As this Bloomberg article discusses in detail, the Fed has violated promises it made to Congress, both regarding the amount it would lend (the amounts are vastly in excess of anything envisaged) and its commitments about transparency (which have gone completely by the wayside). Bloomberg has petitioned to get certain details disclosed via a Freedom of Information Act filing, which as we discussed in an earlier post, the Fed is fighting.
Again, proof that when dealing with bankers, you need to get everything in writing.
From Bloomberg (hat tip reader Scott):
The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.
Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in September they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn’t require approval by Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return.
“The collateral is not being adequately disclosed, and that’s a big problem,” said Dan Fuss, vice chairman of Boston- based Loomis Sayles & Co., where he co-manages $17 billion in bonds. “In a liquid market, this wouldn’t matter, but we’re not. The market is very nervous and very thin.”
Bloomberg News has requested details of the Fed lending under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and filed a federal lawsuit Nov. 7 seeking to force disclosure…
“It’s your money; it’s not the Fed’s money,” said billionaire Ted Forstmann, senior partner of Forstmann Little & Co. in New York. “Of course there should be transparency.”…
Total Fed lending topped $2 trillion for the first time last week and has risen by 140 percent, or $1.172 trillion, in the seven weeks since Fed governors relaxed the collateral standards on Sept. 14. The difference includes a $788 billion increase in loans to banks through the Fed and $474 billion in other lending, mostly through the central bank’s purchase of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds.
Before Sept. 14, the Fed accepted mostly top-rated government and asset-backed securities as collateral. After that date, the central bank widened standards to accept other kinds of securities, some with lower ratings. The Fed collects interest on all its loans…
At a Sept. 23 Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington, Paulson called for transparency in the purchase of distressed assets under the TARP program.
“We need oversight,” Paulson told lawmakers. “We need protection. We need transparency. I want it. We all want it.”
At a joint House-Senate hearing the next day, Bernanke also stressed the importance of openness in the program. “Transparency is a big issue,” he said…
The Fed lent cash and government bonds to banks, which gave the Fed collateral in the form of equities and debt, including subprime and structured securities such as collateralized debt obligations, according to the Fed web site. The borrowers have included the now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Banks oppose any release of information because it might signal weakness and spur short-selling or a run by depositors, said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs for the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington trade group.
“You have to balance the need for transparency with protecting the public interest,” Talbott said. “Taxpayers have a right to know where their tax dollars are going, but one piece of information standing alone could undermine public confidence in the system.”…
“I talk to Geithner and he was pretty sure that they’re OK,” said [Barney] Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat. “If the risk is that the Fed takes a little bit of a haircut, well that’s regrettable.” Such losses would be acceptable, he said, if the program helps revive the economy….
Revealing how the Fed values collateral could help thaw frozen credit markets, said Ron D’Vari, chief executive officer of NewOak Capital LLC in New York and the former head of structured finance at BlackRock Inc…
“As a taxpayer, it is absolutely important that we know how they’re lending money and who they’re lending it to,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Arlington, Virginia- based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Ultimately, the Fed will have to remove some securities held as collateral from some programs because the central bank’s rules call for instruments rated below investment grade to be taken back by the borrower and marked down in value. Losses on those assets could then be written off, partly through the capital recently injected into those banks by the Treasury.
Moody’s Investors Service alone has cut its ratings on 926 mortgage-backed securities worth $42 billion to junk from investment grade since Sept. 14, making them ineligible for collateral on some Fed loans