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Thursday 28 June 2012

Diamond Geezer Proves HIGNFY Right

[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

In the opening titles for Have I Got News For You, the viewer is shown inside a high street bank branch, where counter service is going on, and all appears normal. Then the scene in the back room appears, and there is a casino where non-trivial sums of money are being ostentatiously gambled, with the punters out front blissfully unaware of what is being done in their name.

Keeps job, no conviction ... Diamond Geezer!

The difference with reality was supposed to be that this was an exaggeration of a practice that had been stamped out as the banks sought to rebuild their reputations after the 2008 crash. Except that we now know it not only wasn’t an exaggeration, but also that it carried on unchecked more or less to the present day. And the gambling was enhanced by forthright criminality.

Only one bank – Barclays – has thus far been fingered, but others are now being investigated. The fine levied against them for attempting to manipulate the London Inter Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) was a whopping £290 million, although at recent rates that only means ten days’ worth of profits. Oh, and CEO Bob Diamond has decided to forego his bonus.

Well, whoopee-do. In any responsible organisation, the SOB would be prevailed upon to forego his job in short order. Diamond was previously head of Barclays Capital, the part of the business that was deemed to have been doing the fiddling. The impression is given that at least part of Barclays’ stellar performance recently has been down to profiting from manipulating the LIBOR rate.

That has helped drive down the share price, which has fallen by over 15% today, with those foreign investors who bought into what they thought was a rather sounder bank than it actually was being deeply unimpressed. Other banking shares have fallen as the thought has entered that the LIBOR fiddle may not have been exclusive to Barclays. Investigations continue.

So why the fallout? Well, if the LIBOR rate (or its EURIBOR counterpart) can be fiddled, then traders have a one way bet, which, given the kind of sums being traded, can yield millions more in profits every day. That’s what appears to have made Barclays’ profits look so healthy, and why the share price has fallen so dramatically. And also not helping are the tales of excess coming from whistleblowers.

A culture of summary dismissals for such trivia as failing to specify a Mercedes S Class to a taxi firm, poker games with hundreds of thousands of pounds riding on one hand, mock electric chair executions, and other forms of ritual humiliation and conspicuous consumption have been recounted to the deeply subversive Guardian. And the best the Government can offer? “It was under the other lot’s watch”.

Will anyone be made to carry the can? Yes – we will. No change there, then.

[UPDATE1 2120 hours: Channel 4 FactCheck has looked into the claim and counter claim over whose responsibility it was to keep tabs on the LIBOR rate and unearth any wrongdoing. Typically, the Tories are blaming Pa Broon and his sidekick "Auguste" Balls, while not telling that the "light touch" regulation they now condemn was criticised by them at the time for being too severe.

But it is the British Bankers Association (BBA) that should have been watching over LIBOR, and its "ownership" of this brand, combined with its failure to act, that causes the fact checkers to conclude that this is where the fault lies. After all, it "promised to monitor the situation on a daily basis", but failed to uncover the fiddles]

[UPDATE2 29 June 1620 hours: the right leaning punditry are not quite of one mind on this affair today. While Alex Brummer at the Mail is in full why-oh-why mode, telling that the traders at Barclays are "no better than barrow boys with the morals of the casino", Jeremy Warner at the Tel is clearly frightened that actually making them behave themselves would be A Very Bad Thing Indeed.

Yes, seriously, he believes that any regulation that follows the Barclays case will "shackle" the City, and that it would be, like much current regulation allegedly is, "ill thought out". The thought that he and his fellow pundits have constantly told readers that there is too much regulation, only to find that there isn't nearly enough to stop the City behaving like a gathering of spivs, is not allowed to enter]

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