Thursday, August 25, 2011


Monthly readers are accustom to reading the monthly Macro Update and finding neat little charts of 6 Month USD Libor and Euro Dollar Libor posted here.  I've lamented each time that USD Libor remains stubbornly low and a result of straight up manipulation rather than some reflection of healthy interbank lending.

Before I go further, let's recall what LIBOR is.  LIBOR is the rate that banks say they can borrow from each other for overnight loans, but in the case of the charts I show, it is the rate for 6 month loans to each other.  LIBOR is extremely important because this rate is essentially the benchmark rate that many other interest rates are set against.  Some of you might have an 7 Year or 5 Year Option ARM, most of those reset according to some LIBOR rate plus a percentage mark up.  Needless to say, LIBOR is an important data point, and this is why I've posted it for more than a year or so. 

While we look at LIBOR as a metric to determine the cost of borrowing, it is also really an indication of the trust and fear levels in the financial markets.  If banks really trust each other, they will gladly lend to each other at low rates.  If one of them smells trouble, funding rates suddenly begin to climb.  Remember, these bankers are all buddies and they are all in the same game, if LIBOR is rising, it isn't just because someone is mildly concerned about a bank issue, it is because there is a real threat. 
Ok, so what is all the fuss about 3 Month and 6 Month LIBOR?  Let's take a look.



See, in the last month to two months, USD LIBOR has done a moonshot.  In the case of 6 Month LIBOR you are looking at a 21% increase in USD LIBOR since 7/1/2011 and 3 Month USD LIBOR has vaulted 29% since the first of July. 

Now I know that someone may say that LIBOR rates are going to be based somewhat on the costs of funds in the market, in other words that LIBOR rates will look to the Fed Funds rate or might even be forward looking anticipating future interest rate increases. I understand that, but what has happened to treasury yields during that same time period or Fed Funds rates.  Let's have a look.



Not much change at all.  Fed Funds rates remained pegged at zero and Treasuries have simply fallen off a cliff here as the entire world has piled into US government bonds as a safe haven from the carnage that is our financial system.  And finally a skeptic may say, "Well yes the stock markets were really tanking and all LIBOR or interbank trading simply moved higher because there was a genuine concern when equity markets were getting body slammed.  I would simply highlight this graph of EURO LIBOR in response.  I've grabbed the 1 Month chart here, but all of them are the same.

Nope, not the same panic stricken increase in funding rates since July here, in fact, we see just the opposite, we see a drop in rates by about 10 bps here. Euro LIBOR is made up of 16 reporting European institutions (just like USD Libor).


We don't have to dig much deeper here to realize that there are real issues going on here that have caused the inter-banking lending rates in USD LIBOR terms to go up, and up a lot in percentage terms.  While we can't know if the drop in equity markets in general are the cause of the increase or if it something more specific related to the banking sector or if it is a particular bank here in the USA, it is pretty compelling.  I will continue to monitor these rates daily as it is obvious that CEOs of large US financial institutions mean what they say when they state, "We are well capitalized and don't need any future fund raising".  Clearly Bank of America's CEO Brian Moynihan couldn't be anything like another powerful CEO, Dick Fuld, from our favorite bankrupt investment banking firm, Lehman Brothers that uttered pretty much the same words several years ago.

Here's a little parting view of what distress in the banking sector looks like.
BAC Daily 100 Day Chart


Goatmug is an investor that cares about you and your family. Goatmug's Blog - Financial Perspectives From The Mountain Top is a collection of thoughts on our economy and how it impacts the lives of investors and average people. While several specific investments are named in many of his posts, these articles are simply invitations for you to do your own research and reference to these securities does not constitute financial advice. Your situation is complex and unique and you should seek professional assistance with your trading and investing. Please visit Goatmug and share your comments at


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