Tag Archive: Standard & Poors

Sep 30 2013

The Looting of American Workers’ Pensions

In his latest expose at Rolling Stone, contributing editor Matt Taibbi reports how Wall Street is making millions in profits looting the pension funds of American workers. He opens the piece with an outline of Rhode Island Treasure Gina Raimondo’s Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011 and how state workers ended up funding their own “disenfranchisement”

What few people knew at the time was that Raimondo’s “tool kit” wasn’t just meant for local consumption. The dynamic young Rhodes scholar was allowing her state to be used as a test case for the rest of the country, at the behest of powerful out-of-state financiers with dreams of pushing pension reform down the throats of taxpayers and public workers from coast to coast. One of her key supporters was billionaire former Enron executive John Arnold – a dickishly ubiquitous young right-wing kingmaker with clear designs on becoming the next generation’s Koch brothers, and who for years had been funding a nationwide campaign to slash benefits for public workers.

Nor did anyone know that part of Raimondo’s strategy for saving money involved handing more than $1 billion – 14 percent of the state fund – to hedge funds, including a trio of well-known New York-based funds: Dan Loeb’s Third Point Capital was given $66 million, Ken Garschina’s Mason Capital got $64 million and $70 million went to Paul Singer’s Elliott Management. The funds now stood collectively to be paid tens of millions in fees every single year by the already overburdened taxpayers of her ostensibly flat-broke state. Felicitously, Loeb, Garschina and Singer serve on the board of the Manhattan Institute, a prominent conservative think tank with a history of supporting benefit-slashing reforms. The institute named Raimondo its 2011 “Urban Innovator” of the year. [..]

Today, the same Wall Street crowd that caused the crash is not merely rolling in money again but aggressively counterattacking on the public-relations front. The battle increasingly centers around public funds like state and municipal pensions. This war isn’t just about money. Crucially, in ways invisible to most Americans, it’s also about blame. In state after state, politicians are following the Rhode Island playbook, using scare tactics and lavishly funded PR campaigns to cast teachers, firefighters and cops – not bankers – as the budget-devouring boogeymen responsible for the mounting fiscal problems of America’s states and cities.

Not only did these middle-class workers already lose huge chunks of retirement money to huckster financiers in the crash, and not only are they now being asked to take the long-term hit for those years of greed and speculative excess, but in many cases they’re also being forced to sit by and watch helplessly as Gordon Gekko wanna-be’s like Loeb or scorched-earth takeover artists like Bain Capital are put in charge of their retirement savings.

In a preview of the article, Matt outlines three reasons to follow this scandal:

1)     Many states and cities have been under-paying or non-paying their required contributions into public pension funds for years, causing massive shortfalls that are seldom reported upon by local outlets.

2)     As a solution to the fiscal crises, unions and voters are being told that a key solution is seeking higher yields or more diversity through “alternative investments,” whose high fees cost nearly as much as the cuts being demanded of workers, making this a pretty straightforward wealth transfer. A series of other middlemen are also in on this game, siphoning off millions in fees from states that are publicly claiming to be broke.

3)     Many of the “alternative investments” these funds end up putting their money in are hedge funds or PE funds run by men and women who have lobbied politically against traditional union pension plans in the past, meaning union members have been giving away millions of their own retirement money essentially to fund political movements against them.

(all emphasis is mine)

Last week, Matt joined Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! to discuss how hedge funds are looting the pension funds of American workers



Transcript can be read here

“Essentially it is a wealth transfer from teachers, cops and firemen to billionaire hedge funders,” Taibbi says. “Pension funds are one of the last great, unguarded piles of money in this country and there are going to be all sort of operators that are trying to get their hands on that money.”

Jun 21 2013

The Financial Crisis: The Ratings Agency Did It In The Back Room

Earlier this year, the Justice Department brought a $5 billion fraud law suit against the ratings agency Standard and Poors for knowingly giving triple “A” ratings to financial products the agency’s analysts understood to be unworthy. The financial crisis that began in 2007 was mostly caused by those fraudulent ratings. Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Roger Wicker (R-MI) worked together on an amendment that was included in  Dodd-Frank (pdf) to bring accountability and transparency to the ratings process. The amendment also required that the Securities and Exchange Commission conduct a study, that study has been completed (pdf). It found that there were “inherent” conflicts of interest in the system contributed to the 2008 crisis.

Contributing editor and investigative journalist for Rolling Stone Matt Taibbi published an in depth look at the ratings agencies and how ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s helped trigger the meltdown with new documents. The documents surfaced from two lawsuits that files against S&P by  a diverse group of institutional plaintiffs with King County, Washington, and the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. The plaintiffs claimed that S&P, along with Morgan Stanley, fraudulently induced them to heavily invest in a pair of doomed-to-implode subprime-laden deals. Matt calls these new revelations the “Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis:

What about the ratings agencies?

That’s what “they” always say about the financial crisis and the teeming rat’s nest of corruption it left behind. Everybody else got plenty of blame: the greed-fattened banks, the sleeping regulators, the unscrupulous mortgage hucksters like spray-tanned Countrywide ex-CEO Angelo Mozilo.

But what about the ratings agencies? Isn’t it true that almost none of the fraud that’s swallowed Wall Street in the past decade could have taken place without companies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s rubber-stamping it? Aren’t they guilty, too?

Man, are they ever. And a lot more than even the least generous of us suspected.

Thanks to a mountain of evidence gathered for a pair of major lawsuits, documents that for the most part have never been seen by the general public, we now know that the nation’s two top ratings companies, Moody’s and S&P, have for many years been shameless tools for the banks, willing to give just about anything a high rating in exchange for cash.

In incriminating e-mail after incriminating e-mail, executives and analysts from these companies are caught admitting their entire business model is crooked.

Matt joined MSNBC’s All In host Chris Hayes to discuss how these newly-revealed documents are “the smoking gun of the financial crisis” revealing the corruption and dishonesty at the core the industry.

Jan 15 2012

Austerity Insanity

Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. It then must follow that Germany’s Chancellor, Andrea Merkel has got to be insane.

Eurozone in new crisis as ratings agency downgrades nine countries

Standard & Poor’s strips France of its AAA credit rating, rekindling fears in the markets over future of single currency

S&P said austerity was driving Europe even deeper into financial crisis as it also cut Austria’s triple-A rating, and relegated Portugal and Cyprus to junk status.

The humiliating loss of France’s top-rated status leaves Germany as the only other major economy inside the eurozone with a AAA rating, and rekindled financial market anxiety about a possible break-up of the single currency.

S&P brought an abrupt end to the uneasy calm that has existed in the eurozone since the turn of the year by downgrading the ratings of Cyprus, Italy, Portugal and Spain by two notches. Austria, France, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia were all cut by one notch.

The agency said that its actions on eurozone ratings were “primarily driven by insufficient policy measures by EU leaders to fully address systemic stresses”. It added that fiscal austerity alone “risks becoming self-defeating“.

Germany,too may be facing a downgrade as it slips into recession as its economy is contracting in the face of the deflationary economic policy of the euro zone. So what does Frau Merkel do? You got it, more austerity.

Merkel: Europe Faces ‘Long Road’ to Win Back Trust

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Standard and Poor’s downgrades of nine countries underline the fact that the eurozone faces a “long road” to win back investors’ confidence, pushing Saturday for it to move quickly on a new budget discipline pact and a permanent rescue fund.

I agree with Chris in Paris at AMERICAblog that the ratings agencies should be rendered useless considering their part in the current economic crisis but they are right about austerity. The Europeans led by Merkel are ignoring reality.

Aug 18 2011

Ratings Agency Under Investigation By DOJ

This is a start. But will it even get off the ground considering that it might lead to the prosecution of the banksters that are the root cause of this recession.

U.S. Inquiry Is Said to Focus on S.&P. Ratings

By Louise Story

The Justice Department is investigating whether the nation’s largest credit ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, improperly rated dozens of mortgage securities in the years leading up to the financial crisis, according to two people interviewed by the government and another briefed on such interviews.

The investigation began before Standard & Poor’s cut the United States’ AAA credit rating this month, but it is likely to add fuel to the political firestorm that has surrounded that action. Lawmakers and some administration officials have since questioned the agency’s secretive process, its credibility and the competence of its analysts, claiming to have found an error in its debt calculations.

In the mortgage inquiry, the Justice Department has been asking about instances in which the company’s analysts wanted to award lower ratings on mortgage bonds but may have been overruled by other S.& P. business managers, according to the people with knowledge of the interviews. If the government finds enough evidence to support such a case, which is likely to be a civil case, it could undercut S.& P.’s longstanding claim that its analysts act independently from business concerns.

At Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi has a in depth article of how the SEC, itself, ending and covering up investigations into Wall St. and the banking industry, as well as, the destruction of the evidence, over the last to decades that contributed to the financial crisis:

For the past two decades, according to a whistle-blower at the SEC who recently came forward to Congress, the agency has been systematically destroying records of its preliminary investigations once they are closed. By whitewashing the files of some of the nation’s worst financial criminals, the SEC has kept an entire generation of federal investigators in the dark about past inquiries into insider trading, fraud and market manipulation against companies like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and AIG. With a few strokes of the keyboard, the evidence gathered during thousands of investigations – “18,000 … including Madoff,” as one high-ranking SEC official put it during a panicked meeting about the destruction – has apparently disappeared forever into the wormhole of history.

Under a deal the SEC worked out with the National Archives and Records Administration, all of the agency’s records – “including case files relating to preliminary investigations” – are supposed to be maintained for at least 25 years. But the SEC, using history-altering practices that for once actually deserve the overused and usually hysterical term “Orwellian,” devised an elaborate and possibly illegal system under which staffers were directed to dispose of the documents from any preliminary inquiry that did not receive approval from senior staff to become a full-blown, formal investigation. Amazingly, the wholesale destruction of the cases – known as MUIs, or “Matters Under Inquiry” – was not something done on the sly, in secret. The enforcement division of the SEC even spelled out the procedure in writing, on the commission’s internal website. “After you have closed a MUI that has not become an investigation,” the site advised staffers, “you should dispose of any documents obtained in connection with the MUI.”

Many of the destroyed files involved companies and individuals who would later play prominent roles in the economic meltdown of 2008. Two MUIs involving con artist Bernie Madoff vanished. So did a 2002 inquiry into financial fraud at Lehman Brothers, as well as a 2005 case of insider trading at the same soon-to-be-bankrupt bank. A 2009 preliminary investigation of insider trading by Goldman Sachs was deleted, along with records for at least three cases involving the infamous hedge fund SAC Capital.

The widespread destruction of records was brought to the attention of Congress in July, when an SEC attorney named Darcy Flynn decided to blow the whistle. According to Flynn, who was responsible for helping to manage the commission’s records, the SEC has been destroying records of preliminary investigations since at least 1993. After he alerted NARA to the problem, Flynn reports, senior staff at the SEC scrambled to hide the

The article is five fascinating pages that lays out the the revolving door of the SEC managers from the agency to the banks and Wall St. positions and back to the SEC as investigators. Another case of the felons in charge of the investigation of their own criminal activity.