By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and UBS have agreed to pay $499 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit by investors who accused them of conspiring to stifle competition in the stock lending market.
The settlement was disclosed on Wednesday in a filing in Manhattan federal court.
It requires a judge's approval, and also mandates governance changes at EquiLend, a joint venture among the defendants.
Led by four pension funds and a trading firm, the plaintiffs accused the banks of having conspired since 2009 to relegate the stock lending market to "the stone age" by boycotting startup platforms.
They said the banks did this by using their positions on EquiLend's board to maintain monopoly control over the market, and charge excessive fees to investors.
Investors have now reached $580 million of settlements with five banks, including an $81 million accord in Feb. 2022 with Credit Suisse, which UBS bought in June.
The banks denied wrongdoing but settled to avoid the risk, cost and inconvenience of further litigation, court papers show.
They also agreed to cooperate in the investors' case against the final defendant, Bank of America. The lawsuit began in Aug. 2017.
Spokespeople for Bank of America and UBS declined to comment. The other banks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Financial Stability Oversight Council has estimated that $3.1 trillion of securities were on loan worldwide as of Sept. 2021.
EquiLend's governance changes include new restrictions on how board members share information, and limits on how many board seats each bank can hold.
They also include a requirement that the board's outside antitrust lawyers be "rotated" every three years, to avoid what the investors call the "capture" of those lawyers.
The case is Iowa Public Employees' Retirement System et al v Bank of America Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-06221.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)