The Occupy Chicago crowd is now in their third week and have not stopped occupying the corner of Jackson and LaSalle yet. With the constant protesters, there is also a constant law enforcement presence, which to the Chicago Police Departmen’s credit, has remained civil, if not sympathetic – but they still have to enforce Chicago’s municipal code.

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Do you ever feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone?

Financial news is getting more bizarre by the day. Take today’s new for example.

Citibank’s stock price soared over news that it didn’t lose as much money Wall Street expected it to. The quarterly loss was only $966 million and revenue doubled to $24.79 billion.

Is the $45 billion we gave them since October counted in this?

I know it includes the 13,000 jobs cut in the first quarter and the dumping of $116 billion of assets.

The more entertaining part of this news, was their decision to “delay a proposed exchange of billions of dollars of preferred shares into common stock until the U.S. government completes its “stress tests” of large banks to gauge which might need more aid,” as reported by Reuters.

That seems kind of underhanded to me or am I just being sensitive.

Wasn’t the point of the stress tests to identify banks who will be in more trouble if the economy worsens? How can it be a valid test if they are delaying a major exchange of stocks?

Then there’s the report that the Senate candidates are still raising tons of money for the 2010 campaigns.

Now this is a good one, because despite the horrifying economic situation, the candidates last year raised enough cash to bail out at least one bank.

Are institutions getting bailout money allowed to contribute? I don’t see why they should be able to.

Reid has already raised $2.2 million, several Democratic candidates, according to Reuters, have already raised over $1 million, Spector raised almost $2 million and already has 6 million in the bank. Clinton’s replacement has raised over $2 million, but the Reuters story
didn’t total all the millions.

We’re getting thrown out of our homes, dumped from our jobs, surviving without health care and unable to educate our children, yet these people “governing” us, have millions in their campaign “war chests.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

The final irony to today’s news, is the story that “Steven Rattner, the leader of the Obama administration’s auto task force, was one of the investment firm executives involved with payments now under scrutiny in a state and federal investigation into an alleged kickback scheme at New York state’s pension fund,” reported Reuters.

The Treasury Department, when asked if they knew about this when Rattner was appointed, said that Rattner informed them about the pending investigation but refused to comment further.

One would think that treasury would be reluctant to put someone with an investigation into kickbacks, at the head of such a high profile and crucial task force. But no, they apparently saw no problem with it because there he is.

The scarier thought is that maybe Geithner, the tax cheat, has a suspicion that no matter who you appoint from the investment bank industry, they are likely to come under scrutiny for one shady practice or another, and therefore you hire either the one with the least chance of an investigation or the one who is most likely to survive the investigation without being imprisoned.

Either way, I am leaning more and more towards the folks that chant HEY HEY HO HO THE FEDERAL RESERVE HAS GOT TO GO!

Add to that the investment banks, nationally chartered banks, etc. etc. etc.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has his work cut out for him.

I now have to wonder if it was the New Yorkers that were the frauds and the Chicago financial institutions were all above board, or if Cuomo is a pro-active Attorney General and Lisa Madigan is simply remiss in not investigating the Chicago Board of Trade, Mercantile Exchange and the Board of Options Exchange.

Time will tell.

Congo forces leaders to pay taxes – ours?

The Democratic Republic of Congo, faced with a fiscal crisis, is now forcing their leaders to pay taxes. Reuters reports

Amid a growing budget shortfall, the government is under pressure to cut costs and boost tax revenues.

Budget Minister Michel Lokola told Reuters that last month’s decision to tax government salaries at source, rather than rely on employees to pay taxes after receiving their salaries, had already raised roughly $1 million.

“They just weren’t paying. The government ministers we replaced, the MPs, the senators, they didn’t pay,” said Lokola, who entered the government last October in a cabinet shake-up that saw his predecessor Adolphe Muzito named prime minister.

Lokola said the move was partly aimed at setting a good example, adding that Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s government salary was also subject to the measure.

“He is aware of this, and he approves of it … I don’t see how we can expect the private sector to pay their taxes if we don’t pay ourselves,” he said.

So even a country we look upon with derision, the Congo, has realized the benefit of taxing the elite of their country. As we have seen, politicians in this country appear to have an aversion to paying their taxes, and can’t even comprehend the tax code that they wrote, as evidenced by Tom Daschle, who didn’t know the limo was taxable.

So will Geithner, considering the fiscal crisis we, ourselves, are facing, implement a program of ferreting out government tax cheats and garnishing their taxpayer-paid wages?

I doubt it.

He’s a tax cheat.

Nothing like the fox guarding the hen house.

Bailing out investors won’t help the economy

Reuters led the story of yesterday’s stock market rally with the following:

Stocks rose on Wednesday, with the benchmark S&P 500 index attempting the first two-day advance in a month, as investors held out hope that Washington would restore confidence in banks by relieving them of money-losing assets.

This is a rather disingenuous conclusion to derive from the rally message. Investors don’t care about confidence in the banking system, they care about their toxic investment making money again.

Those that did not see this debacle coming, and did not get out of these investments in time, are hoping that the bailout will be big enough to allow then to recoup their losses.

Geithner is working on a plan to relieve the banks of their bad assets – at taxpayer expense of course.

But, according to Reuters, Geithner “promised action within weeks and said he was moving deliberately to minimize risks of losses for taxpayers.”

Minimize risks of losses for taxpayers.

And conversely maximize the potential of gains for investors?

Bailing out these insolvent big banks by buying their bad debt with our money, while leaving the current management in place that not only created the problem but grew filthy rich while they did it,  is just a crime.

I would say he has no vision of the future, when we the taxpayers have to pay for this, but then, he’s not a taxpayer, so why would he care?

Can you say depression, boys and girls?

Clinton, Rubin and Summers, Graham, Leach and Bliley – thank you

In the early 1900’s, commercial banks began to establish security affiliates that floated bond issues and underwrote corporate stock issues. (In underwriting, a bank guarantees to furnish a definite sum of money by a definite date to a business or government entity in return for an issue of bonds or stock.)

Then the stock market crashed.

In 1930 the Bank of the United States failed, reportedly because of activities of its security affiliates that created artificial conditions in the market, FDR closed the banks for four days, 4000 failed permanently, and Congress created the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932, then amended it in the Banking Act of 1933.

The act forced a separation of commercial and investment banks by preventing commercial banks from underwriting securities, with the exception of U.S. Treasury and federal agency securities, and municipal and state general obligation securities.

More specifically, the act authorizes Federal Reserve banks to use government obligations and commercial paper as collateral for their note issues, in order to encourage expansion of the currency. Banks can also offer advisory services regarding investments for their customers, as well as buy and sell securities for their customers. However, information gained from providing such services cannot be used by a bank when it acts as a lender.

Likewise, investment banks cannot engage in the business of receiving deposits.

A bank is defined as an institution organized under the laws of the United States, any state of the United States, the District of Columbia, any territory of the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, or the Virgin Islands, that both accepts demand deposits (deposits that the depositor may withdraw by check or similar means for payment to third parties or others) and is engaged in the business of making commercial loans (12 U.S.C.A. § 1841 (c)(1) [1988]).

Investment banking consists mostly of securities underwriting and related activities; making a market in securities; and setting up corporate mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring. Investment banking also includes services provided by brokers or dealers in transactions in the secondary market. A secondary market is one where securities are bought and sold subsequent to their original issuance.

It also created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to protect depositors in the future.

The Act was passed because it was largely believed, after hearings in Congress, that commercial banks were being too speculative in the pre-Depression era, not only because they were investing their assets but also because they were buying new issues for resale to the public. Thus, banks became greedy, taking on huge risks in the hope of even bigger rewards. Banking itself became sloppy and objectives became blurred. Unsound loans were issued to companies in which the bank had invested, and clients would be encouraged to invest in those same stocks.

Enter the Clinton Era and the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, the act which ultimately repealed the Glass-Steagull Act. The final bi-partisan version passed in the Senate 90-8-1 and in the House: 362-57-15. Without forcing a veto vote, this bipartisan, veto proof legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on November 12, 1999, though most of his Democratic colleagues voted against it, initially (Senate 54-44, House 343-86).

The Graham-Leach-Bliley Act sought to “modernize” financial services–that is, end regulations that prevented the merger of banks, stock brokerage companies, and insurance companies. It nullified all prior acts that strictly regulated those who stored your money such as the Bank Holding Company Act that prohibited a bank from controlling a non-bank company which passed in 1956 and the 1982 amendment that further forbid banks from conducting general insurance underwriting or agency activities.

Why is this related to today? According to the Online Law Encylopedia,

The expansion of commercial banks into securities underwriting was substantial until the 1929 stock market crash and the subsequent Depression. In 1930 the Bank of the United States failed, reportedly because of activities of its security affiliates that created artificial conditions in the market.

As a result of the bank closings and already devastated economy, public confidence in the U.S. financial structure was low.

Is this sounding at all familiar? It should be.

The Glass-Steagull Act made all of that history, GLBA repealed it and history, my friends, is repeating itself.

*****************************************************************************************************************

Fast forward to October 2011 – With unemployment remaining steadily at over 9 percent for the last several years, foreclosures at an all time high and banks squeezing the dimes out of people with fees for everything but walking in the door, groups around the country are occupying financial districts, parks, banks and anywhere they believe they will have an impact. In New York occupiers shut down the Brooklyn Bridge and in Chicago they have been camped out for a couple of weeks on a corner that conveniently houses the Board of Trade, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Bank of America down the street. A recent rally joined by four other groups including several labor unions, shut down Monroe Street between Michigan and Columbus — ironically on Columbus Day.

Sources GLBA, Glass-Steagull(1), Glass-Steagull(2)

So why are we asking the experts anything?

NABE, the National Association of Business Economists, today released the results of their annual member survey. Reuters reports they predicted “the recession-hit economy would begin to recover in the second half of this year, returning to a potential growth trend in 2010.”

I wondered who these people were, and if they were the same people that missed this economic problem altogether, and were wondering for a year or two if we “might” be in a recession.

I found another survey summary that led to the current question, the topic of this entry. What do you think? Here’s what NABE says of its members:

Substantial percentages of economists report little familiarity with complex instruments and other financial innovations. Despite the prevalence of NABE members holding advanced degrees in economics and other business-related disciplines, substantial percentages admitted to having little or no familiarity with the structure, activities, and risks associated with hedge funds (45%), private equity funds (40%), asset-backed securitization (48%), credit default swaps (CDS, 68%) and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs, 51%).

That was in August 2007, when they also thought:

The five-year housing outlook remains largely positive. A slight plurality (42%) of respondents expects U.S. home prices to be flat, on average, over the next five years. But respondents who expect home prices to rise on average over the next five years (41%) far outnumber those who expect prices to fall (16%). NABE members continue to place low odds (1 in 10) on a large drop in U.S. home prices similar to that experienced in Japan during the 1990s.

No comment.

A criminal conspiracy by any other name…

I stumbled today, on the stock broker fraud blog which apparently keeps track of all the dirt on Wall Street. After reading an article about former UBS Securities LLC Executive Director Mitchell Guttenberg, who was ordered to “forfeit $15.81 million in alleged illegal profits, as well as serve 78 months in prison” for an insider trading scheme, which also involved UBS stock analysts, a trader, a hedge fund manager, and other individuals, I wondered, why does the RICO Act not apply here?

According to this article, Guttenberg and the 12 other individuals, “mostly former employees at Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Corp, and Bear Stearns Co., Inc., were criminally charged for their involvement in the insider trading ring. Investigators say the participants tried to conceal their illegal actions by conducting meetings at restaurants, using disposable cellular phones, and coming up with coded text messages.”

Are they drug dealers or traders? To some people, money is a drug. In this case, it should be treated as such.

Were they throwaway phones, or were they stupid enough to use their own?

But it gets better.

Another article, concerning Auction-Rate- Securities, involved 12 states which banded together to form a “multi-state Task Force dedicated to finding out whether Wall Street investment firms had misled investors when persuading them to invest in the ARS market.”

I anxiously read on to see how much jail time these people would do, and discovered the answer was zero.

The punishment for this crime that involved 12 states? “11 major Wall Street investment banks have said they will buy back over $51 billion in ARS from charities, retail investors, and small companies.”

And the list of these companies, with their ARS hotlines?

Bank of America 1-866-638-4183
Deutsche Bank 1-866-926-1437
Citi 1-866-720-4802
JP Morgan 1-866-450-8470
Goldman Sachs 1-888-350-2857
Merrill Lynch 1-888-706-1381
UBS 1-800-253-1974
Morgan Stanley 1-800-566-2273
Wachovia 1-866-283-794

That was in November 2008. When did they get the first of the TARP money, and their bonuses, and their huge salaries?

Are they on the UBS list of unnamed offshore accounts?

And on the same site:

UBS Financial Services, Inc., UBS Securities, LLC, and Citigroup have reached finalized settlements with the Securities and Exchange Commission to pay tens of thousands of ARS investors almost $30 billion. The settlements will resolve SEC charges that the companies misled investors about the risks involved with auction rate securities.

The SEC’s complaint accused UBS and Citigroup of misleading customers by telling them ARS were liquid, safe investments and failing to warn them of the growing dangers when the market started to fail. When the ARS market froze in February, the SEC says both firms left tens of thousands of clients holding billions of dollars in illiquid ARS.

These finalized settlements will restore about $22.7 billion in liquidity to UBS clients who invested in ARS and some $7 billion to Citigroup investors. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox says investors will get back “100 cents on the dollar on their ARS investments.” Both firms will buy ARS from affected customers at PAR. Customers that sold their ARS under the par difference will be paid between par and the ARS sale price. This is the largest settlement in SEC history.

That was December 22, 2008……and the TARP money?

We as taxpayers, should demand equal protection under the law. They should be charged with the criminal conspiracy that this truly is and sent to prison – 20 years to life, with their assets seized and put into the TARP Rebate Fund.

No wonder they needed that TARP money to be spent so rapidly and with no accounting for where it went. No, it wasn’t spent on bonuses, IT WAS SPENT TO PAY BACK THE THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE THEY DEFRAUDED!!

And Geithner, the tax cheat, was in on that deal.

He should resign. They should all be investigated for criminal conspiracies, the whole financial sector, but most especially, the members of the Too-Big-to-Fail-Club.

They seem to be the worst offenders.

Addendum. I don’t know that this is where the money was spent, but if they didn’t loan it out, and they didn’t spend it on bonuses….well, it’s a good bet.

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