Category Archives: Regulations and regulators

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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Big Investors Rebelling Against Private Equity Fees

In a remarkable and long-overdue change in attitude, institutional investors are starting to tell private equity titans that they think they don’t earn their outsized pay. And that’s before you get to all the grifting they’ve been exposed to be doing on top of that.

The Wall Street Journal described a confrontation at a conference in Paris, with a pension fund manager responsible overseeing private equity investments calling out the unjustifiable level of private equity fees.

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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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Private Equity Firms Start ‘Fessing Up to Cheating

The Wall Street Journal describes how some private equity firms are attempting to clean up their act by admitting to dubious practices in revised regulatory filings with the SEC.

There’s a wee problem with this approach. Securities law is not like the Catholic Church, where confession and a promise not to sin again buys you redemption.

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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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Private Equity Now Looking to Even Bigger Chumps, Namely 401 (k)s and Retail

One of the reasons that private equity has managed to flourish is that its biggest investor group is what is traditionally referred to as dumb money: public pension funds, which account for 25% of industry assets. Readers may recall that even CalPERS, widely considered to be the savviest public pension fund, recently had a public board meeting where the questions asked of prospective gatekeepers, the pension fund consultants, were, with one exception, softballs. And that question was the only one to address the SEC’s revelation that private equity firms have been engaging in large scale fee-skimming and other forms of grifting. And remember, the SEC also stated that the investors in these funds, known in industry nomenclature as limited partners, have done a crappy job of negotiating their agreements.

But in predictable fashion, as one group of marks, um, sales targets, starts to dry up, private equity funds, aka general partners, are hunting for new ones. And having gone very systematically after every conceivable large pot of money, the only place left for them to go is down market, in terms of size and sophistication.

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Bill Black and Marshall Auerback Discuss Why Economists and Regulators Don’t Use “Fraud”

Yves here. Bill Black discusses his favorite topic, fraud, with Marshall Auerback of the Institute of New Economic Thinking. Some of this talk is familiar terrain for those who know Black’s work, such as Black’s well-argued criticism of the failure of financial regulators to make criminal referrals for misconduct in the runup to the financial crisis. Even so, many readers are likely to find new information here, such as the number of FBI agents assigned to handle white collar fraud, and how some regulators during the savings & loan crisis defied Congressional pressure to go easy on failing and defrauded banks, and the career costs they paid.

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State Street, Governor Elect Rauner Both Implicated in Pay-to-Play Scandals

The more rocks you turn over in public pension land, the more creepy crawlies you find. No wonder private equity has such a secrecy fetish. The most obvious, and most offensive to the public, are so-called pay-to-play scandals, in which public officials who are in a position to influence how funds are invested, take campaign funding from individuals or firms who are currently managing government funds or in short order get a mandate.

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AIG Bailout Trial Revelation: Morgan Stanley Told Geithner it Would File for Bankruptcy the Weekend it Became a Bank

I’m still hugely behind on the AIG bailout trial, and hope to show a ton more progress in the next week. I’m posting the transcript for days three the trial; you can find the first two days here and other key documents here.

The first week was consumed with the testimony of the painfully uncooperative Scott Alvarez, the general counsel of the Board of Governors, who Matt Stoller argued needs to be fired, and the cagier-seeming general counsel of the New York Fed, Tom Baxter. Unlike Alvarez, Baxter at least in text seemed to be far more forthcoming than Alvarez and more strategic in where he dug in his heels. But the revelations about the Morgan Stanley rescue alone are juicy. The main actors have sold a carefully concocted story for years.

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Russia to Launch New Payments System to Circumvent SWIFT Network

Many observers have become unduly excited about what they depict as efforts to break the dollar hegeomony, such as the joint effort by the so-called BRICS nations to form a development bank. While having a suite of internationals funding entities, particularly ones focused on activities that in theory increase the collective benefits of relying on a reserve currency, are seen to be important, it does not follow that launching useful new funding institutions will break dollar dominance. As much as US abuse of its position as issuer of the reserve currency is correctly resented, there isn’t a competitor waiting in the wings. The Eurozone has blown it with its failure to clean up even sicker banks than the US has, and by compounding a bad situation with its adherence to destructive austerity policies. China clearly has the potential to displace the US longer-term, but it is unwilling to run the requisite trade deficits, since that means exporting demand and hence jobs. And no country had made the transition from being a major exporter to being consumer-driven smoothly; a crisis or protracted malaise would also delay China displacing the US as currency top dog.

But not being able to get rid of the dollar any time soon does not mean that countries that the US is trying to punish by using its influence over international payments system won’t find nearer-term escape routes.

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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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