September 20, 2012 / 12:05 PM / 5 years ago

Derivatives industry urges caution on Libor reform

LONDON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Libor, the interest rate at the centre of an international rate-rigging investigation, must not be scrapped hastily and any shift to alternatives should be made gradually to avoid market disruption, a global derivatives industry body said on Thursday.

Reform of the London interbank offered rate is inevitable after Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) were hauled before British and U.S. regulators. Barclays was fined a record $450 million in June for attempted manipulation of the rate and RBS is expected to be the next bank to settle.

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

However, the prospect of changes to a benchmark used as a basis for pricing $350 trillion of products from home loans to credit cards has alarmed the derivatives market, a major user of the rate for its complex financial products.

Stephen O‘Connor, chairman of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), said that Libor remains hugely relevant economically and is necessary for the proper functioning of the off-exchange derivatives market.

Replicating Libor across derivatives would be a very large and difficult task, O‘Connor told the ISDA’s annual conference.

“Libor must continue to be published,” said O‘Connor, who is also managing director of Morgan Stanley.

The authorities should encourage banks to continue to participate in setting Libor in the short and medium term until a longer-term solution is in place, O‘Connor added.

Libor is compiled by a panel of banks submitting quotes for the interest rate at which they believe they could borrow from one another.

Reform of Libor governance and setting was needed, O‘Connor acknowledged, but he said that the transition of existing contracts to a new regime must be very carefully planned and managed.

“There are limits to the amount of change that can be accommodated,” he said.

Hasty changes might see market participants claiming that the nature of their contracts are different to what was originally intended, which could spark disruptive legal issues.

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