As the fallout of Liborgate escalates, the next big bank to be impacted in the fallout started by Barclays civil settlement “revelation” is set to be troubled UBS, already some 10,000 bankers lighter, where as many as three dozen bankers are reported by the implicated in the fixing of the rate that until 2009 was the most important for hundreds of trillions in variable rate fixed income products. Only instead of attacking the US or even European jurisdiction, where the next big settlement is set to hit is Japan: a country whose regulators as recently as half a year ago promised there were no major issues with Libor, or Tibor as it is locally known, rate fixings. And while this most recent development will have little material impact on UBS’ ongoing business model, the one difference from previous settlements is that it will likely include criminal charges lobbed against some of the 36 bankers.
From the FT: “UBS is close to finalising a deal with UK, US and Swiss authorities in which the bank will pay close to $1.5bn and its Japanese securities subsidiary will plead guilty to a US criminal offence. Terms of the guilty plea were still being negotiated, one person familiar with the matter said on Monday, adding that the bank will not lose its ability to conduct business in Japan. The pact between the bank and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, US Department of Justice, UK’s Financial Services Authority and UBS’s main Swiss supervisor Finma is expected to be announced on Wednesday, although last minute negotiations continue.”
Not all of the three dozen individuals will face criminal or civil charges and the level of alleged misconduct varies among them. While it also is not clear how many bankers will be criminally charged, people familiar with the investigation said the settlement documents will document an intercontinental scheme to manipulate the Yen-Libor interest rate over several years involving desks from Tokyo to London.
The UK FSA has also notified at least five individuals linked to UBS that they are being personally investigated in connection with Libor. The watchdog has the power to impose fines and ban people from working in London’s financial services industry.
Criminal and regulatory investigations of individuals often take significantly longer than cases against institutions. The global settlement reached with Barclays over the summer did not include any charges against individuals, but several bankers are under criminal investigation, according to people familiar with the matter.
To a big extent, the reason why so many banks have given up on Libor and are now eager to settle comparable allegations, is because in a world in which not banks are primary counterparties to other banks, but central banks onboard all the counterparty risk, especially in Europe, Libor is now an anachronism – an unsecured lending rate remnant from another time, a time when there was risk a bank may fail without dragging its host central bank. That time is now gone, and as a result the only relevant metric now is how effectively can banks flush to the gills with excess reserves courtesy of various central banks, use said capital to generate a return on (central bank) capital, and a high enough ROE to keep shareholders happy.
Which is why even as banks are settling Libor allegations left and right, and even willing to throw some low-level traders under the bus because just like Fabulous Fab Tourre, nobody else had any idea of the criminal rate manipulation that was going on, and certainly not the corner office, what banks are really doing is learning from the master of trading – that would be none other than Steve Cohen – and experimenting with becoming the best hedge fund out there. Because in the new zero NIM normal, where money can not be made by traditional lending verticals, the only option left is to outsmart the competition.
And with retail investors leaving the marketplace in droves, the only ones left to be outsmarted are other banks. In other words, the cannibalization phase is almost upon us. Which means that just like the Knight Capital “fat finger” led to the collapse of one of the biggest market makers, so more and more banks will soon set their sights on their peers (think Bear and Lehman circa 2008), in an attempt to turbocharge their returns in a field in which there are simply too many competitors for everyone to make the needed returns.
Of course, if in the meantime some lowly attorney general can score some brownie points by amputating a division that is no longer needed, and throwing some janitors in minimum security prison for 12-24 months, so much the better for their political career. Sadly, nobody at the top, certainly nobody at HSBC or any of the other big banks, will ever see true justice, at least not until they too suffer the fate of Dick Fuld and suddenly find themselves as the main dish at the ever shrinking predators’ ball.