March 23, 2020 / 3:05 PM / 10 days ago

UK watchdog gauging how virus affects plan to retire Libor

LONDON, March 23 (Reuters) - Britain's markets watchdog is assessing how the coronavirus epidemic is affecting industry efforts to scrap the Libor interest rate benchmark, but there was no change to the deadline for now.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) wants markets to stop using the London Interbank Offered Rate or Libor by the end of 2021.

Banks were fined billions of dollars for trying to rig the benchmark, which is mainly based on quotes submitted by lenders.

Even without the extreme market volatility seen in recent weeks as investors respond to the damage that the coronavirus epidemic will wreak on economies, ending the use of Libor would still be one of the biggest tasks faced by markets in decades.

"A successful transition from Libor is a long-planned and essential task," the FCA said. "End-2021 remains the deadline to which firms must work in their plans to end reliance on Libor."

The watchdog, the Bank of England and an industry working group on Libor transition are assessing the likely impact of coronavirus on the progress to meet that deadline, the FCA said.

Libor is used to price contracts worth around $400 trillion globally, and market participants have already begun basing derivatives contracts and loans on overnight interest rates published by the Bank of England.

The FCA has set two deadlines this year to stop using Libor in new swap contracts and loans to avoid adding to a pile of "legacy" contracts based on Libor and that expire beyond the end of 2021. (Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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