The Deal: New Owner, Same Image for Libor

NEW YORK ( The Deal) -- The sale of the tarred Libor to NYSE Euronext will see London lose a benchmark symbolic of its status as a global financial center while the British government tries to restore its credibility.

Several rate-rigging scandals have underscored the vulnerability of the world's most widely used benchmark for short-term interest rates to manipulation by banks, culminating in its sale to the institution synonymous with Wall St.

Symbolically, the deal also comes as London operates against a backdrop where the euro zone is expected to contract 0.6% this year, while the U.S. is on a recovery path -- albeit a sluggish one -- with economic growth projections of 1.7% this year from the International Monetary Fund.

Barclays ( BCS) is still smarting from the scandal, for which it was forced to pay $453 million in fines last year over allegations it manipulated the rate between 2005 and 2009 -- an incident that claimed the scalp of ex-Barclays chief Bob Diamond, who can now be seen wandering New York's Park Avenue on his way to work.

Swiss and Scottish banks UBS ( UBS) and Royal Bank of Scotland Group ( RBS) were also fined over rate manipulation.

The transfer of Libor, or London Interbank Offered Rate, administration from the subsidiary of the British Bankers' Association is expected to be complete in early 2014. The deal will give NYSE ownership of a benchmark central to derivatives trading, an activity of increasing importance to global exchanges due to the higher fee revenue it generates compared with share trading.

American officials have acknowledged the task ahead, with the chief executive of NYSE's derivatives arm Finbarr Hutcheson citing the need to restore the "credibility, trust and integrity in Libor as a key global benchmark" as a top priority, ahead of running it as a commercial business.

Critics say the task will not be achieved simply through a cross-border transfer of the benchmark in a bid to create a clean slate -- with key underlying problems of Libor including the use of estimates in its calculation and the inclination of banks to leave their estimate submissions unchanged.

Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler is one high-profile critic who has expressed skepticism toward the Libor and said alternatives based on more concrete data should be found.

NYSE Euronext will set up a new unit for the business, NYSE Euronext Rate Administration, with staff that review the rate-setting process.

Finer details on the calculation of Libor are yet to be completed. It remains to be seen whether such moves result in a fairer rate-setting process and restore confidence in the benchmark, or if its relevance continues to gradually erode.

Written by Jane Searle.