Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Cheap Libor talk costs cash, but also confidence

First there was the double dip recession for the economy, now there's the double dip in confidence for the world's bank. The problems at Ulster Bank have been discussed at length on these pages over the last few days and will no doubt be in the headlines for some time to come.

But it's another bank which has pushed its way to the top of the 'top banking stories of the day' list.

News that Barclays has been fined a whopping £290m for trying to manipulate the London interbank offered rate (Libor) is shocking.

That's not because of the scale of the fine, which in itself is a record but a mere drop in the ocean for a bank as successful as Barclays, but for the sheer wrongdoing in trying to hoodwink the Financial Services Authority and regulators in the US.

The Libor rate might sound like a complex instrument but in essence it's the interest rate at which banks borrow from one another.

And while you might imagine the traders involved in the attempted manipulation might have been up to hugely complex sums, they have in fact merely been talking their book.

Talking it not just up but also down, depending on who they were trying to fool and doing it in one of the most important and sensitive markets there is.

Whether chief executive Bob Diamond knew about the practice or not is a matter for the investigators but there's no doubt heads will roll over one of the most controversial citings in the banking industry ever.

More worringly is the fact there are more banks in the sights of the FSA, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the US Department of Justice.

The fine placed upon Barclays may not be enough to prevent others traders following suit, but lets hope it is.

Without proper transparency, markets such as Libor won't provide the backbone the banking system needs to work.

The second dip in banking confidence looks set to run for a while yet.

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