ISDAfix benchmark reference.
The International Swaps and Derivatives Association, Inc., website at ISDA.org said the ISDAfix is “the leading benchmark for annual swap rates for swap transactions worldwide.” Bloomberg* BusinessWeek.com’s April 2013 article called ISDAfix “a benchmark in the $379 trillion market for interest rate swaps, which corporations and governments use to fine-tune their borrowing costs.” Süddeutsche Zeitung’s August 2013 estimate was that a $450 trillion market was affected by this benchmark. A Reuters.com* Jan. 2014 market estimate was even higher: “The organization’s ISDAfix benchmark is an important reference point underlying contracts in the $630 trillion derivatives market, and ICAP collects data for the U.S. dollar-denominated part of it.”
The data used to set the US$ section of the ISDAfix benchmark were provided by thirteen banks to the New Jersey office of a U.K. broker or “intermediary trader” known as ICAP. U.K. financial data company Thomson Reuters* calculated the benchmark prices from ICAP’s banks’ data for the US$ section and from data it collected directly from banks for the other currencies. ICAP published its ISDAfix benchmark prices on a Reuters page every morning at 11 a.m. and updated them throughout the day based on reported transactions. ICAP’s data entry was not automated.
The S.Z. said Germany’s BaFin finance regulator started investigating ISDAfix fixing after Bloomberg reported that the U.S.A.’s Commodity Futures Trading Commission financial regulator was investigating perhaps fifteen banks and about a dozen current and former ICAP traders for possible pricing collusion.
Background from Bloomberg BusinessWeek.com:
“In their simplest form, swaps are used by investors to exchange a fixed interest rate for a floating one, or vice versa. They also come in profoundly more complicated flavors, and altogether they constitute more than half of the $639 trillion global derivatives market. ISDAfix, used by traders to settle contracts and value positions, is commonly found in hybrid securities known as structured notes that are popular with wealthy investors. While they affect everything from pension annuities to commercial real estate investments, ISDAfix rates are esoteric even by the standards of structured finance. …
“…Banks could earn millions by persuading ICAP brokers to delay their manual entry of data. Publishing stale prices can boost profits for banks dramatically. On a $500 million swap that matures in 20 years, for example, a delay that prevents the instrument from moving one basis point (0.01 percent) equals $1 million in profit for the dealer. […Also, ICAP’s] brokers match dealers by phone, then enter transactions into the 19901 screen by hand. The firm is paid commissions based on the size of the trades it matches.”
FT.com described a 2010 FT.com article saying that “prices capable of influencing Isdafix through the rate-setting process sometimes appeared to move in ways beneficial to a handful of banks.”
The ICAP brokerage was also hired to execute many ISDAfix-related trades for reasons that could have included exerting extra influence on ICAP-mediated benchmarks, said an online article from Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal*.
A 25 Sep 2013 Bloomberg.com article seemed to indicate that brokers were particularly able to game off-market trading price benchmarks, particularly in slow economic times when those relying on brokers’ reported pricing data had fewer sales of their own to glean comparable pricing data from. “To promote market integrity, it is critical that benchmark interest rates be anchored in observable transactions,” said C.F.T.C. chair Gary Gensler in 2013.
Update on 26 Sep 2013: ICAP was fined £55 million “for control failures that allowed employees to engage in Libor rigging” said an online Financial Times article. After admitting L.I.B.O.R. control failures, which the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority also called a poor compliance culture, the huge brokerage firm argued against reducing its ISDAfix role, saying that would give undue influence to the banks submitting ISDAfix pricing data. ICAP, the world’s largest broker for interbank transactions, couldn’t have been gaming the ISDAfix benchmark’s timing because people would have noticed, ICAP said.
Update on 26 Jan 2014: It was announced that ICAP was to be removed from its middleman role in ISDAfix, which was to be restructured so that banks would submit US$ pricing data to Thomson Reuters directly, said Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ.com. Thomson Reuters has been collecting the non-US$ ISDAfix data directly from banks for years, said Reuters.com, but the US$ data from ICAP for >15 years: “[ICAP] had been providing ‘snapshots’ using transaction-based information from its BrokerTec platform in addition to information from recent deals, the second source said, but the process would now return purely to a poll of participating banks.” Apparently the snapshots involved removing some outliers and averaging the data. ICAP said, “We appreciate ISDA’s interest in having a consistent polling process across each of the relevant currencies and fixings.”
ISDA said moving ISDAfix pricing data for all currencies to Reuters is a first step toward their goal of defining the benchmark based on actual trades (“live prices from trading venues” said FT.com), not just data submitted by banks. The new system will also be automated: “The second stage will be the move to an automated, market-based ISDAfix rate setting process, which is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2014,” said an ISDA spokesperson. ISDA said they will create a code of conduct and oversight committee for the benchmark.
ICAP’s C.E.O. Michael Spencer helped create the ISDAfix benchmark fifteen years ago. Reporting on the ISDAfix benchmark described ISDA as the benchmark’s “overseer” and as a lobbying group.
Update on 09 Mar 2014: Thomson Reuters has been granted U.K. regulatory approval to create a benchmark services subsidiary to handle the ~160 benchmarks the company helps calculate, including L.I.B.O.R. International benchmark regulations are about to be tightened this summer, according to a letter sent last summer by the International Organization of Securities Commissions (“a global body of central banks. They include oversight of third parties and policies for managing conflicts of interest” –FT.com) warning companies they had one year before new stricter rules. “Administrators of financial market benchmarks have to prove by the July deadline that they have improved systems for monitoring submitted figures,” said FT.com.
* The U.K.’s Reuters press agency was reporting on financial news related to the ISDAfix and it belongs to Thomson Reuters (since the Canadian Thomson Corp. bought Reuters in 2008). The parent company of Bloomberg News “competes with ICAP in some businesses, including foreign-exchange and swaps trading, and with Thomson Reuters in providing financial news and data” according to their disclaimer in an ISDAfix article. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. owns the Wall Street Journal and owned Dow Jones from 2007 to 2010, when it sold it to the C.M.E., Chicago Mercantile Exchange/Chicago Board of Trade group.
(EESS dah feex ref ah R-R-RENTS veaht.)