Some corporate borrowers question Libor accuracy, here to stay

LONDON Mon Sep 24, 2012 9:10am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Some major corporate borrowers in Europe and the United States think Libor, the interest rate at the centre of an international rate-rigging inquiry, is not an accurate benchmark against which to price loans, but few are considering using an alternative.

The views were expressed in a poll of 12 companies, identified as within the top 250 borrowers globally by IFR, a Thomson Reuters publication. Many others approached by Reuters declined to participate due to the sensitivity of the subject.

Six out of 12 who used Libor, the London interbank offered rate, said they did not consider it an accurate benchmark against which to price their loans.

But 10 out of 12 companies, representing a range of industries from mining to telecoms, said they would not consider changing to a different benchmark.

"Libor quotes have been a useful benchmark for many years and any other indicator, in my opinion, could also be manipulated somehow," said one corporate treasurer, who wished to remain anonymous.

Corporate treasurers at the companies, which borrowed around $212 billion between May 2011 and April 2012 IFR data shows, were asked if they use Libor, if they considered it an accurate benchmark, if they considered changing and if so, to what.

Respondents to the poll, which was conducted in August and September all wished to be anonymous.

Regulators around the world are debating the prospect of changes to a benchmark used as a basis for pricing $350 trillion of products from home loans to credit cards in the wake of an ongoing global investigation of more than a dozen banks for suspected rigging of Libor and other similar rates.

Barclays, hit with a record fine of more than $450 million (277 million pounds) in June, is widely expected to be the first of several banks punished for attempting to manipulate Libor.

Although the companies did not identify any compelling alternative which would persuade them to change, many voiced approval for reform of the rate and additional scrutiny by authorities.

"Given the past abuses it's likely that a better solution will ultimately be put in place allowing us to keep using Libor," said one company.

"We favor an overhaul of the way Libor is fixed, and a tighter supervision by London banking authorities," said another.

CHORUS OF CONCERN

Companies may use Libor or similar rates when borrowing money from banks or investors to fund their business operations. Floating rate loans or interest rate swaps used to manage the risk of interest rate volatility, will be benchmarked against a rate such as Libor.

The British Bankers' Association estimates that loans amounting to $10 trillion globally are indexed to Libor.

Libor consists of a "suite" of rates that banks estimate they would have to pay to borrow in different currencies over different periods of time. Since the rates are based on hypothetical transactions, it would be difficult to verify every submission by every bank for every rate.

Artificially low rates would have benefited borrowers with payments pegged to Libor as they would have needed to pay less interest to service their debt. The reverse would be true if rates had been manipulated higher.

European lawmakers are questioning some of the world's top financial regulators in the European Parliament on Monday over the supervision of Libor.

Gary Gensler, the chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, will testify by video conference. Masamichi Kono, chairman of the International Organization of Securities Commissions will also attend.

Michel Barnier, the European commissioner in charge of regulation has already outlined a proposal for criminal penalties for those who rig an index such as Libor, but new rules are not set to take effect until 2015.

Britain's Financial Services Authority is publishing its recommendations for legal changes to Libor on September 28.

The Madrid-based International Organization of Securities Commissions, a global regulator, also has a task force to study how the benchmark should be supervised and set to restore market confidence.

Corporates are joining a chorus of other interested parties in demanding reform but no wholesale change.

The International Swaps and Derivatives Association, the derivatives industry's leading global body, urged caution, arguing that the rate must not be scrapped hastily and any shift to alternatives should be gradual to avoid market disruption.

The British investment management industry association has also called on regulators to reform the benchmark rather than scrap it, arguing that swift, decisive changes would restore market confidence.

The Association of Corporate Treasurers has also warned against any swift action that could risk disruption.

Thomson Reuters, parent company of Reuters, calculates and distributes Libor rates for Libor's sponsor, the British Bankers' Association.

(Reporting by Anjuli Davies, Edward Taylor, Noel Randewich, Leila Abboud, Andreas Cremer, Vladimir Soldatkin, Martinne Geller, Stephen Jewkes, Scott Malone, Ernest Scheyder, Stephen James, Andrew Callus, Muriel Boselli, Laurence Frost, Ben Hirschler, Clare Kane, Tracy Rucinski, Andy Bruce)

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