Stunning New Proof That Megabanks Are Impossible to Regulate
If you haven’t been following that other British scandal—not Murdoch, but the interest-rate scandal that made heads roll at Barclays—then you really should be. As Matt Taibbi explains, it’s a neutron-bomb of a revelation that’s caused even hardened cynics to rethink their assumptions about the banking system. It’s as though the people who knew there was gambling going on at Rick’s Café have suddenly discovered it was also a hub for human-trafficking.
The crux of the scandal has to do with an interest rate called LIBOR—the London interbank offered rate—on which trillions of dollars of transactions across the world are based. LIBOR reflects how much it costs banks to borrow from one another and gets set every day after 16 global megabanks—among them JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank—submit reports to Thompson-Reuters, which then tallies them up and releases a kind of average figure. If you’ve taken out an adjustable-rate mortgage or a college loan recently—or, say, been a party to an interest-rate swap—there’s a good chance you’ve relied on LIBOR.
The source of the scandal is that banks like Barclays allegedly low-balled their LIBOR reports during the fall of 2008 in order to show they were healthier than they actually were. (A healthy bank can borrow at a cheaper rate than a struggling bank, all else equal.) This in itself is disturbing, since it suggests the world’s megabanks can manipulate borrowing costs for hundreds of millions of people, when we’d previously assumed these costs were largely set by market forces.
But there’s an even more disturbing twist, which is that the Bank of England appears to have had a role encouraging this manipulation, though how willful a role is still unclear. Here’s the relevant passage from today’s Wall Street Journal: