UK watchdog tells banks to show plans for ending Libor use

Banks have been fined $9 billion for trying to rig Libor, a measure of borrowing costs among lenders, and the Bank of England has launched a supposedly risk-free alternative, its SONIA overnight rate, for use in contracts. (Reuters)
Updated 12 July 2018
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UK watchdog tells banks to show plans for ending Libor use

  • Banks have been fined $9 billion for trying to rig Libor, a measure of borrowing costs among lenders
  • Risk-free rates are considered harder to manipulate as they are based on actual market transactions

LONDON: Banks must show how they plan to shift from using Libor in financial contracts to “risk-free” interest rate benchmarks by the end of 2021, Britain’s markets watchdog said on Thursday.
Banks have been fined $9 billion for trying to rig Libor, a measure of borrowing costs among lenders, and the Bank of England (BoE) has launched a supposedly risk-free alternative, its SONIA overnight rate, for use in contracts.
Risk-free rates are considered harder to manipulate as they are based on actual market transactions, as opposed to quotes submitted by “panel” banks to compile Libor.
But switching long-term contracts to SONIA is proving difficult in some cases, as Libor rates can stretch out several years rather than just overnight to price trillions of dollars in contracts globally from home loans to credit cards.
“The absence of ways to remedy the current underlying weakness in Libor – the lack of transactions, the unattractive prospect of Libor limping on with fewer panel banks, and the significant problems associated with a synthetic Libor, all lead to the same conclusion,” Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Chief Executive Andrew Bailey said.
“The best option is actively to transition to alternative benchmarks. The most effective way to avoid Libor-related risk is not to write Libor-referencing business,” Bailey said in a speech at Bloomberg in London.
Gerard Jacob, a partner at Parker Fitzgerald law firm, said it was the strongest message yet that firms must initiate transition programs, backed by hints that regulators may not even allow the use of Libor after 2021.
Bailey set the end-2021 deadline for transition in a speech a year ago, but market participants have continued to accumulate Libor-linked sterling derivatives for periods well after 2021.
About $170 trillion of the interest rate swap contracts cleared by LCH, a London-based clearing house, reference Libor, and a little under one-third of these mature after the end of 2021, Bailey said.
In an effort to get banks to speed up migration to SONIA, he said financial firms in Britain will have to show the FCA and the BoE how they will reduce their dependency on Libor.
“Andrew Bailey has given his clearest signal yet to the market that the bell tolls for Libor,” said Mairead Duncan-Jones, capital markets lawyer at Linklaters.
“After this morning’s speech the ‘wait and see’ approach is not likely to be sufficient,” Duncan-Jones said.
Bailey said that in most cases the best solution was to use overnight rates rather than continue using Libor or an alternative rate compiled like Libor.
There are also “formidable” difficulties in creating a “synthetic” Libor that combines a risk-free rate and credit spreads, he added.
“It should be clear to current Libor users that they must not rest any hopes in a synthetic solution to continuing Libor publication.”


Fraudsters exploit interest in Libra digital currency

Updated 23 July 2019
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Fraudsters exploit interest in Libra digital currency

  • Fake Libra opportunities or offerings have popped up on Facebook and Instagram
  • Criminals routinely seize on hot topics to try to dupe people online
SAN FRANCISCO: Fraudsters are out to cash in on interest in Facebook-backed digital currency Libra, hawking bogus buying opportunities at online venues including the social network itself.
Libra is to launch next year, overseen by an association based in Europe, but as with other hot topics it has been seized on by nefarious characters intent on tricking people with false accounts, pages, and information.
Fake Libra opportunities or offerings have popped up on Facebook’s main social network and its image-centric online community Instagram, according to a report Monday in the Washington Post.
A number of Libra-themed deceptive accounts were removed from the Facebook platform after the California-based company was alerted by the Post, according to the publication.
Some of the fake accounts used the official Facebook logo and photos of chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.
“Facebook removes ads and Pages that violate our policies when we become aware of them, and we are constantly working to improve detection of scams on our platforms,” the Internet titan said in response to an AFP inquiry.
The Libra Association was reported to be working with Facebook to get deceptive pages about the currency deleted.
Criminals routinely seize on hot topics to try to dupe people online, from natural disasters and major tragedies to celebrity news.
A buylibracoins.com website accessible Monday offered a fake chance to buy the digital currency, encouraging potential victims to share contact details of friends in a referral program.
Fraudsters were said to be setting also hunting for victims at other online venues such as Twitter and YouTube.
The rise of fake Libra offerings comes as Facebook tries to dispel worries and build trust in what it hopes will be a global currency that gives life-changing financial tools to people around the world.
G7 finance ministers and central bankers last week dealt a blow to Facebook’s planned new cryptocurrency Libra, issuing a barrage of warnings about its dangers for the global economy at a two-day meeting outside Paris.
Facebook in June unveiled its plans for Libra in an announcement greeted with concern by governments and critics of the social network behemoth, whose reputation has already been tarnished by its role in spreading fake information and extremist videos.
Ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) major global economies “agreed that projects such as Libra may affect monetary sovereignty and the functioning of the international monetary system,” France, the current G7 chair, said in a statement.
It said projects like Libra with a “global and potentially systemic footprint... raise serious regulatory and systemic concerns, as well as wider policy issues, which both need to be addressed before such projects can be implemented.”
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his concerns about Libra and other cryptocurrencies — which he had made clear in White House news conference this month — were shared by G7 counterparts.
Libra is widely regarded as a challenger to dominant global player bitcoin. Expected to launch in the first half of 2020, Libra is designed to be backed by a basket of currency assets to avoid the wild swings of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.