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.

September 24, 2009

Too Big To Fail Means Big Growth

Filed under: banking, corporatism, credit — Tags: , , , , , , , — digitaleconomy @ 8:27 am

big banks

See the article at the Washington Post.

October 7, 2008

U.S. Federal Reserve Extends Economic Lifeline

Now the Fed is loaning on “commercial paper” for the first time in history and extending credit to nearly one trillion dollars. What is next to expand the economic lifeline?

global bailout crisis

global bailout crisis

Countries scrambled to slow the growing global financial crisis today. The Federal Reserve was close behind the heels of a bad day at the stock market with a few arrows in its quiver early this morning to counter the mess that has evolved from frenzied mortgage lending and trading in unregulated financial derivatives. 

The Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act of 2006 originally authorized the Federal Reserve to begin paying interest on balances held by or on behalf of depository institutions beginning October 1, 2011. The recently enacted Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 accelerated the effective date to October 1, 2008.

The economic lifeline credit for banking has been extended by the Federal Reserve and will reach nearly $1 trillion dollars by the end of the year.

“The sizes of both 28-day and 84-day Term Auction Facility (TAF) auctions will be boosted to $150 billion each, effective with the 84-day auction to be conducted Monday. These increases will eventually bring the amounts outstanding under the regular TAF program to $600 billion. In addition, the sizes of the two forward TAF auctions to be conducted in November to extend credit over year end have been increased to $150 billion each, so that $900 billion of TAF credit will potentially be outstanding over year end.”

The Federal Reserve Board on Tuesday announced the creation of the Commercial Paper Funding Facility (CPFF), a facility that will complement the Federal Reserve’s existing credit facilities to help provide liquidity to term funding markets. The U.S. Federal Reserve has focused on calming chaotic markets by creating a new commercial paper facility that buys “short-term highly rated debt,” funding corporate borrowing for the first time in history.

 

crisis worsens

crisis worsens

Today Ben Bernanke admitted that institutions including Washington Mutual and Wachovia had experienced banking runs by depositors, creating a crunch on funding. Because of the size of Wachovia and to prevent destabilization, the Federal Reserve is working to have other institutions absorb the assets of that bank without closing it down.

 

Bernanke also admitted that inflation has been elevated, reflected by the steep increases in the price of oil this year as well as other commodities, imports and higher costs of production. Until now, the Fed has been reluctant to publicly admit such a fact. However, more recently, the prices of oil and other commodities, while remaining quite volatile, have fallen from their peaks, and prices of imports show signs of decelerating. The recently falling price is due to inflation in the rest of the world lining up with the United States, although Uncle Ben didn’t specify that reality.

Uncle Ben is ever the public optimist:

“The steps being taken now to restore confidence in our institutions and markets will go far to resolving the current dislocations in the markets. I believe that the bold actions taken by the Congress, the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and other agencies, together with the natural recuperative powers of the financial markets, will lay the groundwork for financial and economic recovery.”

Meanwhile, the pillars of high finance are giving way. The International Monetary Fund increased an estimate of global losses from the financial crisis, warning that the world’s economic downturn is quickly evolving into a global depression. Iceland, Russia and Australia are high on the list of countries working at a frantic pace to protect their banking and monetary systems.

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

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