30 April 2010

Muni Bonds: Time to Head for Higher Ground?

J. P. Morgan and Charles Schwab have just announced a program to make municipal bonds more available to small investors.

Let's see, record low interest rates and looming risk of default from undisclosed obligations, or perhaps a brisk uptake in inflation. Sounds like a plan (for the big dogs to unload).


Culture of Deceit: Why Dick Fuld So Needlessly and Recklessly Perjured Himself Before Congress

"Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence."

Henri-Frederic Amiel

Yet another whistle blower who has been completely ignored by the SEC just stepped forward to finally be acknowledged by the media.

A Bloomberg analyst reported around noon NY time that they had verified Mr. Budde's story, and that indeed Dick Fuld easily had received cash in excess of $500 million in compensation for the period in question, higher than even Henry Waxman had asserted in his charts during Dick Fuld's testimony.

Mr. Budde, a former counsel who was frustrated and plain fed up with the culture of personal greed and deceit among the Lehman executives stepped forward again to tell his story after being completely ignored by the SEC and the Lehman Board of Directors.

Now, I have some sympathy for Dick Fuld. I mean, when you are making the big bucks owed to a master of the universe, and you eat widows and orphans for breakfast, what does it really matter if it is $300 million, or $550 million, or even the one billion that some estimate was the true total compensation? What is a few hundred millions when you can afford to wipe your derrière with Cohiba cigars, and gargle with Cristal Brut 1990? (Oh yeah, that's class, real class. I must finally be somebody, and not just some schmuck from the Bronx. I'll show them, show them all.)

I know I have trouble keeping track of what I have exactly in my own wallet at times, especially after paying the kids a couple of quid to walk the dog. And $200 million is hardly a significant sum anymore in the rapidly expanding compensation universe change on Wall Street. There is the locus of Bernanke's inflation, the FIRE sector, where the liquidity has been channeled, for years.

But what interests me most is why did Dick Fuld perjure himself over something to obviously verifiable, and largely irrelevant? Doesn't he file tax returns? Did he mess up using Turbo Tax like other board members of the NY Fed are said to have done? Or was he just a little bit ashamed of taking huge sums from a company that he ran into the ground in a Ponzi scheme? On the other hand Goldman execs celebrate their bonuses and just love to roll in their own irrational greed. Perhaps it was just a slip, a bad habit, a automatic reflex.

Fuld was widely disliked on the Street, and when those sharks and sociopaths, who would sell their own mothers for an eighth, don't like you there just have to be some serious personality issues involved.

But Dick is likely to be just another scapegoat, like Martha Stewart, in an escalating program to feed at first the small fry and now bigger 'outsiders' to the mob and the show trials, while the great bulk of the crime continues to be concealed.

And just so you don't feel too sorry for the Dickster, on November 10, 2008 Fuld sold his Florida mansion to his wife Kathleen for $100; this may protect the house from potential legal actions and judgements against him. They had bought it only 4 years earlier for $13.56 million.

Still, one can only ask the question, and wonder, what a brave new world, that has such people in it, virtually running the regulators, the Congress, and the government for their own irrational benefit and obsessive greed.

Fuld Understated Pay More Than $200 Million, Lehman’s Budde Says

By James Sterngold
April 30, 2010, 12:02 AM EDT

April 29 (Bloomberg) -- Before Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. took his place, Richard S. Fuld Jr.’s angry face was the universal symbol of Wall Street greed.

On Oct. 6, 2008, three weeks after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, Lehman’s former chief executive officer found himself before Representative Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat who chaired the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Waxman has stared down plenty of CEOs over the years, yet this had to be one of the most intense confrontations of his career.

“Mr. Fuld will do fine,” Waxman said. “He can walk away from Lehman a wealthy man who earned over $500 million. But taxpayers are left with a $700 billion bill to rescue Wall Street and an economy in crisis.”

Fuld said he was a victim, not an architect, of the collapse, blaming a “crisis of confidence” in the markets for dooming his firm. Reckless management had nothing to do with it. “Lehman Brothers,” he said, “was a casualty.”

Fuld and Waxman went on to disagree about just how much money Fuld had taken out of Lehman before it went under, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in its May 3 edition. Fuld, now 64, said his total compensation from 2000 through 2007 was less than $310 million, not the $485 million that appeared on Waxman’s chart. He said 85 percent of his pay was in Lehman stock that had become worthless. “I never sold my shares,” Fuld said at one point. At another, he said he had not sold the “vast majority” of them.

“That just seems to me an incredible amount of money,” Waxman responded.

Under Oath

Among those closely observing Fuld was a 49-year-old former Lehman lawyer named Oliver Budde who was watching the hearing at home on C-Span. Budde (pronounced Boo-da) was certain Waxman’s figures weren’t too high. They were too low, and he could prove it. Fuld, he believed, had understated the amount he was paid during those years by more than $200 million, and now he had done it under oath, for the entire world to see.

For nine years, Budde had served as an associate general counsel at Lehman. Preparing the public filings on executive compensation had been one of his major responsibilities, and he had been infuriated by what he saw as the firm’s intentional under-representation of how much top executives like Fuld were paid. Budde says he argued with his bosses for years over the matter, so much so that he eventually quit the firm. After he left, he couldn’t let the matter rest.

Contacting Regulators

He contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Lehman board of directors and says neither showed interest in meeting him. He was so shocked by Fuld’s testimony in front of Congress that he started thinking about writing a book going public with his story, which is told here for the first time.

“I wasn’t surprised, because these guys don’t surprise me anymore,” Budde says. “But it just struck me -- they’re doing it again. I wasn’t going to sit back and watch...”

Reykjavík on the Thames: Hard Times Ahead for Britain

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

W. B. Yeats, The Second Coming

The UK had another debate last night, and the polls shows the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in a surprisingly close race, with Labour under Gordon Brown continuing to slip. We will be looking for more polls (not connected in any way to Mr. Rupert Murdoch thank you) over the weekend after yesterday's televised debates.

The election seems likely to result in a 'hung Parliament' with no clear majority for any party, suggesting the possibility of a coalition government.

As a reminder to American readers, most of whom do not even know that the Brits are holding an election or how their governments are formed, the Liberal Democrats would be considered the 'reform party' in this election, what the Yanks would call a 'third party.'

And to put an edge on it, the New Stateman reports that Mervyn King suggests that the coming austerity to be imposed on UK citizens to support the City Banks will ensure that the next party in power will not be elected again for many many years.

Of course that is what the US newspapers said about the Republicans ahead of their last election, but in a short period of time Mr. Obama has managed to alienate a large share of his election base by acting more like a moderate corporate crony than a reform Democrat.

This election is important in any number of ways, but for the US it is a peek into what the future may bring in their own midterm elections in November. It is unusual for a people to go all out for a third party when they are frightened. There has not been a viable third party in the states for almost a century. But the manner in which the elections are settled in the UK brings forward some interesting possibilities.

New Statesman
Mervyn King: next government will be voted out for a generation

30 April 2010

Governor of the Bank of England warns that austerity measures will be so unpopular that the next party in power will not be voted back in.

Mervyn King's comments were revealed just hours before the final leaders' debate.

The American economist David Hale, who has known King for many years, said in an Australian television interview: "I saw the governor of the Bank of England last week when I was in London, and he told me whoever wins this election will be out of power for a whole generation because of how tough the fiscal austerity will have to be."

The Bank of England declined to comment, but confirmed that King and Hale had had a private meeting in early March.

His comments come amid growing concern that none of the three main parties has been open about the scale of spending cuts and tax rises that will be necessary.

SP Futures Daily Chart: End of Month and the Bulls Need a New High, Badly

Its the end of April, and the bull run on Wall Street needs a new high to break the head and shoulders broadening top that is forming. They seem to have all they can handle to deliver another up month.

They might manage it into the close, but traders are edgy about going long into the weekend with the Greece situation still unsettled. Its probably once again up to the Banks to take it higher, using the government's money.

Just the other week I cautioned a friend on a chatboard I occasionally frequent to watch out for a divergence between gold and equities, with stocks going down while gold holds its ground or rises higher. This is a possible trend change, with the significance that could be quite dramatic in the coming months. At some point there is likely to be a revulsion against fraud, and the paper that supports it. It is unlikely to happen all at once, but in steps, or stages. There are powerful monied interests behind the status quo.

And so here we are, for now.

Guess Who Is Taking Delivery of 1.7 Tonnes of Gold from the Comex

"Never be surprised at the crumbling of an idol or the disclosure of a skeleton.”

John Emerich Lord Acton

Its delivery time for the May Gold contract on the Comex, and the statistics yesterday showed some interesting buying.

Bank of Nova Scotia 'stopped' 699 big contracts, and issued 100 contracts, for a net takedown of roughly 1.7 tons of gold, the bulk of which was supplied by J.P. Morgan.

As you may recall, the Canadian bullion bank Scotia Mocatta is a subsidiary of Bank of Nova Scotia. Socita Mocatta was recently involved in a bit of a scandal when some investors went to visit 'the vault where their gold was stored' and found it to be surprisingly, perhaps shockingly, undersupplied.

Is BNS acting to back up their paper, or are large investors asking for their bullion in advance? Either way, its an act of good faith on the part of BNS to take the delivery, and probably very smart to do it now.

While cash settlement may be an option, it is not ethical, and BNS is known for its high ethical standards towards its customers, unlike some of its more famous American cousins in the gangs of New York.

Nothing to see here, move along. Its all perfectly normal. No one really has to have what they sell and store for you anymore. Unless they are honest.

h/t Denver Dave

29 April 2010

When You Lie Down With Them Dept: Morgan Stanley Has 69% Tier 1 Capital Exposure to the PIIGS

That statistic about Morgan Stanley was an eye opener in terms of percent of capital exposure. No wonder Angie Merkel is playing hard to get, holding out for more than another back rub. Morgan Stanley looks like it done slipped in the pig wallow, don'cha know.

Gentlemen, start your presses.

JPMorgan Has Biggest Exposure to Debt Risks in Europe

By Gavin Finch

April 29 (Bloomberg) -- JPMorgan Chase & Co., the second- biggest U.S. bank by assets, has a larger exposure than any of its peers to Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain, according to Wells Fargo & Co.

JPMorgan’s exposure to the five so-called PIIGS countries is $36.3 billion, equating to 28 percent of the firm’s Tier-1 capital, a measure of financial strength, Wells Fargo analysts including Matthew Burnell wrote today. Morgan Stanley holds $32.4 billion of debt in the region, which equates to 69 percent of its Tier 1 capital, Burnell wrote.

“Regulatory data suggests JPMorgan’s exposure is largest in aggregate, but Morgan Stanley held the largest aggregate exposure to the PIIGS relative to Tier 1 capital,” the analysts wrote. Overall U.S. bank “exposure to Greece is lower than exposure to
Ireland, Italy and Spain.”

Bonds and stocks plunged across Europe in the past week on concern the Greek debt crisis is spreading across the euro area. Standard & Poor’s this week cut Greece, Portugal and Spain’s credit ratings as concern the nations may fail to meet their debt commitments increased.

U.S. banks held a total of $236.8 billion of exposure to the five nations, including $18.1 billion to Greece, Wells Fargo said. European banks have claims totaling $193.1 billion on Greece, according to the Bank for International Settlements, with another $832.2 billion of claims on Spain.

Performance of Several Key Currencies Since January 2007

This chart shows the comparative performance of several currencies in their dollar crosses since January 2007, or shortly before the most recent financial crisis took hold. For the US dollar itself we are using the DX index.

Gold did sell off hard in the market plunge in October of 2008 reaching an intraday low of $680, a buying opportunity of the first order. Many who said they were waiting to buy a dip never bought, because like most speculators they keep waiting for 'THE' bottom, and keep lowering their target buy price, and never really take a position. Then watch it run away from them, and wait for a pullback, but again never buy back in. Oh they will point to certain stocks that performed fabulously off the bottom, but they did not buy and hold them either, except in their fantasies and trash talk.

This is a flip side to those bulls who were long the tech bubble, and kept waiting for a higher price to sell their positions, just a few dollars more, and ended up taking a ride on a death spiral.

If you did not buy in then, what makes you think you can muster the conviction to buy on any other dip in a new major selloff? What makes you think the market will give you a second chance?

Gold never broke in the Crash of 1987, and offered quite a safe haven until Greenspan and the central banks started selling into it in 1988 to discourage the competition. Think they can do that again? With what?

And as for the theory about debt destruction making a currency more valuable, it could work, but don't hold your breath for the euro to strengthen as the sovereign debt of the PIGS starts swirling the bowl. And where they go, so will the UK and then the US go as well.

And before you complacently snicker at the problems in the eurozone, keep in mind that as a percent of GDP, the US debt is fast approaching the same level as Portugal, and climbing.

Release the Kraken: Silver Market Price Rebounds After Sharp Price Drop for Options Expiration

"Corruption is a tree, whose branches are
of an immeasurable length: they spread
Everywhere; and the dew that drops from thence
Hath infected some chairs and stools of authority."

Beaumont and Fletcher, The Honest Man's Fortune

The silver market is rallying strongly today, after the recent dip in price below $18 with respect to the options expiration and delivery dates for the May contract earlier this week. When futures options are filled, one is not paid in cash, but instead they receive active futures contracts at the strike price.

The market game is to either get the front month price below the key strike prices before the expiry to make the options worthless, or to take the price down below the strikes the day after to run the stops of the contract holders. The market makers can see the relative levels of holdings in market in near real time, privileged information not permitted to the average investor.

Three or four banks are short more silver on the COMEX than can easily be attributed to legitimate forward sales or hedging for all the miners in the entire world, for years of production. Granted, it is hard to determine what the truth is because they are allowed to hide their actual positions and collateral, so as to be able to make their leverage and risk difficult to determine. It's the obsessive secrecy for improbable positions and returns that is the tell in most market manipulation and schemes such as Madoff's ponzi investments.

Goldman Sachs was able to obtain the exemptions of a hedger in the markets through contrivance, for the purpose of their proprietary speculation. But if Goldman is the vampire squid, then J. P. Morgan is the kraken of the derivatives markets, having less leverage than the squid as a percentage of assets, but significantly more reach and nominal size, positions which seem almost impossible to manage competently against value at risk in the event of a very modest market dislocation. And of course the risk which a miscalculation presents could shake a continent of counterparties. These oversized positions appear to be integral to the misprision of legitimate price discovery that is at the heart of derivatives frauds in other markets.

The 4Q '09 report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reports that "The notional value of derivatives held by U.S. commercial banks increased $8.5 trillion in the fourth quarter, or 4.2%, to $212.8 trillion." J.P. Morgan alone has a total derivatives exposure that is larger than world GDP. Granted, by far most of these derivatives are based on interest rates, which are largely under the nominal control of Wall Street's creature, the Fed, at least for now.

Here is a description of the derivatives market by Carl Levin that seems appropriate to the current situation, but also to other market dislocations such as that of LTCM which foundered through the misapplication of risk management assumptions to enormously outsized positions.

"Ordinarily, the financial risk in a market, and hence the risk to the economy at large, is limited because the assets traded are finite. There are only so many houses, mortgages, shares of stock, bushels of corn, [bars of silver], or barrels of oil in which to invest.

But a synthetic instrument has no real assets. It is simply a bet on the performance of the assets it references. That means the number of synthetic instruments is limitless, and so is the risk they present to the economy...

Increasingly, synthetics became bets made by people who had no interest in the referenced assets. Synthetics became the chips in a giant casino, one that created no economic growth even when it thrived, and then helped throttle the economy when the casino collapsed."

These bets can be used to overwhelm the clearing price of physical bullion. Further, these bets distort markets, and those markets have an impact on the real commodity supplies and the economy, in the form of artificial oil and energy shortages for example as in the case of Enron. And given enough time these distortions can, through misallocation of resources, capital and labor, create real systemic shortages in key commodities that can take years to remedy, in addition to the short term damage and pain they inflict on countries whose economies rely on commodity exports.

Perhaps Senator Levin can reuse this quote when he questions CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler, another Goldman alumnus in government, and Sandy Weil's protege Jamie Dimon, when the Congress holds hearings on the defaults in the commodity markets and the requested bailouts of the banks who were holding enormously leveraged derivatives positions.

Unless, that is, the bailouts are conducted in secret, as Mr. Gordon Brown may have done for the bullion banks when he sold England's gold for a pittance. It is hard to know the facts of that sale because it has been hidden away by the Official Secrets Act. That type of bailout would be hard to do with silver, since the US has long since depleted its official holdings, and has trouble keeping its own mint in supply. But such a bailout might be done with the gold in Fort Knox and West Point, or the oil in the Strategic Reserve. And cash settlement is always an option, since the Fed does own a printing press.

I know this sounds a bit much at times, and there are plenty who will tell you to ignore it and move along. Tinfoil hat and all that. And it is natural to grow tired of it, to wish it would just go away. I know that I do.

But these things have happened, and continue to happen, and if you do not understand even now how the government and the banks are acting together in the the shadows for the benefit of the monied interests, you have not been following the news. Or perhaps you have, since the mainstream media largely ignores it, and investigates little or nothing, preferring the less expensive route of chairing phony debates between vested insiders, shameless promoters and paid position whores known as 'strategists.' The financial medai seems to have led the way on this, turning their 'news coverage' into an extended infomercial.

It is a dirty, shameful lapse in stewardship, and an overall failure in the upholding of oaths and responsibilities in public figures and officials. I have not seen anything like it since the Watergate trials which seemed to drag on interminably, and the scandalous behaviour and abuses that were exposed in the Nixon Administration. And it has only just begun to come out, but slowly. Because this time the US lacks a truly independent press that respects and investigates the evidence provided by whistle blowers, and is willing to question the sham explanations of the powerful insiders in the government and the financial sector.

And no one in power is recording anything for posterity, at least not voluntarily.

The Economic Policy Error Behind the Stock Market Rally and the Next Phase of the Financial Crisis

"The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: The growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy."

Alex Carey

The strategy of the Bernanke Federal Reserve and of the Obama Administration's economic team is fairly clear: prevent the bank failures of the 1930's by propping up the biggest banks with huge infusions of publicly subsidized capital, and hope that they start lending again as the economy recovers. It is a variation of the 'trickle down' theory of economics adjusted by the perceived Fed policy errors of the first Great Depression, with little from the New Deal programs.

Bernanke is famously a student of the first Great Depression, even as General Joffre, the architect of the Ligne Maginot, was a student of the first World War. And Larry Summers is remarkably similar to Marshal Pétain. Tim, on the other hand, seems to be a student of very little, not even apparently of the tax code which he administers, except perhaps the art of being a manservant, a valet to the powerful.

Failure number one of course is that the banks that they chose to support are not responsible commercial banks engaged primarily in lending to small business and localized activity. Those banks are the local and regional banks that are failing in record numbers. The banks they chose to save are those who have heavily contributed to the campaign coffers and job prospects of Washington politicians. Goldman Sachs, for example, is a glorified hedge fund dedicated to speculation and enormous amounts of leverage. One only has to look at the source of their profits to understand what it is that they do with their capital and energy. And it is largely from 'trading.'

Bernanke has (so he thinks) cleverly tied up much of the liquidity with which he has infused the banks as secure reserves which are paying riskless returns thanks to his innovation in sustaining a floor under the ZIRP by paying interest directly. But if you look at what he is doing, and all Bernanke has done, even in his buying a trillion dollars of bad mortgage debt, he is merely rescuing well-heeled creditors and the banks and hedge funds who engaged in reckless speculation during a housing mania that the Greenspan Federal Reserve had fostered, using the very funds from the people who were most greatly harmed. It is an almost perfect betrayal.

If the Administration and the Congress then succeed in paying for this subsidy to the wealthy by redirecting the Social Security funds which the people have already paid to the government trust fund, by making the case that they already have been expropriated, the betrayal would be complete.

The lack of productive investment and genuine stimulus for the real economy seen so far in the enormous subsidies put forward is appalling. Bernanke and his colleagues Larry Summers and Tim Geithner would have us believe that they had no choice. But informed and experienced commentators such as William K. Black have told us how they have misrepresented their choices.

Their current policies seem to lead the US into a 'zombie economy' at best, in which the Banks are doing well, but almost everyone else suffers from stagflation, particularly the lower and middle classes who obtain their income from productive labor. At worst, the bubble bursts again, and there is another, more furious, leg down, with greater and more lasting damage done to the ordinary people.

So what would have worked? The Fed and Treasury could have backstopped the public instead of the Wall Street banks. They could have temporarily increased and extended the FDIC coverage to much higher levels to guard against further bank runs and depositor losses, and then started dismantling the Wall Street banks through orderly liquidations. What message would this have sent to both savers and speculators? What message has been sent instead?

They could have provided liquidity more directly to the commercial paper markets, rather than trying to shove it through the failing Wall Street banks with much heavier costs and asset support. They needed no new laws or tools to do this. And financial reform and higher taxes on those who obtain outsized wealth without productive work would have curtailed a recurrence.

For example, the Treasury program to forestall mortgage foreclosures has helped in total, since its inception, a total of approximately 167,000 families. This is in a period in which about 200,000 families PER MONTH were losing their homes. And during which time the too big to fail banks were paying out enormous bonuses as though nothing had ever happened to 'retain talent and reward performance,' even while receiving subsidized funds. Its tough love for everyone, from homeowners to wager earners to local banks, except for the ringleaders in Wall Street. And they continue to resist and lobby against even modest reforms, spending millions per day on Washington to buy influence, with your money. This is a banana republic, nothing but crony capitalism.

So why did they do what they did? Are they in league with the banks? Was this some sort of conspiracy? No, I doubt this, although there are far too many secretive aspects to completely dismiss it. And most recently the threat of criminal charges for the NY Fed in their coverup of the AIG bailout by the lone independent investigator, Neil Barofsky, who was appointed by the outgoing presidential administration.

It is important to recall that none of these men have ever held a productive job in the real economy in their entire lives. Even young Tim is no spring chicken at age 48.

They were always the pampered products of the academy, Wall Street, and the government. Even though Mr. Obama has served the community at the street level, he shows none of the tempering of judgement and skills that one perceives in someone who has had to stand their time in the arena of leadership. He is best described as an influencer, an organizer of a timid degree compared to the giants that preceded him in this field. It seems to have been more of a stepping stone to a power base than a calling.

So they took care of their own, the biggest institutions, because that is their weltanschauung, their bias, or view of the world. It has been said that the Federal Reserve is the worst place to locate certain aspects of banking regulation, because they have a complete aversion to ever allowing a bank to fail, as it is a virtual admission of personal failure. It runs against their nature. That is why the FDIC is much more effective in this, as they do not own, or are not owned by, the banks. That is also why placing Consumer Protection Against Banking Abuse is a cruel farce. Couple this with a career experience in which the world is viewed through the lens of cost plus monopoly business management, and privileged power, and their inability to make the tough but effective decisions seems more understandable.

And the promise of future positions, and large amounts of lobbying money to their friends and mentors and sponsors, and the policy error that is ruining the country seems more understandable.

So now we have another asset bubble in the making, a new Ponzi scheme in the US equity market fomented by the Wall Street Banks packed with public funds, seeking to drive prices higher, for the apparent reason of obtaining confidence from the public, but with the effect of selling assets at inflated prices to public institutions yet again, with the inevitable collapse to follow when the reality of their value is discovered. And so the credit crisis will morph into a currency and sovereign debt crisis.

What a shame. What a disappointing performance for a reform government that promised change that the people could believe in.

"...surveys show that the usual investors in major rallies – pension funds, hedge funds and retail investors – have not been net buyers of equities. And he says the most likely explanation for this anomaly in the biggest stock market rally since the 1930s is that major investment banks are the anxious buyers.

“Their buying would appear to be for one of two reasons. Firstly because they think the authorities will prevail in their (so far unsuccessful) efforts to inflate their way out of debt liquidation; or secondly because they are too big to fail and so can afford to take a huge gamble that enough buying will convince others to rush in and buy their inventory of risk assets at even higher prices."

Financial Times, Equity Rally Not Driven by the Usual Investors, Financial Times, April 28

And it should be noted that the Wall Street demimonde, the financial media, the financial commentators regulators and legislators, are widely supportive of this, because they draw they pay and employment prospects from an enlarged financial sector. So they are natural enthusiasts. Similem habent labra lactucam.

And of course there is the mainstream media, which is generally silent, or simply pleads confusion and ignorance, when things financial are discussed out of deference to their corporate owners, and the difficulties of actually engaging in investigative journalism, rather than acting as a guest host to a competitive debate among lobbyists and ideologues. It is the path of least resistance, and greatest returns. And it leads to an economy that consists of little else besides usury, propaganda, and fraud.
"I promise you a new Rome. I promise you a new Empire." Marcus Licinius Crassus, who defeated Spartacus, and helped give rise to the first of the Caesars
Why be negative? Better to be playing safe while Rome burns and the Republic falls.

28 April 2010

Guest Post: The Perils of Credit Money Systems Managed by Private Corporations

In this instance the 'paper money' system would be analagous to money created by private banks by means of expanding credit. The Second Bank of the United States is the predecessor to the Federal Reserve Bank System which was established in 1913.

"The paper system being founded on public confidence and having of itself no intrinsic value, is liable to great and sudden fluctuations, thereby rendering property insecure and the wages of labor unsteady and uncertain.

The corporations which create the paper money cannot be relied upon to keep the circulating medium uniform in amount. In times of prosperity, when confidence is high, they are tempted by the prospect of gain or by the influence of those who hope to profit by it to extend their issues of paper beyond the bounds of discretion and the reasonable demands of business.

And when these issues have been pushed on from day to day until the public confidence is at length shaken, then a reaction takes place, and they immediately withdraw the credits they have given; suddenly curtail their issues; and produce an unexpected and ruinous contraction of the circulating medium which is felt by the whole community.

The banks, by this means, save themselves, and the mischievous consequences of their imprudence or cupidity are visited upon the public. Nor does the evil stop here. These ebbs and flows in the currency and these indiscreet extensions of credit naturally engender a spirit of speculation injurious to the habits and character of the people. We have already seen its effects in the wild spirit of speculation in the public lands and various kinds of stock which, within the last year or two, seized upon such a multitude of our citizens and threatened to pervade all classes of society and to withdraw their attention from the sober pursuits of honest industry. It is not by encouraging this spirit that we shall best preserve public virtue and promote the true interests of our country.

But if your currency continues as exclusively paper as it now is, it will foster this eager desire to amass wealth without labor; it will multiply the number of dependents on bank accommodations and bank favors; the temptation to obtain money at any sacrifice will become stronger and stronger, and inevitably lead to corruption which will find its way into your public councils and destroy, at no distant day, the purity of your government. Some of the evils which arise from this system of paper press, with peculiar hardship, upon the class of society least able to bear it...

Recent events have proved that the paper money system of this country may be used as an engine to undermine your free institutions; and that those who desire to engross all power in the hands of the few and to govern by corruption or force are aware of its power and prepared to employ it. Your banks now furnish your only circulating medium, and money is plenty or scarce according to the quantity of notes issued by them. While they have capitals not greatly disproportioned to each other, they are competitors in business, and no one of them can exercise dominion over the rest. And although, in the present state of the currency, these banks may and do operate injuriously upon the habits of business, the pecuniary concerns, and the moral tone of society, yet, from their number and dispersed situation, they cannot combine for the purpose of political influence; and whatever may be the dispositions of some of them their power of mischief must necessarily be confined to a narrow space and felt only in their immediate neighborhoods.

But when the charter of the Bank of the United States was obtained from Congress, it perfected the schemes of the paper system and gave its advocates the position they have struggled to obtain from the commencement of the federal government down to the present hour. The immense capital and peculiar privileges bestowed upon it enabled it to exercise despotic sway over the other banks in every part of the country. From its superior strength it could seriously injure, if not destroy, the business of any one of them which might incur its resentment; and it openly claimed for itself the power of regulating the currency throughout the United States. In other words, it asserted (and it undoubtedly possessed) the power to make money plenty or scarce, at its pleasure, at any time, and in any quarter of the Union, by controlling the issues of other banks and permitting an expansion or compelling a general contraction of the circulating medium according to its own will.

The other banking institutions were sensible of its strength, and they soon generally became its obedient instruments, ready at all times to execute its mandates; and with the banks necessarily went, also, that numerous class of persons in our commercial cities who depend altogether on bank credits for their solvency and means of business; and who are, therefore, obliged for their own safety to propitiate the favor of the money power by distinguished zeal and devotion in its service.

The result of the ill-advised legislation which established this great monopoly was to concentrate the whole money power of the Union, with its boundless means of corruption and its numerous dependents, under the direction and command of one acknowledged head; thus organizing this particular interest as one body and securing to it unity and concert of action throughout the United States and enabling it to bring forward, upon any occasion, its entire and undivided strength to support or defeat any measure of the government. In the hands of this formidable power, thus perfectly organized, was also placed unlimited dominion over the amount of the circulating medium, giving it the power to regulate the value of property and the fruits of labor in every quarter of the Union and to bestow prosperity or bring ruin upon any city or section of the country as might best comport with its own interest or policy.

We are not left to conjecture how the moneyed power, thus organized and with such a weapon in its hands, would be likely to use it. The distress and alarm which pervaded and agitated the whole country when the Bank of the United States waged war upon the people in order to compel them to submit to its demands cannot yet be forgotten. The ruthless and unsparing temper with which whole cities and communities were oppressed, individuals impoverished and ruined, and a scene of cheerful prosperity suddenly changed into one of gloom and despondency ought to be indelibly impressed on the memory of the people of the United States.

If such was its power in a time of peace, what would it not have been in a season of war with an enemy at your doors? No nation but the freemen of the United States could have come out victorious from such a contest; yet, if you had not conquered, the government would have passed from the hands of the many to the hands of the few; and this organized money power, from its secret conclave, would have directed the choice of your highest officers and compelled you to make peace or war as best suited their own wishes. The forms of your government might, for a time, have remained; but its living spirit would have departed from it.

The distress and sufferings inflicted on the people by the Bank are some of the fruits of that system of policy which is continually striving to enlarge the authority of the federal government beyond the limits fixed by the Constitution. The powers enumerated in that instrument do not confer on Congress the right to establish such a corporation as the Bank of the United States; and the evil consequences which followed may warn us of the danger of departing from the true rule of construction and of permitting temporary circumstances or the hope of better promoting the public welfare to influence, in any degree, our decisions upon the extent of the authority of the general government. Let us abide by the Constitution as it is written or amend it in the constitutional mode if it is found defective.

The severe lessons of experience will, I doubt not, be sufficient to prevent Congress from again chartering such a monopoly, even if the Constitution did not present an insuperable objection to it. But you must remember, my fellow citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty; and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing. It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your states as well as in the federal government.

The power which the moneyed interest can exercise, when concentrated under a single head, and with our present system of currency, was sufficiently demonstrated in the struggle made by the Bank of the United States. Defeated in the general government, the same class of intriguers and politicians will now resort to the states and endeavor to obtain there the same organization which they failed to perpetuate in the Union; and with specious and deceitful plans of public advantages and state interests and state pride they will endeavor to establish, in the different states, one moneyed institution with overgrown capital and exclusive privileges sufficient to enable it to control the operations of the other banks.

Such an institution will be pregnant with the same evils produced by the Bank of the United States, although its sphere of action is more confined; and in the state in which it is chartered the money power will be able to embody its whole strength and to move together with undivided force to accomplish any object it may wish to attain. You have already had abundant evidence of its power to inflict injury upon the agricultural, mechanical, and laboring classes of society, and over whose engagements in trade or speculation render them dependent on bank facilities, the dominion of the state monopoly will be absolute, and their obedience unlimited. With such a bank and a paper currency, the money power would, in a few years, govern the state and control its measures; and if a sufficient number of states can be induced to create such establishments, the time will soon come when it will again take the field against the United States and succeed in perfecting and perpetuating its organization by a charter from Congress.

It is one of the serious evils of our present system of banking that it enables one class of society, and that by no means a numerous one, by its control over the currency to act injuriously upon the interests of all the others and to exercise more than its just proportion of influence in political affairs. The agricultural, the mechanical, and the laboring classes have little or no share in the direction of the great moneyed corporations; and from their habits and the nature of their pursuits, they are incapable of forming extensive combinations to act together with united force. Such concert of action may sometimes be produced in a single city or in a small district of country by means of personal communications with each other; but they have no regular or active correspondence with those who are engaged in similar pursuits in distant places. They have but little patronage to give the press and exercise but a small share of influence over it; they have no crowd of dependents about them who hope to grow rich without labor by their countenance and favor and who are, therefore, always ready to exercise their wishes.

The planter, the farmer, the mechanic, and the laborer all know that their success depends upon their own industry and economy and that they must not expect to become suddenly rich by the fruits of their toil. Yet these classes of society form the great body of the people of the United States; they are the bone and sinew of the country; men who love liberty and desire nothing but equal rights and equal laws and who, moreover, hold the great mass of our national wealth, although it is distributed in moderate amounts among the millions of freemen who possess it. But, with overwhelming numbers and wealth on their side, they are in constant danger of losing their fair influence in the government, and with difficulty maintain their just rights against the incessant efforts daily made to encroach upon them.

The mischief springs from the power which the moneyed interest derives from a paper currency which they are able to control; from the multitude of corporations with exclusive privileges which they have succeeded in obtaining in the different states and which are employed altogether for their benefit; and unless you become more watchful in your states and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges, you will, in the end, find that the most important powers of government have been given or bartered away, and the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations.

The paper money system and its natural associates, monopoly and exclusive privileges, have already struck their roots deep in the soil; and it will require all your efforts to check its further growth and to eradicate the evil. The men who profit by the abuses and desire to perpetuate them will continue to besiege the halls of legislation in the general government as well as in the states and will seek, by every artifice, to mislead and deceive the public servants. It is to yourselves that you must look for safety and the means of guarding and perpetuating your free institutions. In your hands is rightfully placed the sovereignty of the country and to you everyone placed in authority is ultimately responsible. It is always in your power to see that the wishes of the people are carried into faithful execution, and their will, when once made known, must sooner or later be obeyed. And while the people remain, as I trust they ever will, uncorrupted and incorruptible and continue watchful and jealous of their rights, the government is safe, and the cause of freedom will continue to triumph over all its enemies.

But it will require steady and persevering exertions on your part to rid yourselves of the iniquities and mischiefs of the paper system and to check the spirit of monopoly and other abuses which have sprung up with it and of which it is the main support. So many interests are united to resist all reform on this subject that you must not hope the conflict will be a short one nor success easy. My humble efforts have not been spared during my administration of the government to restore the constitutional currency of gold and silver; and something, I trust, has been done toward the accomplishment of this most desirable object. But enough yet remains to require all your energy and perseverance. The power, however, is in your hands, and the remedy must and will be applied if you determine upon it."

Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address, March 4, 1837

NY Fed Cited in Cover-Up By SIGTARP's Barofsky - Possible Criminal Charges

It's never the crime, it's always the cover up.

This is beyond a doubt the story of the week. Neil Barofsky has been a thorn in the side of the Treasury Department and the Fed since he first took office.

I doubt there will be criminal charges filed against Turbo Tim personally, since in his case the clueless CEO defense may obtain some traction. Unless, that is, they have wiretaps and/or emails showing collusion with some of the bailed out banks, in either insider trading or the manipulation of assets for extraordinary gains.

It is a boiling scandal, and emblematic of the hidden corruption that has pervaded financial regulation in Washington for the past ten years at least. It did not start with Obama, but it may still bring down key members of his Administration.

Reform the financial system, audit the Fed.

Barofsky Says Criminal Charges Possible in Alleged AIG Coverup

By Richard Teitelbaum
28 April 2010

April 28 (Bloomberg) -- ...That tense relationship [between Treasury and Barofsky] has grown out of Barofsky’s mandate to monitor and root out fraud and waste in the management of TARP, the $700 billion program passed in October 2008 to remove toxic debt from the banks. The special inspector general, in a series of reports, interviews and congressional hearings, has heaped criticism on the Treasury Department’s operation of the program.

Barofsky’s most recent broadside came on April 20, when a SIGTARP report labeled a housing-loan modification program funded with $50 billion of TARP money as ineffectual.

...The TARP watchdog has also criticized Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner in reports and in congressional testimony for his handling of the process by which insurance giant American International Group Inc. was saved from insolvency in 2008, when Geithner was head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The secrecy that enveloped the deal was unwarranted, Barofsky says, adding that his probe of an alleged New York Fed coverup in the AIG case could result in criminal or civil charges.

In Senate Finance Committee testimony on April 20, Barofsky said SIGTARP would investigate seven AIG-linked mortgage-related securities similar to Abacus 2007-AC1, the instrument underwritten by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that is at the center of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit filed against the investment
bank on April 16.

...Barofsky and Geithner’s offices have gone toe-to-toe over AIG, alleged lax oversight of TARP funds and even over the question of whom Barofsky reports to.

Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor who was once the target of a kidnapping plot by Colombian drug traffickers, says he’s also looking into possible insider trading connected to TARP. He says his agency would want to know if bankers bought stock in their companies before it was made public that their institutions would get TARP
money, for example.

“There was a time when, if you got that word the stock price would go up, and if you were to trade on that information prior to the public announcement, that would be classic insider trading,” Barofsky says.

A Democrat named by a Republican president, Barofsky says missteps by both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations are to blame for TARP’s failures.

“There’s a reason there are Tea Partiers out there, and when you look at it, anger at the bailout is one of the first things they talk about,” says Barofsky, referring to the anti- Obama political movement. “This Treasury Department and the previous Treasury Department bear some of the responsibility for not being straightforward with the American people.”

Barofsky criticized Geithner’s predecessor, Paulson, in an October 2009 report, saying Paulson publicly described the initial nine TARP bank recipients as healthy when he knew that at least one of them risked failure.

...SIGTARP has more than 40 agents, including former Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service investigators, who sport blue windbreakers emblazoned with the SIGTARP seal.

They are authorized by Congress to carry guns -- Barofsky does not --make arrests, and subpoena and seize records.

In its late-January report, SIGTARP said that the banks rescued by TARP remained “too big to fail.” They still have an incentive to make risky wagers in order to generate the profits that will reward their executives, the report says.

“The definition of insanity is repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting a different result,” Barofsky says. “If the goal of TARP was to make sure we don’t have another financial collapse, well, obviously it’s made the likelihood of that much, much greater.”

....In a December report, Barofsky showed how insurance giants Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. and Lincoln National Corp. bought tiny thrifts -- one with just $7 million in assets -- to qualify for the TARP Capital Protection Program, which is designed to encourage bank lending. Hartford and Lincoln used the more than $4.3 billion in TARP funds they received almost entirely to finance insurance operations,
according to the report.

“Treasury didn’t have to approve that,” Barofsky says.

Allison wrote SIGTARP that buying troubled assets from insurance companies was part of TARP.

Janet Tavakoli, founder of Chicago-based Tavakoli Structured Finance Inc., says Barofsky hasn’t been aggressive enough. She says SIGTARP should be running criminal probes of the bankers who underwrote and managed the collateralized debt obligations that were at the center of the financial meltdown.

CDOs are bundles of mortgage-backed bonds and other debt sold to investors. Tavakoli says the CDO managers sometimes replaced relatively high-quality securities with new ones that were more likely to default.

“It is securities fraud if you take securities and package them and knowingly pass them off with phony labels,” she says.

Barofsky says investigations related to the underwriting and sale of CDOs are ongoing.

...Barofsky says he’s battling an entrenched culture of secrecy in the Treasury and elsewhere.

One of the important lessons that I hope will be learned from this entire financial crisis is that the reflexive reaction against transparency, that disclosure will bring
terrible things, has not been proven true
,” he says.

He offers the AIG bailout as an example. For more than a year, the New York Fed kept key aspects of the AIG bailout secret, including details of its own involvement and its decision to have AIG pay the insurer’s bank counterparties 100 cents on the dollar on the credit protection they’d bought against about $62 billion in CDOs.

In a November report, SIGTARP criticized Geithner’s failed efforts to obtain discounts from the banks.

After the banks had been
paid in late 2008, a lawyer from the New York Fed sought to have AIG keep the banks’ identities under wraps, as well as data about the CDOs that would have revealed which firms had underwritten the toxic bonds and which ones had managed them.

“There’s a lot of things about AIG that were not disclosed, based on the assumption that the sky would fall,” Barofsky says. “Transparency does a lot more good than bad.”

Barofsky says the question of whether the New York Fed engaged in a coverup will result in some sort of action.

“We’re either going to have criminal or civil charges against
individuals or we’re going to have a report,” Barofsky says. “This is too
important for us not to share our findings

He won’t say whether the investigation is targeting Geithner personally.

In a statement, the New York Fed said: “Allegations that the New York Fed engaged in a coverup of its intervention in AIG are not true. The New York Fed has fully cooperated with the Special Inspector General.”

Currency Wars: Markets Shudder on Downgrade of Spain

There was unusually heavy put buying yesterday in NY markets on the Spanish stock index ETF.

Lzst month a group of US hedge funds were investigated for collusion in planning short selling assaults on the euro. Having exhausted the developing world, which has largely tossed them out, have the economic hitmen finally turned on the developing world as we forecast in 2005 that they would?

This is not to say that Greece, Portugal, or Spain are without problems or fault. There is a general crisis in many of the developed country fiat currencies, including the United States. The rising price of gold and silver, despite the heavy handed manipulation by a few of the banking centers, is a sure sign of a flight from paper controlled by central banks.

The US financial interests have been shown to exercise a disconcerting amount of control over the three US-based Ratings Agencies. I wonder how long it will be before any of the US states will have their credit ratings downgraded, and how those attacks might be structured. I am sure the government would then act to curtail their naked shorting and market manipulation activity.

As the NY based stock tout crowed on Bloomberg this morning, "The US can inflate its way out of this crisis much more easily than can any other country." Well, it is an advantage to own the printing press, and to control key elements of the global financial system.

And it makes one wonder how long the economic predators will be given free rein by the co-opted regulatory agencies and government in the US, which cannot even pass a motion to debate financial reform to the floor of its Senate. I would suggest that the debate, even when it moves forward, will not produce anything sufficient to promote a sustainable recovery. That is why this debate must move now to the floors of Parliaments and legislative bodies in the rest of the world. And there has to be much more openness compelled from their central banks with regard to private dealings with the US Federal Reserve. It is now a matter of national priority.

Wall Street Journal
Euro Drops To New One-Year Low On Spain Downgrade

By Bradley Davis
April 28, 2010

NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--The euro dropped to a new one-year low Wednesday as a ratings agency downgrade of Spain sent a rush of fear through markets that a sovereign debt crisis was spreading across the euro-zone periphery.

The euro dropped to $1.3129, its lowest level since April 2009, on Standard & Poor's downgrade of Spain's long-term debt, which was accompanied by a negative outlook. The downgrade follows S&P's slicing of the ratings of Greece and Portugal Tuesday, which sent the euro plummeting.

"The deep-seated nature [of the euro-zone sovereign debt crisis] is only now being realized by the markets," said Brian Dolan, chief currency strategist at Forex.com in Bedminster, N.J, "and we're looking at a potential funding crisis" of government and corporate debt in the euro-zone periphery "in the not too distant future."

Other ratings agencies are likely to follow with additional downgrades, analysts said, which will send the euro even lower...

27 April 2010

US Equity Markets Feel an Unfamiliar Twinge of Fear

There was a bit of a spike in the Volatility Index to go with an increase in volume today as the markets recoiled from their familiar complacency, urged in part by the deterioration of the debt ratings of Greece and Portugal. This sent markets reeling and gold flying.

The rally from the bottom has had a 61.8% retracement, which makes traders nervy. This is the point where the stock index must show its hand, and either keep moving higher and strike its bullish brand, or flounder in what may have been a protracted bounce from a deeply oversold bottom. It does not necessarily collapse from here, as a prolonged sideways consolidation is always an option. The Banks' trading algorithms love a sideways chop that skin both bulls and bears.

Watch the VIX and the volume.

Technical Indicators have not yet flashed a firm sell signal.

It will take at least another big down day with heavy volume to start the indicators rolling over.

When will the markets break for us, up or down,

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Or until human voices wake us, and we drown?

Ο ανήφορος φέρνει κατήφορο

Let us go then, you and I...

Control Frauds HyperInflate and Extend Bubbles Maximizing Damage - A Control Fraud at Work in the Silver Market Short Positions?

Here is a working paper by William K. Black about 'control frauds' and how they relate to the most recent credit crisis in the United States, a breakdown of stewardship that has placed the rest of the world's financial sector at risk as well.

Control frauds are by their very nature conspiratorial in that they involve the suborning of regulators, ratings agencies, exchanges, the media, and legislators to ignore and facilitate misrepresentation that enable white collar crime. They are difficult to prosecute because by their nature they involve twisting the legal into the extra-legal on a broad basis to achieve a particular financial effect, while limiting many specific aspects to the letter of the law, or at least the gray areas.

By and large they operate in the shadows, hiding behind secrecy and a general mindset towards short term greed and lapses in ethics. Investigations following the Crash of 1929 and the S&L crisis demonstrated that the existence of such pervasive lapses in stewardship do exist.

Personally I think the significant short positions in the silver market may be a form of control fraud. This is why so much effort and care is being taken by some individuals and groups to discover the extent and nature and holders of the short positions that are dominant. And this is why the participants are so vociferous and secretive regarding their activities.

To those who say that the commodity markets are too large, and too well regulated for this sort of thing to occur, this is the sort of fraud that Enron used to manipulate the energy markets, to the extent that they were able to cause significant social and commercial disruption to the state of California.

More on this another time. For now understanding how these frauds work is enough to study in instruments such as home mortgages. And most people do not need to understand this. But here is a good point for the average person to keep in mind.

Light is a good disinfectant. Fraud cannot bear exposure. While some confidentiality must be maintained in trading, obsessive secrecy regarding significantly large positions and collateral matters is often an indication that something is not right, that it is hidden from the market participants view for a particular reason that is deleterious to market pricing and efficiency.

The only way to settle this is by more transparency and disclosure. Rhetoric and supposition is often mere noise meant to distract from and promote the fraud if in fact it does exists. And if it does not, disclosure will reveal this as well.

Epidemics of 'Control Fraud' Lead to Recurrent, Intensifying Bubbles and Crises
William K. Black
University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law
April 15, 2010


“Control frauds” are seemingly legitimate entities controlled by persons that use them as a fraud “weapon.” A single control fraud can cause greater losses than all other forms of property crime combined.

This article addresses the role of control fraud in financial crises. Financial control frauds’ primary weapon is accounting. Fraudulent lenders produce exceptional short-term “profits” through a four-part strategy: extreme growth (Ponzi), lending to uncreditworthy borrowers, extreme leverage, and minimal loss reserves.

These exceptional “profits” defeat regulatory restrictions and turn private market discipline perverse. The profits also allow the CEO to convert firm assets for personal benefit through seemingly normal compensation mechanisms. The short-term profits cause stock options to appreciate. Fraudulent CEOs following this strategy are guaranteed extraordinary income while minimizing risks of detection and prosecution.

The optimization strategy causes catastrophic losses. The “profits” allow the fraud to grow rapidly by making bad loans for years. The “profits” allow the managers to loot the firm through exceptional compensation, which increases losses.

The accounting control fraud optimization strategy hyper-inflates and extends the life of financial bubbles. The finance sector is most criminogenic because of the absence of effective regulation and the ability to invest in assets that lack readily verifiable values. Unless regulators deal effectively with the initial frauds their record profits will produce imitators. Control frauds can be a combination of “opportunistic” and “reactive”. If entry is easy, opportunistic control fraud is optimized. If the finance sector is suffering from distress, reactive control fraud is optimized. Both conditions can exist at the same time, as in the savings and loan (S&L) debacle.

When many firms follow the same optimization strategy a financial bubble hyper-inflates. This further optimizes accounting control fraud because the frauds can hide losses by refinancing. Mega bubbles produce financial crises.

Download the complete working paper here.

Market Manipulation, Systemic Risk and Fraud, Pure and Simple, And It Continues Today

This article by the Financial Times should remove any doubt in anyone's mind that Goldman Sachs was willfully selling fraudulent financial instruments. It appears that they were working in conjunction with Ratings Agencies, Mortgage Origination Firms, and Hedge Funds to cheat investors.

"Cheat" means to circumvent or distort the normal price discovery process through misrepresentation, price manipulation, and omissions and distortion of key data.

Carl Levin summarized the situation in his opening statement this morning in tying together various Congressional hearings and investigations into aspects of the recent financial crisis and the underlying frauds. It sounds remarkably like the frauds that Enron had so recently inflicted on the American public.

In particular, Congressman Levin gave a good description of the key role that derivatives played in this control fraud.

"Of special concern was Goldman’s marketing of what are known as “synthetic” financial instruments. Ordinarily, the financial risk in a market, and hence the risk to the economy at large, is limited because the assets traded are finite. There are only so many houses, mortgages, shares of stock, bushels of corn or barrels of oil in which to invest.

But a synthetic instrument has no real assets. It is simply a bet on the performance of the assets it references. That means the number of synthetic instruments is limitless, and so is the risk they present to the economy. Synthetic structures referencing high-risk mortgages garnered hefty fees for Goldman Sachs and other investment banks. They assumed an ever-larger share of the financial markets, and contributed greatly to the severity of the crisis by magnifying the amount of risk in the system.

Increasingly, synthetics became bets made by people who had no interest in the referenced assets. Synthetics became the chips in a giant casino, one that created no economic growth even when it thrived, and then helped throttle the economy when the casino collapsed."

This is also a good description of the basis of the emerging scandal in the silver market, and other commodity markets such as those that Enron manipulated, in which synthetic bets are being used to manipulate price, and improbable sales are being misrepresented under the cover of secrecy and opaque markets as actual sales, when in fact they are merely derivative bets in which the seller may be manipulating the price and taking the other side of the sale above and beyond their actual delivery of the goods. When is Gary Gensler, the Goldman Sachs alumnus chairing the CFTC these days, finally going to institute some significant reforms in the US commodity futures exchanges?

The further question one might ask is, "When is the Administration going to put the FBI and the Justice Department to work in the more serious criminal investigation of the perpetrators of this fraud, with an eye to prosecutions under the RICO statutes?"

A lack of effective regulatory response and reform to the Enron and Worldcom scandals, facilitated by the inappropriate if not pandering monetary and regulatory policies of the privately owned Federal Reserve Bank, allowed the even larger housing bubble to form, bringing the US financial system, and indeed the global economy, to the brink of calamity.

This failure on the part of the US to rein in its financial sector jeopardizes all of us, because of the position of their banks in deals around the world, but in particular because of the place of the US dollar as the world's reserve currency.

President Obama does not need the Republicans to begin serious investigation by his branch of government. Indeed, this is why he was elected, and the promises that he had made to voters.

The existing financial reform legislation being debated in the Congress is unlikely to be strong enough to prevent the next Enron-like fraud, and indeed, is unlikely to even shut down the existing frauds in the commodity markets, recently disclosed by whistle-blowers.

We suspect the Administration and the Congress are putting forward a good show for the public, even while continuing to take millions of dollars in contributions from the industry, and the very firms that are under investigation like Goldman Sachs. Firms that have been and are continuing to receive government subsidies including but not restricted to TARP funds and FDIC subsidies, while they continue to lobby against financial reform and presumably their own investigations.

This is a reform government? Don't make us laugh.

Reform is best when it is driven by a desire to see oaths and promises upheld, and justice done. It is at its worst when it is just a political deal to 'get something done' to silence the voices of critics.

As an aside, in my estimation the reporting on Bloomberg financial television is hitting new lows each day. They are so willfully unbalanced and misleading in their reporting that it beggars the mind. It is a disgraceful sham to call it journalism.

Financial Times
Goldman ‘criticised $1bn loan product’
By Henny Sender, Francesco Guerrera, Stephanie Kirchgaessner
April 27 2010 00:52

Goldman Sachs officials privately disparaged a complex $1bn mortgage security that the Wall Street bank sold to investors, according to e-mails released by Senate investigators on the eve of hearings on Tuesday on the bank’s role in the financial crisis.

The disclosure of the e-mails by the Senate subcommittee on investigations, which is conducting the hearing, opens up a new front in Goldman’s battle to defend itself against accusations that it put its interests ahead of its clients.

The Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month alleged that Goldman fraudulently failed to disclose that a hedge fund influenced the composition of a complex mortgage-related security, called Abacus, underwritten by the bank.

The Goldman communications released on Monday involve Timberwolf, another so-called collateralised debt obligation, or CDO, which was structured by the bank to give investors a chance to bet on subprime mortgages.

Tom Montag, then a senior Goldman executive and now head of corporate and investment banking at Bank of America, was quoted as describing the deal in an e-mail as follows: “Boy that timeberwof (sic) was one shi**y (sic) deal,” according to the Senate subcommittee.

The subcommittee said that Matthew Bieber, the Goldman trader responsible for managing the deal, later described the day that the Timberwolf security was issued as “a day that will live in infamy”, recalling the language President Franklin Roosevelt used for the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor.

Lawyers for Basis Yield Alpha Fund, a hedge fund that was forced to liquidate after its $100m investment in Timberwolf plummeted in value, have been holding talks with Goldman about the deal, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Goldman officials declined to comment on the matter. Mr Montag also declined to comment.

Within five months of issuance, Timberwolf lost 80 per cent of its value. The security was liquidated in 2008. Among the biggest buyers of Timberwolf was a hedge fund under Bear Stearns Asset Management, which held $300m of the $1bn deal, before the Bear fund collapsed, according to the Senate material.

26 April 2010

SP Futures Daily Chart

The Federal Reserve and the Administration seem intent on creating another bubble, or rather reflating an old one in US dollar heavy financial assets, in order to prolong the mother of all bubbles, the credit in US dollars bubble.

They are doing it selectively, with the banks carefully apportioning the excess liquidity into financial assets held by a relatively fewer amount of Americans who own stocks, while savers are heavily penalized.

When the credit bubble begins to totter things will become quite chaotic, and the panic this next time around may be terrific, dwarfing that so-easily forgotten repentance and regret of 2007-8. More than panic: hysteria.

I think it is now too late for a real reform. The Democrats have squandered their mandate from the people, and the Republicans are crony capitalists marching in lock step with the Banks, who seem to be in control once again. But I could be mistaken, and would be glad if I am.

When the US dollar and economy roll over it will make quite a wave that will swamp many boats. But these things take time. Once they start to happen, it moves slowly at first, but then gains a momentum and becomes almost unstoppable.

I am not quite sure how much water the USS Leviathan has already taken on, and how big the hole might be. But I firmly believe that the iceberg has been struck, the damage done, and the process has begun. The lifeboats are being quietly provisioned and reservations taken for the officers and crew, and the upper decks.

Again, these things take time, and there is always hope until the end. But there is less and less that can be done as the process continues to unfold, with no serious repairs, and only distractions for the passengers, and encouragingly false announcements, from the bridge.

Don't feed the sharks. Wait for this to break support and trend.

25 April 2010

The Financial Crisis: Are We All Responsible?

"Whoever commits a fraud is guilty not only of the particular injury to him who he deceives, but of the diminution of that confidence which constitutes not only the ease, but the very existence of a society." Samuel Johnson

As the hearings and scandals progress, and the revelations and charges start to cut closer to the heart of the credit swindles, inevitably there will be a movement to say, "We are all responsible. Let's allow bygones to be bygones, it was all a misunderstanding. Let's move on to something new. Justice is not important, and cannot be done."

There will be long accountings of how the problems arose, and how changes in the banking laws, broker deregulation, and the erosion of elite privileges compelled the Wall Street banks to take more and greater risks, to violate unspoken understandings about customer relationships, to take great risks, to bend the laws, to use money and influence to suborn perjury and the breaking of oaths, and to generally undermine the fabric of government.

There will be long analyses that suggest that trust has been lost, the trust that binds the social and financial interactions of people. And there will be an effort to regain that trust, to promise change and reform, and of course, justice.

As for justice they will say, but aren't we all responsible? Didn't we all believe the promise that 'greed is good?'


The overwhelming majority of people are hard working, honest in their dealings, more concerned with raising families than ruling others, if anything distracted by their day to day problems. Long suffering, patient to a fault, too willing to the give the Wall Street bankers the benefit of the doubt for the very reason of their own good natures. They could not imagine themselves doing the things of which these men stand accused, so they cannot believe that others would so willingly lie and deceive, cheat and steal, attack the very heart of the nation, while wrapping themselves in a flag of hypocrisy, for a few more dollars that they can hardly need or even personally spend.

And why? Because it feeds their sickened hearts, their pathological egos, and the need to make others suffer loss for their own gains. It sets them apart from a humanity which they hold in contempt enmingled with a nagging self-hate, makes them feel superior and worthwhile, and at the extreme even as gods among men.

So when the fresh public relations spin and propaganda from Wall Street and the financial sector's demimonde starts this week, and seeks to confuse the issues and distort the true nature of the fraud, recall who profited and who lost, who was caught with their hands deep in the pockets of the many, and even now stand arrogantly unrepentant with the ongoing misery of others to their account. And who stood idly by while charged by sworn oaths with protecting the innocent, the unsuspecting many, from the predatory, lawless few.

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." Edmund Burke

Or, in the words of William K. Black and Elliot Spitzer in their essay Questions on the Goldman Scandal at New Deal 2.0:
"We applaud the SEC lawsuit, but it will not solve the problem. Unless our financial system is reformed to put adequate protections and checks and balances in place, we can expect this kind of fraud to continue. Financial executives will continue to take risks they do not understand. Those who control the flow of capital will continue to churn out profits with socially disastrous consequences."

The banks must be restrained, the financial system reformed, the economy brought bank into balance, and justice done though the mighty fall, before there can be any sustained recovery.

22 April 2010

Regulations Alone Are Never Enough, But Here's How They Can Easily Be Made Pointless

Mr. Obama's speech at the Cooper Union today was remarkably unsatisfying. It seemed to be given from weakness, and almost obsequious as the American President politely asked his largest campaign contributors to please stop flouting the law, defrauding the people and their customers, and spending millions per day lobbying the Congress to buy changes in the reform legislation to provide them with the 'right regulators' of their choice and convenient loopholes to render it ineffective.

The reform making its way through the Congress is unlikely to be effective given the process in place, despite the political kabuki dance being conducted by the Congress and the Banks.

The solution is to put simple and effective regulations in the hand of stronger, independent, ad highly capable regulators to bear on the financial services industry, and to understand that the regulations must evolve with a dynamicly evolving business. The idea that you can erect some impregnable and unchanging Maginot line against bank fraud is laughable, a farce.

As William K. Black disclosed in his testimony the other day, the regulators always had the power to shut down the frauds, and to resolve the financial crisis without having to give away billions. They lacked the will, and the motivation.

You want to wipe that smirk off Lloyd Blankfein's face? Nominate Eliot Spitzer or Elizabeth Warren to be the head of the SEC, or the CFTC, and provide them with a adequate budget and a staff of financial experts and a few experienced prosectors.

Even with strong regulations, unless you have capable and motivated regulators, there are always ways to evade the rules, especially if they are complex and provide exceptions. The simpler they are, the stronger the regulations will be, provided they are flexible enough to be amended and expanded efficiently to match the changing and dynamic nature of the industry that they are overseeing.

This is not that difficult, and these jokers are not that smart, although part of their con is to paint themselves as the smartest, the best, and practically unstoppable.

The root of the US financial crisis is always and everywhere regulatory capture, political cronyism, and fraud. It really is that simple.

Barack Obama should to listen to a speech by Nick Clegg of the UK Liberal Democratic Party to hear what a genuine reformer sounds like. Today he sounded like a servant, but not for the public.

Meet the New Goldman Sachs Derivatives Business

By David Callaway
April 22, 2010

"...So the version making its way to the Senate floor Wednesday included a host of exemptions for non-bank companies who use derivatives to hedge against quick movements in prices for resources they need. These include airlines, manufacturers, other trading corporations, and pension funds - entities like Enron, for example, or the Orange County, Ca., retirement fund - two infamous financial wizards.

So firms like Goldman, Morgan Stanley, or J.P. Morgan Chase Co. would be able to register as other entities - airlines, manufacturers, pension consultants -- and continue to trade derivatives to their hearts content.

Sounds silly, until you realize that's just what Goldman and a number of other banks did almost two decades ago to enable them to trade widely in commodities index futures. In 1981, Goldman got itself classified as a "hedger," such as a farmer or food producer, so it could trade commodities without fear of limits put on pure speculators.

Part of the fallout from that was the disastrous run-up in food and commodities prices we saw in 2009, caused by speculators, which finally forced the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to take a look at these special exemptions. See story on Goldman futures trading exemptions.

This is where the battle over the derivatives bill lies in the next several days, and where Wall Street will concentrate its efforts. The more exemptions granted; the larger the loopholes and trading opportunities. These are not stupid people, by the way.

Another provision would require the $60 trillion foreign exchange swaps industry to be overseen by the CFTC, which is the same regulator that earlier this week was considering whether traders could make markets in Hollywood movie futures, but neither of those ideas will fly - especially in foreign currency markets.

To make its derivatives regulation work, and have teeth, Congress and the Obama Administration must resist all exemptions on derivatives trading. They must instead focus on forging a global alliance in the G-20 this weekend in Washington to stand behind the creation of a transparent market in derivatives trading through clearing houses and exchanges.

Doing this would lead to cheaper trading for customers and make it easier for global regulators to supervise the creation of new products. Importantly, it would also allow the big banks to continue to participate in what is in fact a very lucrative and vital business for the global economy, not just to hedgers, but to those seeking loans to rebuild their companies, industries, or countries. Like it or not, banks are the primary lenders and they need to be allowed to do business.

Whether this in fact will happen in Washington, or whether Congress will once again descend into a chaos of partisan bickering and blind and reactionary rule making, is anybody's guess. Goldman is almost certainly betting on both outcomes.

Unadjusted Producer Price Index

One picture is worth 1000 words.

World of Wall Street - Unadjusted Year Over Year: Producer Price Index Up 6.1%

21 April 2010

William K. Black's Testimony to the Congress on Lehman's fraud

The recent US financial crisis is always and everywhere founded in regulatory capture, dissembling, influence peddling, and fraud.

'Third Party' Liberal Democrats Jump Into Contention in British Polls

British elections became a 'three way' race as Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg electrified audiences in the recent televised debate.

UK Election

"Many will have learned more about the three main parties' policies in 90 minutes than they had ever known before. In an election in which trust and integrity are likely to prove crucial all will have had the chance to contrast close up and under fire the personal mettle of Messrs. Cameron, Clegg and Brown."
This speaks volumes about what is likely to become a trend and perhaps a preview of the US November elections in which incumbents drop and give way to a more independent and third party candidates.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg speaks in a recent press conference about banking reform and the Goldman Sachs scandal in the States.

I am informed by a UK reader that this poll understates the push the Liberal Democrats have made, and that in other polls they trail the Tories by only two points, or are at par.