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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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.