Category Archives: Banking industry

Bill Black: Mortgage Appraisal Fraud is Baaack…Because Bank Execs Profit From It

Yves here. Financiers and their media amplifiers keep trying to blame their bad conduct, like mortgage appraisal fraud, on powerless customers, so people like Bill Black have to keep swatting down their misrepresentations. Sadly, this crisis topic is back all too soon due to lack of regulatory vigilance.

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Economic Development and the Effectiveness of Foreign Aid: A Historical Perspective

Yves here. Ebola is serving as a reminder that the fate of members of advanced economies isn’t necessarily divorced from those of citizens of poor, developing nations. And it isn’t as if those countries are completely neglected. They are simultaneously the recipients of foreign aid, while at the same time being de facto capital exporters. So while this study below is informative, it ignores the elephant in the room, which is the degree to which looting simply overwhelms the amount of funding provided by foreign aid.

As Nicholas Shaxson wrote in Treasure Islands (p. 157):

Global Financial Integrity (GFI) in Washington authored a study on illicit financial flows out of Africa (March 2010). Between 1970 and 2008, it concluded:

Total illicit financial outflows from Africa, conservatively estimated, were approximately $854 billion. total illicit outflows may be as high as $1.8 trillion… The GFI estimate – equivalent to just over 9 per cent of its $51 billion in oil and diamond exports during that time – simply has to be a gross underestimate of the looting. Many billions have disappeared offshore through opaque oil-backed loans channeled outside normal state budgets, many of them routed through two special trusts operating out of London.

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Chicago Public Schools’ $100 Million Swaps Debacle Demonstrates High Cost of High Finance

I’ve been late to write up an important series published by the Chicago Tribune earlier this month on a costly swaps misadventure by the Chicago Public Schools. Like all too many state and local government entities, the Chicago Public Schools were persuaded to obtain $1 billion of needed ten-year financing not through the time-and-tested route of a simple ten year bond sale but the supposedly cost-saving mechanism of issuing a floating-rate bond and swapping it into a fixed rate. An impressive, expert-vetted analysis of the deal by the Chicago Tribune estimated that the school authority has in fact incurred $100 million in present-value losses on that $1 billion bond issue.

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Oil Tanks After OPEC Fails to Cut Production; US Shale Gas Targeted?

After a testy meeting, OPEC agreed to maintain current production targets. The failure to support oil prices via reducing production led to a sharp fall in prices on Thursday, with West Texas Intermediate crude dropping by over 6% and Brent plunging over 8% before rebounding to finish the day 6.7% lower, at $72.55 a barrel. Many analysts believe that oil could continue its slide to $60 a barrel.

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Bill Black: The New York Times Thinks Jailing Banksters Would Cause a “Bind”

Yves here. Bill Black continues to heap well-deserved scorn on efforts to defend New York Fed president William Dudley’s revealing performance in Senate testimony last week. In its efforts to pretend that the New York Fed can’t possibly be expected to regulate, the Grey Lady goes beyond the usual hoary canard that jailing banksters is just too hard (as in trying to say that what they perpetrated didn’t break any laws, when plenty of writers, such as Charles Ferguson, long form in Predator Nation, and yours truly, among plenty of others, have cited both legal theories and fact sets that show the reverse). The additional bogus claim is….drumroll…that keeping banks out of criminal and improper conduct is somehow inconsistent with making sure they “operate successfully”. In other words, the Times is effectively saying that banks have become so dependent on criminal and near-criminal conduct as profit sources that regulators dare not deprive them of that out of fear of weakening their financial performance.

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Who Will Wind Up Holding the Bag in the Shale Gas Bubble?

We’ve been writing off and on about how the sudden fall in gas prices has been expected to put a lot of shale gas development on hold. In fact, quite a few analysts believe that one of the big Saudi aims in refusing to support oil prices was to dent the prospects for competitive energy sources, not just renewables like wind and hydro power, but shale gas.

Even though OilPrice reported that US rig count had indeed fallen as oil prices plunged, John Dizard at the Financial Times (hat tip Scott) gives a more intriguing piece of the puzzle: the degree to which production is still chugging along despite it being uneconomical. The oil majors have been criticized for levering up to continue developing when it is cash-flow negative; they are presumably betting that prices will be much higher in short order.

But the same thing is happening further down the food chain, among players that don’t begin to have the deep pockets of the industry behemoths: many of them are still in “drill baby, drill” mode.

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Paul Martin, A Regulator Who Said No to Banks

Paul Martin, who was Canada’s finance minister before he became prime minister, is widely seen as implementing the policies that led Canada to get through the crisis virtually unscathed. This is the summary of Martin’s key actions as finance minister from INET: In general, Martin has received justifiable plaudits but often for the wrong thing. […]

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Bill Black: Dudley Do Wrong Rejects Being a “Cop” and Embraces “Foaming the Runways”

William Dudley, the President of the New York Fed, is not a stupid man. He is, however, wholly unfit to be a regulator. He has now admitted that publicly. It is time for him to return to Goldman Sachs so that he can be replaced by someone expressly chosen to be a vigorous regulator who will embrace the most critical function of a financial regulator – to be the tough “regulatory cop on the beat.”

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Elizabeth Warren Blasts New York Fed President William Dudley

This Elizabeth Warren grilling of New York Fed William Dudley over the revelations in tapes made by ex-New York Fed employee Carmen Segarra, is a bit more Socratic than her normal approach, presumably because she has more than the typical five minutes for questions. Don’t be deceived by her pacing.

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Bill Black: Why the New York Fed Isn’t Trustworthy

Yves here. Readers may recall that we criticized the New York Times’ reporting on an important story on a criminal investigation underway involving both Goldman and New York Fed employees. A Goldman employee who had worked at the New York Fed and his boss were fired because the ex-Fed staffer allegedly had obtained confidential bank supervisory information. A New York Fed employee was also fired immediately after the Goldman terminations. The piece was composed as if the intent was to be as uninformative as possible and still meet the Grey Lady’s writing standards. Readers were left in the dark as to where the two Goldman employees fit in the organization and what the sensitive information was.

Bill Black dug through later news reports, did some additional sleuthing, and based on is experience as a regulator, concluded that there is no way the Goldman employee, Rohit Bansal, didn’t recognize that he was misusing confidential bank supervisory information. That matters because whether or not breach is criminal hinges on whether he “willfully” broke the law.

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New York Fed, Goldman in Criminal Investigation for Sharing Confidential Information

A New York Times story manages to bury the lead, even given the salacious material, in an important story that provides more evidence of the overly-cozy relationship between the New York Fed and its favored large banks, particularly Goldman. The issue is sensitive in the wake of former New York Fed staffer Carmen Segarra releasing hours of tape recordings that show undue deference by the Fed employees towards Goldman. One particularly troubling incident was the Fed allowing Goldman to pretend it had gotten Fed approval for a derivatives deal designed to snooker Spanish banking regulators. Another was Goldman’s lack of a conflicts of interest policy (see former regulator Justin Fox’s discussion of why this is a serious matter).

What is striking about the New York Times expose is how tortuous the writing is, and how it takes (and I am not exaggerating) three times as many words as necessary to finally describe what happened. For instance, it isn’t until the 9th paragraph that the article mentions that this sharing of confidential information can be a crime and the authorities are giving a serious look into that very question.

But the really damaging part is it looks as if Goldman waited to take action on its having obtained impermissible information until the Carmen Segarra story with secret tapes of how the New York Fed toadied to Goldman broke when they could finally see how damaging it actually was. And Goldman and the Fed clearly knew that story was coming weeks in advance.

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Elizabeth Warren Blasts FHFA’s Mel Watt: “You Haven’t Helped a Single Family”

Elizabeth Warren tore into FHFA director Mel Watt over his failure to develop a program for Fannie and Freddie to provide principal modifications to underwater borrowers at risk of foreclosure. She also got in a dig for his failure to stop the agencies from pursuing deficiency judgments. That means going after former homeowners when the sale of the house they lost didn’t recoup enough to cover the mortgage balance. In the stone ages, when banks kept the mortgage loans they made, they never pursued deficiency judgements. They knew there was no point in trying to get blood from a turnip. Not surprisingly, the sadistic Fannie/Freddie policy has also proven to be spectacularly unproductive in financial terms. An FHFA inspector general study found that recoveries were less than 1/4 of 1% of the amount sought. Moreover, since those mortgage balances were often inflated by junk fees and other dubious costs, and mortgage servicers have done a poor job of maintain properties (they are too often stripped of copper and appliances, or get mold), any deficiency might be significantly or entirely the servicer’s fault.

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Treasury Liquidity Freakout: Searching for a Market-Maker

As someone old enough to have done finance in the Paleolithic pre-personal computer era (yes, I did financial analysis using a calculator and green accountant’s ledger paper as a newbie associate at Goldman), investor expectations that market liquidity should ever and always be there seem bizarre, as well as ahistorical. Yet over the past month or two, there has been an unseemly amount of hand-wringing about liquidity in the bond market, both corporate bonds, and today, in a Financial Times story we’ll use as a point of departure, Treasuries.

These concerns appear to be prompted by worries about what happens if (as in when) bond investors get freaked out by the Fed finally signaling it is really, no really, now serious about tightening and many rush for the exits at once. The taper tantrum of summer 2013 was a not-pretty early warning and the central bank quickly lost nerve. The worry is that there might be other complicating events, like geopolitical concerns, that will impede the Fed’s efforts at soothing rattled nerves, or worse, that the bond market will gap down before the Fed can intercede (as if investors have a right to orderly price moves!).

Let’s provide some context to make sense of these pleas for ever-on liquidity.

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