1. Barclays Gets Busted -- (Originally published June 29, 2012)
A bunch of thieving traders were manipulating the most important benchmark lending rate in the world during the height of the financial crisis. Now they are paying up for their sins -- and their egregious stupidity.
Well, at least their employers are paying up. Those guys cashed out years ago.Barclays (BCS) agreed Wednesday to pay $453 million in a joint agreement with regulators in the United States and Europe to settle a probe that it profited or curbed losses on trades related to Libor - aka the London Interbank Offered Rate -- which impacts borrowing costs for everyone from homeowners to central bankers from 2005 to 2009. According to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Barclays traders, under the approving eye of the bank's senior management, made artificially low Libor submissions while simultaneously colluding with their equally devious counterparts at other banks. For example, here is a March 2007 instant message exchange between a pair of traders from separate banks: "this is the way you pull off deals like this chicken, don't talk about it too much, 2 months of preparation ... the trick is you must not do this alone ... this is between you and me but really don't tell ANYBODY." No, you turkey, the trick is not to get caught and leave a trail of evidence that you are rigging bids. And here is another choice nugget from March 2006 illustrating the conspiracy theses dunces engaged in: "Dude. I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I'm opening a bottle of Bollinger." Hey, there may be no honor among crooks, but at least there is champagne. As for the guy at the top of Barclays pyramid, well, CEO Bob Diamond said what he was expected to say, apologizing that "some people acted in a manner not consistent with our culture and values." As penance, Diamond, Finance Director Chris Lucas, Chief Operating Officer Jerry del Missier and investment banking boss Rich Ricci agreed to forgo bonuses this year. Sorry Bob, but it was more than "some" bad apples spoiling the bunch. This was a wide-ranging scheme that will surely grow even wider as more big-name banks settle with the Department of Justice in order to put the whole sordid affair behind them. Heads should definitely roll over this, not just bow in regret over getting busted. And as for your bonus sacrifice, give us a break. We are quite sure you can skate by on your current $6 million base salary and the $23.5 million in compensation you pocketed last year. Of course, the same probably can't be said for all the struggling homeowners now shelling out higher than necessary mortgage payments each month because of your bank's bad behavior. Nope, those folks aren't skating by at all. Thanks to you and your friends, they are stuck. -- Written by Gregg Greenberg in New York.