* Hargreave Hale says FCA has made “factual errors”
* Newton says breach was “isolated case”
* RAMAM says committed to highest standards
* (Adds reaction from three companies)
By Huw Jones
LONDON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Britain’s markets watchdog said three asset management firms breached competition law by swapping information ahead of a share listing, with two of them fined in the first such use of the regulator’s competition powers.
The Financial Conduct Authority said on Thursday that Hargreave Hale Ltd, Newton Investment Management Limited and River and Mercantile Asset Management LLP (RAMAM) breached competition law.
“The infringements consisted of the sharing of strategic information, on a bilateral basis, between competing asset management firms during one initial public offering and one placing, shortly before the share prices were set,” the FCA said in a statement.
“The firms disclosed and/or accepted otherwise confidential bidding intentions, in the form of the price they were willing to pay and sometimes the volume they wished to acquire.”
This allowed one firm to know another’s plans during the IPO or placing process when they should have been competing for shares, the watchdog said.
It fined Hargreave Hale 306,300 pounds ($400,180) and RAMAM 108,600 pounds. Newton was not fined as it received immunity under the competition leniency programme, the FCA said.
Newton said the investigation concerned the actions of a former employee who was dismissed in an “isolated case which in no way represents our business as a whole”.
James Barham, chief executive of RAMAM, said he believed in maintaining the highest standards and was confident the ongoing investment made in procedures and processes clearly demonstrated the firm’s commitment to uphold these standards.
Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management said on behalf of its Hargreave Hale affiliate that the FCA has made a number of legal and factual errors in concluding the company breached competition rules and it was exploring its options with legal advisers.
“In particular, Hargreave Hale was simply a recipient of information that was provided on an unsolicited basis by another fund manager and did not alter its own bidding behaviour as a result,” Canaccord said.
The FCA said it ruled there were no grounds for action in respect of conduct between Artemis Investment Management LLP and Newton that took place between April and May 2014 in relation to an IPO.
Earlier this month, the FCA fined Paul Stephany, a former fund manager at Newton, 30,000 pounds for attempting to influence competitors during share sales. The FCA said the conduct investigated in that case related to “some of the facts” investigated under competition rules.
$1 = 0.7654 pounds Reporting by Huw Jones, editing by Kirstin Ridley and Kirsten Donovan