One of the few issues which both the political left and the right agree upon is rooting out financial corruption by the banking industry. The latest banking scandal involves big banks submitting falsified data in order to keep their borrowing rates low. As many as 16 banks worldwide have been submitting false information to LIBOR, the London interbank offer rate. LIBOR is considered one of the most crucial interest rates in finance. It is the average interest rate the world's largest banks pay when they borrow money from each other, and affects the rate of interest borrowers pay on everything from student loans to credit cards to corporate debt. It is the benchmark for three-quarters of a quadrillion dollars in financial dealings.
16 banks contribute daily estimates to LIBOR of what interest rate they would have to pay if they borrowed money. Banks borrow from each other on occasion when they find that more withdrawals have been made in a day than deposits by customers. By submitting artificially low interest rates, the banks were able to disguise their financial troubles. This heavily contributed to the subprime mortgage meltdown. Subprime mortgage lenders preferred using the LIBOR index to tie adjustable rate mortgages to due to their overly rosy picture.
The New York Fed, which was headed by TARP bailout architect and now Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, knew in 2007 that banks were rate rigging. Although Geithner offered suggestions to increase transparency, nothing was done and the rate rigging continued. Evidence of the rate rigging goes back to 2005.
The brazenness with which Barclay traders would commit these crimes is astounding. Matt Levine at Dealbreaker has reprinted some of the conversations between LIBOR and Barclays traders joking about submitting falsified numbers. One Barclay trader wrote in an email to a submitter: “We have another big fixing tom[orrow] and with the market move I was hoping we could set [certain] LIBORS as high as possible.”