Big banks investigated over LIBOR rate manipulationSubmitted by cpowell on Wed, 2011-03-16 00:11. Section: Daily Dispatches
By Brooke Masters, Patrick Jenkins, and Justin Baer
Financial Times, London
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Regulators in the United States, Japan, and UK are investigating whether some of the biggest banks conspired to "manipulate" the benchmark interest rate used to calculate the cost of billions of dollars of debt.
The investigation centres on the panel of 16 banks that help the British Bankers' Association set the London interbank offered rate, or Libor -- the estimated cost of borrowing for banks between each other.
In particular, the investigation was looking at how Libor was set for US dollars during 2006 to 2008, immediately before and during the financial crisis, people familiar with the probes said.
The probe came to light on Tuesday when the Swiss bank UBS disclosed in its annual report that it had received subpoenas from three US agencies and an information demand from the Japanese Financial Supervisory Agency.
The bank said the regulators were focusing on "whether there were improper attempts by UBS, either acting on its own or together with others, to manipulate Libor rates at certain times."
All the panel members are believed to have received at least an informal request for information -- an earlier stage in an investigative process before a subpoena.
Witnesses had been interviewed by investigators from the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, and the UK's Financial Services Authority, people familiar with the probe said.
The inquiry has been under way for some months. At least one bank received its initial request for information in October, people familiar with the matter said.
The BBA produces Libor rates for 10 currencies using eight to 20 contributor banks. The contributors submit the rates at which they think they could borrow on the open market. Outlying submissions are tossed out and the reported rate is the mean of the middle values.
Critics of the process for setting Libor -- which is used as a reference rate for about $350,000bn in financial products -- have long claimed it is antiquated and lacking in transparency. Commentators complained bitterly during the financial crisis that the rates were distorted because they believed weaker banks were unwilling to admit higher borrowing costs.
UBS declined to comment beyond its disclosure. The regulators declined to comment. The other banks on the panel at the time covered by the probe either declined to comment or spokesmen could not be reached.
They are: Bank of America, Barclays, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Lloyds, Rabobank, Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Norinchukin Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, and West LB.
HBOS, which has since merged with Lloyds, was also a member.The BBA said: "We are committed to retaining the reputation and integrity of BBA Libor, which continues to be the authoritative benchmark of the wholesale money market. It has a straightforward and unambiguous calculation method, which excludes any rates which are significant outliers. It is fully transparent -- all of the data inputted by the contributor banks is publicly available, as is our methodology."