Portfolio blogger

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The most dangerous banking scandal?

Conspiracy theorists may feel justified: big British banks manipulated the LIBOR and EUROLIBOR fixings in London first to boost their profits - more precisely some brokers convinced the submitters to submit false numbers to improve the valuation of the positions they held and then, after the 2008 crisis, to decrease the visible extent of their problems. Barclays published an e-mail about a discussion with the deputy president of the Bank of England, from which they concluded (during the crisis, i.e. in the second case) that the BofE also wants to see lower rates. There are news that regulators warned Barclays in the other direction. As far as the U.S. dollar is concerned, the LIBOR is the main reference rate for Europe while in the case of the Euro, EURIBOR has a wider base then EUROLIBOR. Interestingly, it was already seen in 2009 that the EUROLIBOR is coherently lower than the EURIBOR ( also in 2010 ). So are banks the villains who manipulate everything? Well, concurrently, we have seen that JP Morgan manipulated energy contract prices in the U.S., the German internal secret service (Verfassungsschutz) was unable to track extreme right murderers for years as they did not evaluate and did not share information. The world is evil, and the only good news is that manipulations are uncovered and punishment comes (the otherwise very successful CEO, Bob Diamond also had to resign from Barclays). What is more interesting, though, is whether someone can sue to recover losses suffered due to the manipulation. Of course, the manipulations impact was small (probably some basis points) and thus small investors and borrowers cannot really gain much. It has also to be investigated whether Barclays' rate was not excluded as the extreme ones are. And it will not be easy to prove the damage. In the first times, borrowers lost if their contracts were LIBOR or EUROLIBOR indexed but it can be argued that the margin may not have been the same, had been the reference rate lower. And in the course of the duration, the downward manipulation could have benefited them (and if the rate was fixed in the contract and then indexed to LIBOR for example, it can be argued that they only profited). The reverse is true for investors, who first may have gained. In Hungary, retail contracts are made out at an initial rate and then are - until recently - not indexed explicitly but depend on the cost of funding of the bank. So there is little to do. And Hungarian banks use the EURIBOR wider than the EUROLIBOR - it was evident from the outset that it is more representative and there is more liquidity behind. May this also mean that it is more difficult to manipulate it?

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