BBA poised to give up Libor oversight after rigging scandal

LONDON — The British banking lobby responsible for setting Libor said it was happy to hand over the task to regulators, days ahead of an expected U.K. proposal to take tighter control of the scandal-tainted benchmark borrowing rate.

Martin Wheatley, a top U.K. regulator, is expected to propose stripping the British Bankers’ Association of its supervisory role in setting the hugely influential London interbank offered rate, in plans to be presented Friday.

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“If Mr. Wheatley’s recommendations include a change of responsibility for Libor, the BBA will support that,” the association said in a statement Tuesday.

Libor, which underpins global trade and is used as a reference for pricing loans and transactions worth more than $350 trillion, has been engulfed in controversy since Barclays was fined a record $471 million in June for fixing the rate.

Libor is based on banks’ assessments of what they expect to be charged, rather than measuring actual lending rates. The process is not supervised by financial regulators and has drawn wide criticism for being insufficiently strict.

The Wheatley review, due out Friday, is expected to propose anchoring Libor interest rates to real transactions, rather than rates at which panel banks believe they could borrow cash from their peers on an unsecured basis.

In the United States, regulators reacted positively to the announcement.

“Libor is a global benchmark which is in dire need of a massive makeover,” said Bart Chilton, a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which was involved in the settlement with Barclays. “Step one is to get it away from an interest group.”

Libor has been criticized since the credit crisis in 2008, when interbank lending dried up, forcing banks to submit rates that were an estimate rather than a gauge of real deals and allowing them to keep Libor artificially low.

Even before the credit crisis, fixing the rate allowed derivative traders to make gains, enabling them to know in what direction the prices of complex financial instruments such as interest rate swaps were heading.

The BBA took control of Libor in 1986 and covers a suite of 150 rates in different currencies and maturities, forming the basis for pricing contracts worth $350 trillion worldwide, from home loans to credit cards.

On Monday, CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler said Libor should be replaced or changed, suggesting that it be based on “actual, observable market transactions.”

 
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