It’s a funny acronym that may have cost you big bucks.
LIBOR, the London Interbank Offered Rate, is a global benchmark for interest rates. It’s tied to everything from mortgage rates and student loan rates to complex financial derivatives. And guess what? For a very long time it was rigged.
Now, multiple lawsuits are pending, and that could mean some money back for some investors, traders and consumers.
LIBOR is set each day by a group of bankers, based on estimates of rates at which banks would expect to borrow money from each other. It’s a system built on trust, not math. Regulators were tipped off back in 2007 that banks were fixing rates, and by the summer of 2012, an ugly scandal was revealed. An estimated $300 trillion in financial securities worldwide are based on LIBOR.
Philadelphia Inquirer writer and author Erin Arvedlund says more people should have been outraged because the scandal revealed that “even interest rates are being rigged by Wall Street.” Arvedlund’s new book, “Open Secret: The Global Banking Conspiracy that Swindled Investors out of Billions,” gives details of the scandal that involved banks lowballing rates or artificially inflating them to boost profits or appear more credit-worthy.
The investigation into LIBOR rate-rigging has led to several lawsuits here in the U.S. and many more abroad. They involve some of the biggest banks in the world as well as individual traders. More than $6 billion in fines has been levied as a result of the scandal already.
It may seem like just another tale of bankers behaving badly, says Arvedlund, but this scandal casts a wide net. Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC) are suing on behalf of mortgage holders. Charles Schwab (SCHW) is suing on behalf of some of its investors. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal related to a bondholder who filed a class action lawsuit claiming she lost out on interest on bonds she owns. Citigroup (C), Credit Suisse (CS), Bank of America (BAC), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), HSBC (HSBC), Barclays (BCS), UBS (UBS), and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) are all named in that suit.
But while many of the suits are held up in courts around the globe, not much has changed since the scandal was revealed, Arvedlund points out. Despite the investigations and lawsuits, rates are still based on Libor. However, NYSE Euronext now oversees the rate. “It’s like we found out the Equator is in the wrong place, but we’re still going to use it,” says Arvedlund. She says it “remains to be seen” if the new administrator will be tougher.
The Federal Reserve is actively looking into an alternative benchmark to LIBOR.
More from Yahoo Finance