Libor: what about the regulators?

More light needs to be shone on the FSA.

It’s hard to know who to point the finger at when it comes to the Barclays’ culture of deceit. While most are simply blaming the bankers, Ann Pettifor, for one, blames the economists. Others, meanwhile, are blaming the regulators. 

One should probably blame all three (not to mention politicians), but if an enquiry is to be pursued, more light certainly needs to be shone on the regulators. The Times yesterday implicates the Bank of England in the Libor scandal, suggesting they may have not only condoned the system of manipulation but actively encouraged it. From our experience this doesn’t appear to be at all far-fetched.

Looking into the role of the finance sector in commodity speculation, we became increasingly disturbed by the lax approach adopted by the FSA. When we dug deeper, we found that the FSA was lobbying the European Union on behalf of the City, to prevent effective regulation of speculation by Brussels. 

As the FSA is paid for by the City, almost entirely governed by the City or ex-City bankers, and with virtually no transparency, its weak approach to Barclays’ failings should come as no surprise. This is in stark contrast to US authorities, who imposed fines on Barclays almost 4 times greater than those levied by the FSA.

Barclays has been at the heart of commodity speculation activity AND at the heart of fighting off any regulation. A letter to the Commodities Futures Trading Commision in the US, urges a light touch approach.  However WDM research has exposed Barclays as the biggest UK bank involved in speculation in the commodity derivative markets, which has contributed to price spikes such as those in 2008 and 2011 which pushed millions into hunger and deeper poverty. While the bank claimed under pressure at its 2012 AGM that it only facilitated deals for third parties, the reality is a little more complex, with Barclays' risk-taking approach to dealing suggesting that it effectively speculates itself. They state of the Barclays Capital’s Commodities division that “Our Commodities Traders build ‘trading books’ specialising in goods from energy products to agricultural assets, all over the world.”  

As we gear up for a new regulatory model under the aegis of the Bank of England, we have to question about the direction. And we have to ask questions about the relationship between the regulators and Barclays in particular. Now that more evidence has come to light of the failings of the regulators, and their incestuous relationship with the banks they’re meant to oversee, nothing short of a complete overhaul of the banking and regulatory system will suffice.

The numbers:

Barclays

  • Fines imposed by the FSA: £59m
  • Fines imposed by US Authorities: £230m
  • Earnings from speculation on commodity derivatives: £189m/year
  • Statement from Bob Diamond at the Barclays AGM: “our traders are not involved in direct speculation.”

FSA

Board of Directors:

  • 26 of 36 members of the board linked to the Finance sector since 2000 before or after appointment
  • 9 continued to hold appointments in financial corporations while at the FSA
  • Board Directors linked to consumers or other stakeholder: 1

Meetings held with the finance sector about European Markets in Financial Instruments Directive

  • 87 per cent of all meetings held with industry bodies
  • Only 1 meeting held with a third party stakeholder

Deborah Doane is the director of the World Development Movement

FSA. Photograph, Getty Images.
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How to end the Gulf stand off? The West should tell Qatar to reform its foreign policy

Former defence secretary Geoff Hoon on the unfolding crisis in the Gulf. 

Only one group stands to benefit from a continuation of the crisis in Gulf: The Quartet, as they are now being called. Last week, The United Arab Emirates foreign minister tweeted that Qatar and its Gulf Cooperation Council neighbours are heading for a "long estrangement". We should take him at his word.

The European political establishment has been quick to dismiss the boycott by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt as naïve, and a strategic mistake. The received wisdom now is that they have acted impulsively, and that any payoff will be inescapably pyrrhic. I’m not so sure.

Another view: Qatar is determined to stand up to its Gulf neighbours

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's foreign minister, was in the region over the weekend to see if he could relay some of his boss’s diplomatic momentum. He has offered to help mediate with Kuwait, clearly in the belief that this is the perfect opportunity to elevate France back to the top table. But if President Emmanuel Macron thinks this one will be as straightforward as a Donald Trump handshake, he should know that European charm doesn’t function as well in the 45 degree desert heat (even if some people call him the Sun King).

Western mediation has so far proceeded on the assumption that both sides privately know they will suffer if this conflict drags on. The US secretary of state Rex Tillerson judged that a Qatari commitment to further counter-terrorism measures might provide sufficient justification for a noble reversal. But he perhaps underestimates the seriousness of the challenge being made to Qatar. This is not some poorly-judged attempt to steal a quick diplomatic win over an inferior neighbour.

Qatar’s foreign policy is of direct and existential concern to the other governments in the Gulf. They will not let Qatar off the hook. And even more than that, why should they? Qatar has enormous diplomatic and commercial clout for its size, but that would evaporate in an instant if companies and governments were forced to choose between Doha and the Quartet, whose combined GDP is almost ten times that of their former ally. Iran, Turkey and Russia might stay on side. But Qatar would lose the US and Europe, where most of its soft power has been developed. Qatar’s success has been dependent on its ability to play both sides. If it loses that privilege, as it would in the event of an interminable cold war in the Gulf, then the curtains could come down.

Which is why, if they wanted to badly enough, Le Drian and Tillerson could end this conflict tomorrow. Qatar’s foreign policy has been concerning for the past decade. It has backed virtually every losing side in the Arab world, and caused a significant amount of destruction in the process. In Syria, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, Qatar has turned a blind eye to the funding of Islamic revolutionaries with the financial muscle to topple incumbent regimes. Its motives are clear; influence over the emergent republics, as it had in Egypt for a year under Mohamed Morsi. But as we review the success of this policy from the perspective of 2017, it seems clear that all that has been achieved is a combination of civil unrest and civil war. The experiment has failed.

Moreover, the Coalition is not going to lift sanctions until Doha suspends its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. When Western leaders survey the Gulf and consider who they should support, they observe two things: firstly, that the foreign policy of the Quartet is much more aligned with their own (it doesn’t seem likely to me that any European or American company would prefer to see a revolution in Dubai instead of a continuation of the present arrangement), and secondly, that Qatar would fold immediately if they applied any significant pressure. The Al Thani ruling family has bet its fortune and power on trans-Atlantic support; it is simply not credible that they would turn to the West’s enemies in the event that an ultimatum was issued. Doha might even welcome an excuse to pause its costly and ineffective programmes. Even if that involves some short term embarrassment. It is hardly going to lose support at home, with the highest GDP per capita in the world.

It would be necessary to make sure that the Coalition understands that it will have to pay a price for decisive Western intervention. The world will be a more dangerous place if our allies get the impression they can freely bully any smaller rival, knowing that the West will always come down on their side. That is however no great hurdle to action; it might even be a positive thing if we can at the same time negotiate greater contributions to counter-terrorism or refugee funding.

Unfortunately the reason why none of this is likely to happen is partly that the West has lost a lot of confidence in its ability to resolve issues in the Middle East since 2003, and partly because it fears for its interests in Doha and the handsome Qatari contributions in Western capitals. This cautious assessment is wrong and will be more harmful to Qatar and the aforementioned interests. The Quartet has no incentive to relent, it can’t afford to and will profit from commercial uncertainty in Doha the longer this drags on. If the West really wants this to end now, it must tell Qatar to reform its foreign policy or face sanctions from a more threatening ally.

Geoffrey Hoon was the UK defence secretary from 1999 to 2005.  

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