Big Banks Again
By Isaac Cohen*
The reason why this column’s title includes the word “again” is because, for the third time in recent years, several “systemically important” big banks have been caught acting beyond legality. As described by the new US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, five big banks participated in a “conspiracy” to manipulate currency markets for their own benefit.
Previously, some of these big banks were caught manipulating interest rates and also the markets for nine commodities. In contrast with previous cases, where they got away paying fines without admitting guilt, this time JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, first and third biggest among US banks respectively, with two big British banks, Barclays and RBS, also paid fines, but they also had to plead guilty of criminal behavior. Additionally, the Swiss giant UBS was granted immunity from the currency manipulation, in exchange for admitting guilt in manipulating LIBOR, the benchmark interbank interest rate offered in London. In all, these five banks were fined US $5.6 billion. According to the New York Times, since 2009, big banks have paid US $160 billion in fines to settle charges of manipulating several markets.
In normal circumstances, as a consequence of admitting criminal behavior, a company may also be barred by the Securities and Exchange Commission from certain market activities. However, in this case, these five banks negotiated exemptions.
*International analyst and consultant. Commentator on economic and financial issues for CNN en Español TV and radio. Former Director, UNECLAC.