Sunday, 10 February 2013

Lies, damned lies and libor

The libor thing is pretty cool. There's the whole making money betting on an outcome you can influence shebang, but, mainly its cool because its so monumental - libor being used to price the cost of squillions of debt - and so obvious; the system worked on the basis people would make honest submissions despite them having a huge personal vested interest in gaming the system. It's also cool because of all the things it throws up about how finance actually works.

Once, is the difference between regulation here and in the US with he massive fines being meted out very much American-size. If it had been left to our FSA things would have been very different. There might have been an investigation, eventually, a few people would have got their jotters and mebbe, just mebbe, some banks would have been fined a total of say £2.5 million. Only mebbe mind, because Britain needs the City of London to stay competitive, we can’t antagonise/scare off potential inward investment, wealth creators need to be rewarded if they’re to create more wealth, punitive fines could threaten the financial stability of the system and/or key institutions, ya de ya de yada, all the self-justifying dogma bollocks we've heard for years now.

Another thing is the libor scandal challenges the rationale for massive trader pay and bonuses. Like this article here details how one of the traders involved received a $5m job offer in 2009 to lure him from UBS to Citigroup i.e. one of the biggest earners in banking made his money cheating the system better than his peers and was in demand as a result.

Yet another is that with cases now being lined up to go to trial, the secrecy/gagging clauses and career concerns that underpin the silence surrounding how banks actually work should be lifted, if only for a little bit. Over and above the juvenile trader emails we’ve already read, we’re due detailed, blow by blow accounts of how banks systematically encouraged staff to break rules.

Confronted by all these fundamental challenges, we’ve predictably had the usual it was a “handful” of bad apples bollocks with said apples presumably having been sacked and lessons learned etc.,. And I guess you could run with this approach if you compared/contrasted the dozens of bent traders that've been dismissed (and given the opportunity to resign) with the hundreds of thousands of people banking employed, except, (a) that there are dozens being investigated/fired at each of the banks (or over 100 at Barclays) getting fined constitutes more than a handful unless you’ve very big hands and (b) the numbers being talked about/being dismissed appear to constitute a chunky percentage of all those engaged in this activity i.e. an entire line of bank business was bent.

Time presents further problems for the few bad apples bollocks. A quick skeck at some of the Libor scandal timelines dates this back to 2005 since when lots and lots of those involved will have been promoted and/or moved on to more senior positions elsewhere. What this means is straightforward; lots of current senior people do know what went on in graphic, close up detail and have done so for years

Finally, as say PPI, bank collapses etc., make clear this isn’t an isolated example of bad behaviour, rather it points to more systemic issues affecting banking, the economy and society more broadly. This last point stems from the criminal nature of what went on; while the Serious Fraud Office and the FSA initially huffed and puffed about what to do, trying to sound tough by making clear anyone doing this in FUTURE was for the high jump, oh yes, comments on a legal blog neatly summed up what had actually occurred - If Tom asks Bob what rate Bob can borrow at, and Bob dishonestly tells Tom information that Bob knows to be false with the intention of causing gain to Bob, then Bob has committed fraud (s1 by s2 Fraud Act 2006). There. That's nice and straightforward.  And heck we've finally got the chance to dish out some real justice for the credit crunch in a people who suggested rioting on Facebook got 4 years type style. Except there's no way in hell that will happen.

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