Insight: Fed knew of Libor issue in 2007-08, proposed reforms

Tue Jul 10, 2012 10:33am EDT
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By Carrick Mollenkamp

(Reuters) - The Federal Reserve Bank of New York may have known as early as August 2007 that the setting of global benchmark interest rates was flawed. Following an inquiry with British banking group Barclays Plc (BARC.L: Quote) in the spring of 2008, it shared proposals for reform of the system with British authorities.

The role of the Fed is likely to raise questions about whether it and other authorities took enough action to address concerns they had about the way Libor rates were set, or whether their struggle to keep the banking system afloat through the financial crisis meant the issue took a backseat.

A New York Fed spokesperson said in a statement that "in the context of our market monitoring following the onset of the financial crisis in late 2007, involving thousands of calls and emails with market participants over a period of many months, we received occasional anecdotal reports from Barclays of problems with Libor.

"In the spring of 2008, following the failure of Bear Stearns and shortly before the first media report on the subject, we made further inquiry of Barclays as to how Libor submissions were being conducted. We subsequently shared our analysis and suggestions for reform of Libor with the relevant authorities in the UK."

The Fed statement did not provide the precise timing of the communication with the British authorities. Bear Stearns collapsed in early March 2008 and was then acquired by JPMorgan.

Meanwhile, legislators on Capitol Hill have signaled they are interested in learning more about what Fed officials knew with regards to allegations of Libor manipulation.

On July 9, Rep. Randy Neugebauer, chairman of a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter to the New York Fed asking for transcripts of any "communications with Barclays regarding the setting of interbank offered rates from August 2007 to November 2008."

In the letter, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters, the Texas Republican asked New York Fed President William Dudley to provide the transcripts by Friday.   Continued...

People walk inside Barclays Bank's headquarters in the financial district of Canary Wharf, east London, July 3, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Winning