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Trades by Robot cost Hong Kong businessman $20mn, who does he sue?

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Robots are getting more humanoid every day, but they still can’t be sued.

So a Hong Kong tycoon is doing the next best thing. He’s going after the salesman who persuaded him to entrust a chunk of his fortune to the supercomputer whose trades cost him more than $20 million.

The case pits Samathur Li Kin-kan, whose father is a major investor in Shaftesbury Plc, which owns much of London’s Chinatown, Covent Garden and Carnaby Street, againstRaffaele Costa, who has spent much of his career selling investment funds for the likes of Man Group Plc and GLG Partners Inc. It’s the first-known instance of humans going to court over investment losses triggered by autonomous machines and throws the spotlight on the “black box”problem: If people don’t know how the computer is making decisions, who’s responsible when things go wrong?

“People tend to assume that algorithms are faster and better decision-makers than human traders,”saidMark Lemley, a law professor at Stanford University who directs the university’s Law, Science and Technology program. “That may often be true, but when it’s not, or when they quickly go astray, investors want someone to blame.”

The timeline leading up to the legal battle was drawn fromfilingsto the commercial court in London where the trial is scheduled to begin nextApril. It all started over lunch at a Dubai restaurant on March 19, 2017. It was the first time 45-year-old Li, met Costa, the 49-year-old Italian who’s often known by peers in the industry as “Captain Magic.”During their meal, Costa described a robot hedge fund his company London-based Tyndaris Investments would soon offer to manage money entirely using AI, or artificial intelligence.

Developed by Austria-based AI company 42.cx,the supercomputer named K1would comb through online sources like real-time news and social media to gauge investor sentiment and make predictions on U.S. stock futures. It would then send instructions to abroker to execute trades, adjusting its strategy over time based on what it had learned.

The idea of a fully automated money manager inspired Li instantly. He met Costa for dinner three days later, saying in an e-mail beforehand that the AI fund “is exactly my kind of thing.”

Over the following months, Costa shared simulations with Li showing K1 making double-digit returns, although the two now dispute the thoroughness of the back-testing. Li eventually let K1 manage $2.5 billion—$250 million of his own cash and the rest leverage from Citigroup Inc. The plan was to double that over time.

But Li’s affection forK1 waned almost as soon as the computer started trading in late 2017. By February 2018, it was regularly losing money, including over $20 million in a single day—Feb. 14—due to a stop-loss order Li’s lawyers argue wouldn’t have been triggered if K1 was as sophisticated as Costa led him to believe.

Li is now suing Tyndaris for about $23 million for allegedly exaggerating what the supercomputer could do. Lawyers for Tyndaris, which is suing Li for $3 million in unpaid fees, deny that Costa overplayed K1’s capabilities. They say he was never guaranteed the AI strategy would make money.

Sarah McAtominey, a lawyer representing Li’s investment company that is suing Tyndaris, declined to comment on his behalf. Rob White, a spokesman for Tyndaris, declined to make Costa available for interview.

The legal battle is a sign of what’s in storeas AI is incorporated into all facets of life, from self-driving cars to virtual assistants. When the technology misfires, where the blame lies is open to interpretation. In March, U.S. criminal prosecutors let Uber Technologies Inc.off the hookfor the death of a 49-year-old pedestrian killed by one of its autonomous cars.

In the hedge fund world, pursuing AI has become a matter of necessity after years of underperformance byhuman managers. Quantitative investors—computers designed to identify and execute trades—are already popular. More rare are pure AI funds that automatically learn and improve from experience rather than being explicitly programmed.Once an AI develops a mind of its own, even its creators won’t understand why it makes the decisions it makes.

“You might be in a position where you just can’t explain why you are holding a position,”saidAnthony Todd, the co-founder of London-based Aspect Capital, which is experimenting with AI strategies before letting them invest clients’ cash. “One of our concerns about the application of machine-learning-type techniques is that you are losing any explicit hypothesis about market behavior.”

Li’s lawyers argue Costa won his trust by hyping up the qualifications of the technicians building K1’s algorithm, saying, for instance, they were involved in Deep Blue, the chess-playing computer designed by IBM Corp. that signaled the dawn of the AI era when it beat the world champion in 1997. Tyndaris declined to answer Bloomberg questions on this claim, which was made in one of Li’s more-recent filings.

Speaking to Bloomberg,42.cx founderDaniel Mattessaid none of the computer scientists advising himwere involved with Deep Blue, but one,Vladimir Arlazarov, developed a 1960s chess program in the Soviet Union known as Kaissa. He acknowledged that experience may not be entirely relevant to investing. Algorithms have gotten really goodat beating humans in games because there are clear rules that can be simulated, something stock markets decidedly lack. Arlazarov told Bloomberg thathe did give Mattes general advice but didn’t work on K1 specifically.

Inspired by a 2015 European Central Bank study measuring investor sentiment on Twitter,42.cxcreated software that could generatesentiment signals, said Mattes, who recently agreedto pay $17 million to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to settle charges of defrauding investors at his mobile-payments company, Jumio Inc., earlier this decade. Whether and how to act on those signalswas up to Tyndaris, he said.

“It’s a beautiful piece of software that was written,” Mattes said by phone. “The signals we have been provided have a strong scientific foundation. I think we did a pretty decent job.I know I can detect sentiment. I’m not a trader.”

There’s a lot of back and forth in court papers over whether Li was misled about K1’s capacities. For instance, the machine generated a single trade in the morning if it deciphered a clear sentiment signal, whereas Li claims he was under the impression it would make trades at optimal times during the day. In rebuttal, Costa’s lawyers say he told Li thatbuying or selling futures based on multiple trading signals was an eventual ambition, but wouldn’t happen right away.

For days, K1 made no trades at all because it didn’t identify a strong enough trend. In one message to Costa, Li complained that K1 sat back while taking adverse movements “on the chin, hoping that it won’t strike stop loss.”A stop loss is a pre-set level at which a broker will sellto limit the damage when prices suddenly fall.

The legal battle is a sign of what’s to come as AI is incorporated into all facets of life

That’s what happened on Valentine’s Day 2018. In the morning, K1 placed an order with its broker, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., for $1.5 billion of S&P 500 futures, predicting the index would gain. It went in the opposite direction when data showed U.S.inflationhad risen more quickly than expected, triggering K1’s 1.4 percent stop-loss and leaving the fund $20.5 million poorer. But the S&P rebounded within hours, something Li’s lawyers argue shows K1’s stop-loss threshold for the day was “crude and inappropriate.’

Li claims he was told K1 would use its own “deep-learning capability” daily to determine an appropriate stop lossbased on market factors like volatility. Costa denies sayingthis and claims he told Lithe level would be set by humans.

In his interview,Mattes saidK1 wasn’t designed to decide on stop losses at all—only to generate two types of sentiment signals: a general one that Tyndaris could have used to enter a position and a dynamic one that it could haveused to exit or change a position.While Tyndaris also marketed a K1-driven fund to other investors, a spokesman declined to comment on whether the fund had ever managed money. Any reference to the supercomputer was removed from its website last month.

Investors likeMarcus Storrsay they’rewary when AI fund marketers come knocking,especially considering funds incorporating AI into their core strategy made less than half the returns of the S&P 500 in the three years to 2018, according to Eurekahedge AI Hedge Fund Index data.

“We can’t judge the codes,” said Storr, who decides on hedge fund investments for Bad Homburg, Germany-based Feri Trust GmbH. “For us it then comes down to judging the setups and research capacity.”

But what happens when autonomous chatbots are used by companies to sell products to customers? Even suing the salesperson may not be possible, addedKarishma Paroha, a London-based lawyer at Kennedys who specializes in product liability.

“Misrepresentation is about what a person said to you,” she said. “What happens when we’re not being sold to by a human?”

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Sensex spirals to record high in early trade on the back of exit polls

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The benchmark BSE Sensex jumped over 200 points to hit a record intra-day high of 39,565.82 as investors’ euphoria over exit poll outcome continued in early session on Tuesday.

The 30-share index was trading 205.24 points, or 0.52 per cent, higher at 39,557.91. In similar movement, the broader NSE Nifty rose 48.90 points, or 0.41 per cent, to 11,877.15.

In the previous session, the Sensex ended 1,421.90 points, or 3.75 per cent, higher at 39,352.67, and the Nifty soared 421.10 points, or 3.69 per cent, to 11,828.25.

Top gainers in the Sensex pack in morning trade include HDFC twins, Bajaj Finance, Coal India, RIL, Bajaj Auto, HUL, IndusInd Bank, Sun Pharma, Vedanta, Axis Bank and Asian Paints, rising up to 2.21 per cent.

On the other hand, Tata Motors, Yes Bank, Bharti Airtel, Tata Steel, SBI, Infosys, ONGC and TCS fell up to 3.18 per cent.

“Market has given a thumbs-up to exit poll numbers. Sentiments have turned around drastically and the benchmark indices can gain 5-8 per cent more from here over the next few weeks if the final election outcome is in line or even better than exit polls,” said Gaurav Dua, Senior VP, Head – Strategy and Investments, Sharekhan by BNP Paribas.Most exit polls forecast another term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The results of the seven-phase polls will come out Thursday.

Meanwhile, market regulator Sebi and stock exchanges have beefed up their surveillance mechanism to check any manipulative activities in the market this week in view of the high-octane election related events lined up.

Foreign institutional investors bought equity worth Rs 1,734.45 crore on Monday, while domestic institutional investors sold shares to the tune of Rs 542.71 crore, provisional data available with stock exchanges showed.

Elsewhere in Asia, bourses in China, Japan and Korea were trading on a mixed note in their respective early sessions.

Benchmarks on Wall Street ended in the red on Monday.

On the currency front, the rupee appreciated marginally to 69.71 against the US dollar in opening trade Tuesday.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, was trading at 72.20 per barrel, higher by 0.32 per cent. PTI ANS ANS

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In Chanda Kochhar case, ED probe points to conflict of interest

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An Enforcement Directorate (ED) investigation has revealed that former ICICI Bank managing director and CEO, Chanda Kochhar, already held shares in a private company, Credit Finance Limited (CFL), along with her family members and the Videocon Group when she became the executive director of the bank in April 2001 — a significant conflict of interest. It isn’t clear whether this was disclosed to ICICI Bank when Kochhar was named on the board or, indeed, to the Reserve Bank of India when she became CEO.

HT has reviewed a copy of an internal ED report, which states that CFL was held jointly by Chanda Kochhar and family (60% of shares) and Videocon (24.7% shares) since 2000-01. “She became executive director (of ICICI) in April 2001 and also held share of CFL along with other shareholders of the Kochhar group. Her husband Deepak Kochhar was the managing director of CFL till 2009,” the report said.

It is this company — earlier named Credential Finance Limited (incorporated in 1992), which was later merged into Bloomfield Builders and Construction Ltd in 1996 and renamed as Credit Finance Limited (CFL) — which bought Flat number 45, CCI Chambers in 1996 and later mortgaged it to Videocon International Limited. The Kochhars lived in this flat since 1997. In fact, ED adds in its report that when CFL defaulted a loan from SBI Home Finance, it was repaid by Videocon.

ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) started looking into a possible quid pro quo between Chanda Kochhar and the Videocon Group based on a whistleblower’s complaint that ICICI Bank loaned money to Videocon in return for Videocon Group chairman, Venugopal Dhoot, investing in Deepak Kochhar’s company. The bank initially cleared Chanda Kochhar of any wrongdoing based on an internal report, but as the investigation deepened, had to ask her to step down.

The ED report terms transactions related to this flat and parties involved in it as “unclean” and “in collusion”.

“The transactions relating to the sale and purchase of this apartment to the individuals and CFL and subsequent settlement among the conspirators i.e. CFL and QTAPL (Quality Techno Advisors Pvt Ltd, a Videocon company which had acquired the apartment, which was 100% acquired by a trust of Chanda Kochhar) are subject matter of thorough probe because parties of both sides in holding the title of apartment are unclean and in collusion also”, the ED report added.

The report further claimed that during her term as the MD-CEO of ICICI Bank from 2009 till 2018, Chanda Kochhar “is alleged to have not disclosed the directorship details of her husband to ICICI Bank), as per the norms under Banking rules”.

Her lawyer, Vijay Aggarwal, declined to comment. ICICI Bank did not respond to an e-mail from HT.

According to Section 184 of the Companies Act, every director of a company (both private and public) should disclose their interest or concern in a third party. Kochhar not disclosing the shares held by her in CFL is also against Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines, two banking experts said.

An ED officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Chanda Kochhar didn’t inform the ICICI bank about her shareholding, her husband’s business interests and their connection with Videocon while she continued to be on several sanctioning committees of the bank which approved loans for the Videocon group companies.”

As first reported by HT, ED has expanded its probe against Kochhars and Videocon group in total 24 loans worth Rs 7,862 crore.

The ED has listed 24 companies which were or are run by the Kochhar group.

Chanda and Deepak Kochhar were questioned for the fifth day on Friday.

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SBI writes off loans worth Rs 1 lakh crore in the last two years

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State Bank of India (SBI), the country’s largest lender by assets, has written off over Rs 1 lakh crore worth of loans in the two years ended March 31, as it purged its accounts of legacy bad loans.

It wrote off Rs 61,663 crore in the year ended March 31 and an additional Rs 40,809 crore in the previous fiscal year, taking the aggregate to Rs 1.02 lakh crore. This is close to double the Rs 57,646 crore that the lender wrote off in the preceding three financial years.

With a big chunk of bad loans written off in FY19, SBI’s outstanding gross non-performing assets (NPAs) declined 23% year-on-year (y-o-y) to Rs 1.72 lakh crore.

Meanwhile, SBI’s loan recoveries and loan upgrades (accounts which resumed paying interest) touched Rs 31,512 crore in FY19. To be sure, keeping pace with the increasing write-off, the bank’s recovery and upgrades have also increased during the same period.

While it recovered and upgraded Rs28,632 crore loans in the three years ended March 31, 2017, in the past two years, SBI could get back Rs45,429 crore.

It is important to note that banks write off bad loans once it becomes unviable to recover them. Banks have to ensure they fully provide for these loans before they are written off.

However, the provision requirements do not arise suddenly since lenders have to constantly increase provisions on bad loans as they age, under the central bank’s Income Recognition and Asset Classification (IRAC) norms.

That apart, banks recover from written-off loans and these recoveries help shore up their other income.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) defines technical or prudential write-off as the amount of non-performing loans which are outstanding in the books of the branches, but have been written off (fully or partially) at the head-office level.

Last Friday, after announcing the bank’s FY19 results, SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar said that while the bank calls it a write-off, it is only an accounting practice.

“We have several times clarified that it is just a movement to advances under collection account (AUCA) and the follow-up is with the same intensity. So, it is an accounting entry, nothing else,” said Kumar.

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