Why is LIBOR Going Away?
Banks and financial markets are preparing for the imminent end of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), the most widely used benchmark for short-term interest rates.
Borrowers, including businesses and consumers, who have current loan products referencing LIBOR may be affected by this transition.
Here's what you need to know:
What Is LIBOR?
For years, LIBOR has been the most commonly referenced benchmark by which lenders set short-term interest rates. LIBOR is set by a regular survey of leading banks that periodically report how much it would cost them to borrow in U.S. dollars from another bank on an unsecured, short-term basis. This information is used to determine the LIBOR index.
Each bank's reported borrowing cost does not have to be based on actual borrowing transactions and may be estimated within certain parameters.
About $200 trillion in derivatives, variable rate mortgages, auto loans, commercial loans, credit cards and other financial products are indexed to LIBOR interest rates. All those products will be affected by the plan to phase out LIBOR as a benchmark.
Why Replace LIBOR?
In July 2017, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which supervises the administrator of LIBOR, announced that after Dec. 31, 2021, it will no longer compel panel banks to submit the rates that are required to calculate LIBOR. This deadline was recently extended to June 30, 2023 for existing legacy loans priced at most types of LIBOR.
The decision to discontinue LIBOR was made because “LIBOR is no longer a reliable rate to use to price our products," said Bernard Tsui, global markets manager at City National Bank. “There have been accusations of LIBOR being manipulated. Because LIBOR is based on a survey of banks - and not on actual transactions - it may be easier to manipulate the rate."
In the past, banks more frequently loaned each other money directly, said Michael Speaker, general counsel at City National Bank. However, as banks turned to other sources, including their respective governments, “that market shrank, and it became ripe for manipulation and fraud," Speaker said. “Some banks have been found guilty of manipulating the rate, which undercuts confidence and doesn't reflect the true rate."
When Is LIBOR Going Away?
One-week and two-month LIBOR will be discontinued on Dec. 31, 2021. Other tenors will continue to be published for existing legacy loans until June 30, 2023.
LIBOR-based loans may not be issued or renewed after Dec. 31, 2021, but many banks are generally targeting a date in advance of that to cease issuing or renewing LIBOR-based loans.
What Is LIBOR’s Replacement?
The Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR), administered by the New York Federal Reserve, is the recommended alternative to LIBOR for U.S. transactions.
Financial market leaders selected SOFR because it is one of several so-called “risk-free" rates (RFRs) available. RFRs are overnight interest rate benchmarks that regulators perceive to be more representative and reliable than LIBOR. This is because such benchmarks are based on liquid markets and can be calculated by reference to actual transactions, rather than estimates.
SOFR is a broad measure of the cost of borrowing cash overnight by U.S. Treasury securities in what is known as the repurchase agreement market. In terms of the transactions underpinning SOFR, it has the widest coverage of any Treasury repurchase rate available. In short, the transaction volumes underlying SOFR are far larger than those of LIBOR, roughly one trillion dollars and one billion dollars per day, respectively.
The New York Federal Reserve publishes SOFR online on a daily basis, and an internal oversight committee of that agency periodically reviews the rate production process.
SOFR vs. LIBOR
There are a number of differences between LIBOR and SOFR as benchmark rates, including:
- Security. LIBOR is unsecured while SOFR is secured with US Treasuries.
- Expectations. LIBOR is a forward-looking rate, based on expectations for future rates, whereas SOFR is currently backward-looking and based on actual transaction rates.
- Structure. LIBOR has a term structure, while SOFR currently does not. However, the financial industry is working to develop a term SOFR to replicate the LIBOR convention, although it is unclear when it will be available.
Benefits and Potential Risks of the Transition
Switching to SOFR can benefit borrowers because “it's a rate that can be relied on," Speaker said. “It's based not on judgment but on real transactions, so it can't as easily be manipulated. And instead of favoring larger banks, it's fairer to everyone."
However, the fact that SOFR doesn't have a forward-looking rate may present a challenge for some borrowers.
Because the transition requires banks to build entirely new systems and determine how the new rate may change the nature of each current product, some unknowns still remain.
For instance, the transition requires that LIBOR-based loan documents be revised to change to the new SOFR rate. If the maturity date for an existing LIBOR-dependent contract is after June 30, 2023, the contract will have to be amended because the rate will no longer be in existence.
How the Transition Might Affect You
While not all loans are indexed to LIBOR, some consumer loans, commercial loans and syndication loans at City National Bank are indexed to LIBOR. For those existing loans indexed to LIBOR, the transition will happen by June 30, 2023.
If you have a loan that may be affected by the transition, consider:
- Reviewing your LIBOR exposure under existing loans, notes and derivatives, concentrating on transactions maturing after June 30, 2023.
- Designating an authorized officer or individual to track LIBOR-related issues and stay informed about how LIBOR transition will affect you.
- Consulting with your accountants and other advisors about how LIBOR transition will impact your financial situation and your accounting and tax treatment of LIBOR-linked transactions.
- Whether you wish to avoid the LIBOR transition by refinancing LIBOR-linked loans into loans bearing a fixed-rate or referencing another floating interest rate index. For LIBOR-linked loans hedged with a City National-provided interest rate derivative, termination, replacement or modification of the hedge would be necessary.
Despite the potential hurdles involved, City National Bank's goal is “to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible for all of our clients," Speaker said.
In these turbulent times, City National Bank encourages you to work with your trusted advisors to make sure all aspects of your financial needs are working together to support your vision. Contact our financial professionals today to ask questions and receive assistance with your financial needs.
This article is for general information and education only. It is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of City National Bank (City National). City National does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates or projections given are those of the authors or persons quoted as of the date of the article with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change. This article may not be reproduced, distributed or further published by any person without the written consent of City National. Please cite source when quoting.