The LIBOR rigging scandal is very deep, and it affected millions and millions of people. This was not just a few traders getting together and manipulating the second most important interest rate benchmark in the world. It wasn’t even just a few banks. It was pervasive, and it appears even condoned by regulators.
Regulators have known since at least August 2007 that some banks were using artificially low Libor submissions to appear healthier than they were. That month, a Barclays employee in London e-mailed the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, questioning the numbers that other banks were inputting, according to transcripts published by the New York Fed. Nine months later, Tim Bond, then head of asset allocation at Barclays’s investment bank, publicly described Libor as “divorced from reality,” saying in a Bloomberg Television interview that firms were routinely misstating their borrowing costs to avoid the perception they were facing stress.
The New York Fed and the Bank of England say they didn’t act because they had no responsibility for oversight of Libor. That fell to the British Bankers’ Association, the industry lobbying group that created the rate in 1986 and largely ignored recommendations from central bankers after 2008 to change the way it was computed. Regulators also were preoccupied with the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and forcing banks to be honest about their Libor submissions might have revealed they were paying penalty rates to borrow, which in turn would have further damaged public confidence.
The last sentence above is key. Regulators knew what was going on, the scale of the theft, but did nothing because the banks were too big to shame.