Matt Taibbi: Everything Is Rigged

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I think we are all beginning to draw the same conclusion as Matt Taibbi.

rollingstoneConspiracy theorists of the world, believers in the hidden hands of the Rothschilds and the Masons and the Illuminati, we skeptics owe you an apology. You were right. The players may be a little different, but your basic premise is correct: The world is a rigged game. We found this out in recent months, when a series of related corruption stories spilled out of the financial sector, suggesting the world’s largest banks may be fixing the prices of, well, just about everything.

You may have heard of the Libor scandal, in which at least three – and perhaps as many as 16 – of the name-brand too-big-to-fail banks have been manipulating global interest rates, in the process messing around with the prices of upward of $500 trillion (that’s trillion, with a “t”) worth of financial instruments. When that sprawling con burst into public view last year, it was easily the biggest financial scandal in history – MIT professor Andrew Lo even said it “dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets.”

That was bad enough, but now Libor may have a twin brother. Word has leaked out that the London-based firm ICAP, the world’s largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by American authorities for behavior that sounds eerily reminiscent of the Libor mess. Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world’s largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps.

Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It’s about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.

It should surprise no one that among the players implicated in this scheme to fix the prices of interest-rate swaps are the same megabanks – including Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and the Royal Bank of Scotland – that serve on the Libor panel that sets global interest rates. In fact, in recent years many of these banks have already paid multimillion-dollar settlements for anti-competitive manipulation of one form or another (in addition to Libor, some were caught up in an anti-competitive scheme, detailed in Rolling Stone last year, to rig municipal-debt service auctions). Though the jumble of financial acronyms sounds like gibberish to the layperson, the fact that there may now be price-fixing scandals involving both Libor and ISDAfix suggests a single, giant mushrooming conspiracy of collusion and price-fixing hovering under the ostensibly competitive veneer of Wall Street culture.

The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia

Why? Because Libor already affects the prices of interest-rate swaps, making this a manipulation-on-manipulation situation. If the allegations prove to be right, that will mean that swap customers have been paying for two different layers of price-fixing corruption. If you can imagine paying 20 bucks for a crappy PB&J because some evil cabal of agribusiness companies colluded to fix the prices of both peanuts and peanut butter, you come close to grasping the lunacy of financial markets where both interest rates and interest-rate swaps are being manipulated at the same time, often by the same banks.

“It’s a double conspiracy,” says an amazed Michael Greenberger, a former director of the trading and markets division at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and now a professor at the University of Maryland. “It’s the height of criminality.”

Even the courts came down on the side of the market riggers, saying it was your fault if you were a victim. Thats like telling someone who got mugged “well you shouldn’t have had money in your pocket in the first place”.

The bad news didn’t stop with swaps and interest rates. In March, it also came out that two regulators – the CFTC here in the U.S. and the Madrid-based International Organization of Securities Commissions – were spurred by the Libor revelations to investigate the possibility of collusive manipulation of gold and silver prices. “Given the clubby manipulation efforts we saw in Libor benchmarks, I assume other benchmarks – many other benchmarks – are legit areas of inquiry,” CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton said.

But the biggest shock came out of a federal courtroom at the end of March – though if you follow these matters closely, it may not have been so shocking at all – when a landmark class-action civil lawsuit against the banks for Libor-related offenses was dismissed. In that case, a federal judge accepted the banker-defendants’ incredible argument: If cities and towns and other investors lost money because of Libor manipulation, that was their own fault for ever thinking the banks were competing in the first place.

“A farce,” was one antitrust lawyer’s response to the eyebrow-raising dismissal.

“Incredible,” says Sylvia Sokol, an attorney for Constantine Cannon, a firm that specializes in antitrust cases.

All of these stories collectively pointed to the same thing: These banks, which already possess enormous power just by virtue of their financial holdings – in the United States, the top six banks, many of them the same names you see on the Libor and ISDAfix panels, own assets equivalent to 60 percent of the nation’s GDP – are beginning to realize the awesome possibilities for increased profit and political might that would come with colluding instead of competing. Moreover, it’s increasingly clear that both the criminal justice system and the civil courts may be impotent to stop them, even when they do get caught working together to game the system.

If true, that would leave us living in an era of undisguised, real-world conspiracy, in which the prices of currencies, commodities like gold and silver, even interest rates and the value of money itself, can be and may already have been dictated from above. And those who are doing it can get away with it. Forget the Illuminati – this is the real thing, and it’s no secret. You can stare right at it, anytime you want.

We have given the bankers the opportunity to set markets based on their own data.

The banks found a loophole, a basic flaw in the machine. Across the financial system, there are places where prices or official indices are set based upon unverified data sent in by private banks and financial companies. In other words, we gave the players with incentives to game the system institutional roles in the economic infrastructure.

Libor, which measures the prices banks charge one another to borrow money, is a perfect example, not only of this basic flaw in the price-setting system but of the weakness in the regulatory framework supposedly policing it. Couple a voluntary reporting scheme with too-big-to-fail status and a revolving-door legal system, and what you get is unstoppable corruption.

Every morning, 18 of the world’s biggest banks submit data to an office in London about how much they believe they would have to pay to borrow from other banks. The 18 banks together are called the “Libor panel,” and when all of these data from all 18 panelist banks are collected, the numbers are averaged out. What emerges, every morning at 11:30 London time, are the daily Libor figures.

Banks submit numbers about borrowing in 10 different currencies across 15 different time periods, e.g., loans as short as one day and as long as one year. This mountain of bank-submitted data is used every day to create benchmark rates that affect the prices of everything from credit cards to mortgages to currencies to commercial loans (both short- and long-term) to swaps.

The Libor rigging was staggering and the fines when dished out were minor.

Hundreds of similar exchanges were uncovered when regulators like Britain’s Financial Services Authority and the U.S. Justice Department started burrowing into the befouled entrails of Libor. The documentary evidence of anti-competitive manipulation they found was so overwhelming that, to read it, one almost becomes embarrassed for the banks. “It’s just amazing how Libor fixing can make you that much money,” chirped one yen trader. “Pure manipulation going on,” wrote another.

………….

Michael Hausfeld of Hausfeld LLP, one of the lead lawyers for the plaintiffs in this Libor suit, declined to comment specifically on the dismissal. But he did talk about the significance of the Libor case and other manipulation cases now in the pipeline.

“It’s now evident that there is a ubiquitous culture among the banks to collude and cheat their customers as many times as they can in as many forms as they can conceive,” he said. “And that’s not just surmising. This is just based upon what they’ve been caught at.”

Greenberger says the lack of serious consequences for the Libor scandal has only made other kinds of manipulation more inevitable. “There’s no therapy like sending those who are used to wearing Gucci shoes to jail,” he says. “But when the attorney general says, ‘I don’t want to indict people,’ it’s the Wild West. There’s no law.”

After Libor rigging, a new market manipulation is coming to light, interest rate swaps.

The problem is, a number of markets feature the same infrastructural weakness that failed in the Libor mess. In the case of interest-rate swaps and the ISDAfix benchmark, the system is very similar to Libor, although the investigation into these markets reportedly focuses on some different types of improprieties.

Though interest-rate swaps are not widely understood outside the finance world, the root concept actually isn’t that hard. If you can imagine taking out a variable-rate mortgage and then paying a bank to make your loan payments fixed, you’ve got the basic idea of an interest-rate swap.

In practice, it might be a country like Greece or a regional government like Jefferson County, Alabama, that borrows money at a variable rate of interest, then later goes to a bank to “swap” that loan to a more predictable fixed rate. In its simplest form, the customer in a swap deal is usually paying a premium for the safety and security of fixed interest rates, while the firm selling the swap is usually betting that it knows more about future movements in interest rates than its customers.

Prices for interest-rate swaps are often based on ISDAfix, which, like Libor, is yet another of these privately calculated benchmarks. ISDAfix’s U.S. dollar rates are published every day, at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., after a gang of the same usual-suspect megabanks (Bank of America, RBS, Deutsche, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, etc.) submits information about bids and offers for swaps.

……….

The idea that prices in a $379 trillion market could be dependent on a desk of about 20 guys in New Jersey should tell you a lot about the absurdity of our financial infrastructure. The whole thing, in fact, has a darkly comic element to it. “It’s almost hilarious in the irony,” says David Frenk, director of research for Better Markets, a financial-reform advocacy group, “that they called it ISDAfix.”

So what about other market manipulation?

After scandals involving libor and, perhaps, ISDAfix, the question that should have everyone freaked out is this: What other markets out there carry the same potential for manipulation? The answer to that question is far from reassuring, because the potential is almost everywhere. From gold to gas to swaps to interest rates, prices all over the world are dependent upon little private cabals of cigar-chomping insiders we’re forced to trust.

“In all the over-the-counter markets, you don’t really have pricing except by a bunch of guys getting together,” Masters notes glumly.

That includes the markets for gold (where prices are set by five banks in a Libor-ish teleconferencing process that, ironically, was created in part by N M Rothschild & Sons) and silver (whose price is set by just three banks), as well as benchmark rates in numerous other commodities – jet fuel, diesel, electric power, coal, you name it. The problem in each of these markets is the same: We all have to rely upon the honesty of companies like Barclays (already caught and fined $453 million for rigging Libor) or JPMorgan Chase (paid a $228 million settlement for rigging municipal-bond auctions) or UBS (fined a collective $1.66 billion for both muni-bond rigging and Libor manipulation) to faithfully report the real prices of things like interest rates, swaps, currencies and commodities.

All of these benchmarks based on voluntary reporting are now being looked at by regulators around the world, and God knows what they’ll find. The European Federation of Financial Services Users wrote in an official EU survey last summer that all of these systems are ripe targets for manipulation. “In general,” it wrote, “those markets which are based on non-attested, voluntary submission of data from agents whose benefits depend on such benchmarks are especially vulnerable of market abuse and distortion.”

Translation: When prices are set by companies that can profit by manipulating them, we’re fucked.

“You name it,” says Frenk. “Any of these benchmarks is a possibility for corruption.”

The only reason this problem has not received the attention it deserves is because the scale of it is so enormous that ordinary people simply cannot see it. It’s not just stealing by reaching a hand into your pocket and taking out money, but stealing in which banks can hit a few keystrokes and magically make whatever’s in your pocket worth less. This is corruption at the molecular level of the economy, Space Age stealing – and it’s only just coming into view.

Baltimore to Sue Over Libor

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Probably the first of many case to be taken against the banks for the Libor scandal as Baltimore City looks set to be first up. The difficulty is going to be the burden of proof whereby Baltimore has to show that the allege fixing in London directly affected Baltimore. This could open the floodgates to similar lawsuits from other US cities.

Baltimore is lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit that alleges that banks including Barclays, Bank of America, HSBC, JP Morgan and UBS conspired to fix a set of key interest rates – the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor – costing the city millions in the process. So far, the Libor scandal has played out mostly under the radar in the US. But now it is gaining traction in Washington, and Baltimore’s suit is putting a human face on a scandal legal experts predict could end up being the most costly of the credit crisis.

Firefighters, services for the elderly, school programmes – all these and more are being cut as a direct result of the actions of colluding bankers, Rawlings-Blake claims.

According to the court documents, Baltimore bought “tens of millions of dollars worth of interest-rate swaps” during the period when the alleged fixing took place. The suit, filed with top Washington law firm Hausfeld, alleges that between August 2007 and May 2010 the defendants conspired to suppress Libor below the levels at which it would have been set had they accurately reported their borrowing costs. Those manipulations had “severe adverse consequences” for Baltimore and others, according to the suit. Other cities are watching carefully and a raft of litigation is expected in the US.

The city had no choice but to fight, said Rawlings-Blake. “We are faced with closing fire companies, closing recreational centers … We have services that have been cut year after year; services that people depend on. Opportunities for young people, the cleanliness of the city: everything is affected by the budget,” she said.

Ultimately the US may take an Anti-trust case similar to that taken against the tobacco industry.

Stephen Bainbridge, a professor of law at UCLA, said the case was “one of the worst examples of abuse of trust that I can remember in 25 years of following corporate governance”. Given the scale of Libor’s influence, Bainbridge said, this could emerge as “the defining financial scandal of the meltdown”.

Bainbridge believes the justice department may build an anti-trust case against those involved that could ultimately lead to a settlement as large as that agreed in the US’s massive suit against the tobacco industry. Anti-trust laws allow three times the damages for those convicted of collusion.

But he believes a suit like Baltimore’s may prove harder to prove. The city’s lawyers will have to prove direct “loss causation” – in other words, that bankers allegedly fixing rates in London directly hit Baltimore’s bank balance.

“Proving that chain of events can be difficult,” said Bainbridge.

Source: Guardian

Eurozone Monetary System Bust And On Verge Of Collapse

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If you needed anymore proof that the euro is on the verge of collapse, Yanis Varoufakis’s article should help confirm it. With the ECB holding interest rates at near zero and having pumped over 1 trillion into the system via LTRO, Christian Noyer (governor of the Central Bank of France) provides the strongest hint yet that nothing has worked.

Under normal conditions, the interest rates that you and I must pay on a home loan, a car loan, our credit card, a business loan are pegged onto two crucial rates. One is the rate that banks charge one another in order to borrow from each other. The other is the Central Bank’s overnight rate. Alas, neither of these interest rates matter during this Crisis. While such ‘official’ rates are tending to zero (as Central Banks try to squeeze the costs of borrowing to nothing), the interest rates people and firms pay are much, much higher and track indices of fear and subjective estimates of the Eurozone’s disintegration.

After 2008, banks failed to lend to each other.

Following the Crash of 2008, banks stopped lending to each other, fearful that they will never get their money back (as most banks became, in effect, insolvent). Thus, the interest rate at which they lend to one another simply ceased being a meaningful price (just like the prices of CDOs, following Lehman’s collapse, lost their meaning as no one bought or sold those pieces of paper). The truly scandalous aspect of the Libor scandal of recent weeks is that banks continued to use (and ‘fix’) an estimate of the interest rate at which they lent to each other (for the purposes of fixing all other interest rates; e.g. mortgage and credit card rates) when they did not lend to each other any more…

The ECB took action by lowering interest rates and stopped paying interest on overnight deposits hoping to force banks to lend.

the ECB lowered its key interest rate to 0.75% – the lowest level since the euro’s inception. At the same time, the ECB did something else that is extraordinary by its own standards: it reduced to zero the interest rate it paid private banks for depositing money with the ECB.

…….

and having no incentive whatsoever to park their idle capital with the ECB, one might have hoped (as the ECB’s President, Mr Mario Draghi, clearly did) that banks would be more willing to lend and at a lower interest rate. However, such hopes would have been baseless.

Noyer admits the system is bust.

“We are currently observing a failure of the transmission mechanism of monetary policy. From the markets’ perspective, the interest rate facing individual private banks depends on the funding costs of the state where they are domiciled and not on the ECB overnight interest rate… Hence the monetary policy transmission mechanism does not work.” Now, this is an admission that should be on every headline in Europe, given that it comes from a governor of the Central Bank of the Eurozone’s second largest economy.

The admission gets even better. He alludes to the fact that LTRO did not have the desired affect.

“We did our best to face up to this phenomenon which is unacceptable for a Central Bank in a monetary union.” What did he mean by that? The clue comes from his follow up sentence: “In future we cannot rely endlessly on a system where the Central Bank is injecting massive liquidity to the banking system, boosting hugely its balance sheet.” Clearly, Mr Noyer was referring to the LTRO; the ECB’s attempt earlier in the year to ‘fix’ the ‘transmission mechanism’ by pumping 1 trillion euros of liquidity into the Eurozone’s banks. Reading between the lines, it is clear that, at least according to Noyer, this ploy failed (as some of us kept saying it would).

You can’t jump start a dead battery.

In short, the fear of a disintegration of the Eurozone (that is aided and abetted by silly talk of Greece’s and Portugal’s expulsion) has broken the umbilical cord that normally connects the ECB’s overnight rate with actual borrowing costs of the private sector. Now, the later reflect the fear that the member-state in which the firm or the household are will not be able to refinance itself. In a never-ending circle this fear ensures that the said member-state will not be able to refinance itself and, crucially, guarantees the ECB’s failure to lower interest rates even when it pushes its official rates to zero. This is what a monetary union on the verge of collapse looks like.

Source: http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/2012/07/17/it-is-now-official-the-eurozones-monetary-transmission-system-is-broken/

Geithner’s Ass On The Line Over LIBOR

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Well, I’m sure that it comes as no surprise that Barclays weren’t the only ones involved in the LIBOR rate fixing scandal but U.S Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is being dragged into the mix as someone who not only knew it was going on, but neglected his regulatory role with the New York Fed to do anything about it.

Not only is Geithner ‘dead meat’ for his role in covering up and perpetuating LIBOR rate fixing (recall Geither held a meeting in 2008 with Fed officials to fix LIBOR), but Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan (along with BOA) are likely to be to be dragged into the scandal as well as it intensifies this side of the pond over the coming weeks.
As the LIBOR “Crime of the Century” is unfolding internationally, it will mean the end of the career, and possibly prison time, for Timothy Geithner, currently U.S. Treasury Secretary, and formerly President of the New York Federal Reserve branch. Lyndon LaRouche’s characterization of Geithner as “dead meat,” is not extreme, considering that former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, in an interview, compared Geithner’s role in covering up LIBOR’s rigging of interest rates to the cover-up of the crimes of former football coach, and convicted serial child molester, Jerry Sandusky, by his employers at Pennsylvania State University!
Geithner’s role emerged during testimony by Barclay’s former CEO, Robert Diamond, before a British Parliamentary inquiry. Diamond revealed that Barclay’s had been in contact with the New York Federal Reserve branch, about the rigging of interest rates, when Geithner was its President. The NY Fed, which oversees Wall Street, has a special regulatory role, as a watchdog agency. Yet, a series of emails released, following Diamond’s testimony, shows that Fed officials – including Geithner – were not only aware that the LIBOR banks were rigging interest rates, and did nothing to stop it, but later rewarded those same banks, with trillions of dollars in bailout funds and credits.
…….
Geithner personally sent an email to British authorities on June 1, 2008, suggesting they “strengthen governance and establish a credible reporting procedure.” He added that it would be necessary to “eliminate incentive to misreport.” Thus, Geithner knew that the “reporting procedure” was flawed, as it involved flagrant lying about the rates reported by LIBOR. As to eliminating “incentive to misreport,” why were no criminal charges brought against those involved, which would have been a strong, and legitimate, disincentive?

Geithner was rewarded by being appointed Treasury Secretary by Obama, and has continued the cover-up to this day!

With calls for further investigation into the LIBOR scandal, can Geithner survive the fallout?

Source: sgtreport

LIBOR Lawsuits To Follow

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After the LIEBOR scandal and its fallout, its inevitable that somebody somewhere whats to sue. That is what happens when you realize you have been in a rigged game and potentially we are talking a massive number of lawsuits when you look at the US mortgage industry alone.

The second Barclays announced its $450 million Libor settlement, it was all over – the lawyers smelled not only blood, but what may be the biggest plaintiff feeding frenzy of all time. Which is why it was only a matter of time: “State attorneys general are jumping into the widening scandal over whether banks tried to manipulate benchmark international lending rates, a move that could open a new front against the top global banks. A handful of state attorneys general said they are looking into whether they have jurisdiction over the banks, and are starting preliminary discussions to determine what kind of impact the conduct involving the Libor rate may have had in their states.”

From Reuters:

Lawyers for several states have had early discussions about whether they might pool investigative resources and launch a broader, multi-state effort, but no formal consortium has been established yet, people familiar with the discussions said. New York might be expected to lead such an effort, since most of the banks’ U.S. operations are based there. A spokesman for the New York attorney general declined comment on whether the issue is being looked at.

 

 

Some municipalities, including the city of Baltimore, and funds including the Frankfurt-based Metzler Investment GmbH, which manages 47 billion euros ($59 billion) in assets, have already sued more than a dozen banks, arguing they were bilked of potentially billions of dollars.

 

From FT:

 There are at least 900,000 outstanding US home loans indexed to Libor that were originated from 2005 to 2009, the period the key lending gauge may have been rigged, investigators have said. Those mortgages carry an unpaid principal balance of $275bn, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a bank regulator.
Ultimately, it’s the FED that may get all the attention.
The biggest irony is that the torrent of upcoming suits will be in effect targeting none other than the Fed. Because while banks which all were massively levered to even a one basis point move in Libor were very sensitive to the smallest variations in 3 month USD libor, end-clients who did not have this leverage were far less impaired. But that doesn’t matter: after all the same clients were impaired through gross borderline criminal negligence which is all that matters in a court of law (assuming the honorable judge John Roberts is not presiding pro hac vice). Thus the entity that will be sued by proxy is the Federal Reserve, whose Federal Funds rate is really the setter for the baseline Libor rate.
Source: ZeroHedge

Did Bank Of England Instructs Barclays to Manipulate LIBOR Rates?

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Check out the BBC reporting on how Bob Diamond met Paul Tucker (Deputy Governor)of the Bank of England who allegedly instructed Barclays to manipulate the LIBOR rates. Make your own mind up.

Nothing shocks these days 😉

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