While the London interbank offered rate benchmark or Libor, is not necessarily an easy concept to wrap one’s head around, one thing is clear: attempts to distort that rate for personal benefit will result in harsh fines from multiple regulatory bodies. Or at least that seems to be the message following today’s announcement that both U.S. and U.K. agencies will charge Lloyds Banking Group with $370 million in fines over allegations that it manipulated rates to put itself in a better position.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have each accused the bank of multiple forms of manipulation. An FCA probe revealed that Lloyds attempted to rig the Libor rate for the U.S. dollar and also conspired with New York-based Rabobank to Influence Japanese yen rates; DOJ investigation also revealed multiple attempts at this type of manipulation.
Libor is a benchmark for the interest rates at which international banks lend to each other. The information is computed based on information provided by those banks, and when reported inaccurately, it can give an advantage or disadvantage to the amount of money made on that interest rate.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation probe not only found frequent cases of manipulation but a cavalier attitude relating to how they were conducted. For example, on July 28, 2006, the Rabobank submitter wrote to the Yen LIBOR submitter: “morning skipper.....will be setting an obscenely high 1m again today...poss 38 just fyi.” The Yen LIBOR submitter responded: “(K)...oh dear..my poor customers....hehehe!! manual input libors again today then!!!!” Both banks’ submissions on that same day moved up one basis point, from 0.37 to 0.38.
In a statement, DOJ Anti-Trust Division Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brent Snyder said, “Lloyds manipulated benchmark rates, allowing its traders to increase their profits unfairly and fraudulently. Lloyds’s conduct undermined financial markets domestically and abroad, and today’s charges send a clear message that we will continue to bring those responsible to justice."
Lloyds is only the most recent bank to be reprimanded for what appears to have been a widespread practice from the mid-2000’s to 2011. Seven institutions have received similar penalties from U.S. and U.K regulators; Barclay’s, UBS, RBS and J.P. Morgan, were among the others involved.