Barclays, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan and the Royal Bank of Scotland plead guilty on Wednesday to distorting foreign exchange markets in what the US Justice department has described as “the biggest financial scandal since the last one”.
A fifth bank, UBS, pleaded guilty to manipulating the LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate). The LIBOR is the average interest rate the average leading bank would be charged if borrowing from other banks. Many financial institutions set their own rates based on the LIBOR and as such it affects the value of $554 trillion in financial contracts across the globe.
To put this in perspective, Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme only involved about $65 billion, and Madoff is as synonymous with financial fraud as Ryan Reynolds is with movies no one wants to see.
The banks encouraged each other to fraudulently report rates to increase profits (or decrease losses), via a chatroom, calling themselves “the Cartel”. Officials have described this as “the lamest international criminal collective we’ve ever seen.”
The chatlogs revealed these people, who are supposed to be adults, regularly referred to each other as “dude” and offered small favours, such as coffee or champagne, in exchange for number fiddling. Authorities have released these chatlogs in an effort to discourage other bankers from being “a giant bunch of nerds”.
Barclay’s chief executive Antony Jenkins has chalked the fraud up to a few rotten apples;
“Some individuals have once more brought our company and industry into disrepute, just like every other time we’ve been involved in a financial scandal.”
Similarly, JPMorgan blamed its role principally on one geek who has since been dismissed.
“The lesson here is that the conduct of one nerdlinger can reflect badly on all of us. If you give us one consideration, please know that everyone else who works here is super cool. We totally have sex with lots of women and are awesome dancers. Oh, also, sorry about the fraud.”
The scandal reveals that our long held romantic notion of debonair, “Wolf of Wall Street” types, defrauding us of billions, is built on a myth. Increasingly our economy is being hijacked by a bunch of goobers who probably model themselves on the Injustice League.
In conjunction with admitting their guilt, these banks were also levelled a number of fines totalling almost 6 billion dollars. Authorities have already ear marked this money to help fund the case against the next “biggest financial fraud in history” which is expected to occur in the next couple of months.
As a result of this ‘harsh punishment’, the price of shares in Barclays, RBS, Citigroup and JP Morgan have increased sharply.
Matthew Farthing is the business reporter for the (un)Australian. He’s written one economics joke in his life; “Now I’m not saying Zimbabwe is experiencing hyperinflation but the Zimbabwean dollar is trading at US $1 an ounce”. The joke became ruined when Zimbabwe abandoned their national currency, another life ruined by Robert Mugabe.