(By Darrel Whitten) Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker made a startling revelation when addressing a conference on economic governance that is true essentially for every central banker, government official and senior corporate executive during a crisis: "When things get
HAVE TO lie
,' either to supposedly "protect" against market panics, bank runs, etc. or merely to save one's own butt. This is why investors should be very afraid whenever a normally publicity shy central banker such as when former BOJ Yasushi Mieno
appeared on TV to state the situation was under control after a default by Sanyo Securities in Japan's interbank money market nearly caused a melt-down in Japan's banking system in 1997. It wasn't of course under control, as the next 10 years of banking crisis in Japan clearly showed.
Experienced investors should neither be surprised or shocked by such a revelation. Central banks chronically lie to mask their real monetary policy intentions, and about the true financial state of essentially bankrupt banks, while politicians lie when describing, for example, the extent of the danger of radiation levels from a nuclear meltdown (the Tokyo Electric Power Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan's case), and routinely lie about the beneficial effects of screwball policies to get elected. Former U.S. treasury secretary Hank Paulson lied about the true import of TARP, which was first and foremost to make the counterparties to AIG's credit default swaps whole. Jon Corzine of MF Global lied when he said he didn't know what happened to MF Global client funds.
Sure, they threw Bernie Madoff and Alan Stanford in jail and threw away the key for lying about ponzi schemes worth $50 billion and $7 billion respectively, but if senior politicians, treasury secretaries, central bankers and most senior corporate executives went to jail for lying ostensibly to protect the global or individual country banking systems, preventing bank runs or attempting to prevent the collapse of their companies, minimum security prisons all over the world would be full of ex-politicians, treasury secretaries, central bankers and senior corporate executives instead of other more run-of-the-mill white collar criminals. Government-sanctioned cooking of bank books is O.K. if the very viability of the financial system is at stake, but a major no-no if you are a company like Olympus systematically trying to hide investment losses.
So why is everyone so shocked that LIBOR rates, set by the British Bankers Association since 1985 in an archaic manner that reminiscent of how the first shares were traded under a buttonwood tree outside of 68 Wall Street New York in the 1800s, be subject to manipulation, especially in times of financial stress? Despite the "old boy" "scouts honor" manner in which the rates were set, LIBOR has become a key reference rate for many instruments such as forward rate agreements, short-term interest rate futures, interest rate swaps, inflation swaps, floating rate notes, syndicated loans, variabable rate mortgages, and currencies, especially Eurodollar, it is amazing that the setting of this rate was not from the onset under the purview of the Bank of England, as the Federal Funds rate is.
Thus rather than expressing shock and dismay at such schenanigans, investors need to appreciate and position their portfolios accordingly for what this lying by normally highly respected government officials, central bankers and senior corporate executives really means, i.e., yes, it really is that bad.
Tokyo Takes provides additional commentary on Japan stocks to The JapanInvestor.com weekly newsletter. To obtain a free trial subscription to The Japan Investor market letter, please visit: www.japaninvestor.com