Douglas Keenan: My thwarted attempt to tell of LIBOR shenanigans


By Douglas Keenan
Financial Times, London
Thursday, July 26, 2012

In 1991, I began trading for Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, in London. I was trading bonds, derivatives, and related securities. One of those securities was based on the three-month Libor rate: the interest rate at which banks can borrow money for three months from each other. Morgan Stanley does not trade on the interbank market so I could not directly borrow or loan money at Libor rates. What I could do, however, was trade a futures contract on the three-month Libor rate.

As an example of how a futures contract works, consider the following. Suppose that we are concerned about three-month Libor rates increasing in the future; in particular, we are concerned about what the three-month rate will be in September. If that rate is, say, 1 per cent, we can agree today to effectively lock it in. If, come September, the actual three-month rate is 2 per cent, then our contract will ensure we can still borrow at 1 per cent. Futures contracts on three-month Libor were -- and are -- traded on the London International Financial Futures Exchange (Liffe, now part of NYSE Euronext). There was a standard contract for the month of September. That contract had its rate settled on the third Wednesday of the month, at 11 o'clock.

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Sona Discovers Potential High-Grade Gold Mineralization
at Blackdome in British Columbia -- 13.6g over 1.5 Meters

From a Company Press Release
November 22, 2011

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- With its latest surface diamond drilling program at its 100-percent-owned, formerly producing Blackdome gold mine in southern British Columbia, Sona Resources Corp. has discovered a potentially high-grade gold-mineralized area, with one hole intersecting 13.6 grams of gold in 1.5 meters of core drilling.

"We intersected a promising new mineralized zone, and we feel optimistic about the assay results," says Sona's president and CEO, John P. Thompson. "We have undertaken an aggressive exploration program that has tested a number of target zones. Our discovery of this new gold-bearing structure is significant, and it represents a positive development for the company."

Sona aims to bring its permitted Blackdome mill back into production over the next year and a half, at a rate of 200 tonnes per day, with feed from the formerly producing Blackdome mine and the nearby Elizabeth gold deposit property. A positive preliminary economic assessment by Micon International Ltd., based on a gold price of $950 per ounce over eight years, has estimated a cash cost of $208 per tonne milled, or $686 per gold ounce recovered.

For the company's complete press release, please visit:

In 1991 I had live trading screens that showed the Libor rates. In September of that year, on the third Wednesday, at 11 o'clock, I watched those screens to see where the futures contract should settle. Shortly afterwards, Liffe announced the contract settlement rate. Its rate was different from what had been shown on my screens, by a few hundredths of a per cent.

As a result, I lost money. The amount was insignificant for me, but I believed that I had been defrauded and I complained to Liffe. Liffe explained that the settlement rate was not determined by what rates were actually in the market. Instead, the British Bankers Association polled banks, asking them what the rates were. The highest and lowest quoted rates were discarded and the rest were averaged, giving the settlement rate. Liffe explained that, in doing this, they were adhering to the terms of the contract.

I talked with some of my more experienced colleagues about this. They told me banks misreported the Libor rates in a way that would generally bring them profits. I had been unaware of that, as I was relatively new to financial trading. My naivety seemed to be humorous to my colleagues.

Simply put, then, it seems the misreporting of Libor rates may have been common practice since at least 1991. Although the difference between the reported rate and the actual rate might seem small, the total amount of money involved is material, given that Libor rates affect contracts worth hundreds of trillions. Also important is what such misreporting says about the culture of finance.

During 1991, at the London office of Morgan Stanley, the head of interest rate trading was a person who has been at the centre of the current scandal: Bob Diamond. I do not recall discussing Libor misreporting with Mr Diamond but since the misreporting was common knowledge among traders, I presume he was aware. (That, however, is not a criticism of Mr Diamond: what could he have done about this?)

There have been two distinct motivations for banks to misreport Libor rates. One motivation is discussed above: to directly increase profits. The other motivation arose during the 2008 financial crisis: to mask liquidity problems.

Libor misreporting has been going on for decades. Why have investigations only recently begun? It seems highly implausible that all the investigating agencies could have been unaware for decades. Indeed, the regulators have a reputation among traders of being like Potemkin villages. I suspect what has happened is that, after the financial crises of 2008, the agencies decided they ought to perform more of their stated duties. That would also explain why the investigations appear to be ignoring any misreporting in years before 2005: to cover up the illusoriness of their earlier work.

One of the investigations is being undertaken by the House of Commons Treasury Committee. I telephoned the Committee on July 3 and spoke with a Committee specialist. I told the specialist about the foregoing and said that I was willing to testify under oath. The specialist seemed extremely interested. They said they were to have a meeting about the Libor scandal and would call me back afterwards.

I did not hear back, however, so I telephoned to ask what was happening. My testimony was not wanted, the specialist told me.


The writer is an independent mathematical scientist and a former Morgan Stanley trader.

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Prophecy Platinum Announces Wellgreen Preliminary Economic Assessment:
38% Pre-Tax IRR, $3.0 Billion NPV, and a 37-Year Mine Life

Company Press Release

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada -- Prophecy Platinum Corp. (TSX-V: NKL, OTC-QX: PNIKF, Frankfurt: P94P) reports the results of an independent NI 43-101-compliant preliminary economic assessment for its fully owned Wellgreen nickel-copper-platinum group metals project in the Yukon Territory.

The independent assessment, prepared by Tetra Tech, evaluated a base case of an open-pit mine (with a mining rate of 111,500 tonnes per day), an on-site concentrator (with a milling rate of 32,000 tonnes per day), and an initial capital cost of $863 million. The project is expected to produce (in concentrate) 1.959 billion pounds of nickel, 2.058 billion pounds of copper, and 7.119 million ounces of platinum, palladium, and gold during a mine life of 37 years with an average strip ratio of 2.57.

The financial highlights of the preliminary economic assessment, shown in U.S. dollars, are as follows:

Payback period: 3.55 years
Initial capital investment: $863 million
IRR pre-tax (100% equity): 38 percent
NPV pre-tax (8% discount): $3 billion
Mine life: 37 years
Total mill feed: 405.3 million tonnes
Mill throughput: 32,000 tonnes per day

Prophecy Chairman John Lee says: "We are pleased with the preliminary economic assessment results. The numbers indicate that Wellgreen is one of most exciting mineral projects in the Yukon. The company is drilling to upgrade and expand the resource base. The infrastructure is excellent as the project is only 1,400 meters in altitude and 14 kilometers from the paved Alaska Highway, which leads to the Haines deep seaport. Discussions are under way with support from local stakeholders regarding permitting and logistics."

For the complete press release, please visit: