Scandals force scrutiny of key bank rates

Australia's key interest rate benchmark will come under scrutiny as part of a global review of bank-to-bank lending practices in the wake of a series of rate rigging scandals in Britain and Singapore.

Australia's key interest rate benchmark will come under scrutiny as part of a global review of bank-to-bank lending practices in the wake of a series of rate rigging scandals in Britain and Singapore.

The Swiss-based Financial Stability Board (FSB) has set up a steering group of central banks and global regulators to examine the ways in which key interest rate benchmarks - used by banks to lend money to each other - are set by banks in the financial markets.

It will also establish a taskforce, comprised mostly of private sector banks, to see if current benchmarks are still fit for purpose.

This follows rate-rigging scandals that have rocked global money markets in the past year, with trillions of dollars in loans affected between banks and their customers.

Barclays, UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland have been hit with fines totalling $2.5 billion for manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.

Last week, Singapore's bank regulator censured 20 banks, including ANZ and Macquarie Bank, for trying to manipulate the country's interbank offered rate, called Sibor.

Australia's bank bill swap rate (BBSW), the local equivalent of Libor, has already been affected by the fallout from the scandals.

Earlier this year, global investment banks with Australian satellites - such as Citigroup and HSBC - pulled out of the panel that sets the BBSW, forcing the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority to change the way it is set.

In March APRA confirmed the BBSW would no longer be set manually by a panel of bank representatives but would be set automatically using electronic data drawn from financial markets.

The BBSW is the benchmark rate at which banks lend to each other. It is used to calculate rates that affect hundreds of billions of loans, from mortgages to business loans.

The FSB said on Wednesday it would draw on its membership base - which includes the Reserve Bank of Australia - to form a steering group to investigate the global rate benchmarks.

Other members of the FSB include representatives of the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and the Bank of Japan.

"The steering group will examine whether the governance and processes around these benchmarks meet agreed international standards, including those being developed by the International Organisation of Securities Commissions," the FSB said.

The Reserve Bank declined to comment on whether it was a member of the steering group because its members had not been finalised.

A group composed of private sector banks will be established to review any options for so-called new reference rates that will meet the needs of the private sector.

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