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Thursday, February 07, 2013 

"Oh no, not if I have anything to do with it, and I do have something to do with it! Lol."

Reading the IM transcripts between the bankers who conspired to fix the Libor inter-bank rate at RBS, it's difficult to know whether to feel sorry for these children trapped in the bodies of men, or be rather scared that these are the people who can either make or break the economy. You can read far too much into the way people type, it's true, but there's something not quite right about these supposed Masters of the Universe begging each other to commit fraud in text speak.  The messages are of such a piece that when one of the traders writes in something approaching 20th century English it comes as a shock. Was he not feeling quite right that day, or did he consider himself normally somewhat above the juvenile styling of his peers?

Chief executive Stephen Hester for his part blamed precisely this "mateyness" and bar culture among the "junior" traders for the entire episode, rather than say, greed or the fact that there was no supervision whatsoever over the setting of Libor until mid way through 2011. Not that this necessarily would have ensured it either wouldn't have happened or been spotted sooner: as the logs also show, wash trades were used to reward brokers and they sometimes went wrong, yet still the bank failed to notice.  It reminds somewhat of Nick Leeson at Barings, able to keep getting away with taking ever greater risks and making ever larger losses, until he finally brought down the entire bank.

In keeping with the day's other main story, those at the top of RBS won't be losing their jobs.  Indeed, the only person other than the traders themselves to leave will be John Hourican, the now former head of investment at the bank.  According to RBS he had "no involvement in or knowledge of the misconduct", something that could also be said of many at the bank who will be remaining in their posts.  Still, we shouldn't feel too sorry for him: he might not be getting the up to £4m he was entitled to, but he will still receive 12 months' salary, a mere £700,000.  As for the fines levied on the bank, "most" of the £390m imposed by both the FSA and the Americans will be clawed back from bonuses previously paid out, so rather than the taxpayer fining the taxpayer, it's slightly more complicated, although obviously it's still a mostly circular process.

As noted on the Graun live blog, it was rather odd though that the only person named was Hourican, who did the decent thing.  The men who actually rigged the rate remain anonymous, presumably on the grounds that there may be criminal charges brought against them.  Considering that so far no one has been prosecuted for their role in the crash at all, this seems a rather forlorn hope, although you never know.  All we have to identify those responsible is that they like sushi, steak, a free lunch, and one remarked he was up and down like a "whores drawers" (sic).  Well, at least it narrows it down slightly.  How many bankers can there be who have a taste for those things?

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