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商业 - 金融

Libor利率与银行的利益联姻

Eleanor Bloxham 2012年12月17日

Libor丑闻影响甚广,奇怪的是现在学术界和前银行家们还在倡议用债券和利率掉期作为银行高管们的奖金。因为一旦利率下降,债券价格就会上涨。将债券作为银行高管们的奖金等于是给了他们操纵利率的直接动力,实现作为薪酬所获债券的价值增值。

    Libor操纵丑闻引发的后果迥异于其他银行业丑闻。上周二,英国警方在伦敦展开凌晨突袭,逮捕了包括一位花旗集团(Citigroup)前任交易员在内的3人。

    逮捕消息可能对未来的操纵行为有震慑作用,但不能完全消除引发此类行为的诱因。上上周,英国监管机构建议,设定伦敦同业拆借利率(London Interbank Offered Rates)的过程应有更多银行参与。而一些学术界人士和前银行家们建议的高管薪酬方案则可能鼓励更多的利率操纵行为。

    已有十几家超大银行卷入了Libor操纵丑闻,包括美国银行(Bank of America)、花旗集团和摩根大通(JP Morgan)。这些银行涉嫌操纵Libor的行为无疑损害了纳税人利益,减少了存款和退休资产的利息,并导致地方投资收入减少了几十亿美元。(这对于有些地区真是祸不单行。由于金融危机,它们早已受到纳税人基数下降的冲击。)Libor风波同时还增加了政府的调查支出——对于美国和英国都是如此。

    Libor丑闻影响广泛,大多数银行也没有否认指控,但令人奇怪的是现在学术界和前银行家们还在倡议用债券和利率掉期作为银行高管们的奖金。

    利率下降,债券价格就会上涨。将债券作为银行高管们的奖金等于是给了他们操纵利率的直接动力,实现作为薪酬所获债券的价值增值。

    虽然笔者认为,用债券工具支付奖金的想法是两年半前一个糟糕的点子,当时我并没有意识到这场利率欺诈游戏早已在银行业中扎根了。

    2010年春天,笔者曾撰文批评这些导向性错误的薪酬理论。在这之前几个月,经济学家柯能•施耐德和托马斯·于勒发布了研究报告,指出银行业一直在操纵Libor水平。据该报告分析,即便没有奖金方案,银行家们看来也有足够的动机来操纵Libor,报告指出“银行手头有庞大的组合受到Libor影响,最近(Libor)快速下降给他们带来了好处。”

    当然,银行不是Libor操纵的唯一受益者。银行高管们也受益于此,银行利润的增长也推高了他们的奖金。如果一家银行曾参与Libor操纵,董事会薪酬委员会将发现,他们向CEO支付的薪酬依据的是靠欺诈获得的业绩。

    既然如此,就很难理解为何还有人倡议向银行高管支付债券作为奖金。但是将债券作为奖金只是企业领导人不计后果、一味试图为高管提供薪酬奖励的一个例子。如果连Libor操纵丑闻都不能终结这些不当的薪酬计划,我不知道还有什么能。

    The Libor manipulation debacle has resulted in something rare in the world of banking scandals. British police arrested three people Tuesday, including one former Citigroup trader, in a predawn raid in London.

    As much as the arrests may serve as a deterrent for future manipulation, it doesn't entirely remove the incentives to repeat such behavior. UK regulators last week recommended that even more banks get involved in the process of setting the London Interbank Offered Rates. And some academics and former bankers are recommending executive pay schemes that could encourage even more rate manipulation.

    The Libor price-fixing scandal has engulfed over a dozen mega-banks, including Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (C), and JP Morgan (JPM).  And the banks' alleged tampering has hurt taxpayers by lowering interest earned on some savings and retirement assets and decimating billions in state and municipal investment revenues. (This has come as a double whammy for communities that were already suffering from lower taxpayer bases due to the financial meltdown.) The Libor mess has also ramped up government spending on investigations -- now in both the U.S. and UK.

    Given the widespread impact of the Libor scandal and the fact that most banks aren't denying the charges, it's strange that academics and former bankers are continuing to advocate the use of bonds or interest rate swaps to compensate top banking execs.

    Bond prices rise if interest rates fall. So if you pay a banker in bonds, you are handing him a very direct incentive to manipulate rates in order to boost the value of the bonds he received as pay.

    While I thought the idea of paying bonuses with debt instruments was a poor one two-and-a-half years ago, I did not realize back then that the game of interest rate finagling was already well ensconced in the halls of banking.

    In the spring of 2010, several months before I wrote against these misguided pay theories, economists Conan Snider and Thomas Youle had already published research that indicated banks had been playing with Libor levels. Even without a bonus scheme to enhance their motivations, bankers appeared to have enough incentive to fiddle with Libor, according to their analysis, which suggested that "banks have large portfolio exposures to the Libor and have recently profited from [its] rapid descent."

    But of course, banks weren't the only ones to benefit from such manipulation. Top bank executives would have benefited as well through increased bonuses tied to any boost in earnings. Board compensation committees will find they paid their CEOs for results obtained through fraud in the case of banks involved in the Libor monkey business.

    Given this, it is hard to fathom why anyone would advocate paying top execs at banks with debt. But bonds-as-bonuses is just one example of business leaders trying to come up with remedies for executive compensation without thinking through the consequences. And if the Libor example can't put a bullet in bad compensation ideas, I'm not sure what can.

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