Official data leaks: regulator urged by Treasury Select Committee to investigate possibility

On eight occasions over the past year the pound moved against the dollar in the minutes before the release of retail sales numbers in a way that correctly anticipated the subsequent shift

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The chair of the Treasury Select Committee has urged the Financial Conduct Authority to investigate the possibility of insider trading based on official data leaks.

Andrew Tyrie, the chair of the Treasury Select Committee, wrote to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on Wednesday in the wake of analysis in the media pointing to suspicious security price movements shortly before the publication of official statistical releases.

“The Financial Conduct Authority will want to consider this matter, if it is not already doing so, given one of its objectives is to protect and enhance the integrity of the UK financial system,” he said in a letter to FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey.

A spokesman for the FCA said the agency would “work on a response to the letter in due course”.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal published an analysis of 207 releases of British inflation, industrial production and labour market data, which showed that on almost 60 per cent of occasions UK government bond futures moved ahead of the data in what proved to be the right direction.

Reuters reported the following day that on eight occasions over the past year the pound moved against the dollar in the minutes before the release of retail sales numbers in a way that correctly anticipated the subsequent shift.

In 2011 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) investigated rumours that data showing an unexpected drop in inflation had been circulating in the markets before the official release time. The ONS has declined to comment on the outcome of that investigation.

Fears of leaking have long been stoked by the large list of UK ministers, special advisers and civil servants who are given privileged 24 hour “pre-release” access to official statistics.

In his 2016 review of the ONS, the former Bank of England Deputy Governor Sir Charles Bean highlighted a “laxity in compliance” with regard to access to data.

He recommended only the absolute minimum number of people should receive any data ahead of a release.

More than 100 people currently receive data on unemployment early.

In 2012 Sir Andrew Dilnot, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, which regulates the ONS, told The Independent that the practice of pre-release should be scrapped entirely by the Government, specifically citing the danger of insider trading.

The Government, at that time, declined to do so.

Reuters

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