I hope people will pay attention to the LIBOR investigation -- the latest and perhaps the biggest banking scandal of our time. It is yet another evidence of how concentrated, powerful, and corrupt the financial sector has become. We have designed a financial system that allows a handful of bankers to manipulate rates that affect the prices of hundreds of trillions of dollars of interest rate swaps and derivatives, as well as borrowing costs for most participants in the world economy.
(See this WSJ article about how LIBOR affects your borrowing costs: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303684004577506944119336650.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
A key question is: how many of the 18 banks who set LIBOR rates every day were involved in the effort to manipulate the rates to assist the traders within their firm to profit from their derivatives bets? How long did this go on? Who lost money and who made money as a result of the manipulation?
Barclay's, one of the world's largest banks with more than $2 trillion in assets, has admitted that 14 of its traders were involved. Executives are resigning, and Barclay's has been fined $450 million by regulators. Criminal liabilities may be investigated. Civil lawsuits could seek billions or tens of billions in damages.
Given the evidence that LIBOR manipulation has been happening for years, and given the constant movement of employees in the financial sector from one bank to another, I will be shocked if most of the other 18 banks aren't also found to be complicit in this massive scam. I'll try to find out how large each bank's position is in interest rate derivatives--since that will in a way measure each firms incentive to manipulate.
Here are the 18 banks that set the LIBOR rates every day:
Bank of America
Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd
Barclays Bank plc
Credit Agricole CIB
Deutsche Bank AG
JP Morgan Chase
Lloyds Banking Group
Royal Bank of Canada
Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation
The Norinchukin Bank
The Royal Bank of Scotland Group
One banking executive said this is the tobacco moment for the banking industry. It could result in astonishingly large fines, in addition to potential criminal prosecutions. (According to Wikipedia, the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1988 between the 4 largest tobacco companies and 46 state attorneys general resulted in $208 billion in payments over 25 years.)
While many European observers are looking for an Alexander Hamilton-like figure to help convince the various countries to pool their debts in order to get through the Euro crisis, I'm rather looking for a Teddy Roosevelt-like character to emerge here in the U.S. who can understand the devastating impact that these trillion dollar casino banks have on the real economy, and who will find a way to break up the too big to fail - too complex to manage financial instutitions, outlaw credit default swaps, restore Glass-Steagall, and reboot our Banking System so that it once again serves the real economy instead of sucking all the capital out of the real economy to serve its own interests as a derivatives-focused profit center.