Libor rigging was impossible to spot, even if we'd looked, says FSA
The Punt likes to think of itself as a champion of plain speaking, but the latest outbreak of unchecked honesty at the UK's financial regulator has us stumped.
Yesterday Adair Turner (pictured), soon-to-be ex-chairman of the UK's Financial Services Authority (FSA), said his regulators could not have spotted manipulation of "Libor" inter-bank lending interest rates during the financial crisis.
Not even if they had looked, he told a parliamentary commission on banking standards. The Libor scandal developed at the height of the banking crisis in 2008.
At the time a crisis of confidence meant many banks were simply unable to borrow short-term overnight funds at reasonable rates.
It made it impossible, or unhelpful anyway, to calculate the official Libor rate – based on an average of borrowing costs for a cross-section of banks.
Libor still needed to be calculated though, because it is used as a preference for lots of other prices in the markets.
So the banks kept coming up with a figure.
The banks themselves supply the data that goes into Libor calculation, and nobody was checking it. You or I might have thought the consequences of that were predictable, but that's where we'd be wrong, it seems.
The FSA and other regulators were helpless to tackle Libor rigging, according to Mr Turner, even if there had been intensive supervision.
"You just cannot have a police force big enough to spot all these problems," he told MPs.
So that's that then.
The FSA is due to publish a full report into the scandal next month, though the section on lessons learned looks like it will be pretty thin.
Happily, abuses in share trading can be detected, using computers, Mr Turner told British MPs. So that's all right then.