I have been watching the sad progression of events in the Barclays Bank LIBOR drama and, true to form, have a few unfashionable observations to make. I won't here repeat what is known of the facts of the case other than to state what is accepted: Barclays has agreed to pay a 290 million pound fine to settle charges that during the 2008 financial crisis it submitted estimates of the interest rates at which it could borrow in the London Interbank market below the levels at which the Bank then could actually borrow.
First the uncontroversial: What Barclays did is wrong, possibly unlawful and merits the punishment of the relevant employees, at least their direct supervisors, and the institution.
Now the less politically correct.
1. Barclays was late to the false interest rate party; other less creditworthy banks submitted lower estimates; and Barclays only fell into line after at least a suggestion from their UK regulator that the Bank need not be so out of line. [Note to self: Always get it in writing]
2. It is unlikely Barclays' false submissions actually influenced LIBOR as calculated.
3. Even if LIBOR was nudged downwards, the average homeowner holding a LIBOR-adjustable rate mortgage would have benefited. [Full disclosure, I am one]
4. There was a global financial crisis raging at the time of the false submissions and the UK benefited from Barclays not seeking the government bailouts required at RBS, Lloyds and Northern Trust.
5. Barclays cooperated with the UK and US investigations and was the first of what are likely to be several institutions which will be found to have submitted false estimates.
6. CEO Bob Diamond was pressured to resign by the Governor of the Bank of England, the Chairman of the FSA and the very active intervention of the Chancellor. This would appear to have more to do with Bob's reputation in the eyes of the British establishment and the words of a former minister as "the unacceptable face of capitalism," than a thoughtful evaluation after all the facts were in as to his actual culpability in the affair.
7. Diamond was seen as the all-too visible and voluble leader of a gang of American investment bankers who somehow corrupted the theretofore pristine British banking culture. [Note to self: Am I the only observer old enough to remember what a cesspool of insider trading and crony capitalism the City was before the 1986 Big Bang?]
8. Bob Diamond led a team which transformed the vestigal Barclays' BZW markets unit into a world class global bank.
9. I am doubtful that Barclays and its shareholders will be better off for Diamond's departure as predicted by the Chancellor.
10. The Barclays' Board should find a way to retain Marcus Agius as Chairman. Amid so much turmoil and leadership turnover, the institution needs some measure of continuity, and Marcus is a very decent, honorable and talented banker.