U.S. CFTC says Kraft, Mondelez to pay $16M in wheat price manipulation case

Reuters — The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Thursday Kraft Heinz and Mondelez International will have to pay US$16 million in penalty regarding a wheat manipulation case that dates back to 2015.

Kraft Heinz, which was Kraft Foods until 2015, and snack food firm Mondelez bought $90 million of December 2011 wheat futures, which gave the companies a dominant position in the market, even though they never intended to take possession of the grain, the CFTC said (all figures US$).

The move sent a false signal that the companies had demand for wheat and caused an artificial price fluctuation that earned them more than $5 million in profits, the CFTC said.

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Both companies said they strongly disagree with CFTC’s statement, which “blatantly violate and misrepresent the terms and spirit of the consent order” and will be seeking immediate relief from the court.

The commission first filed its complaint against the two firms four years ago, focusing on trading alleged to have taken place before Mondelez spun off from Kraft in 2012.

The CFTC said the companies’ goal was to narrow the price spread between the December 2011 and deferred-month wheat futures contracts, causing the market to sell cash wheat to the companies at lower prices, while earning them a profit on their speculative futures positions.

Wheat futures and options traders had also accused the companies of illegally manipulating the grain’s price at their expense.

The penalty is about three times the companies’ alleged gain, the CFTC said in a statement.

— Reporting for Reuters by Nivedita Balu in Bangalore.

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