Long live Libor
A recent FCA speech admitting 2021 is a challenging timeline could see the market kicking the can down the road on the transition away from interbank rates
Regulators, particularly those in the UK, have reiterated the same point so many times now: that the days of Libor, the infamous, ill-fated interest rate, are numbered. They have repeated it so many times – at so many conferences and dinners and meetings, in so many cities – that "usage of Libor has a hard stop of end-2021" may well be seared into the minds of finance professionals worldwide.
However, speaking at the International Swaps and Derivatives Association's annual legal forum in January, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) director Edwin Schooling Latter gave the first hint that maybe 2021 isn't a truly final deadline.
It wasn't an especially strong or catchy statement. "We cannot be certain that this route to use Libor only for legacy contracts will be available. Certainly, no one should rely on this option being available. But the possibility should be considered in design of contractual fallbacks," he said.
Yet it was still a significant – and extremely bold – move. And in something so systemically important, even the most subtle shift in sentiment can make waves.
Many saw this coming a mile off. For years now, sources have been telling IFLR journalists that there's simply no way that such a sensible group of people will allow the world's most important number to fall off a cliff, taking trillions of dollars' worth of contracts with it.
But it may have wider consequences. Consider the fact that new contracts and prospectuses are still being benchmarked against Libor every day, even before the FCA changed tack. If firms already weren't interested in engaging with the process, why would they be now? Certain corners of the market will take this as the first step in regulators skipping out altogether.
Plus, the market now knows that sometimes, the regulator says things it might not follow through with later. That could have significant implications for future threats, be they hollow or legitimate.
Even if the powers that be had agreed between themselves to give markets a bit longer to adapt, they didn't have to tell them. It's like telling a child you're not actually going to enforce their bedtime. You might think it; you might have planned it all along, but you're never going to say it. Especially not before they've even tried to eat their greens.
It is of course cynical, but the slight shift in attitude could be a thorn in the side of the momentum regulators have so painstakingly built on benchmark reform since 2016.
Only time – which the market now knows it has on-side – will tell.
Read more on this subject at iflrinsight.com