Busted: Bankers and The Global Economy

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.

May 28, 2009

Investors Afraid of Bailout Involvement

Filed under: banking, economy, government, money — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — digitaleconomy @ 10:41 am

toxic debtTo cleanse bank balance sheets of distressed loans, other unwanted assets and “reduce the associated market overhang”, the FDIC and Treasury launched the Legacy Loans Program. Now the plan has stalled and is likely to put be on hold, terminated or modified again as stifled feds puzzle over their dilemma.

The Legacy Loans Program as crafted by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp is part of a $1 trillion Public Private Investment Program announced back in March. This program was theoretically designed to encourage banks to sell securities and loans weighing down balance sheets to willing investors. Many banks, flush with bailout cash, have gained a feeling of stability with previous government bailout and have become less eager to be involved in the Legacy program.

Prospective buyers and sellers are reluctant to be involved in such an endeavor and have voiced their concerns to the FDIC about participating. The majority are fearful that the federal government will change program rules in the ‘middle of the game’. Investors are also fearful of financial backlash from an overall hostile attitude against Wall Street.

Bailout ideas simply don’t seem to be working in the realm of public opinion and scrutiny. Even investors don’t want to be attached to the crooked banking mess that the bankers have created. ~ E. Manning

legacy-loans

May 12, 2009

Wall Street Giddy with High Times to Come

economic crisisWe live in exciting times. The stock market is up 100 points… or who knows what goodness corporate investors are blessed with today. Wall Street mavens and financial wizards are feeling giddy with delight. They want good times so badly that they are already deluding themselves that the recession is over and that runaway prosperity is in the wings. It’s time to start making money all over again the way “we” used to. After all, nothing has changed beyond massive cast infusions to hold up the system. Multitudes of banks, corporate mongers, financial wizards and wishful investors are convinced that we are about to relive heady good times without an ounce of reform or correction in the system that jack built. They may be right.

bear stearns collapseThe longer reform takes, the less likely reform is to happen, at least if financial and corporate simple simons have their way. It’s time to stop pretending that the Wall Street economy is the same as the real economy that everyone lives in. Wall Street hasn’t met with total and final meltdown because the Wall Street economy has been rescued. They have lived to see another day because of government bailout, presumably at taxpayer expense. Yep, Wall Street seems to be showing signs of life along with the giddiness that goes along with having a future without any reform or consequences. A real party is set to ensue at the expense of all. The real economy that the rest of America lives is another matter altogether.

What is truly important where the economy is concerned is whether real Americans can find work. If Americans can’t find work or create work that they use to survive, the country is in trouble, pure and simple. 539,000 Americans lost their jobs last month after many months of ongoing successive unemployment disaster. Since the recession officially began in December 2007, 5.7 million jobs have been given the write off by government employment statistics. The reality is actually even worse.

Still, there has been plenty of impressive talk about the new world of reform that America will enjoy, but little has been done beyond the talk. Regulatory reform is dying on the government vine of important projects.

Geithner has quipped, “We are being dramatically more aggressive than I believe any serious government has ever been, certainly in generations, in responding to financial crises. So if you look at the scale of action, look at the quality of initiative we’ve taken, I think it dramatically exceeds even the best-managed crises we’ve seen before.” Ple-e-ze. The system continues just as before, but without any reform or any real ideas for reform that hold any substance. The Masters of the Economy can’t seem to wrap their minds around the banking deluge that has brought us to our knees, much less figure out a way to reform it. They just don’t want to rock the boat of monetary largess. Geithner told Congress that fixing the system would be accomplished not by “modest repairs”, but by “new rules of the game.” I agree that what is playing out between government, corporate bankers and central bankers is a game. That much is obvious.

People are watching. Are you? ~ E. Manning

March 4, 2009

U.S. Mortgage Panic Ensues

tsunami-financeA mortgage panic is setting in. More than 8.3 million U.S. residential mortgage holders owed more on their loans in the fourth quarter than their property was worth as the recession cut home values by $2.4 trillion last year. An additional 2.2 million borrowers will be underwater if home prices decline another 5 percent. Do you have one of these mortgages? Probably not if you have been in your home more than 5 years and made sensible choices with financing. 10 million homes is small potatoes compared to number of residential mortgages out there in the United States. However, the crooked system of weights and balances that bankers designed are now a house of cards ready to crash as more Americans appear to be losing their homes.

The banking and finance system has plowed virtually every mortgage into a profit making system of toxic securities. The system of high finance is beginning to panic as it realizes that it must comply with trimming and modifying home loans to keep their customers viable as they lose their bottom line. Why are the system of bankers and high finance trembling in their boots? Confidence continues to dwindle and stock prices fall. Trading value is the bread and butter of publicly-traded companies. Banking and high finance are trembling due to the toxic securities that they built to underscore and enhance their profits. With toxic mortgage-based securities failing, this puts banks, investors and insurers like AIG in the position of holding the bag of spoiled goods that were originally designed to spur runaway profits and build a system of financial prosperity.

mortgage-tsunamiWe are witness to what has happened. Bankers and high finance have designed their own self-destruction that has been left squarely in the hands of government and citizens to miraculously rectify. The fallout from all the speculation and rampant leveraging has been an enhanced recession which is likely to lead to a depression. No man lives on an island. The world of finance is no exception. Sooner or later, greed and fraud bite back. The only problem for the nation is that the taxpayer is covering the systemic failure with their own blood, sweat and tears. ~ E. Manning

November 9, 2008

American Job Crisis Solution

cash needed, not corporate bailoutsEver since job losses followed by consumer consumption hit the red zone 10 months ago, the American job crisis has worsened. What gets the most attention is still retail sales, the prospect of Big Business and consumer consumption. Every measure of economic growth is measured on that consumption. In that light, there is little hope for quick results beyond drawing unemployment unless you are willing to look for small business opportunities.

Big Business is awash in crisis amid sagging numbers. Instead of focusing on lazy investors with big pocketbooks looking for investments, consider the small businessman rising to the challenge to spark innovation and a stronger economy. Investors should look at investing in themselves for their growth.

Look to spend what hard-earned dollars you have with small business, even on the internet to support the small business that builds your economy and families like yours. Vote your confidence with your wallet. Big Business is or will be sucking down huge volumes dollars in the hopes of bailing out millions of jobs in the next few months, mostly in the auto industry for cars that nobody wants. What will done with all those cars? Hopefully, they will either sell them at fire sale prices for impoverished Americans that need them, but can’t afford them or they will resell them as next year’s model. American automakers can’t afford to be choosy with taxpayer dollars. Big business needs to be giving back in spades for taxpayer bailout money received. Forget the meager interest payments Americans will never see. The American citizens need a real boost, especially among the harder hit elderly and lower to middle income. Americans need solutions, not corporate bailouts for stupid decision-making. ~ E. Manning

October 6, 2008

Crisis Floods Global Markets

not all love bailouts

not all love bailouts

Governments and central banks around the world grasped at measures to contain the fast-spreading financial crisis today. Investor confidence reflected on global stocks. According to the media, investors have finally decided that a recession is inevitable.

The more powerful members of the EU have reacted in panic as market volatility continues. Similar events continue to unveil with bailouts in the works. Even Fortis has new ownership. In panic, central bankers are dumping billions of euros on the market, creating another global monetary inflation hazard. A few national banks throughout the EU have moved to guarantee depositor funds causing a rash of capital movement to guaranteed banks and undermining financial security for others. More European governments followed Germany’s lead offering guarantees to savers in a frantic effort to calm fears among investors over the worst financial crisis in 80 years. The big losers portend to be the shareholders of these institutions.

economic bondage

economic bondage

The British government has promised on Monday to protect citizens in the face of global financial turmoil. Investors are terrified that the government will require partial ownership in exchange for the bailout.

For more than a week, the U.S. Federal Reserve has been working to find new ownership and capital to cover to bankrupt Wachovia Bank, even issuing and quickly retracting their statements as deals have fallen through. Right now, the Fed is trying to coax Citigroup and Wells Fargo to break up the Wachovia’s assets. Even the Fed is learning to temper its enthusiasm as deals are worked out.

While none of this is especially good news on the surface, the really bad news remains the now unseen seeds planted by central bankers as they flood the market with euros or whatever monetary unit is seen as useful. This simply weakens an already weak economy and further dilutes the value of the currency, creating more inflationary pressure.

The really bad news behind all of this news is that the United States bailout success hinges so much on foreign investment from overseas. With a global crisis in the works, only the Muslim and Saudi countries are not yet reporting huge problems beyond apparent hyperinflation caused by the huge $700 billion yearly influx of greenbacks from America. They have so many devalued dollars that spending them is a challenge. Therein lies the crux of the problem. A vicious circle of events is creating a downward global spiral that cannot be readily or quickly overcome without a reinvention or substantial revision of a new monetary system, an idea that is reportedly in discussion by the International Society of Bankers (the global central banking franchises) as an easier way out of the looming crisis if events become unmanageable. ~ E. Manning

September 18, 2008

Inflation: Economic Global 911 in Process

In the last few months, Busted Bankers has discussed the distinct and strongly lingering likelihood of a larger global downturn or collapse in global financial markets. In the past, you didn’t hear any of that in the States except among a smallist number of bloggers and from a few Scot and British financial specialists. These bankers approximately timed and named the general events that would transpire. Those general events have come home.

bankers

busted: bankers

In the United States, we are chiefly concerned with covering up and dealing with public embarassment on virtually all levels. The inability to admit weakness is a larger flaw than the weakness itself. The confidence crisis here is based in that embarassment along with the truth that investors are spinning in circles looking for a “safe place” to shelter their money. Investors and consumers alike are discovering that there is little safety: that all the gains that have been made over the last decade or more could easily be swallowed whole.

Politician John McCain heralded the idea that “economic fundamentals” are strong. Unfortunately for politicians that long for a rosy picture, the global financial crisis was not created by healthy economic fundamentals, but through misappropriation, greed and fraud in the mortgage and finance industry as well as through creative banking instruments. That cold reality is beyond the realm of economic fundamentals, although even the Federal Reserve system in the U.S. wants to make these corrupted banking standards part of economic fundamentals. This global crisis may make that desire and tendency unpopular, if not impossible. (more…)

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