UK watchdog reviews supervision after Libor scandal

LONDON Tue Jul 3, 2012 10:56am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Financial Services Authority is reviewing how it supervises wholesale capital markets following the Libor interbank interest rate-setting scandal, its chairman Adair Turner said on Tuesday.

The FSA has traditionally focused on dealings affecting retail markets for financial services and products but this is now set to change after the record fine last week for Barclays for attempting to rig the key Libor interbank lending rate which underpins the pricing of a wide range of financial instruments and products, with other banks expected to be implicated too.

"There are no free lunches, and shoddy wholesale practice is not a victimless act, even in those cases where it is not defined as a crime," Turner told the watchdog's last annual meeting before the FSA is replaced by a new supervisory regime next year.

The FSA has been criticized for not bringing criminal charges against Barclays for trying to manipulate the pricing mechanism for setting the London Interbank Offered Rate, and is expected to be given new sanctions under the criminal laws as a result.

"We will therefore need to think carefully how far we should shift our past approach to the supervision of wholesale (market) conduct, and what resources and skills we need to be more effective in this area," Turner said.

The FSA will publish its findings in the autumn.

Turner said the Libor scandal is a huge blow to the reputation of the banking industry.

"The cynical greed of traders asking their colleagues to falsify their Libor submissions so that they could make bigger profits has justifiably shocked and angered people, in particular when we are facing hard economic times provoked by the financial crisis," Turner said.

Barclays' chief executive Bob Diamond and chief operating officer Jerry del Missier resigned on Tuesday and the watchdog also faces questions on its role and effectiveness when the Libor misdeeds took place.

Members of the public at the annual conference criticized the FSA for not hitting Barclays harder, and for being a lobbyist for banks. "You have trusted bankers for far too long and allowed them to dictate what they want," one speaker said.

NO EVIDENCE

Turner said the next settlement by the other banks being probed over their past behavior in helping set the Libor rate was expected before the end of the year. Other banks still being investigated include Royal Bank of Scotland.

Criminal charges against Barclays could not be ruled out after its civil settlement last week either, Turner said.

"The speed at which they (the investigations) get to conclusion depends on the degree of cooperation of the firms and a willingness to settle rather than to argue each point," he said.

Questions have been raised about whether the FSA ignored warnings of Libor rigging.

"We as the FSA were not aware that there was manipulation going on. It was not a regulated activity which we directly supervised," Turner said.

Andrew Bailey, head of banking supervision at the FSA, added that "the evidence was not there" when the British Bankers' Association, which sponsors Libor, reviewed it in 2008 at the time of the banking crisis when banks were no longer lending to each other.

"The state of knowledge at that time was very much about the question of how can you ensure a pricing mechanism continues in a market where there is no activity. The problem of how you deal with an illiquid market still remains," Bailey said.

The government asked Martin Wheatley, chief executive designate of the new Financial Conduct Authority, on Monday to review how Libor is set and should be regulated in future.

Wheatley's findings, due by the end of the summer, will feed into a draft financial law setting up the FCA next year. It will look at whether other price references need better supervision.

"It's reasonably well-known that in the London market there are quite a number of price-fixing mechanisms which can be referenced ... which are set under more or less deregulated or self regulated structures," Wheatley said.

The FSA is being scrapped next year and replaced with two new supervisory bodies -- a prudential regulator at the Bank of England and the standalone FCA. Turner said the cutover to the two new bodies is expected in April 2013.

(Editing by Erica Billingham and Greg Mahlich)

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