British Bankers’ Association To Be Stripped of Libor Rate-Setting Role
CAPITALISM, 1 October 2012
by Jill Treanor – The Guardian
Banking lobby group will be replaced by formal regulator following scandal that led to departure of Bob Diamond.
The British Bankers’ Association is to be stripped of its role of setting the Libor interest rate – used as the benchmark for the cost of borrowing for households and businesses around the world – following the rate-rigging scandal which resulted in Barclays being fined £290m for its attempts to manipulate the rate.
In what will be viewed as an attempt to rebuild confidence in financial markets, the banking lobby group is to be replaced by a formal regulator that will oversee the rate that is used to set prices on $300tn of financial products from New York to Tokyo.
Libor, formally known as the London interbank offered rate, is a measure of the price banks have to pay to borrow from each other but was barely known outside financial markets until June when Barclays’ attempts at manipulation were revealed. The scandal eventually led to the departure of the chief executive Bob Diamond and other senior figures at the bank.
The rate is currently set by a panel of banks being asked the price at which they expect to borrow over 15 periods, from overnight to 12 months, in 10 currencies. It does not ask the price at which they have actually borrowed.
It is then used as the basis on which banks decide to lend to their customers. They usually quote a percentage over Libor for loans to businesses and use the rate to calculate mortgage and credit card costs.
The BBA has been involved with the Libor rate setting since 1986. It has now emerged the system has been vulnerable to manipulation since at least 2005.
The end of the current Libor regime is expected to be formally announced on Friday by Martin Wheatley, the top City regulator appointed by the Treasury to review the way the market operates. He has already branded the existing system “no longer fit for purpose” and is expected to recommend changes to the way the rate is calculated.
The scale of the manipulation of the rate from 2005, and then during the 2008 banking crisis – when regulators were closely monitoring the rate for signs of banks being in distress – has proved to be vast. Regulators published email exchanges in which Barclays staff were offered bottles of Bollinger champagne to change the rate in the run-up to the crisis so that traders could make bigger profits – and bonuses.
When the 2008 financial crisis set in, the bank artificially pushed down the rate it was being charged to borrow from other banks because it was concerned about its public image.
Other banks are also braced for fines for attempting to manipulate the rate, including the taxpayer bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland.
Stephen Hester, the RBS chief executive, said on Tuesday Libor and other misconduct would cost the bank “a lot of money”. The Financial Services Authority has said seven financial institutions, apart from Barclays, are being investigated.
The BBA’s council voted a fortnight ago to give up its role in setting the rate. On Tuesday, a spokesman for the BBA said only that it was “working with” the Wheatley review team, and added: “If Mr Wheatley’s recommendations include a change of responsibility for Libor, the BBA will support that.”
Wheatley, who is to head the Financial Conduct Authority when it is spun out of the FSA next year, has reached his conclusions after a month-long consultation in which he considered whether the individuals involved in setting Libor should be formally regulated by the FSA. This would make it easier to fine and reprimand any wrongdoing.
He may also change in the way Libor is calculated in an effort to make it more difficult to manipulate.
While the BBA has published the rate, it has never been directly regulated, despite the special role it has in being used as a benchmark against which banks decide to lend to companies and individuals.
The BBA became involved in 1984, when the City was experimenting with new ways to price interest rates, and the first official rates were published in 1986. The banks which are members of the BBA had asked the lobby group to set the rate, although the organisation has been trying to encourage more formal regulation since 2008.
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