… But Receive Only a Light Slap on the Wrist
We noted Friday:
Barclays and other large banks – including Citigroup, HSBC, J.P. Morgan Chase, Lloyds, Bank of America, UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland– manipulated the world’s primary interest rate (Libor) which virtually every adjustable-rate investment globally is pegged to.
That means they manipulated a good chunk of the world economy.
We actually understated the impact of the Libor scandal.
Specifically, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, the global economy – as measured by the world’s gross domestic product – is less than $80 trillion.
In contrast, over $800 trillion dollars worth of investments are pegged to the Libor rate. In other words, a market more than 10 times the size of the entire real world economy is effected by Libor.
As the Wall Street Journal reports today:
More than $800 trillion in securities and loans are linked to the Libor, including $350 trillion in swaps and $10 trillion in loans.
(Click here if you don’t have a subscription to the Journal).
Remember, the derivatives market is approximately $1,200 trillion dollars. Interest rate derivatives comprise the lion’s share of all derivatives, and could blow up and take down the entire financial system.
The largest interest rate derivatives sellers include Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Goldman and JP Morgan … many of which are being exposed for manipulating Libor.
They have been manipulating Libor on virtually a daily basis since 2005.
They are still part of the group of banks which sets Libor every day, and none have been criminally prosecuted.
Indeed – as Bloomberg notes – they’re probably still manipulating the rate:
The U.K. bankers and regulators charged with reviewing Libor in the wake of regulatory probes are resisting calls to overhaul the rate because structural changes risk invalidating trillions of dollars of contracts.
The group, established by the British Bankers’ Association in March after probes into allegations that traders rigged the London interbank offered rate … won’t propose structural changes such as basing the rate on actual trades or taking away oversight of the benchmark from the BBA, the people said.
Libor is determined by a daily poll that asks banks to estimate how much it would cost them to borrow from each other for different timeframes and in different currencies. Because banks’ submissions aren’t based on real trades, academics and lawyers say they are open to manipulation by traders. At least a dozen firms are being probed by regulators worldwide for colluding to rig the rate, the benchmark for $350 trillion of securities.
“I don’t see a significant enhancement to the reputation of Libor without basing it on actual transactions,” said Rosa Abrantes-Metz, an economist with Global Economics Group, a New York-based consultancy, an associate professor with New York University’s Stern School of Business and the co-author of a 2008 paper entitled “Libor Manipulation?” [the manipulation was well-known in England in 2007, Shah Gilani warned of Libor manipulation in 2008, and Tyler Durden, Max Keiser and others started sounding the alarm at or around the same time.]
“It would only be disruptive if current quotes are inaccurate,” so resistance “is suspicious,” she said.
Traders interviewed by Bloomberg in March at three firms said they were given no guidance on how Libor should be set and there were no so-called Chinese walls preventing contact between the treasury staff charged with submitting the rate and traders who stood to profit on where Libor was set each day. They regularly discussed where Libor would be set with their colleagues and their counterparts at other firms, they said.
“Sadly the response looks to be very consistent with the response of policy makers to the banking disasters we’ve seen over the last four years — cosmetic changes, but nothing substantial happens,” said Richard Werner, a finance professor at the University of Southampton. “It’s insufficient and doesn’t really go to the heart of the problem.”