The LIBOR manipulation story has exploded into a major scandal overseas. The CEO of Barclays, Bob Diamond, has resigned in disgrace
; his was the first of what will undoubtedly be many major banks to walk the regulatory plank for fixing the interbank exchange rate. The Labor party is demanding
a sweeping criminal investigation. Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, responded
the way a real public official should (i.e. not like Ben Bernanke), blasting the banks:
It is time to do something about the banking system…Many people in the banking industry are hardworking and feel badly let down by some of their colleagues and leaders. It goes to the culture and the structure of banks: the excessive compensation, the shoddy treatment of customers, the deceitful manipulation of a key interest rate, and today, news of yet another mis-selling scandal.
The furor is over revelations that Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and other banks were monkeying with at least $10 trillion in loans (The Wall Street Journal
is calculating that that LIBOR affects $800 trillion worth of contracts).
The banks gamed LIBOR for two semi-overlapping reasons. As noted here last week
, there were instances of Barclays traders badgering the LIBOR submitters to "push down" rates in order to fatten their immediate bottom lines, depending on what they were trading or holding that day. They also apparently rigged LIBOR downward in order to produce a general appearance of better health, essentially tweaking their credit scores a few ticks upward.
Most intriguingly, or perhaps disturbingly, there were revelations last week that Bank of England deputy Governor Paul Tucker had a conversation
with Diamond at the peak of the crisis in 2008. The conversation reportedly left Diamond, and subsequently his traders, with the impression that the bank had carte blanche to rig LIBOR downward in order to help allay spiraling public fears about the banks’ poor financial health.
British officials, and Tucker individually, deny that Tucker gave Diamond permission to rig rates. But a report by British regulators did conclude that the two were talking about Barclays LIBOR submissions on October 29, 2008, and that as a result of that conversation, Diamond came away with a “misunderstanding.” The Daily Mail quotes the Financial Services Authority report
However, as the substance of the telephone conversation was relayed down the chain of command at Barclays, a misunderstanding or miscommunication occurred.
This meant that Barclays’ submitters believed mistakenly that they were operating under an instruction from the Bank of England (as conveyed by senior management) to reduce Barclays’ Libor submissions.