Friday, August 2, 2013

Banks rigged rate at retirees' expense

Having felt comfortable manipulating benchmark interest rates like Libor for their personal gain, it comes as no surprise that Bloomberg reports bankers were also manipulating for their personal gain the more obscure swap benchmark rate, the ISDAfix.

This rate was used by pension funds trying to hedge their positions.

Just like Libor, the solution to end manipulation by the bankers is using transparency into both the actual transactions and each bank's current exposure details.  With this information, market participants can determine if the banks entered into trades in an attempt to manipulate this rate.

U.S. investigators have uncovered evidence that banks reaped millions of dollars in trading profits at the expense of companies and pension funds by manipulating a benchmark for interest-rate derivatives. 
Recorded telephone calls and e-mails reviewed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission show that traders at Wall Street banks instructed ICAP Plc brokers in Jersey City, New Jersey, to buy or sell as many interest-rate swaps as necessary to move the benchmark rate, known as ISDAfix, to a predetermined level, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. 
By rigging the measure, the banks stood to profit on separate derivatives trades they had with clients who were seeking to hedge against moves in interest rates. 
Banks sought to change the value of the swaps because the ISDAfix rate sets prices for the other derivatives, which are used by firms from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System to Pacific Investment Management Co....
Bankers had the exact same motive to manipulate this benchmark interest rate as they did to manipulate Libor.
CFTC investigators are piecing together evidence that shows swaption traders at banks worked with rate-swap traders at their own firms to manipulate ISDAfix, the person said. 
The swaption traders told their rate-swap colleagues the level at which they needed ISDAfix to be set that day in order to bolster the value of their derivatives positions before these were settled the next day, the person said. 
The rate-swap trader would then tell a broker at ICAP, the biggest arranger of the contracts between banks, to execute as many trades in interest-rate swaps as necessary to move ISDAfix to the desired level. 
This would be done just before 11 a.m. in New York, the time when current trades are used to create reference points that help determine the final ISDAfix rates, the person said.
Hiding behind a veil of opacity, bankers used a similar technique to manipulate this benchmark interest rate as the technique they used to manipulate Libor.
In manipulating ISDAfix, ICAP brokers profited from the commissions they received from the interest-rate swap trades banks ordered to influence the benchmark, the person said. 
Banks were willing to endure trading costs with the brokers that may have reached hundreds of thousands of dollars because they stood to earn millions on swaptions by manipulating ISDAfix by as little as a quarter of a basis point, or 0.0025 percentage point, the person said....

ICAP manages an electronic screen known as 19901 on which rate-swap prices are displayed throughout the day to about 6,000 corporate treasurers and money managers so they can value positions. 
The trades displayed on the screen are used to create the reference points for ISDAfix rates, according to ISDA’s website. 
ICAP then sends the reference point to banks, which either accept it as their contribution to the benchmark or submit a different value.

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