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British Bankers’ Association Likely to Lose Libor Rate-Setting Responsibility

The British Bankers’ Association, the group that currently sets the Libor, the benchmark interest rate that was manipulated over a long period by bank traders, could lose their control over the rate-setting as early as Friday, according to anonymous sources.

The move is likely to be announced on Friday, when Martin Wheatley, managing director of the Financial Services Authority, the British regulator, outlines the findings of a review of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, added the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The British government called for changes to the benchmark interest rate, which underpins more than $360 trillion of financial instruments worldwide, after Barclays agreed to pay $450 million in June to settle charges that some of its traders manipulated the rate for financial gain.

Regulators around the world have asked for changes to Libor, which is currently calculated through the British Bankers’ Association getting the rate that 16 leading banks get charged to borrow money. The BBA throws out the high and low ranges and arrives at a final daily figure. This method has proved porous and susceptible to scams, as we have seen with the continued revelations of rate-rigging over more than a decade.

Global bank regulators, who in general terms let everyone off the hook for the abuses that caused the financial crisis and Great Recession, are keen to prove they can get a handle on the culture of banking through legitimate reform of Libor. Taking it out of the hands of the BBA would seem to be a prerequisite of that. And indeed, regulators ranging from the Bank of England to the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission have called for Libor reform.

The replacement benchmark would probably not rely on a guess from self-interested bankers at their borrowing rates, but specific market transactions that would then get formulated into one rate.

Replacing Libor is but one part of the overall reform of the system, which could also include accountability measures. It will likely be more palatable to arrest individual traders for rigging Libor than arresting top executives for their misdeeds in inflating the housing bubble and ultimately crashing the economy. So this works as accountability-lite for the banking industry.

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David Dayen

David Dayen