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 30, 2009

Video: The World of Planet Finance

Filed under: banking, economy, inflation, money — Tags: , , , , , , , , — digitaleconomy @ 1:13 am

ascent of moneyEpisode Four of the Ascent of Money illustrates the spread of financial practices across the globe including the bad, the American real estate bubble and the consequences of the subprime mortgage fiasco. The series, hosted by Professor Niall Ferguson is not exactly perfect and leaves out some details along the way. However, the presentation is worth your while and contains some nuggets of understanding that you can take to heart. At the end, this episode clearly shows what happens during hyperinflation, using the plight of Argentina as an example. America faces a similar plight, but has been immune so far because the dollar is the prevalent world currency, bolstered by foreign investment. The dollar as the chief currency could change and when it does, so will the fortunes of the nation.  Right now we have a mighty wrestle going on between central bankers and many nations that could benefit mightily from a global currency change. A shift in that balance will mark the end to  the status that the nation enjoys.      video link

January 28, 2009

Congress: We are not the Experts (The Real Truth about the U.S. Economy)

kanjorski-banking-economyIn a CSPAN interview, Democrat Representative Paul Kanjorski, the Capitol Markets Subcommittee Chairman, made some revealing confessions about the expertise of the U.S. House and Senate, the facts behind the scenes during the EESA Stimulus plan last year and the real plight of the U.S. economy.

the actions of the Secretary of Treasury and EESA bailout

“Things were done that were misunderstood. We did not give the $700 million for the purpose of lending money. It was never in the program (TARP, EESA) It was misconstrued initially and put together with the suggestion by the Secretary of Treasury that we would be buying what we called dirty assets, defective mortgages and securities in these banks and that the government would find a way to create a market, buy them in, take them off the balance sheets so that the banks could continue to function normally…I supported that. But another part of the bill, we gave jurisdiction and authority to the Secretary of the Treasury to make investments in banks. He had very wide authority because, quite frankly, we (Congress) are not the experts on the Hill as how to solve this problem and the problem is multifaceted, so we gave great flexibility to Secretary of Treasury to act.”

The near collapse of the economy and U.S. government

“I was there when the Secretary and the Chairman of Federal Reserve came those days and talked with members of Congress about what was going on. It was about September 15th. Here’s the facts: we don’t even talk about these things. On Thursday, at about 11 o’clock in the morning, the Federal Reserve noticed a tremendous drawdown of Money Market Accounts in the United States to the tune of $550 billion. It was being drawn within the space of an hour or two. The Treasury opened up it’s window to help. They pumped $105 billion into the system and quickly realized that they could not stem the tide. We were having an electronic run on the banks. The decided to close down the operation, close down the money accounts and announce a guarantee of $250,000 per account so that there wouldn’t be further panic out there. That is what actually happened. What if they had not done that? Their estimation was that by 2 o’clock that afternoon $5.5 trillion would have been drawn out of the money market system of the United States, would have collapsed the entire economy of the United States and would have, in 24 hours, the world economy would have collapsed. We talked about, at that time, what would have happened, if that had happened. It would have been the end of our economic system and our political system as we know it.”

“That’s why, when they made the point, we’ve got to act and do things quickly, we did. Now, Secretary Paulson said, Let’s buy out these subprime mortgages. Give us latitude and large authority to do many things as we decide necessary and give us $700 billion to do that. Shortly after we enacted our bill with those very broad powers, the UK came out and said ‘No, we don’t have enough money to buy toxic assets. Instead, we are going to put our money into banks so that their equity grows and they’re not bankrupt. The UK started that process. That’s true, it was much cheaper to put more money in banks as equity investments than to start buying their bad assets. It was early determined that we would have to spend 3 to 4 billion dollars of taxpayer money to buy these bad assets. We didn’t have it. We only had $700 billion.”

“So Paulson made a complete switch, went in and started putting money in and buying securities and investing in banks in the United States. Why? Because if you don’t have a banking system, you don’t have an economy. Although we did that, we didn’t have enough money and as fast as we did that, the economy has been falling. We are really no better off than we were off today than we were three months ago because we have had an decrease in the equity positions of banks. Other assets are going sour by the moment.”

the real truth of the matter according to Paul Kanjorski

“Now, we’ve got to make some decisions. Do we pour more money in to the extent that the money goes in…I, myself, think that we ought to take the time, analyze where we are, have the people (American public) understand…We need to really inform (the public) as to the facts and get input (from them). Perhaps (the public) has better ideas. We aren’t any geniuses in economics or finance. We are representatives of the people. We ought to take our time, but let the people know that this is a very difficult struggle. Somebody threw us out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean without a life raft and we are trying to determine the closest shore and whether there is any chance in the world to swim that far. WE…DON’T…KNOW.”

Remember who actually threw the economy into “the middle of the Atlantic Ocean without a life raft.” We can offer that credit to greedy unscrupulous bankers, a corrupt banking community, unattentive government regulators and politicians that gloried in the temporary economic bubble that the moral bankruptcy created. Never forget that America! ~ E. Manning

U.S. stimulus trivia: the latest stimulus provision provides enough spending to give every man, woman, and child in America $2,700.
President Obama has said that his proposed “stimulus legislation” will create or save 3 million jobs. This means that this legislation will spend at least $275,000 per job. The average household income in the U.S. is $42,000 a year. The way that the stimulus is currently written will probably save mostly state and federal government jobs. The current stimulus is not designed principally for economic stimulus for Main Street.

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

July 21, 2008

FDIC: Let the Innocent Cast the First Stone

Back in 2001, FDIC employees supervising day-to-day operations of failed bank Superior FSB funded more more than $550 million in subprime loans. According to a recent lawsuit by Beal Bank, who eventually purchased Superior FSB, a significant portion of 5,315 subprime mortgages are non-performing. The FDIC has even bought back 247 of the original loans, priming the pump for their blame. The problem is that the FDIC made the decision to continue to operate the failed bank under the banking monikker, churning out an additional 6,700 subprime loans.

Based on the FDIC’s own report, at least 19% of the loans are fully fraudulent or “contained significant (more…)

June 25, 2008

Selling Short to Avoid Foreclosure

Filed under: banking, investment, money — Tags: , , , , , , , — digitaleconomy @ 12:02 pm

Increasingly, Americans are finding themselves in a no-win economic position while facing the possibility of foreclosure. The falling value of homes on the market is creating a substantial issue for lenders and borrowers alike. As record numbers of citizens lose their jobs and face other life situations, some are finding some solace in selling short.

Selling short requires the agreement of the banking institution that holds the mortgage and involves selling the house below the value of any held mortgage by the institution. Naturally, the banking institution would need to see a value to the bottom line over foreclosure in order to cooperate. In some cases, this action of selling short is exactly what is needed to get overstressed American pocketbooks out of a major cash crunch.

This action is not without effects to the borrower. Selling short is projected to show up on any credit report, thus impacting personal credit ratings. However, in an age “market housing walk-aways”, trying to do the “honorable thing” is exactly the choice of many homeowners for all kinds of variable reasons. Like banks, American citizens often have their own “bottom line.”

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