Finance Industry Wins a Two-Year Break on EU’s Benchmarks Law

(Bloomberg) -- European Union policy makers agreed to give an extra two years to the financial industry to complete an overhaul of key regional and foreign financial benchmarks to protect them from potential manipulation.

The deal reached late on Monday by EU diplomats and members of the European Parliament will allow Eonia and Euribor to be used by firms based in the bloc until the end of 2021, according to a statement from the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. Without the extension, their use would have been restricted starting next year because they don’t meet incoming EU standards designed to make benchmarks more reliable.

In a last-minute addition to the bill, policy makers heeded calls to apply the extension to financial benchmarks administered outside the EU. Global lobby groups had argued that cutting off EU firms’ access to those benchmarks, including stock market indexes and foreign-exchange rates, could cause economic damage and market disruption.

“Policy makers have bought time, now it is for benchmark administrators to make good use of that time to get all benchmarks into conformity with the regulation as soon as possible,” Markus Ferber, a member of parliament who sought the delay, said in a statement on Tuesday.

In November, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association and three other industry organizations said that due to a lack of data, it’s unclear which foreign benchmarks could be used under the new rules. Important currency benchmarks, including ones linked to the South Korean won, the Indian rupee and the Russian ruble, were in danger of noncompliance, they said.

“The extra two years for benchmarks produced outside the EU was also introduced to provide additional time for work with non-EU regulators on how these benchmarks can be recognized as equivalent or otherwise endorsed for use in the EU,” the commission said.

A smooth transition to the new regime is critical to financial markets because about 22 trillion euros ($25 trillion) of derivative contracts are tied to Eonia, according to the European Central Bank. About 109 trillion euros of derivative contracts are tied to the scandal-tainted Euribor benchmark, whose administrator is working on an overhaul intended to bring the rate up to snuff.

Lenders in an industry working group on euro risk-free rates, whose members include BNP Paribas SA and Deutsche Bank AG, chose the ECB’s new euro short-term rate, or Ester, as their preferred replacement for Eonia. The move is part of a global shift to new rates after banks paid billions of dollars in fines for rigging the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and other widely used benchmarks.

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