Yves here. Richard Alford, a former New York Fed economist, provides his assessment of the AIG bailout in light of some of the revelations in the AIG bailout trial. While many of his arguments have merit, I want to quibble with a couple of them.
The first is the size of the actual amount taken by AIG and the reason for the drawdowns. At the time AIG hit the wall, the amount it needed was first estimated at $50 billion to cover its credit default swaps portfolio and $20 billion for its securities lending. The Maiden Lane III vehicle that the Fed created to take the CDOs has a $62.9 billion face value, so we can use that as a rough and ready value, and the securities lending bailout costs rose to roughly $50 billion. But consider: those two together get you to only a bit over $110 billion versus the peak lending amount reported as just shy of $185 billion. And some of that ~$110 billion includes laundering a bank bailout through AIG, by not obtaining haircuts on the CDS on the Maiden Lane CDOs. So where did that say $80 billion go? It might be commercial paper or medium term notes during the very worst of the crisis, although with the Fed supporting AIG, you’d think investors would be see its paper as fine. We’re conferring with some close AIG watchers and may write up a discussion of what that AIG black hole consisted of.
Second is that at the end, Alford adopts a “what matters is looking forward,” as in preventing future crises. Yes, but we are great believers in post-mortems, particularly in light of the George Santayana saying, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
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.
It’s remarkable that this Goldman report, and its writeup on Business Insider, is being treated with a straight face. The short version is current stock price levels are dependent on continued stock buybacks. Key sections of the story:
WalMart just announced that it will at some unspecified point down the road end minimum wage-level pay for its workers. As we’ll demonstrate, there is way less here than meets the eye. In fact, all in pay levels, including benefits, are falling for WalMart workers, not rising.
I’m only starting to dig into the AIG bailout trial by reading the transcripts and related exhibits. That means I am behind where the trial is now. However, that gives me the advantage of contrasting what is in the documents with the media reporting to date. And what is really striking is the near silence on the core argument in this case.
It is critical to remember that the Saudis have no compunction about imposing costs on other nations to maximize the value of their oil resource long term and hence the power they derive from it. Their oil price cut looks to be a strategic masterstroke.
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.
If nothing else, the legal slugfest over whether the US government did former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg a dirty by imposing tough terms on the failed insurer and giving the kid gloves treatment to the teetering-on-the-brink banks who were certain to be engulfed by an AIG collapse will be highly entertaining. Ben Bernanke, Hank Greenberg, and Timothy Geithner are all scheduled to go on the stand next week, to be grilled by America’s top trial lawyer, David Boies.
Yves here. In this post, Bill Black does the yeoman’s work of stepping through one revelation in Fed whistleblower Carmen Segarra’s tapes from some of her discussions with more senior colleagues at the New York Fed. A critical section involves how Fed officials became aware of the fact that Goldman had slipped language into an already-closed transaction with the Spanish bank Santander that indicated that the Fed had been informed of the deal and had not objected, neither of which was the case. The staffers tried to rouse themselves to challenge Goldman on this misrepresentation, and lost their nerve.
But as bad as letting Goldman roll the Fed on the matter of non-existant non-objections is concerned, Black stresses the much more serious underlying failure: Goldman had created the impression that the Fed was kosher with Goldman helping Santander fool European bank regulators by pretending it was more solvent than it was. The effort to game banking regulations is an even bigger deal than the effort to pretend the Fed was all on board. Black blasts the clearly captured New York Fed “relationship manager” Mikel Silva in gratifying detail.
Yves here. This post describes the “new normal” of the role bank reserves play in hitting short-term policy rate targets in the US. The author ends on a cheery note about how the abnormal-looking situation we have, in particular super-low interest rates, could persist for a very long time. The author contends that the way one reacts to these new procedures and their results will reflect your monetary aesthetics, as in your beliefs about the way central bank balance sheets and reserves should look. However, given the way that negative short-term real interest rates are stoking financial speculation at the expense of real economy investment (a trend that was already well underway even before the crisis containment program turbo-charged it), one can hardly see a continuation of the new normal of low growth and redistribution to top earners as a positive development.
Now you might say, isn’t this media firestorm a great thing? It’s roused Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown to demand hearing. The Fed has been toadying up to Wall Street for years. Shouldn’t we be pleased that the problem is finally being taken seriously?