Category Archives: Banking industry

Satyajit Das: Animal Crackers – Watching Bankers Watching etc.

Anthropologists study humans. Ethnographers, a related social science, study people and cultures, trying to understand specific human societies through observation and recording. Once, it entailed well-meaning, idealistic, ambitious, shy, lonely or misanthropic [cross out as required] men and women travelling to distant and exotic locations to study less well known tribes and peoples. Like a great deal of social science, the work reveals more about the structure of knowledge, methodology and the researchers than in does about the subject of study. Writing in the 21 July 1988 edition of The Guardian, Nancy Banks-Smith provided an astute assessment of anthropology: “the science which tells us that people are the same the whole world over—except when they are different”.

In recent times, with the increasing scarcity of newly discovered, loin clothed natives, researchers have turned their attention to professional ‘tribes’ within developed societies, including financiers.

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SEC Commissioners Kara Stein, Luis Aguilar Hit Bank of America Where it Hurts, in a Revenue Stream

SEC Commissioners Kara Stein and Luis Aguilar have found a weapon that looks to have financial firms more worried than being whacked with one-time fines. They are threatening to hit Bank of America in an ongoing revenue stream.

By way of background, Kara Stein, who joined the SEC in last August, has gone to war with SEC chairman Mary Jo White over lax enforcement and other types of overly-financial-firm-friendly conduct. It’s virtually unheard of for a commissioner to cross swords with a chairman from the same party.

Stein and her fellow Democratic party commissioner Luis Aguilar have joined forces to stymie a Bank of America settlement they saw as too generous by virtue of waving certain sanctions that would otherwise automatically kick in.

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Matt Taibbi and Alayne Fleischmann Discuss JP Morgan Mortgage Fraud, Eric Holder CoverUp on Democracy Now

Even though many readers have already read Matt Taibbi’s new article on how Attorney General Eric Holder acceded to Jamie Dimon’s efforts to squelch a criminal prosecution of JP Morgan’s securitization of toxic mortgages, I thought it would be useful to present the Democracy Now discussion of the story, particularly since the whistleblower, Alayne Fleischmann, discusses the case in her own words. Amy Goodman also asks Tabbi late in the broadcast about his departure from First Look.

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Wolf Richter: After Messing up the Housing Market, the “Smart Money” Bails Out

In real estate, particularly in housing, national averages elegantly paper over the gritty details on the ground in specific metro areas and neighborhoods. When a new trend starts in some locations, it’s neutered by data from other locations. Blips and squiggles are averaged out of the picture. But by the time changes consistently show up in national averages, they’ve taken on serious weight on the ground. And now the “smart money” – smart because it has access to the Fed’s free moolah – is abandoning the housing market.

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Taibbi: Ex-JP Morgan Lawyer With Smoking Gun on Mortgage Fraud Stymied by Holder Cover-Up

Matt Taibbi has pulled the curtain back on an offensive and obvious bit of Obama administration bank cronyism that disappeared too quickly from public attention. Earlier this year, JP Morgan settlement negotiations over mortgage misconduct had broken down over price. When word got out that the Department of Justice had a criminal suit that it was ready to file, Jamie Dimon called the DoJ and went to Washington to negotiate a deal. Let us turn the mike over to Georgetown law professor Adam Levitin who wrote at the time:

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Nomi Prins: Why the Financial and Political System Failed and Stability Matters

Yves here. We’re delighted to be featuring a post by Nomi Prins, a former Goldman managing director turned critic of the way the financial services industry has become a “heads I win, tails you lose” wager with the entire economy at stake. Many readers are likely familiar with her through her books, such as Other People’s Money: The Corporate Mugging of America and It Takes a Pillage: An Epic Tale of Power, Deceit, and Untold Trillions, as well as her regular TV appearances.

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JP Morgan Under Criminal Investigation for Foreign Exchange Trading Abuses

Regulators look to be getting more serious about financial firm misconduct, as witness their new-found willingness to file criminal charges against banks. Not that has happened yet as regards JP Morgan, the US bank with far and away the biggest rap sheet of all US financial firms. But as we’ll discuss, while it is good to see regulators getting tougher with banks, this move still falls in the category of “too little, too late,” particularly since it looks to a last-ditch effort to improve departing attorney general Eric Holder’s file of media clips.

Here is an overview of the JP Morgan investigation from the Wall Street Journal:

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Fed Needs to Stop Asset Acquisitions for a Generation or So

Yves here. Readers will take issue with some of former Fed staffer and banking expert Walker Todd’s comments on monetarism and Fed policy, but he nevertheless reaches the right general conclusions. The monetarist orientation of his post is a bit more understandable when you keep in mind that the central bank is run by monetary economists.

Todd treats quantitative easing as “money printing”. That sounds appealing but isn’t quite apt. The Fed was swapping assets, in this case cash for Treasury bonds or mortgage backed securities held by the public. The central bank seemed to think this would be useful due to its belief in the discredited but nevertheless very much alive “loanable funds” theory. In simple terms, if you make interest rates low enough, people will save less and spend more, and businesses will borrow and invest more because money is on sale.

In fact, what has happened is that many of those people who swapped bonds for cash went out and bought other financial assets, goosing stock prices, lowering yields on risky debt, and sending money sloshing into emerging economies. There appears to have been a modest amount of economic lift from that due to wealth effect among the rich. But big companies for the most part didn’t invest. They borrowed cheaply and are holding wads of cash that they can use to keep propping up their stock prices. Similarly, banks haven’t done much small business lending, in part because institutionally many have exited that business, and smaller enterprises themselves haven’t been too keen to borrow because in most regions and sectors, the recovery isn’t all that robust.

The Fed appears to have recognized that QE was largely a failed experiment before it announced the taper last year, but the market reaction was so lousy that it backed off and then tried again with lots more “we’re watching the market’s back” assurances. Cynics among my readers contend that the GDP figures today benefitted unduly from a 0.9% reduction in the GDP deflator, which would provide financial markets with a tailwind when QE was being halted officially.

Given that we’ve had three QEs so far, Todd has reason to argue against repeating this experiment. Another thread of his argument echoes that of Audit the Fed, which was the product of a left-right alliance, that the Fed never gave Congress an adequate explanation of the logic and expected effects of QE so it could be held accountable for this experiment.

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Prosecutors Reopening Cases Against Bank Recidivists; Change or “Change You Can Believe in”?

The New York Times yesterday published a new story by Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg on how Federal prosecutors are investigating reopening cases against big banks and hitting them with additional charges. Reader Richard D, who was curious about the story, wrote, “It is hard for me to know whether this is a momentous event, or a nothingburger.”

It’s actually somewhere in the middle. While it represents prosecutors starting to use muscles that had atrophied, at least as far as financial firms are concerned, as readers will no doubt suspect, the shift falls well short of the levels of official zeal needed.

But there’s actually an important shift discussed at some length in the article that may have bigger ramifications: that powerful bank consultants and lawyers are no longer being taken at their word.

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ECB Stress Tests: The View of an Insider

Yves here. The ECB stress tests are starting to resemble the process that Japan’s Ministry of Finance used in dealing with zombie banks in its post-bubble years. The MOF would gradually acknowledge how bad the loan books were as the banks were able to make writeoffs (not that anyone was really fooled; foreign analysts were regularly making their own assessments). So the exercise is to pretend that the amount of disease revealed is credible, when those in the know recognize full well that is it much worse.

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Yanis Varoufakis: Why the European Bank Stress Tests Have to be Phony

Yves here. I have to admit I never focused on what turns out is a blindingly obviously reason why the European bank stress tests are an exercise in optics. Even though this website derided the US stress tests as a cheerleading exercise, and earlier criticized the Administration for failing nationalize Citigroup as FDIC chairman Sheila Bair sought to do, the US authorities were in a position to Do Something about sick banks. Consider the European case (note I consider Yanis to be too charitable toward US bank regulators, but keep in mind that he’s comparing them to his home-grown version). And then you have the additional problem, which was widely discussed in 2009 to 2011 or so, that the apparent insolvency of states was the result of and bound up with the overindebtedness of European nations. Perversely, tha is almost never put front and center these days when the topic of seriously unwell European banks comes up.

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How Serious is NY Fed Dudley’s Tough Talk About Fixing Banking Culture?

Last week, New York Fed President William Dudley gave a speech on remedying cultural problems in financial services firms, meaning the tendency of employees to loot them and leave the mess in taxpayers’ laps. It caught pretty much everyone by surprise because it contained two sensible and effective reform ideas, namely, that of putting compensation measures in place that would have the effect of rolling them a long way back towards the partnership model, as well as making it harder for bad apples to find happy homes in other firms.

My sources are of the view that Dudley was browbeaten into taking a tougher line by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, specifically Danny Tarullo, rather than being keen to be more aggressive himself. Nevertheless, the fact that Dudley is pushing some tough ideas is an important shift, even if the New York Fed president was under pressure to look serious.

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Ilargi: Europe Redefines “Stress” in Its Bank-Boosterist Stress Tests

Yves here. As we’ve repeatedly pointed out, bank “stress tests” are officially-orchestrated bank PR. And the reason they worked so well the first time was that exercise was accompanied by all sorts of Administration “we’re fully behind the banks” messaging, including a commitment that any banks that fell short would get a heapin’ helping of new capital. But the effort to talk bank stock prices up worked so well that many, even the weaker ones, were able to float new shares.

The Europeans have tried emulating the Americans, but with more emphasis on the optics and less on prodding the banks to take meaningful steps to shore up their capital bases. Ilargi describes how even this exercise in porcine maquillage is failing to cover up the unhealthy state of many banks.

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