Search the Site

Auction Theory and LIBOR

An article in The Economist argues that a little auction theory might solve some of the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) current LIBOR problems:

Some of LIBOR’s failures also have echoes in auctions. Traders at involved banks are accused of aligning their LIBOR estimates in an attempt to affect the final rate. They were able to cross-check what others had done, since the BBA makes individual estimates public. These traders had, in effect, formed a “bidding ring,” analogous to a sort of cartel that is familiar to observers of auctions.

Fortunately, a variety of economists have researched how to break bidding rings.  Their findings suggests that, in addition to relying on actual data (instead of estimates) and creating penalties for false bidding, the LIBOR system would benefit from a few changes focused on the weaknesses of bidding rings:

Once banks’ LIBOR bids actually have some commitment value, the system should focus on the weaknesses that auction cartels are known to have. The cartel-enforcement problem would be more acute if the BBA increased the number of submitting banks and kept those bids private. The entry of outsiders should be actively encouraged, by allowing other lenders to banks (money-market funds, say) to submit estimates, too.