Greece is a victim of money hungry Hedge Funds

by Les Leopold
Alternet
January 19, 2012

Who are the real villains on Wall Street? When it comes to institutionalized greed and corruption, nothing tops the too-big-to-fail banks like JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs. But these financial giants form only one part of the financial oligarchy. Lurking in the shadows are aggressive hedge funds that are just as lethal to our economic well being. If Goldman Sachs is a vampire squid, as Matt Taibbi so aptly named it, then hedge funds are like schools of piranhas or sharks, eager to strip the financial carcass to the bone.

The sharks at this very moment are circling Greece, waiting to devour that nation’s resources. To understand this attack we need to enter into the rotting innards of our financial system.

But aren’t the Greeks lazy?

Let’s starts with a closer look at why Greece has accumulated so much debt. The answer is not because they sit around sipping retsina rather than working. Instead it has everything to do with the attempt of Europe to improve the lot of the Greek people so they would embrace democracy. Let’s not forget that from 1967 to 1974 Greece was ruled by a military junta that inflicted enormous pain on its people. Helping the Greek people escape poverty was critically important. Greece’s entry into the European Union and the access to capital it provided, allowed the Greek people to rebuild the foundations of prosperity and democracy.

Of course, our vampire squid banks also played a critical role in exacerbating the debt problem. When Greece hit the debt limits set by the EU, large U.S. banks profited mightily by structuring loans to Greece to skirt those rules.

But the biggest blow came from the 2008 financial crash, which was wholly caused by Wall Street’s reckless gambling spree. When the world economy nearly collapsed into another Great Depression, the weaker economies in the EU took the biggest hit. Ireland, Portugal and Greece suffered enormous job loss and massive declines in tax revenues. These countries became the victims of the vast housing bubble that was pumped up by Wall Street’s fantasy financial schemes. Yes, they had accumulated too much debt, but the problem would have been manageable were it not for the Wall Street-created crash.

Enter the piranha hedge funds

Hedge funds are lightly regulated, privately managed investment funds created and designed for the super-rich, who expect to get much higher rates of return than the rest of us. While you and I are lucky to see a 2 percent increase in our 401ks, hedge funds hope to see gains far in excess of 10 percent. Pension funds and endowments have also followed the super-rich into these funds to gain access to these outsized returns. There are 8,000 or so hedge funds that now manage a total of nearly $2 trillion.

But making these super-profits doesn’t come easy. Hedge funds don’t just get lucky on a few stocks or bonds. They look for an edge, and more than a few go over the edge by engaging in criminal activity like insider trading. Others hope to get to the Promised Land by being tough SOBs who don’t think twice about impoverishing people. Those SOB hedge funds are circling Greece right now, doing all they can to get their hands on the money the European Union wants to lend Greece to reduce its long-term debt problems.

Here’s the play: Greece does not have enough money to pay off the loans that are coming due in the next year. So the EU and the International Monetary Fund have assembled a bailout package to help Greece make those payments. In exchange, the Greek people are being asked to suffer through enormous cuts in government spending – which means cuts in jobs, incomes, healthcare, pensions and public education. Everyday citizens are making enormous sacrifices.

‘Zombie bankers’ to drag Europe into ‘banker hell’

Russia Today
November 15, 2011

It seems bankers are taking over politics in Europe, financial analyst Max Keiser told RT, adding that this trend could lead to global banking domination.

Investigative reporter and news presenter, Max Keiser

­“We cannot get rid of these zombie bankers, we can’t kill them,” said Keiser, host of RT’s Keiser Report. “Iceland thought they had killed off their zombie terrorist bankers, but they have risen again and are now sticking Iceland. They are a plague around the world, and certainly in Europe. There are no elections, but they are putting bankers in charge to bring back total banking domination as the world goes down the slippery slope into banker hell.”

Keiser told RT these former bankers’ main agenda is to create more debt.

“In the eurozone they have an opportunity to bring all the balance sheets of all the countries together and create new lending facilities like EFSF which is a new 5 trillion euro lending facility, and they want to build on that to create 10-20 trillion euro lending facilities, because bankers get paid on how much debt they create. More austerity measures bring about more debt, and that brings more fees for bankers and more financial terrorism,” he explained.

According to Keiser a very small elite continues to benefit from the disastrous situation in the eurozone, which continues these same ploys that it has carried out over the last few years.

“There used to be a thing called moral hazard where if banks took risk, they would be at some point penalized by the system, but now the more risk they take the greater the rewards they get,” he pointed out. “JP Morgan is now going to step in front of the allocated accounts of customers and actually steal money from their accounts. We haven’t seen this level of larceny and theft since the Nazis stole assets from people in Germany in the 30s. This is outrageous, this has not been done in decades. There are no regulations in place at all! Interest rates are zero per cent, so I expect more of the same,” he added.

According to Keiser, this means the financial elite work together with the European Central Bank and keep interest rates near zero per cent, because this allows them to fund their speculative investments at zero cost.

“They don’t want to spend any money to borrow money and put outrageous bets on the table. Every time they lose a bet, then they impose more austerity measures. Every time they win a bet, they keep 100 per cent of the profit,” he claimed.

He also stressed that putting bankers in political positions resembles the behavior of someone who has been a victim of crime.

“People keep saying the bankers know best. But the bankers are the ones who have stolen all the money, so are we going to give them more ability to steal more money and impose more austerity measures? But that is insane,” Keiser concluded.

­Paolo Raffone, founder of a Brussels-based non-profit organization, the Chipi network, told RT the eurozone has been pushed too quickly as part of the European project.

“The original idea was to have a monetary union pushing a political union. But as we see the political union has never been built because it was not the will of the people to build it. And the monetary union is shaking,” he explained.

He also added the eurozone will have a new setup in future, even if all the current EU and eurozone members get together again.

“The way the union is functioning will be different, otherwise it may split up,” he added.

Understand History To Understand The Current Markets

Bob Chapman
International Forecaster
August 20, 2011

The Fed has been behind all the failings of the markets, Europe now a disaster waiting to happen, about leveraged speculation and counterparty risk, now we have an escalating debt crisis, the perpetual creation of money is the theft of the value of labor due to the inflation that is caused.

Every professional has their own method of analyzing markets, finance and economies, and some do well coming up with the direction of social and political issues as well. The other 97% miss one-half to two-thirds of the time. That is not very good and one asks why? The answer is simple they really haven’t studied history as well as they should have.

Some believe that the crisis in Europe is the heart of today’s problems. It certainly is a strong integral part, but not the primary causation. The 3-year old finance bubble was created by the Federal Reserve, which began the situation starting in 1993. We saw the dotcom boom, which they could have stopped in its tracks. All they had to do is raise margin requirements from 50% to 60% temporarily. After that collapse in mid-March 2000, they decided rather than purge the systems, as they as well should have done in 1990-92, they created another bubble in real estate. They have been trying to recover from that bubble and other layover problems since we’d say 2000.

Yes you can blame Europe for its part, but the blame lies with the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, and the banks and personages, who control those entities. Those in England, Europe and in the US, who control business, finance and economics from behind the scenes, have played the parts they have in order to bring about world government. If you can perceive and accept that from an historical perspective, they you can understand what is really going on.

European banks are struggling with their fundings and credit is drying up. This is what happened in 2008. As a result Europe is a disaster waiting to happen. Europe is finally realizing this is all about debt. The socialists want it go away, just disappear but it does not happen that way. Debt and credit default swaps will in the end rule the day.

Few reflect back to 12 years ago when the Maastricht Treaty was being approved. The cornerstone was public debt that was not supposed to be more than 3% of GP. That did not last long. Then Italy and Greece, with the help of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan helped these two basket cases qualify for the euro and euro zone by Mickey Mousing their balance sheets. We saw one interest rate fits all and we knew the euro was doomed before it got started. The condition of the euro zone and Europe is certainly terrible, but so are US debt problems. Policy decisions are bad, but not any worse than they are in the US.

We see pundits trying to separate sovereign debt from bank debt. They are one in the same, because the banks control the governments, and tell them what to do. Europe particularly France, was very upset last week when SoGen was rumored to be insolvent. The answer from those accused was rubbish. SoGen has a history of one of the most criminal banks in the world, so what is new. Just more criminality. SopGen and France are under pressure because they own loads of PIIG debt and are being asked to supply more funds to bail out their neighbors, a role they cannot fulfill without going under themselves. The situation France is in is three times worse what it was in 2008. Everyone expects France and Germany to bail out the bankrupts and that cannot happen. Neither the banks nor the governments can continue to do what they have been doing and at the same time control their financial systems and economies. Now you can understand why CDS credit default swaps trade above 180, when they traded at 80 in 2008. We feel that if the six countries in trouble are not allowed to default it will take the other nations under as well. There is much at stake here. Not only the insolvency but also the breakup of the euro zone and the euro and the dream of using them as a template for a new world order.

In addition it is very significant CDS for Brazil jumped from 35 to 152 as did Mexico, which is an indirect result of what is going on in Europe, UK and the mortgage bond market and by cutting back 30% on loans to small and medium sized businesses. Although they are very leveraged in their other operations, such trading and global leveraged speculation include great counterparty risk. This time exposure is somewhat different but the exposure in the theatre could be just as bad risk wise as it was in 2008. Generally speaking they are not long gold and silver bullion and shares, they are for the most part short. The venue that could be very dangerous is derivatives. The way these major banks and countries have become interconnected the danger always persists and once a fallout begins it could bring down all major banks and countries. Don’t let that fact escape you. They dodged the bullet in 2008, but they might not the next time. The carry trade is as large as it has ever been and the cost of borrowing is close to zero, again, encouraging taking on too much risk.

This past two weeks currency markets have seen large swings, especially in second and third tier countries. No one knows the size of carry trades affecting these countries. We have seen a number of countries quickly give up almost all of their dollar gains of the past several months and the Swiss and Japanese have spent billions of dollars trying to push down the value of their currencies, but to no avail. The euro and the dollar have stayed about the same, but we see the euro weaker due to ongoing financial problems, which contrary to conventional wisdom have not been solved. Throughout Europe not only has money been lent at very low rates, but also much of it is uncollectible. This broken European bubble will deflate for some time to some. It will affect all other sovereign debt negatively as well. These are the borrowers of part of that $16.1 trillion that was lent by the Fed over the last few years, which has never been paid back. European banks are buried in debt and the politicians, whom they own, will do their best to protect them. Unfortunately, there is no painless solution. The contagion is underway and the latest meeting to solve these problems was a failure. The latest European version of the issuance of quantitative easing to buy Italian and Spanish bonds will prove to be futile, just another attempt with taxpayer funds to bail out the banks. This possible “Black hole of Calcutta” at this point puts Europe in a worse position compared to the US, which is no piece of cake, and probably won’t far any better in the future. The working out of US problems will just take longer. As each day passes and in spite of the disinformation, confidence in Europe and the US falters and rightly so. The US has no periphery to support essentially Europe does and that is in favor of the US, but ultimately US problems are far more overwhelming.

The recent commitment of the Fed for zero interest rates for the next two years showed great weakness and will in time come back to haunt them. This was another reward for Wall Street speculators and another moldy bone thrown to the nations savers and elderly. There is no question Wall Street and banking, which own the Fed are desperate, to make such a commitment. The decision for QE 3 was made 15-months ago when we predicted it. We could see it coming and we know the decisions of the last 11 years and the pressure being exerted on the Fed will ultimately bring about its demise, and its days of looting the American public will be over. What the Fed and the ECB have done in greed and for their dream of world government is over. We are closing in on payback time, as desperate measures become more noticeable and a solution remains out of their reach. They will pay for what they have done to us.

Even though we expect at least a few more years of unrestrained leveraged speculation, it will then come to an end. It has become a crucial factor for monetary policy championed by both Sir Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke. Wall Street and baking love it, because their positions allow them to create inside information, which allows them to make money consistently with little or no risk. We also have the SEC and the CFTC perpetually looking the other way aiding and abetting their criminal behavior. If you add in that there are no limits to what they can do you essentially have an ongoing free for all. This is unrestrained finance via a policy of zero interest rates. This gives Wall Street and banking a license to steal.

All this has caused a bubble and that bubble is in the process of bursting, a product of fiscal and monetary stimulus. That is not only in the US, UK and Europe, but worldwide As a result confidence in the global system is being lost. De-leveraging of bullish bets in markets of bonds and stocks is underway. Ironically these speculators are short gold and silver and the shares. Short covering is in process with some even switching to the long side in the gold and silver bullion and share markets. How any economist could believe that leveraged speculation reduces risk is beyond us. Fortunately the other shoe has dropped and such theory has been disproved.

The result of all this is that we have an escalating debt crisis worldwide and now the experts in and out of government do not have any solutions as to how to rectify the situation. The sovereign debt crisis has been underway since the early 1970s. This experience shows you how long bad things can last. Before this is over trillions of dollars will be defaulted upon. The days of overwhelming stimulus to gain traction in the economy or economies is in the process of being ineffective. We like to call it the law of diminishing returns. The $2.3 to $2.5 trillion we project that the Fed will have to create in the coming fiscal year will at best produce GDP growth of zero. The minute the Fed and Congress stop feeding the system we will be looking at negative growth of 5%. We are headed toward crunch time and there is no avoiding it. Uncertainty and instability are America’s and the world’s next challenge. Currencies are going to react widely. Gold and silver will fly along with the gold and silver shares as a result of debt and falling economies accompanied by inflation. The big problem will not only be de-leveraging, but also the opaque derivative markets and the Exchange Traded Funds, many of which are leveraged. Yes, it will be a very rough ride, so you had best get ready for it. We never had a recovery and the trappings of growth are quickly falling away. Extending the time line for all these problems is coming to an end, but it probably will not be abrupt. There will be all kinds of terrible events, but it looks like the elitists are going to play this out over an extended time frame before they attempt to pull the plug. That means these problems could be extended out five or even ten more years on a degenerating basis. That also means we will continue to have limited wars for financial gain and distraction. The strategy has been and will continue to be to keep creating money and credit and allow inflow to reduce the size of the debt. These comments regarding debt quoting Bernanke and throwing money from helicopters and Greenspan’s admission that the US cannot be downgraded, because it can always print money are flippant and very unprofessional. What they have both done rather than allow the US government to default is to perpetually create money and credit to paper over the economy’s failure. This process increases inflation that quietly steals the value of purchasing power like a thief in the night. Both men can be classified as thieves for having done to the American people and others by stealing the fruits of their labor. This trick used by money masters and politicians for centuries is little understood by the public and most cannot understand how it works and the ultimate ramifications. These characters and others create additional debt, which is followed by other nation’s central banks, which has created a race to the bottom and eventually all nations cannot pay their debts and default. Eventually in order to prevent a collapse in the financial system a meeting is held such as was held at the Smithsonian talks in the early 1970s, or the Plaza Accord in 1985 and the Louvre Accord in 1987. All currencies are revalued and devalued and there is multilateral debt settlement. We believe that is how all this will come about.

Evidentially a deal has been made from behind the scenes to relieve the Fed of having to produce $850 billion in stimulus and that task has been delegated to Mr. Obama. The President, while calling for budget cuts, is calling for $850 billion for stimulus 3. Observing recent actions by Congress some idiotic excuse will be made up and like magic stimulus 3 will appear. We also suggest that the President will use the London rioting as a cause for such stimulus. Remember never let a crisis go to waste. It is sure to be sold in the behalf of preservation of order. We do not believe the powers behind government will get the desired results.

Admittedly, Ben Bernanke inherited a can of worms from Sir Alan Greenspan. Ben has been able to accumulate $3 trillion worth of an assortment of Treasuries, Agencies and CDS, and MBS’s, also known as toxic waste, over the past few years. Those moves decidedly have been negative for the rating of US government debt. The rating really should have been lowered five years ago during the Greenspan years and perhaps even sooner than that. Due to massive increases since 2006 by the Fed we now already are in a bubble.

The 12 person congressional debt commission, we like to refer to as the Obama Enabling Act, patterned after Adolph Hitler’s legislation of 1933, which allowed him to become dictator of Germany, supposedly will produce moderate spending cuts. Knowing that Standard and Poor’s has warned this “Star Chamber” proceeding, which bypasses Congress, that there are not substantial cuts in Social Security and Medicare, that S&P will again lower the US debt rating. Everyone seems to overlook that fact. That means that if there is not large Social Security and Medicare cuts and an increase in taxes, S&P will strike again, and the bond market will burst, and Mr. Bernanke’s house of cards will collapse. As we explained previously the debt extension could have been passed in 15 minutes, but it wasn’t because the powers behind government the Council on Foreign Relations, wanted to chop up SS and Medicare, and to put this panel in place. All is never what it seems to be.

Wall Street Aristocracy Got $1.2 Trillion in Loans from Fed

Bloomberg
August 22, 2011

Citigroup Inc. (C) and Bank of America Corp. (BAC) were the reigning champions of finance in 2006 as home prices peaked, leading the 10 biggest U.S. banks and brokerage firms to their best year ever with $104 billion of profits.

By 2008, the housing market’s collapse forced those companies to take more than six times as much, $669 billion, in emergency loans from the U.S. Federal Reserve. The loans dwarfed the $160 billion in public bailouts the top 10 got from the U.S. Treasury, yet until now the full amounts have remained secret.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s unprecedented effort to keep the economy from plunging into depression included lending banks and other companies as much as $1.2 trillion of public money, about the same amount U.S. homeowners currently owe on 6.5 million delinquent and foreclosed mortgages. The largest borrower, Morgan Stanley (MS), got as much as $107.3 billion, while Citigroup took $99.5 billion and Bank of America $91.4 billion, according to a Bloomberg News compilation of data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, months of litigation and an act of Congress.

“These are all whopping numbers,” said Robert Litan, a former Justice Department official who in the 1990s served on a commission probing the causes of the savings and loan crisis. “You’re talking about the aristocracy of American finance going down the tubes without the federal money.”

(View the Bloomberg interactive graphic to chart the Fed’s financial bailout.)

Foreign Borrowers

It wasn’t just American finance. Almost half of the Fed’s top 30 borrowers, measured by peak balances, were European firms. They included Edinburgh-based Royal Bank of Scotland Plc, which took $84.5 billion, the most of any non-U.S. lender, and Zurich-based UBS AG (UBSN), which got $77.2 billion. Germany’s Hypo Real Estate Holding AG borrowed $28.7 billion, an average of $21 million for each of its 1,366 employees.

The largest borrowers also included Dexia SA (DEXB), Belgium’s biggest bank by assets, and Societe Generale SA, based in Paris, whose bond-insurance prices have surged in the past month as investors speculated that the spreading sovereign debt crisis in Europe might increase their chances of default.

The $1.2 trillion peak on Dec. 5, 2008 — the combined outstanding balance under the seven programs tallied by Bloomberg — was almost three times the size of the U.S. federal budget deficit that year and more than the total earnings of all federally insured banks in the U.S. for the decade through 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Peak Balance

The balance was more than 25 times the Fed’s pre-crisis lending peak of $46 billion on Sept. 12, 2001, the day after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon. Denominated in $1 bills, the $1.2 trillion would fill 539 Olympic-size swimming pools.

The Fed has said it had “no credit losses” on any of the emergency programs, and a report by Federal Reserve Bank of New York staffers in February said the central bank netted $13 billion in interest and fee income from the programs from August 2007 through December 2009.

“We designed our broad-based emergency programs to both effectively stem the crisis and minimize the financial risks to the U.S. taxpayer,” said James Clouse, deputy director of the Fed’s division of monetary affairs in Washington. “Nearly all of our emergency-lending programs have been closed. We have incurred no losses and expect no losses.”

While the 18-month U.S. recession that ended in June 2009 after a 5.1 percent contraction in gross domestic product was nowhere near the four-year, 27 percent decline between August 1929 and March 1933, banks and the economy remain stressed.

Odds of Recession

The odds of another recession have climbed during the past six months, according to five of nine economists on the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research, an academic panel that dates recessions.

Bank of America’s bond-insurance prices last week surged to a rate of $342,040 a year for coverage on $10 million of debt, above where Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEHMQ)’s bond insurance was priced at the start of the week before the firm collapsed. Citigroup’s shares are trading below the split-adjusted price of $28 that they hit on the day the bank’s Fed loans peaked in January 2009. The U.S. unemployment rate was at 9.1 percent in July, compared with 4.7 percent in November 2007, before the recession began.

Homeowners are more than 30 days past due on their mortgage payments on 4.38 million properties in the U.S., and 2.16 million more properties are in foreclosure, representing a combined $1.27 trillion of unpaid principal, estimates Jacksonville, Florida-based Lender Processing Services Inc.

Liquidity Requirements

“Why in hell does the Federal Reserve seem to be able to find the way to help these entities that are gigantic?” U.S. Representative Walter B. Jones, a Republican from North Carolina, said at a June 1 congressional hearing in Washington on Fed lending disclosure. “They get help when the average businessperson down in eastern North Carolina, and probably across America, they can’t even go to a bank they’ve been banking with for 15 or 20 years and get a loan.”

The sheer size of the Fed loans bolsters the case for minimum liquidity requirements that global regulators last year agreed to impose on banks for the first time, said Litan, now a vice president at the Kansas City, Missouri-based Kauffman Foundation, which supports entrepreneurship research. Liquidity refers to the daily funds a bank needs to operate, including cash to cover depositor withdrawals.

The rules, which mandate that banks keep enough cash and easily liquidated assets on hand to survive a 30-day crisis, don’t take effect until 2015. Another proposed requirement for lenders to keep “stable funding” for a one-year horizon was postponed until at least 2018 after banks showed they’d have to raise as much as $6 trillion in new long-term debt to comply.

‘Stark Illustration’

Regulators are “not going to go far enough to prevent this from happening again,” said Kenneth Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and now an economics professor at Harvard University.

Reforms undertaken since the crisis might not insulate U.S. markets and financial institutions from the sovereign budget and debt crises facing Greece, Ireland and Portugal, according to the U.S. Financial Stability Oversight Council, a 10-member body created by the Dodd-Frank Act and led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

“The recent financial crisis provides a stark illustration of how quickly confidence can erode and financial contagion can spread,” the council said in its July 26 report.

21,000 Transactions

Any new rescues by the U.S. central bank would be governed by transparency laws adopted in 2010 that require the Fed to disclose borrowers after two years.

Fed officials argued for more than two years that releasing the identities of borrowers and the terms of their loans would stigmatize banks, damaging stock prices or leading to depositor runs. A group of the biggest commercial banks last year asked the U.S. Supreme Court to keep at least some Fed borrowings secret. In March, the high court declined to hear that appeal, and the central bank made an unprecedented release of records.

Data gleaned from 29,346 pages of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and from other Fed databases of more than 21,000 transactions make clear for the first time how deeply the world’s largest banks depended on the U.S. central bank to stave off cash shortfalls. Even as the firms asserted in news releases or earnings calls that they had ample cash, they drew Fed funding in secret, avoiding the stigma of weakness.

Morgan Stanley Borrowing

Two weeks after Lehman’s bankruptcy in September 2008, Morgan Stanley countered concerns that it might be next to go by announcing it had “strong capital and liquidity positions.” The statement, in a Sept. 29, 2008, press release about a $9 billion investment from Tokyo-based Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., said nothing about Morgan Stanley’s Fed loans.

That was the same day as the firm’s $107.3 billion peak in borrowing from the central bank, which was the source of almost all of Morgan Stanley’s available cash, according to the lending data and documents released more than two years later by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. The amount was almost three times the company’s total profits over the past decade, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Mark Lake, a spokesman for New York-based Morgan Stanley, said the crisis caused the industry to “fundamentally re- evaluate” the way it manages its cash.

“We have taken the lessons we learned from that period and applied them to our liquidity-management program to protect both our franchise and our clients going forward,” Lake said. He declined to say what changes the bank had made.

Acceptable Collateral

In most cases, the Fed demanded collateral for its loans — Treasuries or corporate bonds and mortgage bonds that could be seized and sold if the money wasn’t repaid. That meant the central bank’s main risk was that collateral pledged by banks that collapsed would be worth less than the amount borrowed.

As the crisis deepened, the Fed relaxed its standards for acceptable collateral. Typically, the central bank accepts only bonds with the highest credit grades, such as U.S. Treasuries. By late 2008, it was accepting “junk” bonds, those rated below investment grade. It even took stocks, which are first to get wiped out in a liquidation.

Morgan Stanley borrowed $61.3 billion from one Fed program in September 2008, pledging a total of $66.5 billion of collateral, according to Fed documents. Securities pledged included $21.5 billion of stocks, $6.68 billion of bonds with a junk credit rating and $19.5 billion of assets with an “unknown rating,” according to the documents. About 25 percent of the collateral was foreign-denominated.

‘Willingness to Lend’

“What you’re looking at is a willingness to lend against just about anything,” said Robert Eisenbeis, a former research director at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and now chief monetary economist in Atlanta for Sarasota, Florida-based Cumberland Advisors Inc.

The lack of private-market alternatives for lending shows how skeptical trading partners and depositors were about the value of the banks’ capital and collateral, Eisenbeis said.

“The markets were just plain shut,” said Tanya Azarchs, former head of bank research at Standard & Poor’s and now an independent consultant in Briarcliff Manor, New York. “If you needed liquidity, there was only one place to go.”

Even banks that survived the crisis without government capital injections tapped the Fed through programs that promised confidentiality. London-based Barclays Plc (BARC) borrowed $64.9 billion and Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) got $66 billion. Sarah MacDonald, a spokeswoman for Barclays, and John Gallagher, a spokesman for Deutsche Bank, declined to comment.

Below-Market Rates

While the Fed’s last-resort lending programs generally charge above-market interest rates to deter routine borrowing, that practice sometimes flipped during the crisis. On Oct. 20, 2008, for example, the central bank agreed to make $113.3 billion of 28-day loans through its Term Auction Facility at a rate of 1.1 percent, according to a press release at the time.

The rate was less than a third of the 3.8 percent that banks were charging each other to make one-month loans on that day. Bank of America and Wachovia Corp. each got $15 billion of the 1.1 percent TAF loans, followed by Royal Bank of Scotland’s RBS Citizens NA unit with $10 billion, Fed data show.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), the New York-based lender that touted its “fortress balance sheet” at least 16 times in press releases and conference calls from October 2007 through February 2010, took as much as $48 billion in February 2009 from TAF. The facility, set up in December 2007, was a temporary alternative to the discount window, the central bank’s 97-year-old primary lending program to help banks in a cash squeeze.

‘Larger Than TARP’

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), which in 2007 was the most profitable securities firm in Wall Street history, borrowed $69 billion from the Fed on Dec. 31, 2008. Among the programs New York-based Goldman Sachs tapped after the Lehman bankruptcy was the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, or PDCF, designed to lend money to brokerage firms ineligible for the Fed’s bank-lending programs.

Michael Duvally, a spokesman for Goldman Sachs, declined to comment.

The Fed’s liquidity lifelines may increase the chances that banks engage in excessive risk-taking with borrowed money, Rogoff said. Such a phenomenon, known as moral hazard, occurs if banks assume the Fed will be there when they need it, he said. The size of bank borrowings “certainly shows the Fed bailout was in many ways much larger than TARP,” Rogoff said.

TARP is the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, a $700 billion bank-bailout fund that provided capital injections of $45 billion each to Citigroup and Bank of America, and $10 billion to Morgan Stanley. Because most of the Treasury’s investments were made in the form of preferred stock, they were considered riskier than the Fed’s loans, a type of senior debt.

Dodd-Frank Requirement

In December, in response to the Dodd-Frank Act, the Fed released 18 databases detailing its temporary emergency-lending programs.

Congress required the disclosure after the Fed rejected requests in 2008 from the late Bloomberg News reporter Mark Pittman and other media companies that sought details of its loans under the Freedom of Information Act. After fighting to keep the data secret, the central bank released unprecedented information about its discount window and other programs under court order in March 2011.

Bloomberg News combined Fed databases made available in December and July with the discount-window records released in March to produce daily totals for banks across all the programs, including the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, Commercial Paper Funding Facility, discount window, PDCF, TAF, Term Securities Lending Facility and single-tranche open market operations. The programs supplied loans from August 2007 through April 2010.

Rolling Crisis

The result is a timeline illustrating how the credit crisis rolled from one bank to another as financial contagion spread.

Fed borrowings by Societe Generale (GLE), France’s second-biggest bank, peaked at $17.4 billion in May 2008, four months after the Paris-based lender announced a record 4.9 billion-euro ($7.2 billion) loss on unauthorized stock-index futures bets by former trader Jerome Kerviel.

Morgan Stanley’s top borrowing came four months later, after Lehman’s bankruptcy. Citigroup crested in January 2009, as did 43 other banks, the largest number of peak borrowings for any month during the crisis. Bank of America’s heaviest borrowings came two months after that.

Sixteen banks, including Plano, Texas-based Beal Financial Corp. and Jacksonville, Florida-based EverBank Financial Corp., didn’t hit their peaks until February or March 2010.

Using Subsidiaries

“At no point was there a material risk to the Fed or the taxpayer, as the loan required collateralization,” said Reshma Fernandes, a spokeswoman for EverBank, which borrowed as much as $250 million.

Banks maximized their borrowings by using subsidiaries to tap Fed programs at the same time. In March 2009, Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America drew $78 billion from one facility through two banking units and $11.8 billion more from two other programs through its broker-dealer, Bank of America Securities LLC.

Banks also shifted balances among Fed programs. Many preferred the TAF because it carried less of the stigma associated with the discount window, often seen as the last resort for lenders in distress, according to a January 2011 paper by researchers at the New York Fed.

After the Lehman bankruptcy, hedge funds began pulling their cash out of Morgan Stanley, fearing it might be the next to collapse, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission said in a January report, citing interviews with former Chief Executive Officer John Mack and then-Treasurer David Wong.

Borrowings Surge

Morgan Stanley’s borrowings from the PDCF surged to $61.3 billion on Sept. 29 from zero on Sept. 14. At the same time, its loans from the Term Securities Lending Facility, or TSLF, rose to $36 billion from $3.5 billion. Morgan Stanley treasury reports released by the FCIC show the firm had $99.8 billion of liquidity on Sept. 29, a figure that included Fed borrowings.

“The cash flow was all drying up,” said Roger Lister, a former Fed economist who’s now head of financial-institutions coverage at credit-rating firm DBRS Inc. in New York. “Did they have enough resources to cope with it? The answer would be yes, but they needed the Fed.”

While Morgan Stanley’s Fed demands were the most acute, Citigroup was the most chronic borrower among the largest U.S. banks. The New York-based company borrowed $10 million from the TAF on the program’s first day in December 2007 and had more than $25 billion outstanding under all programs by May 2008, according to Bloomberg data.

Tapping Six Programs

By Nov. 21, when Citigroup began talks with the government to get a $20 billion capital injection on top of the $25 billion received a month earlier, its Fed borrowings had doubled to about $50 billion.

Over the next two months the amount almost doubled again. On Jan. 20, as the stock sank below $3 for the first time in 16 years amid investor concerns that the lender’s capital cushion might be inadequate, Citigroup was tapping six Fed programs at once. Its total borrowings amounted to more than twice the federal Department of Education’s 2011 budget.

Citigroup was in debt to the Fed on seven out of every 10 days from August 2007 through April 2010, the most frequent U.S. borrower among the 100 biggest publicly traded firms by pre- crisis market valuation. On average, the bank had a daily balance at the Fed of almost $20 billion.

‘Help Motivate Others’

“Citibank basically was sustained by the Fed for a very long time,” said Richard Herring, a finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia who has studied financial crises.

Jon Diat, a Citigroup spokesman, said the bank made use of programs that “achieved the goal of instilling confidence in the markets.”

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in a letter to shareholders last year that his bank avoided many government programs. It did use TAF, Dimon said in the letter, “but this was done at the request of the Federal Reserve to help motivate others to use the system.”

The bank, the second-largest in the U.S. by assets, first tapped the TAF in May 2008, six months after the program debuted, and then zeroed out its borrowings in September 2008. The next month, it started using TAF again.

On Feb. 26, 2009, more than a year after TAF’s creation, JPMorgan’s borrowings under the program climbed to $48 billion. On that day, the overall TAF balance for all banks hit its peak, $493.2 billion. Two weeks later, the figure began declining.

“Our prior comment is accurate,” said Howard Opinsky, a spokesman for JPMorgan.

‘The Cheapest Source’

Herring, the University of Pennsylvania professor, said some banks may have used the program to maximize profits by borrowing “from the cheapest source, because this was supposed to be secret and never revealed.”

Whether banks needed the Fed’s money for survival or used it because it offered advantageous rates, the central bank’s lender-of-last-resort role amounts to a free insurance policy for banks guaranteeing the arrival of funds in a disaster, Herring said.

An IMF report last October said regulators should consider charging banks for the right to access central bank funds.

“The extent of official intervention is clear evidence that systemic liquidity risks were under-recognized and mispriced by both the private and public sectors,” the IMF said in a separate report in April.

Access to Fed backup support “leads you to subject yourself to greater risks,” Herring said. “If it’s not there, you’re not going to take the risks that would put you in trouble and require you to have access to that kind of funding.”

AIG sues Bank Of America for Fraud

Reuters
August 8, 2011

Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) shares fell as much as 9.5 percent to their lowest level since April 2009 on Monday morning over fears of a slowing U.S. economy and challenges to a multi-billion dollar mortgage settlement.

Bank stocks broadly fell after Standard & Poor’s stripped the United States of its top credit rating and the European Central Bank intervened in bond markets, triggering fears that the global economy is destabilizing.

Bank of America’s shares fell more than most of its peers after insurer American International Group (AIG.N) said it would sue the bank to recoup more than $10 billion in mortgage bond losses.

Bank of America shares were down 8.4 percent at $7.48 in morning trading. The KBW Bank Index .BKX fell 2.97 percent.

Analysts said investors were reacting to the latest challenge to Bank of America’s $8.5 billion proposed settlement with mortgage investors over repurchasing toxic home loans.

“It makes investors question whether the bank will need to raise capital,” said Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc analyst Jefferson Harralson.

Citigroup Inc (C.N) shares fell 5.4 percent to $31.60, JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) fell 2.1 percent to $36.80 and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) shares dipped 1.3 percent to $24.87.