An anonymous insider from one of Britain's biggest lenders aside from Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) explains how he and his colleagues helped manipulate the UK's bank borrowing rate. Neither the insider nor the bank can be identified for legal reasons.
It was during a weekly economic briefing at the bank in early 2008 that I first heard the phrase. A sterling swaps trader told the assembled economists and managers that "Libor was dislocated with itself". It sounded so nonsensical that, at first, it just confused everyone, and provoked a little laughter.
Before long, though, I was drawing up presentations to explain the "dislocation of Libor from itself" for corporate relationship managers. I was deciphering the subject in emails, internally and externally. And I was using the phrase myself openly with customers of the bank.
What I was explaining was that the bank was manipulating Libor. Only I didn't see it like that at the time.
What the trader told us was that the bank could not be seen to be borrowing at high rates, so we were putting in low Libor submissions, the same as everyone. How could we do that? Easy. The British Bankers' Association, which compiled Libor, asked for a rate submission but there were no checks. The trader said there was a general acceptance that you lowered the price a few basis points each day.
According to the trader, "everyone knew" and "everyone was doing it". There was no implication of illegality. After all, there were 20 to 30 people in the room from management to economists, structuring teams to salespeople and more on the teleconference dial-in from across the country.
The discussion was so open the behaviour seemed above board. In no sense was this a clandestine gathering.
The main business of the day was to deal with the deepening crisis. And questions were raised about what we, in one of the bank's sales teams, could be doing to earn our wages.
The answer was fire-fighting. Helping the corporate bank with clients predominantly explaining why the customer's loan was being moved from base rate to Libor and why their interest margin was increasing sharply. It wasn't easy for the corporate bankers. They were under orders from the credit committee, and powers at the top, to change a client's borrowing rate to Libor and increase the margin if any covenant was breached, no matter how small.
We accompanied the relationship managers to meetings to explain what was happening in the economy why base rate lending could not be sustained, why margins had to increase, and of course to explain the general economic backdrop.
As part of that, we had to explain the "dislocation of Libor from itself". As the trader put it, everyone knew that we couldn't borrow at Libor, you only needed to look at the price of our credit default swaps effectively survival insurance for the bank to see that.
What that meant was that even though Libor may have been, for example 2pc, the real Libor rate the bank was paying was more like 5pc or 6pc. So in fact, we needed to be lending money at Libor plus 3pc or 4pc just to break even. That is what we were telling clients.
Looking back, I now feel ashamed by my naivety. Had I realised what was going on, I would have blown the whistle. But the openness alone suggested no collusion or secrecy. Management had been in the meeting, and so many areas of the Treasury division of the bank represented, that this was clearly no surprise or secret.
Libor had dislocated with itself for a very good reason to hide the true issues within the bank.