Tag Archive: Derivatives

May 24 2013

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the five Too Big Too Fail banks are 30% larger. Dodd-Frank has yet to be implemented and already banking lobbyists are working with congress to derail it. In March, Attorney General Eric Holder testified that some banks are just too large which makes them too hard to prosecute. Part of Holder’s justification that bringing criminal charges against large financial institutions would harm the economy, doesn’t quire hold water:

The U.S. Department of Justice appears to have neither conducted nor received any analyses that would show whether criminal charges against large financial institutions would harm the economy, potentially undermining a key DOJ argument for why the world’s biggest banks have escaped indictment.

Testimony by a top Justice official and fresh documents made public on Wednesday during a House financial services committee hearing revealed that financial regulators and the Treasury Department did not provide warnings to prosecutors weighing the economic consequences or fallout in the financial system of criminal indictments against large financial groups. DOJ also could find no records that would substantiate its previous claims that it weighed potentially negative economic or financial impacts when considering criminal charges, said Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general for the criminal division.

Wednesday’s revelations are likely to increase criticism of the Obama administration, which has been accused of a lackluster enforcement record against big banks in the financial crisis and other matters.

This week Treasury Secretary Jack Lew appeared at a Senate banking committee hearing where Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) questioned him on whether it’s time to cap the size of the banks deemed “too big to fail”:

Can we have more Liz Warrens? Like 60 of her?

Oct 25 2012

The Election is Essentially Over and Spoiler Alert: Wall Street Won

I know it. You know it, so who are we kidding? I suppose anything can happen, but essentially the election is over and our President will very likely win the electoral college and the Democrats will keep the Senate and maybe pick up some new seats in the House. So I’m here to find meaning within it all, because I have not been able to grasp how shutting up during election season, but then speaking up after the election will make us “move froward.” Especially when the President and the filibuster-loving-set-to-do-nothing Congress do not have to care what we think at all afterwards.

They may get together for their grand bargain since many so called Democrats and Republicans are deficit terrorists and will work to tear down our social safety net in a bipartisan way for the mythical bond vigilantes and confidence fairies they believe in because Peter Peterson told them some scary bedtime stories in the chambers of Congress. This will all be hashed out in unrepresentative undemocratic gangs of 6 or 8 or 12 without our input. So what are we supposed to do when that happens and we are cut out? Make believe they still love us?

Or perhaps some think pointing this out is me being seduced by cynicism. Though I respect some who are arguing this now as opposed to the past, I have to vehemently disagree and I think I have a good case to make to counter that narrative.

Oct 21 2011

Playing for Profits

After Bank of America was downgraded by the ratings agencies and over the objections of the FDIC but with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s blessing, the Bank of America transferred millions of dollars of its worst derivatives to its Merill Lynch unit where they would be insured:

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.

“The concern is that there is always an enormous temptation to dump the losers on the insured institution,” said William Black, professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a former bank regulator. “We should have fairly tight restrictions on that.”

So why is the FDIC concerned and the Federal Reserve giving its blessing? masaccio at FDL explains:

Of course, the Fed loves it. Bank holding companies can do no wrong as far as the Fed is concerned. The risk to taxpayers, and the moral hazard issues are utterly irrelevant to Ben Bernanke and his buddies. Of course, given the vast conflicts of interest at the Fed, this isn’t a surprise.

There are reasons to be worried about this. First, BAC moved the derivatives at the request of counterparties. The counterparties have a right under their derivative contracts to demand collateral from BAC, as they did after the company’s rating was reduced earlier this year. BAC estimates that would require an additional $3.3 billion in collateral. The downgrade was due to judgment by the ratings agencies that the government was less likely to bail out BAC if it got into trouble. Thus, the effect of the downgrade was to increase the direct risk to the FDIC, by forcing it in effect to guarantee the derivatives of Merrill Lynch. Nice opinion, ratings agencies. I wonder who paid them for it?

Second, if the FDIC has to liquidate BAC, it will have to borrow from the Treasury to pay depositors, and it will have to bill the largest banks for additional fees to pay off the Treasury loans to the extent of actual losses. We have no idea of the interlocking relations of these giants, so we have no idea whether the collapse of one would wreck others. Media reports say there are concerns about the relationships between European banks and US banks, so there is reason for concern about the relations among US giants. If one collapse could lead to others, where is the money coming from to repay the Treasury? []

Third, 82% of derivatives in notional amount are interest rate swaps. Interest rates are at historic lows. What happens when they go back up to normal levels? []

Fourth, BAC has a huge position in credit default swaps, with a notional value of $4.1 trillion. . . . . as we saw with AIG, when CDSs go sour, the counterparty has the right to demand collateral right up to the moment the entity fails. In this case, that collateral would be cash, and it would directly reduce the amount of cash in the Bank. That would be a disaster for the FDIC, which would have to pay off the depositor losses up to the insured limit.

As Yves Smith explains this has an air of criminal incompetence with the tax payers having to foot the bill in the end:

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. 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.

It is well past time to do something about regulation and oversight of the Federal Reserve.

Apr 20 2011

No Reason to Believe

Why would anyone believe ratings or projections by the S&P or Moody’s after their part in crashing the economy?  

Rather than assess risk accurately, two major rating agencies sold their top seals of approval to their investment bank clients, blessing products that the agencies themselves knew to be undeserving, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded in a report released Wednesday. By repeatedly debasing their standards, these agencies helped banks sell shoddy securities to unsuspecting investors, inflating the value of assets that turned out to be worth far less, the report has found.

The senate panel, led by Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), levels a two-part charge against the rating agencies: Not only did these companies help inflate a dangerous bubble, the report says, but they also bear responsibility for popping it, as their abrupt downgrades of mortgage-linked securities in 2007 helped set off the panic that caused markets around the world to collapse.

Wall St. wants more austerity and and their puppets in Congress will help them every step of the way. So why should anyone take this seriously? Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars reminds that “the banks liked the recession”

You’d think, considering the part played by Standard and Poors, Moody’s and Fitch in covering up these stinking piles of crap inadvertently rating mortgage derivatives as sound and crashing our economy, they would have the good grace to shut up and sit down.

But since nothing happened to hold accountable any of these craven clowns, what possible incentive do they have to tell the truth? And what reason do we have to believe them? After all, they’ve already displayed their willingness to sell their ratings to the highest bidder.

Let me remind you that bankers actually like the recession. They like the falling wages and the weak job market. The only thing that really worries them is inflation, and only because it raises wages and depresses the value of their holdings. Don’t trust anything that comes out of their mouths, or the feckless minions who sell their souls to them.

No reason to believe them now.

Mar 23 2011

Wall St. Reform or Not: Dodd-Frank Bill

One of the regulation under the Dodd-Frank bill that was passed by Congress was regulating the derivatives by publicly trading them in exchanges. One of those derivatives, foreign exchange swaps is now on the verge of being exempted from regulation by none other than Wall St,’s best friend, Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner. It is a $4 trillion-a-day market that allows businesses to convert one currency to another currency. It also supports speculation, and facilitates the carry trade, in which investors borrow low-yielding currencies and lend high-yielding currencies, and which  may lead to loss of competitiveness in some countries. It is one of the markets that the Federal Reserves spent trillions of tax dollars propping up during the financial crisis in 2008 because of its speculative practices and lack of regulation.

Now, from Robert Kuttner at The American Prospect, Timmy wants to “blow a hole in Dodd-Frank”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is close to a decision to exempt the $4 trillion-a-day foreign-currency market from key provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act requiring greater transparency in the trading of derivatives. In the horse-trading over the final conference version of that legislation last year, both Geithner and financial-industry executives lobbied extensively to give the Treasury secretary the right to create this loophole. As the practical reach of Dodd-Frank is defined by the executive branch, this will be the first major decision to signal whether regulators will act to strengthen or weaken the reforms….

Geithner has already made his own views clear. In testimony before the Senate Agricultural Committee in December 2009, he declared that the foreign-exchange market needed no special regulation. “The FX [foreign exchange] markets are different,” he said. “They are not really derivative in a sense, and they don’t present the same sort of risk, and there is an elaborate framework in place already to limit settlement risk.”

snip

However, previously confidential information recently made public by the Federal Reserve Board reveals that in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, the Fed pumped in $5.4 trillion over a three-month period to keep the foreign-currency market from collapsing. The Fed’s peak injection of dollars on any one day occurred on Oct. 22, 2008, when it reached $823 billion, according to a Wall Street watchdog group’s, Better Markets, analysis of the Fed data release….

Sen. Maria Cantwell, one of the most effective advocates for strong derivatives regulation during the Dodd-Frank debates, says, “I can’t believe the first decision the administration would make to carry out Dodd-Frank would be an anti-transparency decision. The idea that the foreign-exchange markets are not at risk is preposterous — we now know that they required multitrillion-dollar bailouts. Anytime you have a lack of transparency, there is potential for abuse.”

snip

Abuse of derivatives was at the absolute center of the financial meltdown. The collateralized debt obligations that were built on pyramids of sketchy mortgages whose value collapsed were, of course, derivatives. The mortgages themselves had been converted into highly leveraged, artificial securities — the essence of a derivative. So were the credit-default swaps that took down American International Group. With a derivative, a tiny amount of capital can control a much larger financial bet, and until the Dodd-Frank reforms, the derivatives were constructed and traded privately, with no regulator scrutiny. If such bets go wrong, massive losses ensue. And in a generalized loss of confidence, even well-capitalized institutions fail to accept each other’s credits.

(all emphasis mine)

In other words, it is business as usual that got us into the financial mess were are now trying to dig out from under. Nice work, Barack