Clause 9 - Mandatory administration of a critical benchmark

Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 26 November 2020.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Clause 9 amends article 21 of the benchmarks regulation, which concerns the mandatory administration of a critical benchmark.

Article 21 gives the FCA the power to compel the provision of a critical benchmark where the administrator notifies the FCA of its intention to cease providing the benchmark. Clause 9 amends article 21 to increase from five to 10 years the maximum period for which an administrator can be compelled by the FCA to continue to provide the benchmark. This will increase the time which the FCA has to manage the wind-down of a critical benchmark.

Under the clause, if the FCA decides to compel an administrator to continue publishing the benchmark, the FCA must assess the capability of the benchmark to measure the underlying market or economic reality and inform the administrator in writing of the outcome of this assessment. The FCA’s assessment that a critical benchmark is no longer representative of its underlying market, or is at risk of becoming unrepresentative, is the first step in providing the FCA with its wider powers to manage the wind-down of such a benchmark. We therefore wish to ensure that the FCA can take steps towards starting the managed wind-down of a critical benchmark in circumstances where the benchmark administrator itself proposes to cease the benchmark. I recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

The clause takes us, in a sense, to the next step after a review. Again, I have a couple of questions. First, subsection (2) refers to a period of 10 years. The Minister made clear a few minutes ago that LIBOR is definitely winding up by the end of 2021, so to what does 10 years refer? With something that is supposed to be winding up in one year, I still cannot quite understand why we are giving the regulator powers to continue it in a form for up to 10 years. I am confused about that, and I do not know if I am the only one.

Secondly, subsection (3) refers to an assessment of a benchmark. That assessment revolves around the question of the representative nature of the benchmark. It says that the FCA will always give either

“a written notice stating that it considers that the benchmark is not representative of the…economic reality”— perhaps it has become too illiquid, in the way we discussed, or too reliant on expert opinion—or

“a written notice stating that it considers that the representativeness of the benchmark is not at risk.”

In other words, we have a good competition going here for the price of the bread. Does the 10-year period of extended mandatory information apply when the FCA has judged that the benchmark is not representative, or could it apply in cases where it is judged that it is representative as well? Subsection (3) seems to indicate that the assessment could go either way. I am trying to get at what this 10-year power is for and to which kind of benchmark it applies.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his entirely reasonable and appropriate questions. The compulsion period of 10 years is about having a timely period to continue with the revised methodology of the synthetic LIBOR. One of the main aims of the Bill is to provide an appropriate mechanism for the wind-down of LIBOR and to reduce the risk of contractual frustration in the event of an unplanned or sudden cessation of LIBOR. To enable a managed wind-down of LIBOR, it may be necessary for the FCA to compel the benchmark administrator to continue to provide the benchmark for a period of time, to allow a portion of LIBOR-referencing contracts to mature and end. We expect a significant number of outstanding LIBOR legacy contracts at the end of the five-year compulsion period, and those outstanding contracts will still pose a material financial stability risk, as the Financial Stability Board noted in 2014.

Extending the maximum compulsion period to 10 years means that there is potentially more time for tough legacy contracts to mature or to move to that alternative rate before the administrator is no longer required to produce LIBOR, therefore reducing the risks of mass contract frustration and subsequent litigation. The 10-year period is the maximum for which a critical benchmark such as LIBOR might be compelled. The compulsion direction issued by the FCA will have to be reviewed and renewed on a 12-monthly basis, so each year the FCA will have to review the use of the power and consider whether the decision to compel its use in compliance with the requirements of the benchmarks regulation is still appropriate, and it will need to act rationally in doing so.

If the compulsion powers were to be used, there is no guarantee that the FCA would sustain a critical benchmark for a 10-year period. Again, that would depend on the circumstances at the time, what the operating reality was with contracts in the market, and what the expectation and needs were. Parties should therefore continue to make attempts to transition away from LIBOR.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the representative nature of the benchmark and the mechanism by which it will be deemed unrepresentative. I cannot say that I am absolutely certain on that point, but my assessment would be that the dialogue with the market actors, and what was actually happening with the live transactions and the material evidence they were submitting to provide the basis for the benchmark to be constructed, would inform the decision on the need for an alternative—basically, whether it was functioning properly. That would not be a matter of a market-driven outcome; it would be clear from a regulatory and market security need, and that would be a conversation the FCA would have with the industry. However, we are getting into territory that I would need to look into further if I was going to give more satisfaction to the right hon. Gentleman, which he absolutely deserves.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury) 12:15, 26 November 2020

The Minister’s phrase, “synthetic LIBOR”, helps us to understand this. I think it might mean something like this: that the regulator has the power to designate a benchmark as critical when it is unrepresentative of market reality, but in a way LIBOR is not really ending at the end of 2021, because we have synthetic LIBOR—the ghost of LIBOR, we might say—and the ghost of LIBOR is necessary because of those legacy contracts.

Where I still get confused is that the reason LIBOR is being wound up, and the reason that the FCA can designate it in this manner, is that it is unrepresentative—yet for the ghost of LIBOR, or synthetic LIBOR, to have any validity, the FCA has to continue to compel submitters to submit information to it. I do not know what the implications of that are for the quality of the ghost of LIBOR; we must remember that the reason it has been designated in the first place is that it is failing the market representativeness test. How is it, therefore, that for up to 10 years we can compel submitters to submit information to something that the regulator has judged invalid?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The right hon. Gentleman has accurately summarised the issue around synthetic LIBOR, but we are getting into suppositions about the time period for which that synthetic LIBOR would be necessary. The FCA recently published a paper on this. It is about evolving circumstances in the market. It is very difficult to be prescriptive, hence the 10-year provision. We are now getting into the realm of market operating realities at some point in the future. We have to have something that references the fact that we have a considerable volume of contracts that reference the historical LIBOR and we have to have a reference point going forward. I hope that is helpful.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.