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Thursday, 28 June 2012

It could only be Barclays

If I ever met a dishonest banker, chances are they had probably worked at Barclays, or maybe Lehman or some other second tier investment bank, but it was always Barclays that seemed to have a culture of dishonesty, in the same way that Arthur Andersen or Enron had that extra spiviness that set them apart from the rest. Barclays, as we know, used to make most of their money either from tax scams using their own tax position or by taking deals to other banks to use theirs. As a bank, they were never any good

And so it would seem from the reports of their alleged manipulation of the LIBOR and EURIBOR rates. What is that all about? Well if you have ever signed a floating rate loan or swap agreement with a bank (standard practice for companies), then you will see a clause explaining how the floating rate of interest is calculated. For a loan it is the LIBOR rate at 11 am on the fixing date, and that value is calculated as the average value as reported by a panel of banks as the rate at which they offered to take deposits at that time.

The theory being that by taking an average of several large banks, any blips in the market would be smoothed out, and because the rates at which they were offering to take deposits would be a matter of public record, any misreporting would eventually be discovered, so any bank that did so would not only be dishonest, but also stupid. Barclays, it appears, were both.

By reporting a higher LIBOR than they were offering, a bank would push up the marginal cost to floating rate borrowers. There could well be other instances when a big derivatives play might be "helped" by a lower reporting of LIBOR. The FSA reports don't go into detail of any losses but they do record emails demonstrating collusion. If the bank made money from it, then their customers and counterparties lost. Shame then that the government pockets the £290 million fine and doesn't pass it back to the customers.

Bob Diamond will forego his bonus for this year, but since the FSA has known about the problem since 2004, is there any chance he will be handing back his bonuses for the last 10 years? Fat chance.

And probably fat chance of any fraud prosecutions.In a world where you can get a long prison sentence for stealing a bag of rice, organising a demo to which know one turns up or assisting US Customs to break their own rules to export weapon components that don't exist, it seems that the punishment for systematic long term financial fraud by the chief executive of a bank is to have to settle for a £5 million salary, well £17 million when you count share scheme payouts, or make that £100 million since 2006.

In a statement Diamond said: "Nothing is more important to me than having a strong culture at Barclays. I am sorry that some people acted in a manner not consistent with our culture and values." Given Barclays, internal culture, it is easy to see Diamond's point. Barclays' "culture and values" have made him a lot of money over the years.


webwrights said...

Intriguingly, the white Times this morning reports that Diamond will only be foregoing "one of his bonuses".

Incidentally, I have hat-tipped you this morning for the screen-grab of the Hyderabad job-spec!

Alex said...

I think the cash bonus was a lot less than his share bonus.

webwrights said...

Yes, reading further he's heroically decided to hang onto the long-term bonus, doubtless to immortalise in his bank-balance the long-term nature of the fraud. What a guy!

At a Smith New Court presentation in Geneva in the 80s, the economist Roger Nightingale (un vrai bon oeuf) was berating the idiots who had destroyed Midland Bank with the witless acquisition of the crooked Crocker National. "They should be dragged through the City in a tumbril, so everyone could throw things at them."

A Swiss guest observed that one of the ex-Midland directors had recently died. "So what. They should dig him up and stick knives in him!"

That seems about right for Diamond Bob.

To Barclays' many other corporate character flaws, should we add the unforgivable 'GRASS' since they have clearly been cheerfully shopping their equally-guilty co-conspirators for their reduced 'sentence'?