We don’t know who else was fixing bets. Other big banks, including some of the largest in the United States, are under investigation. Barclays doesn’t appear to have acted alone, and it is clear that its fixes weren’t secret deals by rogue traders. Traders put requests to manipulate the rates in writing and even joked about delivering champagne to those who helped them.
It is also clear that many of those who didn’t have a fixer — including consumers, community banks and credit unions — lost money. Barclays padded its bottom line by taking money from everyone else. It won when it shouldn’t have won — and others lost when they shouldn’t have lost. The amount of money involved is staggering. On any given day, $800 trillion worth of credit-related transactions are linked to Libor rates.
In most markets, consumers could simply take their business elsewhere once they learned that the scales were rigged. But interest rates are different. Everyone who borrows money on a mortgage, credit card, student loan, car loan or small-business loan — basically, everyone — is affected by a crooked market on Libor. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, in 2008 more than half of all adjustable-rate mortgages were linked to Libor. Even those who didn’t borrow but saved for retirement or their children’s future got hit with interest rates that had been faked.
It gets worse. During the financial crisis, Barclays and other banks also appear to have consistently manipulated Libor to show lower-than-real borrowing rates to convince the world — and their regulators — that the bank was stronger than it really was. In other words, they rigged the interest-rate reports so that no one would know exactly how much trouble they were in.
With a rotten financial system once again laid bare to the world, the only question remaining is whether Wall Street has so many friends in Washington that meaningful reform is impossible.