Professor Andrew Verstein tells CNN Money the global currency system is of ‘stupefying magnitude’
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November 20, 2013
Yet another dark cloud is looming over global banks as officials examine their behavior in the massive foreign exchange market, threatening to deal a new blow to earnings and reputations.
Regulators in the U.S., Europe and Asia are in the early stages of investigating whether traders at the world’s top banks manipulated foreign exchange benchmarks to profit at the expense of their clients.
Financial lawyers say the probe could have steep and uncertain consequences as the impact of currency market abuse would reverberate far beyond Wall Street.
It’s unwelcome timing for an industry already fighting a raft of legal battles over foreclosure abuses, misleading investors over mortgages and payment protection insurance. And then there’s the Libor scandal.
A global investigation into the setting of the London interbank lending rate, and related global benchmarks, has so far yielded about $3.6 billion in fines. Penalties for some of the biggest players are still to come. Traders have also faced criminal charges.
As the extent of damage caused by Libor-rigging is revealed, lawyers say theprobe into fixing currency rates could unfold in a similar way, and rival its impact.
London is the center of the loosely regulated foreign exchange market, the biggest in the world’s financial system with average daily turnover of $5.3 trillion.
Proven abuse in this market would have a significant ripple effect, exposing offending firms to a host of legal action.
Civil action related to Libor tampering by big banks is already underway. One of those cases is being led by Kirby McInerney LLP partner David Kovel.
“The banks ultimate exposure to Libor is still highly uncertain. These are massive markets, both of them. The [forex and Libor] benchmarks have a knock-on effect to all of these other markets,” Kovel said.
Assistant professor of law at Wake Forest University Andrew Verstein agrees. He said the global currency system is of “stupefying magnitude” and civil actions would follow any misconduct finding by regulators.
“Every big business in the world has a relationship with some bank that handles foreign exchange for them,” Verstein said.
“If you’re operating internationally — either as a tourist or a company — foreign exchange has to be a part of your life,” he said.
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