It's not obvious that the new Libor will be better than the old Libor


In a political sense it is obvious that the old way of calculating Libor had to change. But in the more economic, or even financial, sense it's not wholly obvious that this new method is going to be better. We've made this point before but there were actually two manipulations of that benchmark interest rate. One was varied traders trying to get their own bank to shade it one way or another in order to benefit their own trading books. This produced minor swings one way and another and the major losers were the trading books of other traders. Further, given that quite a lot of people were doing it the manipulations cancelled out to some extent (and if all had been doing it then there would have been no effect). The second was perhaps more serious although isn't what has been prosecuted. In the depths of the crash, when there wasn't in fact any interbank activity, Libor was still being reported as being reasonable. When, in fact, in the absence of there being any such lending, and no one would offer it even if someone asked (that being our entire problem, that the interbank market froze), the true Libor was somewhere up around infinity.

We're actually rather glad that second manipulation took place.

Still, politics being what it is the calculation method has to change:

Each day a group of banks publish the average cost at which they can borrow money from other banks. The measure was founded in the 1980s and grew in importance in the following decades.

But in 2012 it emerged that a series of banks’ traders had lied in their submissions, either to improve their own trading positions or to flatter the banks’ own financial position.

As a result the British Bankers’ Association surrendered its administration of the index, and the IBA took over.

The new system means the IBA’s computers are plugged directly into banks’ trading systems, and will record their transactions and so calculate Libor from actual market data.

The problem here is that not all of the banks on the reporting panel transact in all the Libor currencies and maturities on any particular day. They might well trade instruments, sure, but they don't all borrow across all those variants each day. There's thus something of a paucity of market information to be calculated. And if that interbank system freezes again, as it might well do in the next (yes, there will be another one someday) financial crisis then are we happier with the idea that reported rates will be soaring to infinity?

It's an interesting problem to which we have no ready answer. Is it better to rely upon the professional judgement of possibly corruptible experts or upon incomplete market information? If we had complete market information then it's obvious, but incomplete?