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

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.”


Crisis-hit Moroccans join ‘informal economy’ as job market shrinks

Updated 14 July 2020

Crisis-hit Moroccans join ‘informal economy’ as job market shrinks

  • More than a third of Moroccan workers are already in the informal economy
  • However, the crisis is expected to expand this informal economy as people lose their jobs

RABAT: The coronavirus crisis is expected to expand Morocco’s informal economy of people who work for cash, reducing tax revenue and leaving many without social protection, the head of the state planning agency and economists said.
More than a third of Moroccan workers are already in the informal economy, doing manual or domestic labor, driving taxis or selling in the streets, accounting for 14% of gross domestic product, according to the agency.
However, the crisis is expected to expand this informal economy as people lose their jobs in companies and consumers seek the cheaper goods and services provided by workers who are not registered with the state’s pension fund.
Morocco, with 16,047 coronavirus cases, last month allowed cafes, restaurants and other services to resume activity at half capacity except in provinces where infections remain high. Last week, it extended an emergency decree giving local authorities leeway in taking restrictive measures until Aug. 10.
Unemployment is expected to surge to a rate of 14.8% in 2020 from about 9.2% before the pandemic, the agency said.
Fatima Hamdane, 53, who lost her job as a worker at a car parts manufacturing plant in Casablanca, said she would work as a cleaner even if her employer did not pay social security duties. She has diabetes and has already skipped medical checks because of her hard financial situation.
“I knocked on many doors, but couldn’t find a job,” she said. “Most have rejected me because of my age.”
Ahmed Lahlimi, the planning agency chief, told Reuters that while the number of people moving into the informal economy was expected to grow, the agency did not have any updated figures estimating the extent of the problem.
The informal economy already costs the state 34 billion dirhams ($3.4 billion) in annual tax losses, Finance Minister Mohamed Benchaaboun said.
Morocco’s fiscal deficit stood at $2.3 billion at the end of May with revenue down and spending up because of the crisis. It is expected to widen to 7.5% of gross domestic product in 2020 from 4.1% last year while the economy is expected to shrink by 5%, according to the government’s reviewed budget.
The Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises, a business group, says the informal economy puts 2.9 million jobs at risk in formal companies by undercutting their costs. In May, it recommended offering tax incentives to make more companies register officially.
“In the past, the state has tolerated the informal economy in times of social tensions such as during the 2011 pro-democracy protests,” said Rachid Awraz, of the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis.
But, in the long run, it leaves workers without social protection and prey to poverty in addition to its low added value for the economy, he said.
Labour Minister Mohamed Amekraz did not answer Reuters requests for comment.