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 »





Habib Bank Expelled From New York

9 09 2017

The case of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which had fairy tale beginnings and patronage from the ruler of Dubai, is a historic example of a global private Pakistani bank that was shut down because of large-scale financial crime and money laundering. BCCI gave other lenders “bad vibes” and quickly acquired the nickname “the bank of Crooks and Criminals”. The closure of BCCI gave rise to the most costly and extravagant litigation in a generation. Indeed, as the late Lord Bingham discerned, investigating BCCI’s global malpractice “if a possible task, is one which would take many years to carry out”. Now the story seems to be repeating itself with Habib Bank – Pakistan’s largest bank headquartered in Karachi with $24bn worth of balance sheet assets and $1bn in annual revenue – which has been fined $225m because its New York branch failed to comply with New York laws and regulations designed to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit financial transactions. Compliance failures were said to have “opened the door” to financing Saudi sponsored terrorism. Transactions were “batch waived” and management was unable to explain their actions. The news comes just days after the announcement that the Department of Financial Services (DFS) is seeking to enforce a civil monetary penalty of $629.625m on the bank. These enforcement actions by the DFS are a grim reminder of the poor culture plaguing banks and misconduct besetting financial institutions. DFS said it would not let the bank “sneak out” of the US without due accountability. In terms of culpability, the failures can be classified as “corporate integrity-related regulatory breach” and/or “imputed breach” events.

Because of significant weaknesses in the its risk management capabilities, the branch received the lowest possible rating of “5” in the latest compliance assessment conducted in 2016. The case for using conduct costs as a framework for analysing in the banking sector in Pakistan has already been articulated on this blog. If anything, the fines imposed by DFS certainly make Habib Bank the foremost – i.e. number “1” –financial institution for poor conduct in Pakistan itself. But of course it is equally true that Habib Bank’s delinquencies are surpassed by the toxic level of failings connected to the £264bn in conduct costs incurred by the world’s foremost international banks including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays, HSBC and so forth. As Lord King aptly puts it a decade after the global financial crisis: “Very smart people thought it was fun and completely acceptable to exploit less smart people.” The scale of poor conduct in the New York branch, which processed banking transactions worth a total of $287bn in 2015, raises serious questions about the state of affairs in the banking sector in Pakistan itself where corruption is widespread and regulation is diluted in comparison to the West. 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 »





Supreme Court Clarifies the Law on Security and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards

21 08 2017

IPCO (Nigeria) Ltd v Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation [2017] UKSC 16 (1 March 2017)

These proceedings involved the question whether the appellant Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) should have put up a further $100m security in English enforcement proceedings connected to a Nigerian arbitration award for $152,195,971 plus 5m Nigerian Naira plus interest at 14% per annum arising out of an agreement under which IPCO (Nigeria) Limited (IPCO) contracted to design and construct a petroleum export terminal for NPCC. The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal. Giving the sole judgment, Lord Mance reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision and imparted much needed guidance on the provisions of the Arbitration Act 1996. He also said that rule 3.1(3) of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 was not relevant to the appeal. The recognition and enforcement of foreign awards is addressed by sections 100-104 of Part III of the 1996 Act and these provisions implement the UK’s obligations under the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958. Lord Mance explained that section 103, which sets out conditions for refusal of recognition of enforcement of awards under the Convention, was key to resolving this case. His Lordship construed the provision to hold that the court has no power to impose security when making orders under section 103(2) and section 103(3). Instead, only an order made under section 103(5) can be made conditional upon the provision of security by the award debtor.

IPCO is a turnkey contractor specialising in the construction of on-shore and offshore oil and gas facilities. The arbitration was conducted pursuant to a contract made in 1994 which was subject to Nigerian law and provided that disputes would be settled in accordance with the Nigerian Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1988. IPCO has been seeking to enforce the award in this jurisdiction since November 2004. In 2009, evidence tendered by a former IPCO employee enabled NPCC to challenge the entire award on the basis that IPCO inflated quantum by using fraudulent documentation. The English courts accept that NNPC has a good prima facie case regarding IPCO’s fraudulent behaviour and realistic prospects exist for the whole award to be set aside. NPCC’s challenges to the award are still pending in Nigeria for non-fraud and fraud reasons. Notably, however, NNPC’s application to amend its pleadings in the Nigerian proceedings to raise the fraud challenge was adjourned by consent and never determined. 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 »





King and Country: Reflections on the Costs of Market Misconduct

1 04 2016

Read as updated SSRN paper with reference to the Panama Papers. Because of the Budget 2016, the chancellor has been accused of “looking more like Gordon Brown as a purveyor of gimmicks.” In difficult times when calls for his scalp over the row regarding the budget seemed to have eclipsed everything else, the rare bit of good news for George Osborne is that he can use the opportunity provided by the threat of Brexit – “a leap in the dark” which may cost the UK £100 billion or 5 per cent of GDP and 950,000 jobs by 2020 – to camouflage and obfuscate the real problems of conduct in the world of economics and finance. On the other hand, in an important interview with Charles Moore the former Bank of England governor Mervyn King showed hallmark signs of euroscepticism and said the people need to make up their own minds about the upcoming referendum. King also warned that lenders have not stopped taking excessive risks with savers’ money and the result is “bankers have not learnt the lessons of the Great Crash”. Unsurprisingly, in his somewhat controversial new book The End of Alchemy he makes the case against financial sorcery by arguing that it must be squeezed out of the world’s banking system. Perhaps, such failings are amplified further because “financial crises are a fact of life” and we are “moving into a rerun of the credit crunch”. Indeed, Lord King calls banks “the Achilles heel of capitalism.”

Below I sketch important/emerging issues in the intersecting themes of economics, law and misconduct as seen in the media, especially through the lens of “conduct costs” – some other themes are also explored. Mentioning Walter Bagehot and his classic text Lombard Street, which argued that the BoE should provide short-term financial support in times of crisis, King advises us that the old “lender of last resort” model (LOLR) is in need of revision because “banking has changed almost out of recognition since Bagehot’s time.” The former governor argues that the time has come to replace LOLR with the pawnbroker for all seasons (PFAS) system. For him, it is time for financial institutions to drop LOLR and embrace PFAS and be prepared to advance funds to just about anyone who has sufficient collateral. “The essential problem with the traditional LOLR,” argues King “is that in the presence of alchemy, the only way to provide sufficient liquidity in a crisis is to lend against bad collateral – at inadequate haircuts and low or zero penalty rates.” Read the rest of this entry »





LIBOR Roundup: Fraud, Misrepresentation and New Directions in Civil Proceedings

30 03 2016

ICE Benchmark Administration, which took over LIBOR from the BBA in 2014, has published a roadmap for LIBOR and banks will no longer be able to manipulate the interbank rate once a new system comes into place this summer connecting the IBA’s computers to banks’ trading systems. “We built new systems to do the surveillance which run about 4m calculations every day, looking for collusion, or aberrant behaviour, or possible manipulation,” explained the IBA’s president Finbarr Hutcheson. He expressed confidence that traders will no longer be able to lie to improve their trading positions and said that anomalies would be investigated and reported to the FCA. The banks have paid billions in fines in relation to the benchmark’s manipulation. The Wheatley Review 2012 engineered and guided LIBOR’s transformation because the distorted benchmark, underpinning more than US$350 trillion in outstanding contracts, was “not fit for purpose”. But of course, the review’s author Martin Wheatley was ousted from office because of his overt aggressiveness, or his “shoot first” and “ask questions later” policy for bad banks. Under IBA oversight, daily LIBOR rates will be rooted in market transactions “to the greatest possible extent” by using a “waterfall” system devised to begin with transactions but relies on human input in circumstances when trading volumes decline.

IBA is extremely confident that the move will bring rectitude to the scandal ridden financial sector. Hutcheson said that coupled with the earlier changes, the roadmap will ultimately make LIBOR “one of the world’s most trusted, scrutinised and robust financial benchmarks.” Insofar as benchmark rigging from the old days is concerned, after the settlement (2014) in the series of reported judgments in the Graiseley Properties case, new claims have been brought and a series of fresh judgments were published in litigation arising out of disputes between the Property Alliance Group – a property developer with a portfolio worth about £200 million – and the Royal Bank of Scotland. RBS has been in the spotlight recently because of the fact that it has failed to generate profit for eight successive years and that its losses since the global financial crisis 2008 have exceeded £50 billion which is more than the £45 billion of taxpayers’ money used to bail out the ailing institution. Read the rest of this entry »