The huge LIBOR scandal that involves the manipulations of rates by the big banks is like a black hole that is sucking more and more into its center. Nor is this scandal victimless, as former former Barclay’s chief executive Bob Diamond would have the world believe.
Yes, Virginia, the Real Action in the Libor Scandal Was in the Derivatives
by Yves Smith at naked capitalism
As the Libor scandal has given an outlet for long-simmering anger against wanker bankers in the UK, there have been some efforts in the media to puzzle out who might have won or lost from the manipulations, as well as arguments that they were as “victimless” or helped people (as in reporting an artificially low Libor during the crisis led to lower interest rate resets on adjustable rate loans pegged to Libor; what’s not to like about that?)
What we have so far is a lot of drunk under the streetlight behavior: people trying to relate the scandal to the part that is most visible and easy to understand, meaning the loan market that keys off Libor. As much as that’s a really big number ($10 trillion), it is trivial compared to the relevant derivatives. From the FSA letter to Barclays:
The Eurodollar futures contract traded on the CME in Chicago (which is the largest interest rate futures contract by volume in the world) has US dollar LIBOR as its reference rate. The value of volume of that contract traded in 2011 was over 564 trillion US dollars.[..]
Devil’s advocates have also argued that while Barclays submitted improper Libor rates, there’s no evidence they influenced the rates. I read the FSA document quite differently.
Recall that (so far) we have two phases of activity: one from 2005 to 2007, in which derivatives traders at Barclays would lean on the Submitters on a regular basis to place bids that would help improve the profits of positions they had on, and a later phase, during the crisis, where Barclays felt its peers were submitting lowball figures to the daily fixings and it was getting bad press for being an outlier, and it went to posting what it though were competitive, as in artificially low, data.
Local Governments Which Entered Into Interest Rate Swaps Got Scalped
We know that the Libor manipulation effected the world’s largest market – interest rate derivatives.
But who are the biggest victims?
Sometimes the big banks manipulated the Libor rates up, and sometimes down. Different groups of people got hurt depending which way the rates were gamed.
Atrios thinks that British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is Stupid
At one point in The Godfather Part III, Michael Corleone sagely remarks: “Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.” It was this lesson that George Osborne, as so often in his political career, forgot this week. After his aides were forced to “clarify” that he had never alleged that Ed Balls was personally involved in the Libor scandal (rather that he had “questions to answer”, a distinction without a difference if ever there was one), opinion is hardening among Conservative MPs that the Chancellor has overreached himself.
In a fascinating piece in today’s Times (£), Sam Coates and Roland Watson collate a series of off-the-record barbs from Tory backbenchers. One MP describes Osborne’s obsession with the alleged role of Balls and “Whitehall sources” in the scandal as a “red herring”, adding: “There was no smoking gun.” Another opines: “People want us to sort out the effing banks, not worry about what Ed Balls might have said four years ago.” Osborne’s dual role as Chancellor and chief Tory strategist is also called into question (the increasing view among Tory MPs is that he isn’t good at either job). One MP comments: “When are we going to get a Chancellor who is not part time? You can’t run the sixth largest economy in the world with a mate-ocracy.”
Hard to disagree with that.