Back in July of 2012 many of us first learned about the scandal involving LIBOR which stands for London Inter-Bank Offer Rate. It is in fact the daily global loan rates that banks charge each other to swap contracts, which are used to set the price from credit card rates to student loans and just about everything else. As it turns out, that amount figures upwards of hundreds of trillions of dollars. MIT professor Andrew Lo remarked that it “dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets.”
Now word on the street has it that LIBOR may have a scandal cousin by the name of ICAP. The acronym of the United Kingdom company stands for “Intercapital” and happens to be the biggest broker in the interest-rate swap business and is currently under investigation for activity suspiciously similar to that of LIBOR. American Authorities are putting ICAP under the magnifying glass to see if indeed a small number of ICAP brokers have been in collusion with up to 15 of the biggest banks on the planet to falsify data (in the banks favor) to calculate the ISDAfix which is used to establish interest-rate swap prices.
Interest-rate swaps are a device used by large cities, leading corporations and governments to deal with their debt, and the scope of their use is staggering. Any tinkering with the rate would impact a sum of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget which makes it a $379 trillion market.
It may come as a surprise to some, but probably not many, that the banks included in the list of those linked in this maneuver to fix the prices of interest-rate swaps are the same jumbo banks that serve on the Libor panel that sets global interest rates – including Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
What confidence we hold in the banking industry is surely shaken when we view increasing numbers of associated scandals and involved banks as we see in the mess of LIBOR.