There are some stories that inherently attract readers and others that do not inherently attract readers but are so important that they must be told in a way to grab the public’s attention. Good editors and reporters recognize these stories and find a way to make us want to read them. It’s not easy, but good editors and reporters can do it. That’s an important part of the skill that earns their daily bread.
Today, the editors and reporters who rise to the top tend to be – sadly – either unskilled or uncaring. They are media stars, not journalists.
I won’t go into the multitude of factors that contribute to this wretched state of affairs. But I will try to illustrate its damaging consequences in one glaring example – the muted coverage of the LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) scandal.
Financial stories are difficult to report. Journalists are often not very good at math. That’s probably why they chose journalism instead of business management or accounting (where they could have earned a living wage).
To most people the intricacies of accounting are a big yawn. And that’s one reason the white-collar crooks of this world get away with so much. We’re talking billions here, not measly millions.
The global financial system affects every aspect of our daily lives, and it’s up to the media to make us understand how. But I usuallyhave to turn to the web to figure out what’s going on.
Back in the summer, Christopher Barker, of The Motley Fool. wrote in a piece published by AOL:
By messing with the LIBOR benchmark rates that are tied to an estimated $800 trillion of securities, the offending banks essentially played with matches in the middle of the world’s largest house of leveraged cards. The combined gross domestic product of all the nations of the world is only about $70 trillion, so the towering mountain of LIBOR-connected securities out there climbs into the realm of leveraged derivatives like those that nearly brought the global financial system to its knees at the height of the 2008 credit crisis. First by building that leveraged house of cards in the first place on a completely obscene scale, and then by shaking its very foundation by manipulating the interest rates on which all that paper is based, the rate-rigging banks took unthinkable risks with the fate of the entire global financial system.
Moreover, the manipulation could have affected you personally in any number of ways. If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage or an auto loan that’s tied to LIBOR, the interest charged to you could have been tweaked upward or downward depending upon the direction of a particular manipulative impact.
If you own stock, the companies in your portfolio may have been cheated out of revenue from interest rate hedges. Interest on corporate debt is often tied to LIBOR as well. As Motley Fool analyst Matt Koppenheffer pointed out, Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) alone carries some $1 billion in debt that’s tied to the LIBOR.
Pension funds, furthermore, routinely hold income-generating securities in which payments are based upon LIBOR. Municipalities likewise hedge interest rate exposures through derivatives, so your local town may have also paid the price for this horrendous behavior by the too-big-to-fail banks.
Despite the lack of media coverage, the scandal has not died. Writing about the role of one big bank (UBS AG) in the LIBOR rate-fixing affair, William D. Cohan suggests (in an article circulated on the web today by Reader Supported News):
The regulators that allow it to do business in the U.S. – the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Office of Comptroller of the Currency – should see that the line in the sand was crossed last week. On Dec. 19, the bank paid $1.5 billion to global regulators – including $700 million paid to the CFTC, the largest fine in the agency’s history – to settle claims that for six years, the company’s traders and managers, specifically at its Japanese securities subsidiary, manipulated the London interbank offered rate and other borrowing standards.
Cohan insists that:
An even more emphatic message needs to be sent to UBS by its prudential regulator in the U.S.: You are finished in this country. We are padlocking your Stamford, Connecticut, and Manhattan offices. You need to pack up and leave. Now.
Cohan targets UBS AG, a Swiss banking giant that’s notorious for its secret numbered accounts. But it seems the entire global banking community might have been in on the rate-fixing scam. And it’s not just the banks that are involved; major corporations appear to be neck deep in the mess.
Here’s a strange bit of news I found on the web:
The father of Newtown Connecticut school shooter Adam Lanza is Peter Lanza who is a VP and Tax Director at GE Financial. The father of Aurora Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes is Robert Holmes, the lead scientist for the credit score company FICO. Both men were to testify before the US Sentate in the ongoing LIBOR scandal.
This could be just an odd coincidence, but I would like to know more about it. Wouldn’t you?
I would like to know the full extent of global financial fraud and the people behind it.
And I am still waiting to read the real story of that multi-billion-dollar TARP heist back in 2008.
The AP photo above shows UBS CEO Sergio Ermotti at a news conference in Zurich, Switzerland.