Volatility

November 18, 2009

Bank Roundup 11/18

1. So how have things been on the regulation front? Any signs of life?
 
Ed Yingling of the American Bankers Association says he hates it, so that’s one good thing we can say about Christopher Dodd’s bank reform proposal.
 
In most ways it looks in theory to be a moderate improvement over Barney Frank’s corrupt mess in the House. It would have a passable CFPA, derivatives clearinghouses, would try to drag some of the shadow banking into the regulatory light (like hedge funds with $100 million or more in assets).
 
Its most disruptive departure would be to strip the Fed and FDIC of resolution authority and repose all such authority in a new agency which would also subsume the OCC and OTS. This would have separate divisions for big and small banks.
 
But it still wouldn’t break up the Too Big To Fail entities. Since that’s an absolute necessity, and a baseline measure for whether we have real reform or not, the proposal fails right there. It would still leave us under the thumb of gangsters.
 
There’s no reason to believe any “resolution authority” would ever be responsibly exercised anyway. In the crisis, under political and disaster capitalist pressure, if it’s possible for resolvers to throw the plan out the window and just repeat the bailout, that’s what they’ll do.
 
The very fact that the systemic risk entities are being allowed to continue to exist at all proves that this government will always do everything it can for their benefit. It proves that all regulation proposals are lies.
 
The same goes for all the lesser measures Dodd proposes. Just as in the House, these will be chipped away in committee, and predatory amendments will be added. In the end an anti-reform pro-racketeer bill will be passed.
 
If you doubt that, then why do you think even as we speak they’re rolling back existing regulation? (See below for more on accounting standards.)
 
There is the Kanjorski proposal to reinstate a version of Glass-Steagall floating around. This at least purports to wind down TBTF.
 
But in itself it too misses the real problem of systemic protection rackets, which is not just size but the interconnections of their socially worthless but very destructive bets. (There’s lately been some controversy over the term Too Big to Fail. I always recognized that “Big” encompasses not just size but interconnection, and that interconnection can be a clear and present systemic danger even where the firms are not-so-big, like Bear. So that’s how I’ve always used the term and will continue to use it. As for any alleged political risk that somehow the people won’t “get it” in the case of an entity not quite as big as, say, BofA, I’m not worried about it. These are all pretty damned big by any common sense measure.)
 
As Yves Smith put it:
 

So that is why the Kanjorski approach, despite the tough talk and possible disruption, is actually a win for the industry, even if a somewhat extreme version (remarkably) were to pass. It means no one is on the trail of the draconian measures needed to contain the risks the industry poses to the public at large.

The only viable solution to the misbranded TBTF problem is to require systemically important firms (one in the OTC debt businesses, which thanks to the development of “market based credit” is now essential to modern capitalism) to exit all activities that are not socially essential and therefore deserving of government support (pure fee businesses that pose no risk to the taxpayer would be allowed). The permitted activities are regulated intrusively, with tough rules on capital requirements, and product scope (new products would be subject to approval to make sure they were socially productive, that the regulators understood them, and they did not result in increased risk to taxpayers). In other words, an effective solution requires more extensive dismemberment than anyone plans right now, and still requires heavy regulation of the crucial bits that will inevitably be taxpayer backstopped.

 
For a more typical example of how this “regulation” is supposed to work, let’s look at the proposed Perlmutter amendment to the House reform bill. “Strongly supported by banks”, this amendment would give the proposed systemic risk council the power to order the FASB and SEC to suspend or change accounting rules. You know it’s got to be bad when even the US Chamber of Commerce opposes it.
 
The FASB has already been a political whipping boy this year, as the same Kanjorski bullied it into dropping the imperfect but closer-to-reality-based mark-to-market accounting standard. But now even Paul Volcker, also an enemy of mark-to-market, but a proponent of international accounting standards, is an outspoken opponent of the Perlmutter amendment, which would bring chaos as it tosses standards formally and completely into the bloody arena.
 
A basic element of ugly harmony throughout the crisis, from both banks and politicians, has been hostility toward reality-based accounting. The reason for this is clear. The banks are all insolvent, and the only way they can pretend to be capitalistically viable rather than corporatist parasites is through massive accounting fraud. This massive fraud is now enshrined government policy, and on every front the corrupt political lackeys of Wall Street are seeking to extend it.
 
 
2. One place where the accounting wilderness has crept back is in the realm of commercial real estate.
 
The banks have perhaps around $1.8 trillion in CRE loans on their books, but since this hasn’t been marked to market no one has any idea what it could really be worth. The potemkin stress tests didn’t even pretend to deal with this.
 
Over the next several years $500 billion in loans per year are set to mature. These loans are likely to be under extreme pressure from debt deflation. Declining property cash flows, construction depressed on account of the credit crunch, depreciation in the value of the collateral underpinning these loans, all portend defaults, perhaps enough to trigger the next crash.
 
Through the TALF the Fed is backstopping many of these loans, and meanwhile the order of the day is extend and pretend: give extensions on loans you think or know will default. More phony accounting, hoping to play for time while praying for a miracle.
 
So what this means is the Fed is propping up the simulacrum of a continuing CRE loan market. But when the Fed withdraws this support, or when it’s just not enough, lending will stop, everyone will then value all this paper at zero, and again the banks will be forced into insolvency check.
 
We are in end game. The government will certainly keep trying to help its bank king escape check, but it can’t do it forever. One day, inevitably, it will be checkmate.
 
 
3. Meanwhile, there seems never to be any lack of just plain bad behavior. These people are not only evil, they are petty and mean.
 
*Obama’s “good people” have certainly shown their good will in rushing to jack up credit card rates before a new regulatory restriction prevails next year. (Dodd has also proposed legislation to move up this date.) The most notorious is Citi slamming some of its best customers with a 29.99% rate. But according to a Fed survey 50% of banks are raising rates and lowering credit lines for good customers. It’s a combination of squeezing the cash cow and punishment for the Congress daring to pass a mildly reformist bill.
 
(Citi issued a statement blaming the people and regulators.)
 
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts the twelve largest banks, who issue 80% of credit cards, are still using “unfair or deceptive”, and often illegal, lending tactics.
 
All of this is going on while their bank vaults are full of free Fed money.
 
[For anyone who still has questions about the health care rackets, how they’ll confront legislation, and therefore how legitimate the bill there is going to be, see the same behavior on the part of Big Drug.]
 
*The Jefferson County scam has given us some insight into the character of JPMorgan. JPM, with the connivance of the standard corrupt local yahoos, swindled the county into bonding a $3.2 billion sewer project with a package of interest rate swaps which are now worthless. (Sewage indeed.)
 
(This was such an all-day sucker that other sharks were circling, and JPM paid them off to go away: $3 million to Goldman, 1.4 to Rice Financial.)
 
The county is now suing JPM, which says the claims are “meritless”. But they already settled a federal suit for $700 million. Under that deal they paid the county $50 million and wrote off $650 million in “fees”. But the county still says it can’t service the debt JPM’s scam saddled them with, and they’re demanding more support.
 
*We may learn more this week about the BofA/Merrill deal as two board members and a former executive are scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee.
 
Former general counsel Timothy Mayopoulos claims he was summarily fired in 12/08 when he informed BofA brass that there existed no material adverse change which would legally justify BofA’s pulling out of the Merrill deal. Meanwhile, one of the board members, Charles Gifford, is caught trashing the deal in an email: “Unfortunately it’s screw the shareholders!!”
 
It’s not yet clear what all of this means, but the picture which has been emerging is of a rotten deal pushed by the Bush administration, agreed to by the incompetent BofA “leadership” (especially the moronic Ken Lewis), who then got cold feet, especially when they realized what a garbage barge Merrill really was (they couldn’t be bothered to do due diligence earlier; Paulson stampeded them, but they were stupid enough to be stampeded).
 
They were especially upset to see how Merrill went happily whistling along handing out billions in bonuses. They wanted out of the deal, and what happened…..? That’s what we’re eventually going to find out. Supposedly Paulson used a combination of threats and rewards to rope Lewis back in.
 
We are already 100% sure of one thing. Whatever went down, it was massive theft from the taxpayers.
 
*We can’t finish without some news from the incorrigible pricks at AIG. In his latest antic, placeholder dreg CEO Robert Benmosche (last seen beginning his tenure with a vacation), frustrated at how he doesn’t get to go parading around as king of the world like Lloyd Blankfein, and how everyone doesn’t just hate him and his company but considers him a contemptible little worm, and AIG a smelly little rathole, has been threatening to quit if the government doesn’t stop dissing him.
 
Apparently the last straw was Feinberg’s decree on executive pay for his special children who haven’t paid back the TARP, remedial dunces like AIG and its head dunce Benmosche. (What kind of loser is this guy that he can’t get a better job than that? Clearly he’s not very high on the “talent” list. He quits here and he might as well go hang out with Dick Fuld.)
 
Well, there’s no point in much analysis here. AIG is the dreg of dregs (maybe along with GMAC). I wouldn’t pay the whole lot of them a plug nickel, let alone the hundreds of billions which two administrations have looted from us on their behalf.
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2 Comments

  1. Why not tell us how you really feel about these guys?

    Comment by jake chase — November 18, 2009 @ 9:41 am

  2. Not enough detachment? Sometimes my anger and disgust does carry me away.

    Comment by Russ — November 18, 2009 @ 11:24 am


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