Busted: Bankers and The Global Economy

January 27, 2011

U.S. Mortgage Crisis Tensions Build

A commission was appointed to look into misconduct regarding the national mortgage and banking crisis, signed into being by President Obama on May 20, 2009. The 10-member panel is after any person that may have violated the laws of the United States in relation to the crisis. The scuttlebutt is that a number of financial industry figures and corporations have been found lacking and are being referred for prosecution. All of this portends to make quite a bit of news in the near future.

The media has been working hard at divining any sources of information. The New York Times claims to have obtained a copy of a 576-page report, concluding that the financial disaster was avoidable while laying blame on federal regulators for the failure to act on knowledge of shoddy mortgage lending and reckless risk taking. Keep in mind that at least some of these shoddy practices continue behind the scenes, building on a proliferating number of foreclosures in the United States.

The idea that politicians hope to project is that the financial crisis is being resolved. The truth is that the national financial crisis is just getting underway.

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July 31, 2010

SEC Lets Citi Execs Go Free After $40 Billion Subprime Lie

The following news analysis was written by AlterNet.org’s economics editor Zach Carter.

What is the penalty for bankers who tell $40 billion lies? Somewhere between nothing and a rounding-error on your bonus.

The SEC just hit two Citigroup executives with fines for concealing $40 billion in subprime mortgage debt from investors back in 2007. The biggest fine is going to Citi CFO Gary Crittenden, who will pay $100,000 to settle allegations that he screwed over his own investors. The year of the alleged wrongdoing, Crittenden took home $19.4 million. That’s right. Crittenden will lose one-half of one percent of his income from the year he hid a quagmire of bailout-inducing insanity from his own investors. That’s it. No indictment. No prison time. Crittenden doesn’t even have to formally acknowledge any wrongdoing.

In 2007, as financial markets were freaking out about the subprime situation, Citi repeatedly told its investors that it owned just $13 billion in subprime mortgage debt. It was true – if you didn’t count an additional $40 billion in subprime debt that the company was also holding onto.

Citi’s CEO at the time, Chuck Prince, has not been charged with anything. As Yves Smith emphasizes, all of the top financial officers of every major corporation are responsible for the accuracy of their quarterly financial statements. Lying on those statements is a federal crime. This is the sort of thing that securities fraud cases are built around.

The SEC’s own statements about what went on at Citi are damning. If the agency can make this kind of information public, they ought to be pursuing criminal prosecutions. The SEC says that senior Citi management had been collecting information about the company’s subprime situation as early as April 2007, but repeatedly cited the $13 billion figure to investors over the next six months, waiting to acknowledge the additional $40 billion in subprime debt until November 2007. The SEC also says that Crittenden knew the “full extent” of Citi’s subprime situation by September at the latest, but the company continued to cite $13 billion in earnings reports through October.

Citi’s subprime shenanigans had consequences for taxpayers, pushing the company to the brink of total collapse and prompting one of the biggest bailouts of 2008.

Phil Angelides and the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission deserve a lot of credit for highlighting the absurdity of Citi’s actions in a hearing on April 7 of this year (the key passage starts on page 368 of this pdf transcript). Angelides’ line of questioning revealed that even Citi’s board knew that the subprime exposure was much greater than what the company was claiming in public. Citi’s board at the time included Robert Rubin, former Treasury Secretary and architect of much of the deregulation that lead to the current crisis who took home $120 million for his work at Citi.

Either the SEC or the Justice Department could be pursuing criminal cases against Citi executives. What does it take to get the Justice Department’s attention on a financial fraud case? You have to launder $380 billion in drug money, and even then, DOJ lets you off with a slap on the wrist. The DOJ caught Wachovia doing just that, and the bank is getting off with a minor fine that won’t even make a dent in it’s second-quarter profits.

The Citi settlement is worse than a get-out-of-jail free card for Crittenden, Prince and their cohorts. The SEC actually fined Citi’s shareholders $75 million for the alleged wrongdoing of their executives. For some varieties of corporate misconduct, like Wachovia’s drug money laundering, hitting shareholders with the fine is appropriate. Wachovia’s money laundering operations directly enriched the company and its shareholders. This was not the case with Citi’s subprime scandal. Citi’s executives were hurting their own shareholders. Instead of meting out serious punishment to those executives, the SEC is fining Citi’s shareholders, the very people wronged in the incident.

This deference to the elites who wrecked the economy just keeps playing out. When Bank of America lied to its shareholders about billions of dollars in bonus payments it was about to make, the SEC decided to fine BofA shareholders and let the firm’s executives off the hook. The decision-makers at Wachovia, who allowed the firm to funnel drug money despite repeated warnings by whistleblowers, have not been indicted. Nobody at Washington Mutual has been indicted despite clear evidence of rampant mortgage fraud at the firm. Lehman Brothers’ repo 105 accounting scam is going unpunished, as are similar schemes at other banks including Bank of America. After much public relations flogging, the SEC let Goldman Sachs off easy.

More than 1,100 bankers went to jail in the aftermath of the savings and loan crisis. Massive financial crises simply do not occur without widespread fraud. The failure to prosecute that fraud poses systemic risks for the global economy. With too-big-to-fail behemoths dominating the financial landscape, the prospect of prison is the only serious check on executives interested in cannibalizing the economy for personal gain. If the SEC and the Department of Justice continue to let executives get away with outrageous acts without even taking the case to court, our financial system is doomed to repeat the same excesses and abuses we’ve seen over the past decade. If Crittenden did what the SEC claims he did, he screwed over his own investors and scored a huge bonus in the process. Everybody on Wall Street understands the implications: breaking the law is a great way to make a lot of money. When a class of elites can thumb its nose at the law with impunity, the result is not only a threat to the efficiency of our economy, but a threat to the basic functioning of our democracy.

You can read Mr. Carter’s news analysis in context here: blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/07/30/where-are-the-prosecutions-sec-lets-citi-execs-go-free-after-40-billion-subprime-lie/ Mr. Carter is a fellow at Campaign for America’s Future, and a frequent contributed to The Nation magazine.

July 11, 2010

Recession: The Ol’ Double Dip?

What is happening in the U.S. economy? The  newborn atmosphere of a slow recovery has plummeted since the start of the year when financial agencies were debating when to announce an interest rate increase. That is no longer the case.

The tax credit for first-time home buyers for up to $8,000 was over in April. Since then, housing transactions have nearly vanished. The mortgage loan interest rate has fallen to historic lows. The economic upturn that authorities claimed earlier this year simply the result of economic stimulus measures by the United States government.

Events are just as somber outside of the United States. From all appearances, a $1 trillion relief package ended the financial crisis that hit Europe. Still there is not a sign of recovery. Germany provided the needed stimulus funds, but is no longer providing capital to keep failed economies that have squandered credit with bankers solvent. Efforts to revive the economy have resulted only in more loss as bankers continue to plunder with their derivative cons. The U.S. has been fearful of making changes for the banking and finance community. Central bankers are still in charge, printing dollars as if there were no tomorrow.

Job are gone in the United States, likely forever. This is the admission of VP Joe Biden a little more than a week ago. States are looking at emergency measures to see what they can do to avoid the bleeding of jobs to other lands and to other peoples. Arizona is due to begin enforcement of a controversial immigration policy that is designed to return employment back to Arizona residents since measures by the federal government have been lackluster to non-existent in many places. The nation is full of illegals, the exact number unknown.

The price of a global economy is likely to be high. Every economy is subject to bring another one down. No one has discovered a way to move out of the doldrums. $787 billion in the U.S. was designed to boost domestic consumption, but the market is still cold. Congress has moved to bolster the economy through The Buy American Act, a ancient law passed in 1933 that requires the suppliers of the government to use American made products. Lawmakers are afraid to close tax loopholes that have remained open for corporations since 1991. As a result, nothing changes.

This has cooled temporary benefits of trade by corporations in the U.S.  known as the trade deficit. Corporations don’t care about this public denuding of wealth. They simply look to their own profits, not a sustainable relationship over time. Politicians outside of the U.S. want to promote free trade, as if the United States has more to offer in this regard. Even during the recession, the States were the primary agent of consumption for the world. Reckless spending, careless law and the rise of the corporate oligarchy has resulted in a new world, with a more level playing field. That is, after all, what globalists have wanted. This means that the big players that the globe depended on for economic sustenance are no longer the powerhouses they once were.

The nation is in an economic quagmire because it has ceded its wealth to corporations, a.k.a. multinationals and central bankers. The common opinion is that nations should not try to survive at the expense of other nations. Even so, the reality is that this has always been the case. The homogenized sameness of global balance supports only those that are in place to take advantage of it. The majority of the world will suffer at the hand those few that won’t. What’s new about that? It’s simply more political pandering that benefits a few.

January 15, 2009

Housing Correction Undermined by Foreclosures

Rapidly rising unemployment and a shortage of mortgage credit to new buyers is seen driving future declines in prices. Another factor that is being largely ignored should have government policy makers shaking in their economic boots.

housing-correctionUnemployment is going to soar in the course of this year and it’s going to increase into the first quarter or even into the second quarter of 2010. The housing market is going to see a tough year through 2010. A commonly overlooked factor is the continuation of rising foreclosures. Continued foreclosures and lack of government response will make economic matters worse by undermining the housing market and the pricing correction underway. The latest theory is that bailout of the foreclosure crisis is essential to avoid continued contraction and freefalling housing prices. They aren’t half wrong. ~ E. Manning

August 12, 2008

U.S. Mortgage Defaults Spike

For some the United States has been dealing with high default rates in subprime and alt-a loan configurations. Now the U.S. economy and banking community has something to really fear with the increase of defaults in “prime” mortgages. There is an interesting wrinkle here.

The problem with prime mortgages is showing out in style for loans made in 2007. The default rate on 2007 prime mortgages is three times higher than loans made in 2006. This potentially dashes any hope that bankers had for prime mortgages as a stabilizing force to pull the economy out of the doldrums.

What is the cause for increasing prime mortgage failures? Did bankers hastily rush loans through in an effort to promote and heighten their own mortgage incomes? Could it be that many more 2007 home buyers were first time buyers or not as financially well-heeled, facing economic fallout from a faltering U.S. economy. In the next few weeks, better determinations are certain to be discovered.

Right now, the appearance is that increased defaults are simply a symptom of a greater economic malaise that is making inroads into an increasing number of households across the board. Bankers are now increasingly fearful of a long dark period of declining housing numbers, further threatening the banking and mortgage recovery and the recovery of the nation as a whole.

We’ve known for some time that the housing market has been ripe for a major adjustment. The continuing increase in mortgage default rates coupled with the downward U.S. economic spiral could see a much greater decline in home prices than has generally been considered. The rosy real estate projections that “anytime is a great time to buy a home” has likely been proved wrong, since declining house prices are a bust to the mortgage credit market.

Initially, the greater problem for the market is the decline in housing prices until they are low enough for buyers to become interested in buying again. How long that will take is anyone’s guess. With a contracting market, getting an affordable loan to buy a new home is becoming more and more difficult, putting increasing downward pressure on the market as a whole in a kind of self-fulfilling vicious cycle. The cycle will ultimately end, but planning for the economic carnage ahead remains the largest issue in the United States economy.

Many Americans have sold themselves into slavery to get a home that they hoped that they could afford. Bankers have sold themselves into slavery to their own devices, always hoping for a quick way out to make another quick buck. Nobody loves economic pain, but pain is the only way to grow past our collective economic ignorance. In many ways, both bankers and home buyers have reaped what they have sown, sometimes in the Biblical sense. Learning the lesson that life teaches will enrich America if the nation takes the lesson to heart. The Federal Reserve has not been quick to chastise bankers for a lack of financial literacy as the pseudo-governmental body seeks a collective middle ground. That is about to change. ~ E. Manning

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