LIBOR: The Final Nail in the Coffin?

8 08 2018

Strong conflict can be observed in the prediction made by Dixit Johsi, who thinks that eliminating the use of LIBOR from the global financial system may present a Herculean task that could be “bigger than Brexit”, and the view espoused by FCA’s boss Andrew Bailey this July in Interest rate benchmark reform: transition to a world without LIBOR who is adamant that the use of the discredited rate must end by 2021. In an earlier speech on the future of LIBOR last July, Bailey stressed the need to transition away from LIBOR and the importance of doing so has not changed. However, Johsi, who is the group treasurer of Deutsche Bank and is also a board member of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, is of the view that ending the use of LIBOR is a unenviable “mammoth task” which is “bigger than Brexit” on the overall scale of things. In his  speech Bailey reiterated the notorious status that LIBOR had attained after the global financial crisis (GFC) prior to which no one knew of its significance in the global marketplace. “Before then it was largely taken for granted, part of the financial landscape,” it how Bailey put it while stressing that the FCA has regulated LIBOR since April 2013 and that significant improvements have been made in its submission and administration. He said that the reforms of recent years had ensured that no further illegality took place but it was equally Bailey’s position that LIBOR must be terminated in its present form because the absence of active underlying markets raises a serious question about the sustainability of the LIBOR benchmarks that are based upon these markets.

But since “LIBOR is a public good” regulators were eager to protect the the interests of all involved by sustaining the current arrangements until such time as alternatives are available and transition arrangements are sufficiently well advanced. A proxy LIBOR was discussed.  Yet despite the need for a frictionless transition, Bailey is now saying that the time has come to put an end to the use of LIBOR and he therefore stressed that firms should not see phasing out LIBOR as a “black swan” event or a measure of last resort because it is not a “remote probability” and the benchmark’s termination is inevitable. He is pleased with the efforts made to change things thus far but he is not happy about the pace of the transition. The FCA is clear that ensuring that the transition from LIBOR to alternative interest rate benchmarks is orderly will contribute to financial stability and that “misplaced confidence in LIBOR’s survival will do the opposite, by discouraging transition.” Alternatives to LIBOR in the form of SOFR, SONIA, SARON and TONA are already operating globally. The Bank of England has started to publish a reformed and strengthened SONIA. Bailey informed us that it is now supported by an average of 370 transactions per day, compared with 80 before the reform. Read the rest of this entry »





Conduct Costs on the Rise (2012-2016): No End in Sight

25 08 2017

The latest findings on misconduct in financial services reveal an upward trend in conduct costs. During the five-year period 2012-2016, the world’s 20 leading banks have paid £264bn for bad behaviour. This represents an increase of 32pc on the period 2008-12. A worrying aspect of adverse bank behaviour is reflected in the uninhibited expansion of conduct cost provisioning. The key question, explains Chris Stears, relates to the average level at which these costs will settle. “We find ourselves wondering when, if ever, the level of conduct costs will start to decrease,” is how Roger McCormick puts it five years after publishing the first league table for international bank fines. These concerns can only be magnified by new developments such as the Royal Bank of Scotland’s recent $5.5bn settlement with the Federal Housing Finance Agency to resolve toxic mortgage claims in relation to the lender’s issuance and underwriting of approximately $32bn of residential mortgage-backed securities in America. Equally, the fact that the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is suing major British banks for $400bn cannot possibly alleviate people’s worries or instil confidence in banking institutions. Brought on behalf of 39 rescued American banks, the US government’s claim in London relates to LIBOR “lowballing” and the defendants include household names such as such as Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland. Even partial success in a claim of this nature could radically enhance the present level of conduct costs.

But still all this is only the gentle way in punishment. Conversely, the Qatari crisis that has hit Barclays may well trigger the beginning of the end for high-powered management personnel who have thus far generally enjoyed immunity from criminal justice. Ongoing fraud investigations against Barclays and John Varley (former CEO), Roger Jenkins (former Executive Chairman) and Richard Boath (former European Head) must have sent shockwaves through out the banking industry. The trio’s trial will undoubtedly be a closely watched and studied event and if they are convicted the game-changing Qatari fiasco shall define things for future times. The US authorities have also charged two managers from Société Générale, for participation in a scheme to rig US dollar LIBOR. Danielle Sindzingre and Muriel Bescond boosted Société Générale’s creditworthiness by submitting false information in relation to the rates at which the bank would be able to borrow money. As we already know the “numbers tell a story” and since the risks are very great “in the case of bank behaviour, they speak louder than words, and they tell a big, and scandalous, story.” Read the rest of this entry »





FSMA and Third Party Rights: Victory for FCA in Supreme Court

17 08 2017

Financial Conduct Authority (Appellant) v Macris (Respondent) [2017] UKSC 19 (22 March 2017)

The FCA emerged triumphant in this appeal and the outcome has altered the fortunes of persons regulated by the City watchdog. Reversing the Court of Appeal’s judgment, the Supreme Court held by majority that Mr Achilles Macris (M) had not been identified in the Final Notice given to JPMorgan Chase (JPMC). Accordingly, any “third party rights” under section 393 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA) were not engaged because the notice did not identify M when interpreted by information readily available in the public domain. Lord Sumption found the analogy with the law of defamation to be unhelpful. Lord Mance said that this was “a difficult case” and Lord Neuberger said it was “difficult to resolve” the meaning of the word “identifies” in section 393(1)(a) despite the provision being a “good example” of Parliament’s enactment of generally lucid statutory language. Lord Wilson entered a note of dissent and he would have dismissed the FCA’s appeal. In 2012, the Synthetic Credit Portfolio (SCP) operated by JPMC had lost $6.2bn because of the rogue “London Whale” trades. Because of the notorious losses the Final Notice entailed a financial penalty or “conduct costs” of £137.6m. Between 2012-2016 the world’s 20 foremost international banks paid a total of £264.03bn in conduct costs of which JPMC’s share was £33.64bn. As the head of the Chief Investment Office, which managed excess deposits including the portfolio comprising the SCP’s traded credit instruments, M’s functions as JPMC’s employee were “controlled functions” under section 59 of FSMA.

The losses were linked to high risk trading tactics, feeble management and failing to react to information alerting JPMC to the SCP’s problems. The appeal, explained Lord Sumption, turned on the meaning of “identifies” and on the meaning of the notice to which that word is being applied. The section 393 procedure aims to enable identified third parties, such as M, working in financial services firms to make representations to the regulator and take the matter to the Upper Tribunal (UT). Persons not party to regulatory settlement but discredited in enforcement notices are protected from unfair prejudice via the mechanism in section 393. A copy notice must be served to the third party but M was not given one. M had not been identified by name or job title but only as “CIO London management”. M argued that since he had already been identified by name in a US Senate Committee report on the SCP’s losses, the FCA notices enabled anyone to deduce the identity of the person known as “CIO London management”. M was not a party to the FCA’s settlement with JPMC. He was separately fined £762,900. Read the rest of this entry »





Andrew Bailey on the Death of LIBOR

2 08 2017

The ailing LIBOR benchmark, underpinning $500-$800 trillion worth of financial contracts, has been in a state of malaise for many years. Despite the efforts of regulators to revive the sick scandal-ridden benchmark, which suffered from a series of problems related to cheating and misreporting, it is unsurprising that its slow death will finally come in about four years’ time. As the Chief Executive of the FCA Andrew Bailey recently explained the funeral is set for 2021. But some clearly want LIBOR to live longer. Bailey called LIBOR “a public good” but questioned its current usefulness. Among other things, LIBOR related misconduct resulted in civil claims and fines of £9 billion. And, of course, in the criminal context it resulted in “clustered criminality” of which convicted LIBOR rigger Tom Hayes is a prime example. Clustered criminality, which only reflects a very small part of the ills affecting financial services, is when there “is at least strong suspicion that a crime has been committed and although the culprits may not be immediately clear it seems likely that more than one person was involved.” A succinct account of bankers lying, cheating and colluding to rig LIBOR is found in The Fix where Liam Vaughan and Gavin Finch expose the ills gripping the financial world. Hayes, who operated as “Tommy Chocolate” in the midst of the financial crisis, worked in a culture where “your performance metric” is all about “the edge” and making “a bit more money” because that is “how you are judged”.

In The Spider Network, David Enrich tells the “wild story” of Hayes – who he dubs “a maths genius” – and the backstabbing banking mafia which operated a thoroughly crooked financial system. Breaking the silence in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times, Hayes’s wife Sarah Tighe vowed to “never stop fighting for my autistic husband, the LIBOR fall guy”. Hayes, who achieved notoriety by miraculously dodging extradition to the US, was jailed for 14 years for fraud but his sentence was reduced to 11 years. Tighe is fighting for her husband’s release and said that she “went apeshit” when officials tried to seize her assets as well. Her morale will undoubtedly be strengthened by the news that former Rabobank traders Anthony Allen and Anthony Conti, who are both British and were convicted at first instance for rigging LIBOR, have had their convictions overturned by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York which found that constitutional rights against self-incrimination had been breached. Tom and Sarah will probably also find solace in the fact that the cycle of cheating was so extreme that even the Bank of England is now implicated in LIBOR manipulation. Read the rest of this entry »





Early Redemption of ‘Cocos’: Win for LBG in Supreme Court

26 06 2016

BNY Mellon Corporate Trustee Services Ltd v LBG Capital No 1 Plc & Anor [2016] UKSC 29 (16 June 2016)

Almost like the British public on Brexit, the Supreme Court remained closely divided on the issue of whether the Court of Appeal erred in its construction of the terms of enhanced capital notes (ECNs) by relying on technical and specialist information as part of the factual matrix. Formally described as ECNs, the loan notes were contingent convertible securities (or “Cocos”). Lord Neuberger (with whom Lord Mance and Lord Toulson agreed) dismissed BNY Mellon’s appeal whereas Lord Sumption (with whom Lord Clarke agreed) would have done otherwise. As Lord Sumption said in his brief note of dissent, the case was “of considerable financial importance to the parties” but it raised “no questions of wider legal significance”. The outcome in the case is a major blow for investors (receiving up to 16pc interest) who had hoped that the court would not have held that the terms of the bonds (or ECNs) allowed Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) to redeem them early at face value. The High Court found in favour of the bondholders but the Court of Appeal reversed that decision, one that the Supreme Court has upheld: albeit not without doubts and dissent. Led by Mark Taber, the bondholders disputed that the ECNs had been disqualified as capital and resorted to litigation. A disgruntled Taber said that the division between the justices “raises massive issues over the role of the regulators”.

He is particularly aggrieved that the court’s judgment does not engage with the arguments aired about statutory requirements that bond prospectuses must be accurate and provide crystal clear information to investors so that they may make informed choices and decisions. Worse still Taber also complains that he lobbied the FCA’s new boss Andrew Bailey to make germane information – about the exact scope of the regulator and LBG’s knowledge about impending changes to capital requirements when the ECNs were issued – available to the court. But since his request was not granted, he argues that because the courts are not willing to intervene it must be the City regulator’s job to interpret the prospectuses. “I believe the changes they knew about, which were not disclosed in the ECN prospectus, meant that a capital disqualification event was a certainty at the time the ECNs were issued. If the court had been told this I think it would have made a difference,” is how Taber expressed his frustration with the situation. However, his claim appears to directly contradict even Lord Sumption’s dissenting judgment that despite its financial importance the appeal contained no legally significant questions of wider importance. Read the rest of this entry »





“Land Banks” and Collective Investment Schemes: Supreme Court on s.235, FSMA

6 05 2016

news-release-120514Asset Land Investment Plc & Anor v The Financial Conduct Authority [2016] UKSC 17 (20 April 2016)

The Financial Conduct Authority is in the news a lot these days. Andrew Bailey has been handpicked to head the agency but the chancellor George Osborne has come under fire for making the appointment without conducting a formal interview, thereby sidestepping the two candidates (Tracey McDermott and Greg Medcraft from Down Under) formally on the shortlist. However, the beleaguered FCA chairman John Griffith-Jones agreed with outgoing chief executive McDermott and both of them were “happy” with the chancellor’s appointment of Bailey – a beefy looking BoE insider who impressively holds a doctorate in economic history. As seen in the last post, Panama has been in the news a lot. The FCA had originally given 20 banks until 15 April 2016 to report on the extent, if any, of their involvement and links with Mossack Fonseca or firms serviced by them. But now it warns that prosecutions over the Panama Papers are not clear-cut. According to Mark Steward, head of enforcement, the media frenzy is “quite different from prosecutions – the two don’t necessarily go together”. This case involved a Panamanian corporation called Asset LI Inc trading as Asset Land Investment plc against which the FCA brought proceedings for carrying on “regulated activities” without authorisation contrary to the general prohibition in section 19 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. Schemes for investing in land with development potential are commonly known as “land banks” and the operation of such initiatives first came into the regulatory perimeter under section 11 of the PERG Manual of the FCA Handbook.  

In Financial Services Authority v Fradley [2005] EWCA Civ 1183, the Court of Appeal had described the drafting of section 235 (collective investment schemes) of FSMA as “open-textured” by virtue of which words such as “arrangements” and “property of any description” are to be given “a wide meaning”. Arden LJ found in Fradley that section 235 must not be construed so as to include matters which are not fairly within it because contravening section 19 may result in the commission of criminal offences, subject to section 23(3) of FSMA. Lord Carnwath of Notting Hill found her Ladyship’s approach to be “helpful guidance”. On the other hand, he remained cautious of drawing analogies from comparative Commonwealth legislation presented to the court – such as the Australian Corporations Act 2001 – on the ground that differences in drafting warranted keeping the discussion strictly within the boundaries of UK statutes and authorities. Like the first instance judge, the Supreme Court referred to the English and the Panamanian company indiscriminately as “Asset Land”. Read the rest of this entry »





Supreme Court on the ‘Houdini Taxpayer’

24 04 2016

UBS AG & Deutsche Bank v Revenue and Customs [2016] UKSC 13 (9 March 2016)

As infamously explained by jailed fraudster Tom Hayes, UBS must be credited with issuing a “handbook” on rigging LIBOR. Doubling Hayes up, in the ongoing LIBOR trial, Jonathan Mathew, one of five charged Barclays traders, says that he was merely following orders and just did what his boss taught/told him to do. The five men say everyone in the big banks “knew LIBOR was rigged”. As seen in an earlier post, along with Barclays traders, Deutsche Bank traders are facing criminal charges for EURIBOR manipulation and proceedings are ongoing in the case of R v Christian Bittar & Ors – first appearances were made at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 11 January 2016 and a mention hearing was held on 18 March 2016. Former Deutsche trader Martyn Dodgson has also been convicted for insider trading in Operation Tabernula. In the instant case, echoing Templeman LJ in W T Ramsay Ltd v Inland Revenue Comrs [1979] 1 WLR 974, Lord Reed described UBS and Deutsche Bank’s behaviour as “the most sophisticated attempts of the Houdini taxpayer to escape from the manacles of tax.” The banks, which Lord King calls “the Achilles heel of capitalism”, may be disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling but most people will only be too delighted that top executives should become acquainted with some degree of retributive justice. The dry issue of tax is a hot political topic these days and the Panama Papers (see here) culminated in calls for the prime minister to resign for being a hypocrite.

Though this post is about the Supreme Court’s judgment, I use the opportunity to discursively expose other important tax issues reported in the media. Of course, Deutsche Bank announced last October that it would axe 9,000 full-time jobs and it has just recent lost its global position as a top-three investment bank. Research from Coalition, that ranks global investment banks by total revenue from fees and trading, shows that Citigroup and Bank of America are ahead of Deutsche Bank. JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs retained their positions in first and second place respectively. Tim Wallace writes in today’s The Sunday Telegraph that once a cash cow, investment banking is now is serious crisis and jobs and pay across the sector has declined. It is a vicious cycle and the following insightful analogy is invoked “shrinking an investment bank is hard. It is like unravelling a jumper – once you start pulling on the thread it is hard to stop … then all of a sudden, you haven’t got a jumper at all.” Read the rest of this entry »