(Adds FCA comment, background)
LONDON, March 16 (Reuters) - The head of a British parliamentary committee has asked a regulator to look into media reports, including one by Reuters, about movements in financial markets ahead of economic data releases that raised the possibility of leaks.
Andrew Tyrie, chair of the Treasury Committee, urged the Financial Conduct Authority to look into the reports which suggested data could have been leaked ahead of time to give some investors an edge in financial markets.
“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 dated March 15.
A spokesman for the FCA, which is responsible for investigating misconduct in financial markets, said the agency would “work on a response to the letter in due course.” He declined to comment further.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that on eight occasions over the past 12 months the pound moved against the dollar in the minutes before the release of the retail sales numbers in a way that correctly anticipated the direction of the currency once the figures were published.
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 59.5 percent of occasions British government bond futures moved ahead of the data in what proved to be the right direction.
The Office for National Statistics, which publishes the data, has declined to comment on the specifics of the analyses but a spokesman said on Tuesday it takes protection of unreleased economic data “extremely seriously”.
In 2011, the 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.
The ONS provides the retail sales figures 24 hours ahead of their publication to 41 people at the Bank of England, the business ministry, Cabinet Office, Downing Street and the Treasury.
GRAPHIC - Sterling moves ahead of retail sales data tmsnrt.rs/2nfNwsi
Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Elisabeth O'Leary and Toby Chopra