was necessary for each element of the conspiracy to be properly pleaded in full. Therefore the proposed amendments were defective and permission should be refused.

John Corrie
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Commercial Court rejects EURIBOR implied representations

The Commercial Court has dismissed claims that a bank made implied representations as to EURIBOR rate-setting in the context of selling an interest rate swap: Marme Inversiones 2007 SL v NatWest Markets plc & Ors [2019] EWHC 366 (Comm).

This is the second civil court trial judgment considering IBOR manipulation, the first being Property Alliance Group Ltd v Royal Bank of Scotland [2018] 1 WLR 3529 in which the claim relating to LIBOR manipulation was also dismissed (see our banking litigation e-bulletin). Together, these decisions are a reminder of the difficulties of proving allegations that IBOR-setting banks made implied representations when selling IBOR-linked products. The combined effect of these judgments suggests:

  • The requirement to identify specific conduct which led to the implied representation being made is important (and should not be underestimated). In the context of these transactions, a bank simply entering into an IBOR-linked swap is unlikely to justify the implication of any representation wider than the limited representation formulated by the Court of Appeal in PAG (see below).
  • Implied representations must be certain and obvious: if there is “elasticity of possible meaning“, this will indicate the absence of an implication.
  • The broader and more complex the alleged representations, the more active and specific the conduct must be to give rise to the implication.
  • Proving reliance on any representations which are implied will be fact-specific and onerous.
  • Falsity must be specifically proven: it is not sufficient to draw inferences on the basis of conduct relating to other benchmarks (such as an IBOR in a different currency) or indeed findings of the regulator.

In PAG, the Court of Appeal held that the bank made the narrow implied representation (at the time of entering into the swaps) that it was not itself seeking to manipulate GBP LIBOR and did not intend to do so in the future (however the claimants could not prove that the representation was false). In this case, the court’s view was that a similar narrow representation in relation to EURIBOR could theoretically have been implied, but this implied representation was not alleged, and was not shown to be false in any event.

Background

The proceedings arose out of interest rate swaps set by reference to EURIBOR, entered into between Marme Inversiones 2007 SL (“Marme“) and the defendant banks (the “Banks“). The Banks sought various declarations that they had lawfully terminated the swaps and that Marme owed them €710 million plus interest.

Marme sought rescission of the swaps ab initio and/or damages of up to €996 million on the basis that one of the Banks (RBS plc, “RBS“) negligently/fraudulently made representations regarding the integrity of the process of setting EURIBOR (on its own account and as agent for the other Banks) and that Marme relied upon those representations when entering into the swaps. Marme did not contend that the representations were made expressly, but that they should be implied from the circumstances and RBS’s conduct.

Decisions

The court found in favour of the Banks. It granted the declarations sought and held that the alleged representations did not fall to be implied.

The court distilled the following principles from existing authorities considering implied representations:

  1. It is possible for a representation to be made expressly or impliedly through words or conduct. For a representation to be implied, silence or mere assumption is not usually enough as there is no general duty of disclosure. It is necessary to view the words or conduct objectively to determine whether an implied representation has been made. The natural assumptions of the reasonable representee will be helpful in assessing whether an implied representation has been made through the conduct of the representor.
  2. Whether or not a representation is implied is ultimately a question of fact to be determined in the circumstances of the particular case: see also Deutsche Bank AG v Unitech Global Ltd [2013] EWCA Civ 1372.
  3. More may be required, in terms of words or conduct, to prove an implied representation which is wide in meaning or complex.
  4. It is less likely that a representation that is vague, uncertain or ambiguous would be objectively understood to have been made from words or conduct.

With these principles in mind, the court considered the representations alleged in the instant proceedings, identifying a number of (legal and factual) difficulties with the case alleged by Marme. The key points which are likely to be of broader interest are summarised below.

  • Marme alleged that in the light of PAG, at least some of the alleged representations in this case should be treated as having been “plainly” made by RBS. The court found that in truth PAG provided no support at all for Marme’s case. In PAG, the claimants similarly sought rescission of swap agreements and/or damages on the basis of (among other things) alleged implied fraudulent representations. The Court of Appeal in PAG found that the representations as pleaded could not be implied, but decided that a different implied representation would be justified:

In the present case there were lengthy discussions between PAG and RBS before the swaps were concluded as set out by the judge in the earlier part of her judgment. … RBS was undoubtedly proposing the swap transactions with their reference to LIBOR as transactions which PAG could and should consider as fulfilment of the obligations contained in the loan contracts. In these circumstances we are satisfied that RBS did make some representations to the effect that RBS itself was not manipulating and did not intend to manipulate LIBOR. Such a comparatively elementary representation would probably be inferred from a mere proposal of the swap transaction but we need not go as far as that on the facts of this case in the light of the lengthy previous discussions.

  • Marme submitted that, in the same way as PAG, the representations in this case should be inferred from a mere proposal of the swaps. However, the court observed that the representations in this case were not the same as the (narrow) implied representations reformulated by the Court of Appeal in PAG.
  • The court held that the implied representations were not supported by any other authority, in particular Deutsche Bank v Unitech offered no support. The court emphasised that although the Court of Appeal in Deutsche Bank v Unitech granted permission to amend to include pleas of implied representations about LIBOR, it would be wrong to regard what was decided as having too great a significance (given the appeal related to an interlocutory application to amend statements of claim and merely found that the points advanced were arguable).
  • Importantly, the court was concerned that if Marme’s case on implication was to succeed, it would inevitably involve a ‘watering down’ of the requirement that specific conduct be identified from which any alleged representation is said to arise. It said Marme could identify no conduct other than RBS entering into (and allegedly proposing) the swaps to justify the implication of any representation wider than the limited representation formulated by the Court of Appeal PAG. In the court’s view, this was an “intractable difficulty” for Marme.
  • The court also considered the decision in Geest v Fyffes [1991] 1 All ER (Comm) 672. The court in that case had set out a “helpful test” for evaluating the representor’s conduct in cases of implied representations, which is: to consider whether a reasonable representee would naturally assume that the true state of facts did not exist and that, if it did, he would necessarily have been informed of it. The Court of Appeal in PAG agreed this test was helpful, but it warned that this should not water down the requirement that there must be clear words or clear conduct of the representor from which the relevant representation can be implied. Here, the court said that invocation of the “helpful test” in Geest was not enough by itself – Marme could not merely rely on an internal assumption on its part that RBS failed to correct.
  • The court was concerned about the distinct lack of certainty (and associated lack of obviousness) as to what was entailed in the alleged representations. It said there was the same “elasticity of possible meaning” which had operated against the implication in Raiffeisen Zentralbank Osterreich AG v RBS [2010] EWHC 1392 (Comm).
  • The court accepted that passive conduct may sometimes be sufficient for the implication of a representation. However, it said the broader and more complex the alleged representations, the more active and specific the conduct must be to give rise to the implication.
  • In the court’s view, RBS’s conduct in going along with the swaps was sufficient for the implication of a much narrower representation: namely that RBS was not itself manipulating, and did not intend to manipulate or attempt to manipulate, EURIBOR. However, that implied representation was not put forward by Marme in the action. The court said that this was probably because Marme recognised that it would be “in no position to establish falsity“.

The court therefore rejected the implication of the representations alleged by Marme, the action failed and the court held that the banks were entitled to the declaratory relief sought. In case it was wrong in these conclusions, the court went on to consider questions of falsity and reliance, but this was on an obiter basis given its primary conclusions.

Donny Surtani
Donny Surtani
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John Corrie
John Corrie
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Ceri Morgan
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Important High Court guidance on the limits of determining party’s discretion when calculating Loss under the 1992 ISDA Master Agreement

The High Court has provided important guidance on the application of the standard to which a determining party’s calculation of Loss under the 1992 ISDA Master Agreement will be held in Lehman Brothers Finance AG (in liquidation) v (1) Klaus Tschira Stiftung GmbH & Anor [2019] EWHC 379 (Ch).

Upon an Event of Default under the 1992 ISDA, the standard to which the determining party is held in calculating Loss (if elected) under the 1992 ISDA has previously been confirmed in Fondazione Enasarco v Lehman Brothers Finance SA [2015] EWHC 1307 (read our summary here). The test is one of rationality, rather than objective reasonableness (in contrast to the position under the 2002 version of the ISDA Master Agreement). This gives the determining party greater latitude, with the result that the amounts can be determined quickly and with only limited basis for challenge. In the classical formulation of the test, the defaulting party can challenge the determination if it is irrational, capricious or arbitrary.

The Tschira decision provides additional clarification of the limitations on the determining party’s discretion to determine Loss, illustrating that the width of the discretion does not mean that the determination can only be challenged if it can be shown that “no reasonable Non-defaulting Party acting in good faith could have come to the same result“. In particular:

  1. Whilst an administrative-law style assessment would consider whether the determining party took into account all relevant factors and ignored all irrelevant factors, that does not mean that the determining party has the freedom to determine what the definition of Loss in the 1992 ISDA actually means. In other words, the determining party cannot apply its own interpretation of Loss and the court will scrutinise whether the correct interpretation has been applied.
  2. The definition of Loss in the 1992 ISDA did not provide a de facto indemnity against all losses suffered as a result of the Event of Default. Accordingly, common law principles of remoteness applied and it was necessary for the court therefore to consider whether all of the losses incorporated into the determination were in the reasonable contemplation of the parties.
  3. Whilst the determining party is plainly able to use indicative quotations obtained from market participants for the purpose of its calculation of Loss, care must be taken:
  • Only in limited circumstances will it be appropriate to rely on indicative quotations as at a later date than the Event of Default.
  • Whilst Enasarco established that the replacement trade to which the quotation applies need not be identical to the trade being valued, where the differences would obviously produce a substantially different result there is a real risk that use of such quotations to determine Loss would be deemed irrational.
  • It is clear that the determining party need not in fact enter into the replacement trade in order to be able to use the indicative quotation for the determination of Loss. However, in order for use of an indicative quotation to be rational, it may need to have been possible for the determining party to have been able to enter into it.

Background

The defendants were two German entities established by one of the founders of SAP. Since their principal assets consisted of shares in SAP, they had each entered into a number of single stock derivative transactions with Lehman Brothers Finance AG (the “Bank“), a Swiss entity which was part of the Lehman Brothers group, to hedge against significant falls in the price of SAP shares. The hedging transactions were governed by the 1992 version of the ISDA Master Agreement. Given the poor credit quality of the defendants, the terms of the transactions required the SAP shares they held to be placed as collateral with the UK subsidiary of the Lehman Brothers group (“LBIE“).

The collapse of Lehman Brothers on 15 September 2008 caused an Event of Default on the hedges triggering the need for the defendants to determine the close-out payments (on the basis of Loss, which the parties had elected as the methodology to apply in the 1992 ISDA). Soon after the Event of Default, the defendants sought indicative quotations from Goldman Sachs and Mediobanca, Banca di Credito Finanziario SpA (“Mediobanca“) for replacement hedges on the basis that they would be collateralised in a similar way to the original trades.

However, the defendants later learnt that the SAP shares held by LBIE as collateral would be dealt with as part of its administration, raising the prospect of them being unavailable to the defendants for use in any replacement trade for the foreseeable future. As a result, Mediobanca and Goldman Sachs were asked to provide revised indicative quotations for replacement trades on an uncollateralised basis. Unsurprisingly, these quotations were substantially higher than the earlier quotations which had been obtained on a collateralised basis (reflecting, amongst other things, the significantly greater credit risk to which the counterparty would be exposed).

The defendants ultimately served a determination of Loss based on Mediobanca’s quotation for an uncollateralised replacement trade. Accordingly, the determination of Loss which it sought to recover from the Bank (over €511m) was far higher than it would have been had it been determined on the basis of the earlier quotations which were based on a collateralised replacement trade (which were €28.22m and €17.46m).

The Bank challenged the calculation of Loss.

Decision

The court held that the determination of Loss by the defendants was invalid. First, it had not been performed in accordance with the definition of Loss. In any event, it was found to have been irrational.

Application of the rationality standard

It is well established by the authorities (for example, Enasarco) that the relevant standard which applies to the determining party’s calculation of Loss under the 1992 ISDA is one of rationality, reflecting the test of Wednesbury reasonableness of an administrative decision. However, it was noted that this did not resolve all uncertainties as to the standard to which the determining party will be held. In particular, it was unclear whether this test imported into the court’s assessment of all the elements of a review of an administrative decision, including the process by which the determination was reached.

The court held that the 1992 ISDA did not import a requirement that the court undertake a detailed assessment of whether the determining party took into account all relevant factors and ignored irrelevant factors. To allow such an expanded basis for challenge would undermine the desire for speed and commercial certainty which is clearly one of the driving principles of the Loss definition. However, the determining party does not have free rein to determine for itself not only the method it will adopt to determine Loss, but also the actual meaning of Loss. Accordingly, the Bank was not limited only to being able to challenge the determination of Loss on the basis that the method chosen was irrational (or in bad faith), for which the defendants had a large measure of latitude. It could also challenge the determination on the basis that the defendants had interpreted the definition of Loss incorrectly.

Remoteness test in the meaning of Loss

The court held that the correct meaning of Loss incorporated usual common law principles applicable to the assessment of contractual damages, including remoteness. The key question, therefore, was whether all of the Loss claimed was of a type that was in the reasonable contemplation of the parties. Applying this test, the court found that it was not within the reasonable contemplation of the parties that the defendants would be able to recover the additional financial consequences of having to enter into an uncollateralised replacement trade as a result of being unable to retrieve the collateral from LBIE.

The court noted that this conclusion was consistent with the ‘value clean’ principle, pursuant to which the loss of bargain within the Loss calculation must be valued on the assumption that “but for termination, the transaction would have proceeded to a conclusion, and that all conditions to its full performance by both sides would have been satisfied, however improbable that assumption may be in the real world“. Applying the ‘value clean’ principle in this case, the provision of the collateral by the defendants was a condition precedent for the trades. Accordingly, the assumption should be made for the replacement trades that this condition would be satisfied, notwithstanding that this was not possible in the real world. This meant that any quotations for replacement transactions should have been on a collateralised basis.

Appropriate date for determining Loss

The court also considered a criticism made that the quotations used for the defendants’ determination should have been ‘as of’ the Early Termination Date. The Bank argued that, whilst the Loss definition permitted (for practical reasons) some flexibility in the use of a firm quotation obtained after the Early Termination Date, it did not allow an indicative quotation to be used other than as of the Early Termination Date. The rationale for this was that it should always be possible to obtain an indicative quotation as at the earlier date (on a retrospective basis).

The court did not agree with such a restrictive interpretation of Loss, which would have the effect of requiring, rather than permitting, the Non-defaulting Party to use firm quotations rather than any other method in circumstances where, for whatever reason, it was unable to obtain quotations at the time of the Early Termination Date (for instance where it did not learn of the Event of Default until a later point in time or where there was no available market as at the Early Termination Date). However, it noted that this flexibility would only apply in those sorts of limited circumstances.

Rationality

The court also found that it was, in any event, irrational for the defendants to use the uncollateralised replacement transactions as a basis for the calculation of Loss.

First, whilst the existence of some differences between the terms of the trade and the terms of the replacement trade may not invalidate the determination of Loss (as illustrated in the Enasarco case), there were limits to that latitude. In this case, seeking quotations for replacement trades on an uncollateralised basis would obviously, and did, produce a substantial difference when compared to seeking quotations on a collateralised basis. This meant that they were not a reliable guide as to the value of what had been lost, and to use this as a basis for the calculation of Loss was irrational.

Second, the method of using quotations or valuations of the cost of a replacement trade to measure loss depends on the replacement being one that the party could enter into in an available market (albeit that they need not actually enter into the replacement trade). Having made a finding of fact that the defendants, given their poor credit risk, could not have entered into a replacement hedge on an uncollateralised basis, it was irrational to use a quotation for such a transaction as a method of determining its Loss.

The court’s calculation of Loss

Having found that the determination was invalid, the task for the court was to determine what Loss determination would have been arrived at by the defendants acting reasonably and in good faith. It therefore substituted the defendants’ invalid determination with its own calculation, using the initial quotations which had in fact been obtained by the defendants (on a collateralised basis). Whilst there were criticisms made of aspects of those quotations by the Bank’s expert, these were characterised by the court as differences of methodology, rather than fundamental errors that would lead to a substantially different price.

The court’s approach emphasised the potential importance of all contemporaneous quotations received by the Non-defaulting Party. Whilst it is clear from previous case law (see our e-bulletin on National Power) that the determining party gets only one bite at the cherry, the steps taken to obtain other quotations at or around the time of the Event of Default are likely to provide important evidence for the court to use in its own calculation of Loss.

It is noteworthy, also, that in this aspect of the judgment the court left open the question of whether the determining party could validly favour its own interests in the selection of which quotation to use in its determination, or whether choosing the one which was most favourable would necessarily be irrational. The court adopted the pragmatic approach of averaging the two quotations which the defendants received on the basis that the defendants had, as a matter of fact, used that average when providing a ‘without prejudice’ informal calculation of Loss in the initial days after the Event of Default. However, in doing so, it has left the question to be determined in future litigation.

Harry Edwards
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Amel Fenghour
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Commercial Court finds that ‘negative’ interest is not payable on cash collateral posted in accordance with the standard form ISDA Credit Support Annex

The question of whether ‘negative interest’ will be payable by a transferor of cash collateral in the context of a standard form ISDA 1995 Credit Support Annex (Bilateral Form – Transfer) (“CSA“) has been considered by the Commercial Court in The State of the Netherlands v Deutsche Bank AG [2018] EWHC 1935 (Comm). The court found that there was no obligation on the transferor of cash collateral to account to the transferee for negative interest on that collateral.

Many market participants will already have been aware of the uncertainty surrounding negative interest rates under the CSA given the lack of express terms. It was this uncertainty which led ISDA to publish the ISDA 2014 Collateral Agreement Negative Interest Protocol (the “2014 Protocol“), containing express terms dealing with negative interest rates. As such, the decision is not entirely unexpected, but will provide clarity on this point.

The decision raises an interesting question as to the position in circumstances where the interest rate is not negative for an entire Interest Period (as was the case here). If the interest rate is fluctuating daily between negative and positive amounts in a given Interest Period, should negative interest be taken into consideration in calculating the daily Interest Amount? While the judgment does not cover this fact pattern specifically, it may be thought to be anomalous to take account of negative amounts on a daily basis (netting them off against any positive amounts within the same Interest Period, rather than ascribing a zero value), when the instant judgment confirms that a negative amount at the end of the Interest Period does not need to be accounted for/paid (in the absence of an express obligation).

Central to the court’s decision was its finding that an obligation to pay negative interest would have to be “spelled out“. This was not done in paragraph 5(c)(ii) of the CSA (the obvious place for such an obligation to appear), which only contemplated payment of interest from the transferee of collateral to the transferor.

In reaching its conclusion, the court emphasised the objective nature of the task of construction of the ISDA documentation. It determined that the 2013 Statement of Best Practice for the OTC Derivatives Collateral Process and the 2014 Protocol (which address negative interest), could not be considered part of the context of the agreement between the parties, as they were not available to the parties at the time the relevant agreement was made. In any event, those statements were not offered by ISDA as a view on interpretation (and the 2014 Protocol expressly envisaged amendments which parties could make). By contrast, the ISDA User’s Guide – which was available to the parties at the time of the agreement – could be used as an aid to interpretation. The ISDA User’s Guide reinforced the point that the focus of the agreement was on what the transferee would do in return for holding cash collateral.

Background

In March 2001 the State of the Netherlands (the “State“) and Deutsche Bank (the “Bank“) entered into an agreement comprising the 1992 ISDA Master Agreement (Multicurrency – Cross Border), Schedule and CSA (together the “Agreement“). The CSA was amended in 2010 to delete and replace paragraph 11.

Pursuant to the Agreement, the parties entered into a number of derivative transactions. Under these transactions, where the State had a net credit exposure to the Bank: (i) the Bank was required to provide credit support to the State by way of cash collateral (the “Collateral“); and (ii) the State was required to pay the Bank interest on the Collateral.

The State did, in fact, have a net credit exposure to the Bank and the Bank accordingly posted Collateral. However, from June 2014, the interest rate applicable to the State’s obligation to pay interest on the Collateral was less than zero.

Claim

The State brought a claim against the Bank for negative interest in respect of the Collateral.

The State acknowledged that paragraph 5(c)(ii) of the CSA only required the transferee (defined in the Agreement as the State) to pay interest to the transferor (defined in the Agreement as the Bank); there was no reciprocal obligation. Accordingly, rather than rely on CSA paragraph 5(c)(ii), the State argued that the Bank was obliged to ‘account’ for negative interest in calculating the Credit Support Balance (broadly speaking, the aggregate of the Collateral received by the State, i.e. the valuation of the Collateral). The State relied on the final line of the definition of Credit Support Balance which states that Interest Amounts “not transferred pursuant to Paragraph 5(c)(i) or (ii) will form part of the Credit Support Balance“. The State contended that unpaid interest should increase – or in the case of negative interest, decrease – the value of the Credit Support Balance.

Decision

The court held that the State’s claim for negative interest failed. In reaching its decision, it set out in brief the basic requirements for interpreting an ISDA standard form agreement (commenting that there was no sound reason for any different approach in the case of a CSA that takes an ISDA standard form). This included:

The court considered the specific terms of the Agreement (and in particular the CSA) and found that the State failed to show that the Agreement included an obligation for the Bank to pay negative interest.

In coming to this conclusion, the court considered the following factors in particular:

  1. The court agreed with the Bank that if there was an obligation to pay negative interest “it would be spelled out“. The terms of paragraph 5(c)(ii) of the CSA contemplated payment of interest from the State to the Bank only. Had the parties wished to, they could have included an obligation on the Bank to pay negative interest. Illustrating the point that there was nothing to suggest the parties had intended negative interest to be payable, the court noted that (under paragraph 11 of the CSA), the parties had provided for a zero interest rate, rather than the payment of negative interest, if the Bank transferred the Collateral to the wrong account.
  2. The final sentence of the definition of Credit Support Balance was explained by providing for amounts of interest the State was obliged to pay under paragraph 5(c)(ii) but had not yet transferred, without requiring an obligation in respect of negative interest where none was “spelled out“.
  3. Paragraph 5(c)(ii) of the CSA was the obvious place for any obligation to pay negative interest to appear. There was no credible commercial rationale for the parties having chosen different mechanisms to deal with positive and negative interest.
  4. The court also considered potential reasons why commercial parties may have been concerned only with positive and not negative interest, including that payment of interest on the Collateral by the State was “a price for having use of the [Collateral]“. It said this reflected the fact that the Collateral, being in cash, could be expected to make money solely by being held (by the State). Conversely, if cash Collateral was held in a negative interest rate scenario, it did not follow that the State could be expected to lose money and so that burden should be shouldered by the Bank. In this context, the court noted that the parties had agreed that the State could freely use the Collateral to generate a return elsewhere, such that the State would not necessarily incur loss by holding cash where interest rates were negative.
  5. The court did not accept that the exercise of interpretation was assisted by either ISDA’s 2013 Statement of Best Practice for the OTC Derivatives Collateral Process, or ISDA’s 2014 Protocol, given that these post-dated the agreement. In any event, they did not assist the State since the protocol envisaged parties making amendments in order to bring about the payment of negative interest. This was contrasted with ISDA’s User Guide, which was available as an aid to interpretation.

Harry Edwards
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Ceri Morgan
Ceri Morgan
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Emma Deas
Emma Deas
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Court of Appeal finds ISDA jurisdiction clause trumps ‘theoretically competing’ clause in separate agreement governing wider relationship

Consistent with recent authority, the Court of Appeal has given primacy to an English jurisdiction clause in an ISDA Master Agreement (overturning the first instance decision that had declined to do so), in circumstances where there was a “theoretically competing” jurisdiction clause in a separate agreement governing the wider relationship: Deutsche Bank AG v Comune di Savona[2018] EWCA Civ 1740.

The appellate decision contributes to market certainty in respect of contracting parties’ choice of jurisdiction and therefore represents good news for derivative market participants. The Court of Appeal commented that it would have been “startling” if the bank’s claims for declaratory relief falling squarely under the relevant swap contracts could not be brought in the forum selected by the parties in the ISDA Master Agreement.

The approach taken by the Court of Appeal focused on determining the “particular legal relationship” to which the dispute related for the purpose of Article 25 of the Recast Brussels Regulation, which deals with jurisdiction agreements. In circumstances where there were two contracts (with theoretically competing jurisdiction clauses), it held that there was a distinction to be drawn between a generic wider relationship on the one hand, and a specific interest rate swap relationship governed by the ISDA Master Agreement on the other. It concluded in general terms that disputes relating to the swap transactions were therefore governed by the jurisdiction clause in the ISDA Master Agreement.

While it may be expected that disputes relating to a specific transaction should be governed by the contract for that transaction, the position had been undermined by the High Court decision in the instant case (which considered a number of points of Italian law and the effect of the declarations sought by the bank on any potential claims in Italy). The Court of Appeal noted that while each case should be considered on its own terms, it agreed in principle with the approach in the recent case of BNP Paribas SA v Trattamento Rifiuti Metropolitani SPA [2018] EWHC 1670 (Comm): which focused on the question of whether the English Court had jurisdiction under the relevant agreements, rather than to trying to predict whether the declarations sought, if made, would act as defences in another jurisdiction (read our banking litigation e-bulletin). Given that there had been conflicting first instance decisions on this issue, it is helpful to have this clarification from the Court of Appeal.

Background

In this case, the court considered “two theoretically competing jurisdiction clauses“. The clauses, in favour of the Italian and English courts respectively, were included in: (i) a written agreement dated 22 March 2007 between Deutsche Bank AG (the “Bank“) and Comune di Savona (“Savona“) (referred to as the “Convention“); and (ii) a 1992 multicurrency ISDA Master Agreement dated 6 June 2007 agreed between the same parties. In June 2007 the Bank and Savona executed swap confirmations, subject to the terms of the Master Agreement, by which the Bank and Savona entered into two interest rate swap transactions.

Years after the conclusion of the swaps, the validity of the transactions came under some scrutiny in Italy. In June 2016 this prompted the Bank to apply to the English Commercial Court seeking twelve declarations (in most cases) carefully tracking the wording of the Master Agreement. Savona challenged the jurisdiction of the English court in relation to five of the declarations sought, arguing that they fell to be determined in the Court of Milan and under Italian law, in accordance with the Convention.

High Court Decision

At first instance, the High Court allowed Savona’s challenge to the jurisdiction of the English court in respect of the five declarations and dismissed the Bank’s claims.

The High Court referred to Article 25 of the Recast Brussels Regulation, which provides that parties may agree to refer disputes in connection with a “particular legal relationship” to the court of a Member State. The High Court proceeded to consider the proper interpretation of the jurisdiction clauses, distinguishing the Bank’s role as an adviser under the Convention, from the Bank’s position “simply as a counterparty” under the swaps. The High Court concluded that the dispute was essentially concerned with the Bank’s role as an adviser, and more naturally fell within the Italian jurisdiction clause than the English jurisdiction clause.

Court of Appeal Decision

The Court of Appeal overturned this decision, finding that all twelve declarations sought fell within the English jurisdiction clause in the ISDA Master Agreement.

In reaching its conclusion, the Court of Appeal drew a distinction between the generic relationship between the Bank and Savona, which was governed by the Convention, and the specific derivative transactions entered into between the Bank and Savona, which were governed by the ISDA Master Agreement. It commented that this was a more natural and reasonable demarcation than the High Court’s distinction between “advice” on the one hand and being a “counterparty” on the other.

The Court of Appeal noted that:

  • While the Convention required the Bank to provide Savona with its expertise as to how to manage its debt, any transaction or agreement proposed by the Bank for this purpose and accepted by Savona would be the subject matter of a separate contract.
  • If a separate contract was proposed and approved, the relationship agreed in that contract would be the “particular legal relationship” envisaged by Article 25. Any proceedings “relating” to that contract would then be a dispute in connection with the particular relationship for the purposes of Article 25.
  • Consistent with this, the interest rate swap relationship was set out in the swap contracts incorporating the ISDA Master Agreement.
  • The existence of the entire agreement clause in the ISDA Master Agreement was a strong confirmation that the swap contracts were indeed separate contracts and any dispute relating to them was to come within the jurisdiction clause of those contracts.

In the Court of Appeal’s view, it would have been “startling” if the Bank’s claims falling squarely under the swap contracts could not be brought in the forum selected by the parties through the jurisdiction clause under those agreements, namely that contained in the ISDA Master Agreement. It said that a conclusion to that effect would have been highly damaging to market certainty.

Having found that disputes relating to the swaps were therefore to be determined by the English courts, the only question for the Court of Appeal was whether the particular declarations sought arose from disputes relating to the swaps. The Court of Appeal found, on reviewing the text of the declarations sought, that they did.

Donny Surtani
Donny Surtani
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Ceri Morgan
Ceri Morgan
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Emma Deas
Emma Deas
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Court of Appeal holds no real prospect of success for claim alleging contractual obligations owed by a bank to its customers in the conduct of FCA review

The Court of Appeal has refused the claimants permission to appeal in the most recent interest rate hedging product (“IRHP“) mis-selling claim to come before the appellate courts: Elite Property Holdings & Anor v Barclays Bank plc [2018] EWCA Civ 1688.

The Court of Appeal considered the High Court’s decision to refuse the claimants permission to make two key (but contentious) amendments to the particulars of claim. Agreeing with the High Court, it held that neither claim had a reasonable prospect of success and refused to grant the claimants permission to appeal. The proposed amendments concerned the following claims:

  1. A claim that the bank owed a contractual obligation to its customers in relation to the conduct of the bank’s past business review into the sale of IRHPs agreed with the FCA (then FSA). The Court of Appeal noted that the bank was obliged to carry out the review pursuant to its obligation to the FCA, and the agreement between the bank and the FCA expressly excluded any rights of third parties under the Contract Rights of Third Parties Act 1999 (“CRTPA“). Further, there was no consideration provided by the customers in relation to any alleged contract.
  2. A claim brought in circumstances where one IRHP was restructured into another IRHP (and a settlement agreement was entered into in relation to the first IRHP). The proposed amended particulars of claim alleged that losses under the first product were “repackaged and continued” or “carried over and continued” under the second. The Court of Appeal found that there was no causative link between the mis-selling of the second IRHP and the losses pleaded.

The decision is a welcome one for institutions, confirming that claimants will face significant legal obstacles if they seek to bring claims of the type outlined above. In particular, the decision is consistent with the prior decisions of the Court of Appeal in CGL Group Limited & Ors v The Royal Bank of Scotland plc[2017] EWCA Civ 1073 and of the High Court in Marsden v Barclays Bank plc[2016] EWHC 1601 (QB) (which considered and rejected the notion of tortious duties owed by financial institutions to customers in carrying out their FCA reviews).

The result of this decision is that the instant proceedings will be brought to an end; save for a final appeal in relation to the High Court’s separate refusal permit an amendment of the particulars of claim to include conspiracy allegations. Permission to appeal in that regard has been allowed by the Court of Appeal, but the appeal itself has not yet been listed.

Background

For a detailed background to this decision, read our banking litigation e-bulletin on the High Court decision.

In summary, Barclays Bank plc (the “Bank“) provided loan facilities to the two appellant companies and the appellants entered into three structured collars with the Bank. Subsequently, the appellants raised concerns about the structured collars. This led to a settlement agreement concerning the structured collars being concluded by all parties in 2010 (the “2010 Agreement“) and the structured collars were terminated, with the break costs being financed by further loans from the Bank. The refinanced loans were hedged by the appellants entering into three interest rate swaps.

In June 2012, in common with several other banks, the Bank agreed with the FCA to undertake a past business review in relation to its sales of IRHPs to small and medium-sized enterprises (the “FCA review“). That undertaking expressly excluded third parties’ ability to rely on the terms of the undertaking.

The outcome of the FCA review was that the two appellant companies were offered redress by the Bank. Following negotiations in September 2014, in November 2014, the appellants agreed to receive basic redress payments in full and final settlement of all claims connected to the IRHPs, but excluding any claims for consequential loss (the “2014 Agreement“).

Following a review of the evidence submitted by the appellants, the Bank rejected their claims for consequential loss. The appellants then issued proceedings to recover the consequential losses in November 2015. The Bank applied to strike out the majority of the appellants’ claims, which the appellants sought to meet by a cross application to amend the particulars of claim.

High Court Decision

For a detailed explanation of the High Court decision, please read our banking litigation e-bulletin. By way of summary, the key parts of that judgment insofar as relevant to the appeal:

  • Advisory claims – structured collars: The High Court struck out all mis-selling claims in relation to the structured collars, which it held were barred by the 2010 Agreement. The appellants did not seek to appeal this finding.
  • Advisory claims – swaps: The High Court also struck out the mis-selling claims in respect of the swaps, on the basis that the loss pleaded was said to be attributable to or caused by breaches of duty owed in respect of the structured collars alone. It refused leave to amend the particulars of claim to include a pleading that the losses incurred under the structured collars were “repackaged” by virtue of the appellants’ entry into the swaps and accordingly continued after the swaps were sold. The appellants described these as “legacy losses“, and argued that they were attributable to the Bank’s alleged breach of duty when selling the swaps.
  • Claims in relation to the FCA review: The High Court struck out the claim that the Bank owed and breached a tortious duty of care to the appellants in carrying out the FCA review, resulting in losses to the appellants. This was on the basis that any such claim was compromised by both the 2010 Agreement (in relation to the structured collars) and the 2014 Agreement (in relation to the structured collars and swaps).

The High Court refused permission to amend the particulars of claim, to include a contractual claim mirroring the tortious claims in relation to the FCA review above – on the basis that the Bank assumed such contractual obligations when the appellants accepted basic redress under the 2014 Agreement.

Grounds of Appeal

The appellants appealed the High Court’s decision on two grounds:

  • Advisory claims – swaps: The appellants appealed the finding that there was no reasonable prospect of success in relation to the swaps claim, asserting that the High Court had wrongly concluded that the appellants’ pleaded case in relation to the “legacy losses” arising from the swaps did not link breach of duty and loss.
  • Claims in relation to the FCA review: The appellants appealed the High Court’s refusal to permit them to amend the particulars of claim to plead that the acceptance of basic redress under the 2014 Agreement gave rise to a contractual relationship in relation to the Bank’s conduct of the FCA review.

The appellants had also initially sought to appeal the finding that there was no reasonable prospect of arguing that the Bank owed the appellants a tortious duty of care in relation to the conduct of the FCA review akin to the contractual duty. However, before the permission hearing, following CGL Group Ltd v Royal Bank of Scotland Plc[2017] EWCA Civ 1073, the appellants abandoned that ground of appeal.

Court of Appeal Decision

The Court of Appeal refused permission to appeal on both grounds.

(1) Advisory claims – swaps

The Court of Appeal assessed the original particulars of claim and was satisfied that the High Court was correct when it concluded that the losses claimed were only pleaded as having been caused by the appellants’ entry into the structured collars rather than the subsequent swaps.

The Court considered that the proposed amendments did not improve the appellants’ position. The proposed new paragraph in the particulars of claim suggested that the losses caused by the structured collars were “repackaged and continued” or “carried over…and continued” following the appellants’ entry into the swaps. The Court of Appeal was satisfied that while the losses may have occurred after the appellants’ entry into the swaps, “the cause of the relevant loss was the entering of the mis-sold structured collars“.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal refused permission to appeal on this ground, finding that the High Court was right to refuse permission to amend the particulars of claim in relation to the swaps mis-selling claim. Given that the High Court struck out the swaps mis-selling claim as it was originally pleaded, the result is that these claims cannot now be pursued by the appellants.

(2) Claims in relation to the FCA review

The Court of Appeal held that the appellants’ claim that the Bank came under a contractual obligation to them in relation to the conduct of the FCA review (when they accepted basic redress under the 2014 Agreement) was unsustainable. Having heard argument from the Bank in Suremime Limited v Barclays Bank [2015] EWHC 2277 (QB), as well as Marshall v Barclays Bank [2015] EWHC 2000 (QB) and Marsden, the Court of Appeal concluded that there was “…plainly no such contract in June 2014 for all the reasons given by judges who decided the earlier cases” which the Court of Appeal described as having been “correctly decided on this issue“.

In support of this finding, the Court of Appeal relied on the following key factors in particular:

  • The Bank was obliged to carry out the review pursuant to its obligation to the FCA under the FCA undertaking that it had previously given.
  • The agreement between the Bank and the FCA expressly excluded any rights of third parties.
  • There was no consideration provided by the appellants in relation to any alleged contract at that time (as had been noted in Suremime).
  • The position had not changed in September or November 2014 (i.e. when the appellants entered into the 2014 Agreement); the suggestion that the Bank came under an additional contractual obligation to the appellants, mid-way through the FCA review, was nonsensical.
  • The only relevant contract was the 2014 Agreement, which was, in substance, a compromise agreement in relation to which the Bank had not assumed any additional obligations (such as obligations to carry out the FCA review with reasonable skill and care) in relation to the conduct of the FCA review.

Moreover, the Court of Appeal expressly endorsed the reasoning of Beatson LJ in CGL. This focused on the nature of the FCA review and the limitations of the remedies available to non-private persons under the relevant regulatory regime whose claims are time barred. Although CGL considered the imposition of a tortious duty of care, the Court of Appeal in the instant case commented that Beatson LJ’s reasoning was “…inconsistent with there being any basis for a claim in contract either, absent some clear expression of intention by the bank to assume a contractual obligation“. The fact that the imposition of a contractual obligation would cut across the regulatory regime seemed to the Court of Appeal to “strongly militate against there being a contract of the kind alleged by the appellants“; the only contract the Bank had entered into in relation to the FCA review was with the FCA.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal refused permission to appeal on this ground also. The effect is that the appellants will not be able to pursue any claims relating to the Bank’s conduct of the FCA review, given that the High Court struck out the claim based on the existence of a tortious duty and refused permission to amend the particulars of claim to plead the existence of a contractual obligation.

Conclusion

This is another welcome decision for financial institutions given the clarity that the Court of Appeal has now given on two occasions in relation to claims relating to alleged contractual obligations or duties of care owed by financial institutions in relation to their conduct of FCA past business reviews.

John Corrie
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Nic Patmore
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