We don’t know what the upshot of the Libor investigations will be, but if nothing else, it has raised awareness of what a fragile international financial system we have. The idea that 16 banks just send a slip of paper to the British Banking Association every day, and that rate becomes a global standard for all sorts of financial products, including $550 trillion in derivatives contracts, borders on the insane. As we’ve seen, that’s just far too easy to game. So one of the potential consequences of the scandal is the scrapping of Libor, and moving to use a different set of benchmark rates.
Central bankers and regulators will hold talks in September on whether the troubled global Libor interest rate can be reformed or whether it is so damaged that the benchmark of borrowing costs should be scrapped.
Bank of England Governor Mervyn King told fellow central bankers in a letter that it was “very clear that radical reforms of the Libor system are needed”.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and global financial regulator Mark Carney, who is also governor of the Bank of Canada, on Wednesday floated possible alternatives to the London interbank offered rate, which some bankers manipulated in the 2007-09 financial crisis.
“There are different alternatives if Libor cannot be fixed,” Carney told a news conference in Ottawa.
Central bankers set interest rates for their jurisdictions. It would not take much to come up with something based on those rates to use as a benchmark. US Treasury bills have even been floated, though I’m not sure that’s a great idea. But there are an array of rates that reflected documented circumstances of what’s getting traded in the market, rather than based on what a banker writes on a piece of paper. The sensible move would be to put Libor out of its misery.