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the Fed’s hands off policy), and implementing the rules that shot holes through Glass Stegall before it was formally repealed in 1999.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.
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.
Finance and social justice are linked issues, but the tone of reader comments suggest readers increasingly see them as separate. But steering clear of the more technical coverage of banking, economics, and financial markets plays into the elite financiers’ hands.
The post-crisis era is rife with band-aid-over-gunshot-wound approaches to deep-seated weakness in the financial system. Perversely, because the authorities were able to keep the system from falling apart, albeit via a raft of overt and covert subsidies to the perps, they’ve reacted as if all that needs to be done is a series of fixes rather than more fundamental interventions. One glaring example is a critically important funding mechanism, repo, for firms that hold large inventories of securities and/or enter into derivative positions, such as major capital markets firms like Goldman, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays, as well as hedge funds. Here, the authorities have been giving way to industry demands that will assure that repo, which was bailed out in the crisis, will be bailed out again.
NC contributor Michael Crimmins flagged a Bloomberg article yesterday that described the proliferation of complex synthetic structures, depicting it as return to some of the bad risk-shifting of the blowout phase of the last credit bubble.
The amusing bit is the headline was toned down after the post was launched (you can tell by looking at the URL, which almost certainly tracks the original). The current version is the anodyne “JPMorgan Joins Goldman in Designing Derivatives for a New Generation.” But the very first paragraph flags the troubling resemblance to the last hurrah of the pre-crisis credit mania:
The spectacle of banks wring their hands about how low volatility is leading them as well as investors to take on too much risk bears an awfully strong resemblance to a child who has killed his parents asking for sympathy for being an orphan.
With the Argentine default, we are seeing a replay of a strategy that established Naked Capitalism readers will remember from the crisis: use a complex structure to disguise risk so that short sellers can place their wagers at far lower prices than they would be able to otherwise. And that raises the interesting question of how large a net short position Paul Singer, the instigator of the litigation that has undone Argentina’s restructuring deal and put the country in default, took against Argentina, as well as the relationship among the parties that put on the positions on behalf of short sellers.
Yves here. Ilargi uses strained messaging in response to recent market upsets, the Argentine default, and the failure of Banco Santo Espirito to address one of NC’s pet topics, propagandizing. Most people think of propaganda as the deliberate crafting of false or misleading messages, or the simple Big Lie. However, there’s also the variant of the deeply vested partisan. As Upton Sinclair stated, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” And a lot of those salaried-by-the-status-quo folks have access to media megaphones.
Mirabile dictu, it looks like Elizabeth Warren’s grilling of Janet Yellen on the Fed’s failure to make progress on Dodd Frank resolutions, also known as living wills, has had some impact. From the Wall Street Journal:
Yves here. This post addresses a topic near and dear to my heart: the importance of financial interconnectedness, or what Richard Bookstaber called “tight coupling” in his book A Demon of Our Own Design. Tight coupling occurs when the processes in a system are so closely linked that when certain types of activities begin, they propagate through the system and cannot be halted. Or as Bookstaber put it in 2011:
Non-linear systems are complex because a change in one component can propagate through the system to lead to surprising and apparently disproportionate effect elsewhere, e.g. the famous “butterfly effect”….
Yves here. This post summarizes a paper that argues that derivatives, specifically credit default swaps, exacerbated the severity of the European sovereign debt tsuris. This sort of analysis deserves a wider audience, precisely because the prejudice of both neoclassical and neoliberal economists is that markets are ever and always virtuous, and that prices are never wrong unless someone is interfering (with labor unions the preferred bad example).