Occupy Wall Street---The Mega Predatory Banks Need To Be Broken Up
(Our economy has been hiijacked by economic financial predators and want to steal wealth and Treasury funds at any cost, even it continues to transfer wealth to the upper 20% of the income brackets. They have no guilt knowing they have transferred monies away from the real economy to the non-productive economy called the financial sector. This must end and become 100% transparent along with transaction fees for every single transaction that is not held longer than some predetermined amount of days.)
Joseph Stiglitz (the Nobel prize winning economist) said recently that the U.S. government is wary of challenging the financial industry because it is politically difficult, and that he hopes the Group of 20 leaders will cajole the U.S. into tougher action
There has been no honest examination of the crisis because it would embarrass C.E.O.s and politicians . . .Instead, the Treasury and the Fed are urging us not to examine the crisis and to believe that all will soon be well. There have been no prosecutions of the chief executives of the large nonprime lenders that would expose the “epidemic” of fraudulent mortgage lending that drove the crisis. There has been no accountability…
The Obama administration and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke have refused to investigate the nature and causes of the crisis. And the administration selected Timothy Geithner, who with then Treasury Secretary Paulson bungled the bailout of A.I.G. and other favored “too big to fail” institutions, to head up Treasury.
Now Lawrence Summers, head of the White House National Economic Council, and Mr. Geithner argue that no fundamental change in finance is needed. They want to recreate a secondary market in the subprime mortgages that caused trillions of dollars of losses.
Traditional neo-classical economic theory, particularly “modern finance theory,” has been proven false but economists have failed to replace it. No fundamental reform can be passed when the proponents are pretending that there really is no crisis or need for change.
Regulatory agencies are often sympathetic to the industries they regulate. This pattern is so well known among scholars that it has a name: “regulatory capture.” This effect can be due to the political influence of the industry on its regulators; or to the fact that the regulators spend so much time with their charges that they come to accept their world view; or to the prospect of lucrative private-sector jobs when regulators retire or resign.
Economic consultant Edward Harrison agrees:Regulating Wall Street has become difficult in large part because of regulatory capture.
But there is an even more interesting reason . . .
The number one reason the TBTF’s aren’t being broken up is [drumroll] . . . the ‘ole 80′s playbook is being used.
In the 1980s, during the height of the Latin American debt crisis, the total risk to the nine money-center banks in New York was estimated at more than three times the capital of those banks. The regulators, analysts say, did not force the banks to value those loans at the fire-sale prices of the moment, helping to avert a disaster in the banking system.
In other words, the nine biggest banks were all insolvent in the 1980s.
Indeed, Richard C. Koo – former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and doctoral fellow with the Fed’s Board of Governors, and now chief economist for Nomura – confirmed this fact last year in a speech to the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Specifically, Koo said that -after the Latin American crisis hit in 1982 – the New York Fed concluded that 7 out of 8 money center banks were actually “underwater” and “bankrupt”, but that the Fed hid that fact from the American people.
So the government’s failure to break up the insolvent giants – even though virtually all independent experts say that is the only way to save the economy, and even though there is no good reasonnot to break them up – is nothing new.
William K. Black’s statement that the government’s entire strategynow – as in the S&L crisis – is tocover up how bad things are (“the entire strategy is to keep people from getting the facts”) makes a lot more sense.
Nicholas Taleb said recently that the bankers “hijacked the American economy,” and should not have received $2.2 trillion bonus payouts they did. Taleb lamented:
Unfortunately, we don’t have claw backs in the U.S.
I’ve previously argued that the government could use existing laws to force ill-gotten gains to bedisgorged (see this and this), fraudulent transfers to be voided and – perhaps – even bonuses gained at the expense of taxpayers clawed back.
To find out whether or not Taleb is right, I spoke with the country’s top white collar crime expert – who put over 1,000 top S&L executives in jail for fraud (professor of law and economics Bill Black).
I asked Professor Black what, exactly, current fraud laws allow to be disgorged. For example, I asked Black whether or not bonuses given out based on fraudulent Ponzi schemes and manipulation of a company’s accounting books could be disgorged. And I asked hims to estimate how much could – hypothetically, if prosecutors and judges did their job – collectively be recouped for the American people?
Professor Black informed me that the proceeds of fraud can be recovered, including bonuses earned through fraudulent activity.
He said that the amount which could be recouped could amount to tens of billions of dollars per prosecution, if the evidence of wrongdoing was there.
Ten billion here and ten billion there could add up to some real money. Prosecuting fraud and recovering ill-gotten games could make the giant banks whose very size is ruining the economy (what Black calls “Systemically Dangerous Institutions” or SDIs) a little smaller, and to help pay down our national debt a little bit in the process.
If you have any doubt that Bank of America is going down, this development should settle it …. Both [professor of economics and law, and former head S&L prosecutor] Bill Black (who I interviewed just now) and I see this as a desperate move by Bank of America’s management, a de facto admission that they know the bank is in serious trouble.
The short form via Bloomberg:
Bank of America Corp. (BAC), hit by a credit downgrade last month, hasmoved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation…
Bank of America’s holding company — the parent of both the retail bank and the Merrill Lynch securities unit — held almost $75 trillion of derivatives at the end of June, according to data compiled by the OCC. About $53 trillion, or 71 percent, were within Bank of America NA, according to the data, which represent the notional values of the trades.
That compares with JPMorgan’s deposit-taking entity, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, which contained 99 percent of the New York-based firm’s $79 trillion of notional derivatives, the OCC data show.
Now you would expect this move to be driven by adverse selection, that it, that BofA would move its WORST derivatives, that is, the ones that were riskiest or otherwise had high collateral posting requirements, to the sub. Bill Black confirmed that even though the details were sketchy, this is precisely what took place.
And remember, as we have indicated, there are some “derivatives” that should be eliminated, period. We’ve written repeatedly about credit default swaps, which have virtually no legitimate economic uses (no one was complaining about the illiquidity of corporate bonds prior to the introduction of CDS; this was not a perceived need among investors). They are an inherently defective product, since there is no way to margin adequately for “jump to default” risk and have the product be viable economically. CDS are systematically underpriced insurance, with insurers guaranteed to go bust periodically, as AIG and the monolines demonstrated. [Background.]
The reason that commentators like Chris Whalen were relatively sanguine about Bank of America likely becoming insolvent as a result of eventual mortgage and other litigation losses is that it would be a holding company bankruptcy. The operating units, most importantly, the banks, would not be affected and could be spun out to a new entity or sold. Shareholders would be wiped out and holding company creditors (most important, bondholders) would take a hit by having their debt haircut and partly converted to equity.
This changes the picture completely. This move reflects either criminal incompetence or abject corruption by the Fed. Even though I’ve expressed my doubts as to whether Dodd Frank resolutions will work, dumping derivatives into depositaries pretty much guarantees a Dodd Frank resolution will fail. Remember the effect of the 2005 bankruptcy law revisions: derivatives counterparties are first in line, they get to grab assets first and leave everyone else to scramble for crumbs. [Background.] So this move amounts to a direct transfer from derivatives counterparties of Merrill to the taxpayer, via the FDIC, which would have to make depositors whole after derivatives counterparties grabbed collateral. It’s well nigh impossible to have an orderly wind down in this scenario. You have a derivatives counterparty land grab and an abrupt insolvency. Lehman failed over a weekend after JP Morgan grabbed collateral.
But it’s even worse than that. During the savings & loan crisis, the FDIC did not have enough in deposit insurance receipts to pay for the Resolution Trust Corporation wind-down vehicle. It had to get more funding from Congress. This move paves the way for another TARP-style shakedown of taxpayers, this time to save depositors. No Congressman would dare vote against that. This move is Machiavellian, and just plain evil.
The FDIC is understandably ripshit. Again from Bloomberg:
The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. disagree over the transfers, which are being requested by counterparties, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting, said the people. The bank doesn’t believe regulatory approval is needed, said people with knowledge of its position.
Well OF COURSE BofA is gonna try to take the position this is kosher, but the FDIC can and must reject this brazen move. But this is a bit of a fait accompli,and I have NO doubt BofA and the craven, corrupt Fed will argue that moving the derivatives back will upset the markets. Well too bad, maybe it’s time banks learn they can no longer run roughshod over regulators. And if BofA is at that much risk that it can’t survive undoing this brazen move, that would seem to be prima facie evidence that a Dodd Frank resolution is in order.
Bill Black said that the Bloomberg editors toned down his remarks considerably. He said, “Any competent regulator would respond: “No, Hell NO!” It’s time that the public also say no, and loudly, to this new scheme to loot taxpayers and save a criminally destructive bank.
Professor Black provided a “bottom line” summary in a separate email:
1.The bank holding company (BAC) is moving troubled assets held by an entity not insured by the public (Merrill Lynch) to the Bank of America, which is insured by the public
2. The banking rules are designed to prevent that because they are designed to protect the FDIC insurance fund (which the Treasury guarantees)
3. Any marginally competent regulator would say “No, Hell NO!”
4. The Fed, reportedly, is saying “Sure, no worries” by allowing the sale of an affiliate’s troubled assets to B of A
5. This is a really good “natural experiment” that allows us to test whether the Fed is protects the public or the uninsured and systemically dangerous institutions (the bank holding companies (BHCs))
6. We are all shocked, shocked [sarcasm] that Bernanke responded to the experiment by choosing to protect the BHC at the expense of the public.
Why is Bank of America moving derivatives from Merrill Lynch to an insured subsidiary? Is it because the derivatives could blow up at any time leaving Merrill with gigantic, unsustainable losses? If that’s the case, then it would make perfect sense to shift them into a depository institution that’s covered by the FDIC. That way, the taxpayers would wind up paying for the damage and no one would be the wiser. It’s like a stealth bailout, right? The only problem is that Bloomberg let the cat out of the bag, so now everyone knows what’s going on. And that’s going to be a very big problem for B Of A. Here’s a clip from the Bloomberg article:
“Bank of America Corp. (BAC), hit by a credit downgrade last month, has moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.
“The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. disagree over the transfers, which are being requested by counterparties, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting, said the people. The bank doesn’t believe regulatory approval is needed, said people with knowledge of its position.
“Three years after taxpayers rescued some of the biggest U.S. lenders, regulators are grappling with how to protect FDIC-insured bank accounts from risks generated by investment-banking operations. Bank of America, which got a $45 billion bailout during the financial crisis, had $1.04 trillion in deposits as of midyear, ranking it second among U.S. firms.” (“BofA Said to Split Regulators Over Moving Merrill Derivatives to Bank Unit”, Bloomberg)
There are two things worth noting in this article. First, according to Bloomberg, “the transfers (of derivatives) are being requested by counterparties.” Well, how do you like that? In other words, the investors on the other side of these contracts want Merrill to put them under an insurance umbrella provided by the FDIC.
Now, why would that be? The only reason I can come up with, is that they know that a lot of these complex instruments are undercapitalized and ready to implode, so they want to make sure they get their money back any way possible. That means they need to latch on to Uncle Sam without anyone knowing about it. But, like we said, the cat is out of the bag.
The other thing worth noting is that the Fed and the FDIC are at loggerheads over the matter. (“The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting.”) Now, that’s not good at all, in fact, it’s a big red flag that suggests the Fed trying to pull a fast one on the American people. One does not have to look too far for other examples of Fed misbehavior; the endless bailouts (TARP, QE1 and 2, Operation Twist, ZIRP, etc) In fact, the Fed’s history is a tedious chronicle of one shifty deal after another. This is just more of the same; another gift to big finance at the public’s expense.
It’s ironic that the B Of A flap is taking place at the same time the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) just released its report on conflicts of interest in the Fed. It helps to put the Fed’s dubious behavior into context. This is a summary of the report from Washington’s Blog:
“The GAO detailed instance after instance of top executives of corporations and financial institutions using their influence as Federal Reserve directors to financially benefit their firms, and, in at least one instance, themselves….
“The corporate affiliations of Fed directors from such banking and industry giants as General Electric, JP Morgan Chase, and Lehman Brothers pose ‘reputational risks’ to the Federal Reserve System, the report said. Giving the banking industry the power to both elect and serve as Fed directors creates ‘an appearance of a conflict of interest,’ the report added….
Joseph Stiglitz – former head economist at the World Bank and a Nobel-prize winner – said yesterday that the very structure of the Federal Reserve system is so fraught with conflicts that it is ‘corrupt’ and undermines democracy.
Stiglitz said, ‘If we [i.e. the World Bank] had seen a governance structure that corresponds to our Federal Reserve system, we would have been yelling and screaming and saying that country does not deserve any assistance, this is a corrupt governing structure.’” (“Non-Partisan Government Report: Federal Reserve Is Riddled with Corruption and Conflicts of Interest,” Washington’s Blog)
So, no one should be surprised that the Fed is involved in another sketchy deal. Even so, this particular maneuver really seems to have hit a nerve with some prominent and usually even-tempered, financial bloggers, like Yves Smith over at Naked Capitalism. Here’s Smith’s take on the Fed’s subterfuge:
“This move reflects either criminal incompetence or abject corruption by the Fed. Even though I’ve expressed my doubts as to whether Dodd Frank resolutions will work, dumping derivatives into depositories pretty much guarantees a Dodd Frank resolution will fail. Remember the effect of the 2005 bankruptcy law revisions: derivatives counterparties are first in line, they get to grab assets first and leave everyone else to scramble for crumbs. So this move amounts to a direct transfer from derivatives counterparties of Merrill to the taxpayer, via the FDIC, which would have to make depositors whole after derivatives counterparties grabbed collateral. It’s well nigh impossible to have an orderly wind down in this scenario…..This move paves the way for another TARP-style shakedown of taxpayers, this time to save depositors. No Congressman would dare vote against that. This move is Machiavellian, and just plain evil.” (Naked Capitalism)
“Just plain evil.” Maybe that should be the Fed’s byline?
Anyway, Smith is not alone in her contempt for the Fed, but there are those who feel she may be off-base in her assessment of what is going on vis a vis the derivatives dump. Bank analyst Christopher Whalen at Reuters thinks that the transfer could be a sign that B of A is getting ready to throw in the towel. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“…. the move to put the derivatives exposures of Merrill Lynch under the lead bank could be preparatory to a Chapter 11 filing by the parent company. The move by Fannie Mae to take a large junk of loans out of BAC, the efforts to integrate parts of Merrill Lynch into the bank units earlier this year, and now the wholesale shift of derivatives exposure all suggest a larger agenda.
“I don’t have any access to inside skinny, but what I see suggests to this investment banker that a restructuring may impend at Bank of America.” (“Is Bank of America planning for a Chapter 11″, Reuters)
“Restructuring”? So is B of A headed for the glue factory?
No one knows for sure, but the banking behemoth has been laying off workers by the thousands, slashing expenses, and raising fees while its stock has dropped 49 per cent in a year. These are hardly signs of a thriving business.
So, consider this: If you were in Fed chairman Ben Bernanke’s shoes, what would you do?
Let’s say the second biggest bank in the country is starting to teeter because it’s loaded with all manner of dodgy (toxic?) derivatives that could blow up at any minute and take down the entire global financial system. Would you (a) Wait until the bombshell exploded knowing that the only choice you would then have would be to further expand the Fed’s balance sheet by another couple trillion dollars or (b) Try to sleaze the whole thing off on Uncle Sam and let the taxpayers pick up the tab?
I’m not sure, but I think Bernanke may have chosen (b).