UBS faces $1 billion day of reckoning over interest rate rigging

The fine, to be imposed by regulators in Britain and the United States, would be the latest blow for the Swiss bank that suffered a rogue trading scandal last year, paid a $780 million fine to settle a U.S. tax investigation in 2009 and nearly collapsed in 2008 under the weight of huge subprime losses.

Sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters the fine will be $1 billion or more, which would be more than double the $450 million levied on British bank Barclays Plc in June for interest rate manipulation, reports Reuters.

The penalty could be as high as $1.6 billion and UBS will admit 36 traders around the globe manipulated yen Libor between 2005 and 2010, Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger said, citing unnamed sources.

UBS declined to comment on the report or on the timing of a settlement. Reuters could not independently verify the $1.6 billion figure.

“It’s a little bit astonishing from a shareholder perspective that the fine could be double the amount of Barclays,” said Peter Stenz, portfolio manager at investment and pensions manager Swisscanto and a holder of UBS shares.

“The good thing is that it is ended then … The bad thing is the amount, which raises the question of how important UBS was in this story,” Stenz said.

While Barclays’ settlement touched off a firestorm that forced its chairman and chief executive to quit, previous scandals at UBS have already prompted culls of top bosses as well a decision to wind down parts of the investment bank that have tarnished the bank’s name.

Swiss commentators suggested the Libor affair would stiffen the resolve of UBS top management – all installed after the period under investigation – to focus on the core business of wealth management as they trim risky trading activities.

However, the settlement – which sources say is likely to come sometime this week – could add to global public and political anger about standards and culture across the industry.

The settlement will be with U.S., British and Swiss regulators, although the last has no power to fine the bank. Japanese regulators are also involved, some sources said, although it was not clear if they would be formally involved in the penalties.