Category Archives: Banking industry

Bill Black: Obama and Holder Choose Banksters Over Whistleblowers

Yves here. At this point, the Obama administration’s fealty to banksters is a “dog bites man” story. Nevertheless, it’s useful to catalogue particular incidents to show how consistent its behavior is. The latest case study is its shoddy treatment of whistleblowers.

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Jeb Bush: The Forrest Gump of Financial Improprieties?

The Financial Times has an unusual story featured prominently today. As Jeb Bush has made a soft launch of his presidential campaign, the pink paper has published a surprisingly long list of financial relationships that do not put the Florida governor in a particularly good light.

The intriguing part isn’t so much a history of dubious-looking complicated money dealings. It’s the fact that many of them are live.

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The Economics of P2P Lending

Yves here. The odds are high that if super low interest rates continue (virtually certain), P2P lending will continue to rise rapidly as yield-desperate investors seek better returns. As more money flows through these channels, it virtually assures less careful selection. The question is how bad the downside will be when lenders get bruised and how the market evolves after its inevitable first large-scale setback (the first venture in this market ended in tears, but it was sufficiently small so as not to have burned enough people so as to sour the image of this concept).

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What are the Odds of a Commodities-Led Global Financial Crisis?

Yves here. While the odds of commodities-triggered 2008 style meltdown is still not the most likely outcome, recall that that pessimists like yours truly assessed the likelihood of Seriously Bad Things Happening as of early 2008 at 20-30%, which I then saw as dangerously high. In other words, tail risks are bigger than they appear.

Some of the things that favor worse outcomes than one might otherwise anticipate is investor irrationality, or what one might politely call herd behavior. For instance, a major news story today was how investors are dumping emerging markets assets willy nilly, when many are not exposed to much if any blowback from lower commodity prices and quite a few are seen as net beneficiaries. The offset is that central banks have been conditioned to break glass and overreact when banks start looking wobbly. But the Fed may be slow to get the memo, since it sees recent data (the last jobs reports and retail sales data) as strong, and is also predisposed to see its medicine as working even though it is really working only for those at the top of the food chain.

Note that this report is from Monday in Australia, and look how much oil prices have dropped since then. WTI is now at $54.28 per Bloomberg.

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Did Wall Street Need to Win the Derivatives Budget Fight to Hedge Against Oil Plunge?

Conventional wisdom among banking experts is that Wall Street’s successful fight last week to get a pet provision into the must-pass budget bill (or in political junkies’ shorthand, Cromnibus) as more a demonstration of power and a test for gutting Dodd Frank than a fight that mattered to them. But the provision they got in, which was to undo a portion of Dodd Frank that barred them from having taxpayer-backstopped deposits fund derivative positions, may prove to be more important than it seemed as the collateral damage from the 40% fall in oil prices hits investors and intermediaries.

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Ilargi: Will the Oil Collapse Kill Energy Junk Bonds?

Yves here. Some ahead-of-the-curve analysts have warned of the magnitude of energy debt, mainly junk bonds issued to fund shale gas projects, that are now at risk thanks to plunging oil prices whacking the entire energy complex.

We’ve heard over the last few weeks sunny proclamations of how many shale players have lower cost structure than commonly thought and could ride out weak prices. The supposedly super bearish Bank of America report published earlier in the week called for oil prices to drop to a scary-sounding $50 a barrel. But the document sees that aa a short-term phenomenon. As supply and demand equilibrates (shorthand for “of course some people will drive more, and a lot of wells will get shut down”), it anticipates that oil prices will rebound to $80 to $90 a barrel in the second half of 2015.

The problem with conventional wisdom, even pessimistic-looking conventional wisdom, is that the noose of a lot of borrowings is likely to change the decision-making process of those producers.

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Yanis Varoufakis: Ten Questions on the Eurozone, with Ten Answers

Yves here. Yanis Varoufakis’ discussion today focuses on hot-button issues in the Eurozone, which isn’t getting the attention it warrants in the US press right now, given the competition from so many stories closer to home, such as the oil price collapse to sustained protests over police brutality to the CIA torture report.

Admittedly, while a crisis looks inevitable, with Germany committed to incompatible goals (continuing to be export-driven but not lending to its trade partners), the Troika has made kicking the can down the road into such an art form so as to have dulled the interest of most Eurozone watchers. But there’s been a bit of a wake-up call with the possibility that Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras’ gambit of calling for a presidential snap election (which is a vote within the legislature) will fail, leading to general elections. A general election is widely expected to produce a victory for the leftist party Syriza, which is opposed to more bailouts, and one is scheduled to be wrapped up within the next couple of months. Syriza wants the debts restructured and also wants to be allowed to deficit spend, which in an economy so slack, would reduce debt to GDP ratio over time (the austerians keep ignoring the results of their failed experiments: when you cut government spending, the economy shrinks disproportionately. As a result, this misguided method for putting finances on a sounder footing makes matters worse as government debt to GDP ratios rise as a direct result of spending cuts).

As much as the Syriza leader, Alexis Tsipras, has spoken against bailouts, even if he comes into power, it’s not clear that he has the resolve to bluff the Troika successfully. International lenders will rely on the notion that Tsipras can’t afford to threaten a default, since that could trigger bank runs and potentially rescues via depositor bail-ins and are likely to push back hard. But the spike up in Greek government bond yields and the near 12% plunge in the Greek stock market yesterday says investors are plenty worried about the possibility of brinksmanship, and the tail risk that Greece might actually default and print drachmas to fund its government budget, which would be grounds for kicking it out of the Eurozone.

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Elizabeth Warren Escalates Fight over Treasury Nominee Antonio Weiss, Goes to War with Wall Street Wing of Democratic Party

Earlier this week, we wrote about how the New York Times’ Dealbook, the creature of Wall Street sycophant Andrew Ross Sorkin, had launched a fierce campaign against Elizabeth Warren’s latest move, her opposition to the Obama administration’s nomination of Lazard’s Antonio Weiss, a mergers and acquisitions banker. Warren’s grounds for objecting to Weiss were straightforward: his experience was no fit for the requirements of his proposed Treasury role. On top of that, he had been involved in and therefore profited from acquisitions called inversions that Treasury opposes because they reduce the taxes paid by the acquirer, which uses the acquired company to move its headquarters to a lower-tax jurisdiction.

Dealbook published three Warren-bashing columns in as many weeks; the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal ran editorials making similar arguments, suggesting that all were picking up on the same talking points out of Treasury. One tell: the Times had to issue a correction on one of its pieces because it relied on a Treasury document that exaggerated Weiss’ accomplishments.

Warren upped the ante in a speech on Tuesday, making Weiss, who is now head of investment banking at Lazard, a symbol of what is wrong with the relationship between the government and Big Finance: that of far too much coziness between the large, influential players and financial regulators. And in sharpening and further documenting her critique, she has put the Robert Rubin wing of the Democratic party in her crosshairs.

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NYTimes Dealbook’s Dishonest Salvo at Elizabeth Warren Over Calling Out an Unqualified Nominee for Treasury Post

Even though Andrew Ross Sorkin and his mini-empire, the New York Times Dealbook, are reliable defenders of their Big Finance meal tickets, they’ve managed to skim above, if sometimes just barely above, abject intellectual dishonesty. But Dealbook has published not one but three pieces in as many weeks in defense of an unacceptably weak Obama Administration nominee for an important Treasury post, the Under Secretary of Domestic Finance.

The candidate is Antonio Weiss, a Lazard mergers and acquisitions professional who was elevated to head of investment banking in 2009. There’s no doubt that Weiss is accomplished. The non-trivial problem, as Elizabeth Warren and others have pointed out, is that Weiss’ experience and skills have absolutely nothing to do with the Treasury role.

What is striking is the way that Sorkin and his colleagues have launched what amounts to a media war against Warren in defense of Weiss, and have shameless resorted to a drumbeat of Big Lies in the hope that their messaging will stick. The fact that they can’t even mount a proper case on its merits speaks volumes about Weiss’ qualifications for the job.

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Jeffrey Sachs Channeled His Inner Bill Black – and Obama and Holder Ignored Him Too

Yves here. This post by Bill Black serves to illustrate the difficulties of effecting change. As much as Black in particular has been a forceful and articulate advocate for tougher bank regulation and prosecution of executives, arguments like his get at most polite lip service from the enforcers. Recall that Black is far from alone. Others who’ve called for a more tough-minded approach include Charles Ferguson of Inside Job, Eliot Spitzer, Neil Barofsky, Joe Stiglitz and Simon Johnson.

We are seeing more and more of the elite willing call for more aggressive measures to combat bank misconduct.

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The ECB’s Balance Sheet and Draghi’s Confidence Game

Yves here. This post provides a high level summary and assessment of the ECB’s post-crisis conduct. Among other things, it demonstrates that the ECB makes the Fed look good. Some readers will take issue with the fact that Mody treats QE as a reasonable policy, when the experimental policy has goosed asset markets without doing much for the real economy. It has hurt savers by flattening the yield curve and reducing yields on longer-term investments and many economists believe it has exacerbated income inequality, which is increasingly seen as a drag on growth. However, the hair shirt of the Masstricht treaty rules out fiscal stimulus, and most economists accept the view that monetary stimulus is better than standing pat.

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Eileen Appelbaum and Rosemary Batt Explain Private Equity Tricks That Put Companies at Risk

Yves here. This is the second part of an interview by Andrew Dittmer with the authors of an important new book on private equity, Private Equity at Work (see here for Part 1).

In this segment, Eileen Appelbaum and Rosemary Batt describe some of the ways that private equity firms make the companies they buy more vulnerable to bankruptcy, yet get away with it.

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Meet and Greet Natalie Jaresko, US Government Employee, Ukraine Finance Minister

The new finance minister of Ukraine, Natalie Jaresko, may have replaced her US citizenship with Ukrainian at the start of this week, but her employer continued to be the US Government, long after she claims she left the State Department. US court and other records reveal that Jaresko has been the co-owner of a management company and Ukrainian investment funds registered in the state of Delaware, dependent for her salary and for investment funds on a $150 million grant from the US Agency for International Development. The US records reveal that according to Jaresko’s former husband, she is culpable in financial misconduct.

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Don Quijones: Mexico on the Verge of a New Tequila Crisis?

As the old adage goes, things have an annoying habit of occurring in threes. It’s particularly true in the case of crises, which tend to fuel each other in a potentially lethal feedback loop. And Mexico is already experiencing blowback from two separate but strongly interlinked crises.

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