Category Archives: Derivatives

The Fed’s and Republicans’ War Against Dodd Frank and How That Preserves the Greenspan Put and Too Big to Fail

A new story by Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times highlights how the Federal Reserve and the Republicans* are on a full bore campaign to render Dodd Frank a dead letter, with the latest chapter an effort to pass HR 37, a bill that would chip away at key parts of Dodd Frank. But the bigger implications of this campaign is how these efforts serve to limit the Fed’s freedom in implementing monetary policy. In other words, Fed general counsel Scott Alvarez is undermining the authority of his boss, Janet Yellen.

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The CBO’s Bad Math: Putting $7 Trillion of Notional Value of Derivatives in Taxpayer-Backstopped Depositaries Will Cost Zero

So why did Elizabeth Warren lose her battle last month to stop banks from continuing to park $7 trillion notional value of risky derivatives like the credit defaults swaps in taxpayer-backstopped depositaries?

One of the less well-recognized reasons is that the CBO’s dubious analysis said it would not cost taxpayers a dime.

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How the Republican Campaign to Gut Dodd Frank is a Huge Gimmie to Banks and Private Equity Funds

The Republicans have been quick and shameless in using their control of both houses to try to crank up the financial services pork machine into overtime operation. The Democrats at least try to meter out their give-aways over time.

Their plan, as outlined in an important post by Simon Johnson, is to take apart Dodd Frank by dismantling key parts of it under the rubric of “clarifications” or “improvements” and to focus on technical issues that they believe to be over the general public’s head and therefore unlikely to attract interest, much the less ire. However, as Elizabeth Warren demonstrated in the fight last month over the so-called swaps pushout rule, it is possible to reduce many of these issues to their essential element, which is that Wall Street is getting yet another subsidy or back-door bailout.

Today’s example is HR 37, with the Orwellian label “Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act”.

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Stephen Roach Takes the Fed to the Woodshed

While the Fed appears to be getting nervous about increasing (and long overdue) criticism for its undue coziness with banks, it has for the most part ignored opponents of its aggressive monetary policies. And for good reason. Most of them have been fixated on the risk of inflation, which is not in the cards as long as labor bargaining power remains weak. There are other, more substantial grounds for taking issue with the central bank’s policies. For instance, gooding asset prices widens income and wealth inequality, which in the long term is a damper on growth. Moreover, one can argue that the sustained super-accommodative policy gave the impression that Something Was Being Done, which took the heat off the Administration to push for more spending. Indeed, the IMF recently found that infrastructure spending pays for itself, with each dollar of spending in an economy with high unemployment generating nearly $3 in GDP growth. And a lot of people are uncomfortable for aesthetic or pragmatic reasons. Aesthetically, a lot of investors, even ones that have done well, are deeply uncomfortable with a central bank meddling so much. And many investors and savers are frustrated by their inability to invest at a positive real yield without being forced to take on a lot of risk.

Stephen Roach, former chief economist of Morgan Stanley and later its chairman for Asia, offers a straightforward, sharply-worded critique: just as in the runup to the crisis of 2007-2008, the Fed’s failure to raise rates is leading to an underpricing of financial market risk, or in layspeak, to the blowing of bubbles. He argues that has to end badly.

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“Summer” Rerun: So Where, Exactly, Did Lehman’s $130 Billion Go?

Dear readers,

We reinstituting a Naked Capitalism feature, the summer rerun. The last time we reprised an archival NC post (aside from a few more recent ones by Matt Stoller) was a July 9, 2009 post that we published again on December 29, 2011.

Interestingly, picking up again from 2009 serves as a reminder of issues that were hot in the aftermath of the crisis that were not addressed adequately, if at all. Here, we discuss the mystery of the magnitude of Lehman’s losses. We pointed out that they are so large and impossible to explain that there had to be accounting fraud, but the bankruptcy overseer had its own reasons not go to there.

Note that this post was published eights months before Anton Valukus released his report on the Lehman bankruptcy, which described the Repo 105 ruse that allowed Lehman to hide over $50 billion of dodgy assets at quarter end and thus not include them in its financial reports.

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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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Please Sign Urgent Occupy the SEC Petition Against Derivatives Deregulation

Text and links from Occupy the SEC follow:

Dear Friends,

This bulletin contains an update on what Occupy the SEC (occupythesec.org) has been up to lately, and what you can do to get involved.

Congress is on the verge of deregulating derivatives TODAY – Sign our petition to stop them.

Congress has historically used the end of the year as an opportunity to pass controversial legislation with little publicity, often using amendments to unrelated bills. This year is no different.

TODAY (December 10, 2014) our legislators are on the verge of approving two key provisions that would significantly roll back crucial parts of the Dodd-Frank Act’s derivatives (swaps) restrictions. Those provisions are Section 630 of the Senate Amendment to H.R. 83 (Omnibus Bill) and Title III of the House’s current version of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2014 (TRIA).

These provisions are nothing more than an attempt by Wall Street lobbyists and their friends in Congress to eviscerate important derivatives reforms implemented by the Dodd-Frank Act.

We need YOU to contact your legislators as soon as possible and tell them that you OPPOSE these sneaky deregulatory moves. If passed, these provisions would pave the way for further gutting of Dodd-Frank, which in turn would surely jeopardize our nation’s economy, line the pockets of wealthy financiers, and damage the fiscal health of every day Americans.

Please sign our petition now by clicking on the following link, which will allow you to send automatic emails to your Congressional Representative and Senators.

http://www.petition2congress.com/17017/petition-against-11th-hour-dilution-dodd-frank/

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Ilargi: Oil Shock – More Than A Quantum Of Fragility

Yves here. We’ve written that the sudden decline in the price of oil has the potential to deliver some nasty financial shocks, given that shale companies and even the majors have been financing exploration and development with debt.

But while concerns about fragility are well warranted, we wanted to make sure a mention made in this article is not treated with undue alarm. It points out that the BIS is concerned that an unprecedented portion of CDOs are now made of leveraged loans.

The problem is that the term “CDO” has been used inconsistently in the financial media. The CDO that you learned to hate in the wake of the crisis and blew up AIG, monoline insurers, and did a lot of damage to big banks were more formally called “asset backed securities CDOs” or “ABS CDOs” But that was too much of a mouthful, so they were referred to as “CDOs” in the press. There were two periods when that type of CDO existed, the late 1990s, and from the mid 2000 to mid-2007. Ina both cases, that market was a Ponzi, used to make the unwanted parts of subprime securitizatons saleable by making them into financial sausage, with some better assets thrown in, and then re-tranched again. The Ponzi part came about from the fact that these CDOs also had unsaleable parts, which were either put into first generation CDO sausage (CDOs allowed a certain portion of CDOs to be included) or sold into CDO squareds (which were hard to sell).

But the more mainstream type of CDO was one made of credit defaults swaps on corporate credits. That was the original CDO done in the famed JP Morgan Bisto deal in the mid-1990s. Indeed, when I first started researching subprime (ABS) CDOs, and just called them “CDOs” some experts assumed I meant the corporate loan type, since that was prevalent. During the crisis, possibly to make sure no one confused these CDOs with the ones that were blowing up, they were increasingly called CLOs, or “collatearlized loan obligations.” They were also legitimately less risky than the subprime CDOs, since their value didn’t suddenly collapse when a certain level of loan losses was breached.

The cause for pause is that CLOs, which are indeed a type of CDOs have traditionally been made mainly or entirely of investment grade credits. It now appears that junk credits predominate. While their structures and diversification will keep ABS CDO-type total wipeouts from happening, they could still deliver some nasty surprises.

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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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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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Matt Stoller: Why Is Alan Greenspan’s Lawyer, Scott Alvarez, Still Controlling the Federal Reserve? (AIG Bailout Trial)

Yves here. This important post explains why Scott Alvarez, the general counsel of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, needs to be fired. His responses to the plaintiffs’ questions at the AIG bailout trial weren’t simply evasive; they reveal a deep, almost visceral, dedication to defending the very policies that nearly destroyed the world economy as well as a salvage operation that favored financial firms over the real economy. We have embedded the transcripts from the first three days of the AIG bailout trial, which cover Alvarez’s performance on the stand, at the end of this post.

Alvarez was brought to the Fed by Alan Greenspan. As a staff lawyer, he helped implement bank deregulation policies such as ending supervision of primary dealers in 1992, refusing to regulate derivatives in 1996 (I recall gasping out loud when I first read about the Fed’s hands off policy), and implementing the rules that shot holes through Glass Stegall before it was formally repealed in 1999. Among those measures was giving a commercial bank, Credit Suisse, waivers to take a 44% stake one of the biggest investment banks, First Boston, in 1988 and assume control in 1990.

Alvarez also has a poor record as far as representing broad public interest in his tenure as General Counsel, which started in 2004. The Fed did an even worse job than the bank-cronyistic Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in enforcing Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act, a law that put restrictions on high-cost mortgage lenders. The Fed was also one of the two major moving forces behind the disastrous Independent Foreclosure Review, an exercise that promised borrowers who were foreclosed on in 2009 and 2010. The result instead was a fee orgy by the supposedly independent consultants, capricious and inadequate payments to former homeowners, and virtually no disclosure of what was unearthed during the reviews.

Yellen has said she wants to make financial stability as important a priority of the Fed as monetary policy. That means, among other things, being willing to regulate banks. Scott Alvarez is too deeply invested in an out-of-date world view to carry that vision forward. If Yellen intends to live up to her word, Alvarez has to go.

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AIG Bailout Trial Bombshell II: Fed and Treasury Cornered AIG’s Board into Taking a Legally-Dubious Bailout

As we said in our companion post today on the AIG bailout trial, former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg may have a case after all. Mind you, we are not fans of Greenberg. But far too much of what happened during the crisis has been swept under the rug, in the interest of preserving the officialdom-flattering story that the way the bailouts were handled was necessary, or at least reasonable, and any errors were good faith mistakes, resulting from the enormity of the deluge.

Needless to say, the picture that emerges from the Greenberg camp, as presented in the “Corrected Plaintiff’s Proposed Findings of Fact,” filed in Federal Court on August 22, is radically different. I strongly urge readers, particularly those with transaction experience, to read the document, attached at the end, in full. It makes a surprisingly credible and detailed case that AIG’s board was muscled into a rescue that was punitive, when that was neither necessary nor warranted. And the tactics used to corner the board were remarkably heavy-handed.

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