April 26, 2013

Regulators, you can even let Libor be the result of a raffle, but please stop distorting and subsidizing the risk-free rate

Sir, I refer to Tom Braithwaite’s and Brooke Masters’ “Regulators urge speed in replacing the Libor rate” April 26.

By allowing banks to hold much less capital when lending to the “infallible” sovereigns than when lending to “risky” citizens, regulators have completely distorted what is probably the most important reference rate, the borrowing rates of the most solid sovereigns, one of these usually the proxy for the risk-free rate.

And that is why I am amazed about how much attention regulators give to the Libor rate, a rate that really, for its small relative importance, could just as well be the result of a raffle among some quotes, after eliminating some outliers. One day, the winning Libor could be somewhat higher than its true rate, and on that day, Libor based borrowers would pay somewhat more, and investors earn somewhat more; other days the picked Libor could be somewhat lower than its true value and the opposite would hold. But, in the long run, no one is really much harmed.

Could it be that regulators are ashamed of what they have done and are using the Libor incident as a distraction?