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.”


Apple Watch, FitBit could feel cost of US tariffs

Updated 20 July 2018
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Apple Watch, FitBit could feel cost of US tariffs

SAN FRANCISCO: The latest round of US tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods could hit the Apple Watch, health trackers, streaming music speakers and other accessories assembled in China, government rulings on tariffs show.
The rulings name Apple Inc’s watch, several Fitbit Inc. activity trackers and connected speakers from Sonos Inc. While consumer technology’s biggest sellers such as mobile phones and laptops so far have faced little danger of import duties, the rulings show that gadget makers are unlikely to be spared altogether and may have to consider price hikes on products that millions of consumers use every day.
The devices have all been determined by US Customs and Border Patrol officials to fall under an obscure subheading of data transmission machines in the sprawling list of US tariff codes. And that particular subheading is included in the more than 6,000 such codes in President Donald Trump’s most recent round of proposed tariffs released earlier this month.
That $200 billion list of tariffs is in a public comment period. But if the list goes into effect this fall, the products from Apple, Fitbit and Sonos could face a 10 percent tariff.
The specific products listed in customs rulings are the original Apple Watch; Fitbit’s Charge, Charge HR and Surge models; and Sonos’s Play:3, Play:5 and SUB speakers.
All three companies declined to comment on the proposed tariff list. But in its filing earlier this month to become a publicly traded company, Sonos said that “the imposition of tariffs and other trade barriers, as well as retaliatory trade measures, could require us to raise the prices of our products and harm our sales.”
The New York Times has reported that Trump told Apple CEO Tim Cook during a meeting in May that the US government would not levy tariffs on iPhones assembled in China, citing a person familiar with the meeting.
“The way the president has been using his trade authority, you have direct examples of him using his authority to target specific products and companies,” said Sage Chandler, vice president for international trade policy at the Consumer Technology Association.
The toll from tariffs on the gadget world’s smaller product lines could be significant. Sonos and Fitbit do not break out individual product sales, but collectively they had $2.6 billion in revenue last year. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi estimates that the Apple Watch alone will bring in $9.9 billion in sales this year, though that estimate includes sales outside the United States that the tariff would not touch.
It is possible that the products from Apple, Fitbit and Sonos no longer fall under tariff codes in the $200 billion list, trade experts said. The codes applied to specific products are only public knowledge because their makers asked regulators to rule on their proper classification. And some of the products have been replaced by newer models that could be classified differently.
But if companies have products whose tariff codes are on the list, they have three options, experts said: Advocate to get the code dropped from the list during the public comment period, apply for an exclusion once tariffs go into effect, or try to have their products classified under a different code not on the list.
The last option could prove difficult due to the thousands of codes covered, said one former US trade official.