20 February 2013

Four Largest Banks Are Now Almost As Big As US GDP: Accounting Hides Risks - Taleb on Fragility

This is what happens when one allows the Banks to write their own reform rules in the aftermath of a financial crisis that was spiced with ideology, campaign contributions, and fraud.

JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Bank of America, and massively interlocked derivatives positions that are 'netted out' for accounting purposes, but which collapse in chain reaction effect when they encounter counter-party failure, frame this unhappy picture. That is the heart of 'too big to fail.'

And this does not include foreign based banks doing substantial business in the States, that also had to be supported by the Fed during the financial crisis. Or related firms like brokerages, faux banks like Goldman, and camp followers such as AIG and other non-bank financial sector corporations.

To Big To Fail still represents a serious risk to the financial system, and the failure to reform is clear policy error that is owned by the Fed, the Congress, and the Administration.

There will be no sustainable recovery until the Banks are restrained, the financial system is reformed, and balance is restored to the economy.

U.S. Banks Bigger Than GDP as Accounting Rift Masks Risk
By Yalman Onaran
Feb 19, 2013 7:01 PM ET

Warning: Banks in the U.S. are bigger than they appear.

That label, like a similar one on automobile side-view mirrors, might be required of the four largest U.S. lenders if Thomas Hoenig, vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., has his way. Applying stricter accounting standards for derivatives and off-balance-sheet assets would make the banks twice as big as they say they are -- or about the size of the U.S. economy -- according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“Derivatives, like loans, carry risk,” Hoenig said in an interview. “To recognize those bets on the balance sheet would give a better picture of the risk exposures that are there.”

U.S. accounting rules allow banks to record a smaller portion of their derivatives than European peers and keep most mortgage-linked bonds off their books. That can underestimate the risks firms face and affect how much capital they need.

Using international standards for derivatives and consolidating mortgage securitizations, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. would double in assets, while Citigroup Inc. would jump 60 percent, third- quarter data show. JPMorgan would swell to $4.5 trillion from $2.3 trillion, leapfrogging London-based HSBC Holdings Plc and Deutsche Bank AG, each with about $2.7 trillion.

JPMorgan, Bank of America and Citigroup would become the world’s three largest banks and Wells Fargo the sixth-biggest. Their combined assets of $14.7 trillion would equal 93 percent of U.S. gross domestic product last year, the data show. Total assets of the country’s banking system would be 170 percent of economic output, still lower than 326 percent for Germany.

U.S. accounting rules for netting derivatives allow banks to erase about $4 trillion in assets, the data show. The lenders also can remove from their books most mortgages they package into securities, trimming an additional $3 trillion.

Off-balance-sheet assets and derivatives were at the root of the 2008 financial crisis. Mortgage securitizations kept off the books came back to haunt banks forced to repurchase home loans sold to special investment vehicles. The government had to rescue American International Group Inc. with a bailout that ballooned to $182 billion after the insurer couldn’t pay banks on derivatives tied to those bonds....

Read the rest here.