Posts Tagged ‘Obama’
The Illuminati were amateurs. The second huge financial scandal of the year reveals the real international conspiracy: There’s no price the big banks can’t fix
by Matt Taibbi
April 25, 2013 1:00 PM ET
Conspiracy theorists of the world, believers in the hidden hands of the Rothschilds and the Masons and the Illuminati, we skeptics owe you an apology. You were right. The players may be a little different, but your basic premise is correct: The world is a rigged game. We found this out in recent months, when a series of related corruption stories spilled out of the financial sector, suggesting the world’s largest banks may be fixing the prices of, well, just about everything.
You may have heard of the Libor scandal, in which at least three – and perhaps as many as 16 – of the name-brand too-big-to-fail banks have been manipulating global interest rates, in the process messing around with the prices of upward of $500 trillion (that’s trillion, with a “t”) worth of financial instruments. When that sprawling con burst into public view last year, it was easily the biggest financial scandal in history – MIT professor Andrew Lo even said it “dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets.”
That was bad enough, but now Libor may have a twin brother. Word has leaked out that the London-based firm ICAP, the world’s largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by American authorities for behavior that sounds eerily reminiscent of the Libor mess. Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world’s largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps.
Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It’s about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.
It should surprise no one that among the players implicated in this scheme to fix the prices of interest-rate swaps are the same megabanks – including Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and the Royal Bank of Scotland – that serve on the Libor panel that sets global interest rates. In fact, in recent years many of these banks have already paid multimillion-dollar settlements for anti-competitive manipulation of one form or another (in addition to Libor, some were caught up in an anti-competitive scheme, detailed in Rolling Stone last year, to rig municipal-debt service auctions). Though the jumble of financial acronyms sounds like gibberish to the layperson, the fact that there may now be price-fixing scandals involving both Libor and ISDAfix suggests a single, giant mushrooming conspiracy of collusion and price-fixing hovering under the ostensibly competitive veneer of Wall Street culture.
Why? Because Libor already affects the prices of interest-rate swaps, making this a manipulation-on-manipulation situation. If the allegations prove to be right, that will mean that swap customers have been paying for two different layers of price-fixing corruption. If you can imagine paying 20 bucks for a crappy PB&J because some evil cabal of agribusiness companies colluded to fix the prices of both peanuts and peanut butter, you come close to grasping the lunacy of financial markets where both interest rates and interest-rate swaps are being manipulated at the same time, often by the same banks.
“It’s a double conspiracy,” says an amazed Michael Greenberger, a former director of the trading and markets division at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and now a professor at the University of Maryland. “It’s the height of criminality.”
The bad news didn’t stop with swaps and interest rates. In March, it also came out that two regulators – the CFTC here in the U.S. and the Madrid-based International Organization of Securities Commissions – were spurred by the Libor revelations to investigate the possibility of collusive manipulation of gold and silver prices. “Given the clubby manipulation efforts we saw in Libor benchmarks, I assume other benchmarks – many other benchmarks – are legit areas of inquiry,” CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton said.
But the biggest shock came out of a federal courtroom at the end of March – though if you follow these matters closely, it may not have been so shocking at all – when a landmark class-action civil lawsuit against the banks for Libor-related offenses was dismissed. In that case, a federal judge accepted the banker-defendants’ incredible argument: If cities and towns and other investors lost money because of Libor manipulation, that was their own fault for ever thinking the banks were competing in the first place.
“A farce,” was one antitrust lawyer’s response to the eyebrow-raising dismissal.
“Incredible,” says Sylvia Sokol, an attorney for Constantine Cannon, a firm that specializes in antitrust cases.
All of these stories collectively pointed to the same thing: These banks, which already possess enormous power just by virtue of their financial holdings – in the United States, the top six banks, many of them the same names you see on the Libor and ISDAfix panels, own assets equivalent to 60 percent of the nation’s GDP – are beginning to realize the awesome possibilities for increased profit and political might that would come with colluding instead of competing. Moreover, it’s increasingly clear that both the criminal justice system and the civil courts may be impotent to stop them, even when they do get caught working together to game the system.
If true, that would leave us living in an era of undisguised, real-world conspiracy, in which the prices of currencies, commodities like gold and silver, even interest rates and the value of money itself, can be and may already have been dictated from above. And those who are doing it can get away with it. Forget the Illuminati – this is the real thing, and it’s no secret. You can stare right at it, anytime you want.
The banks found a loophole, a basic flaw in the machine. Across the financial system, there are places where prices or official indices are set based upon unverified data sent in by private banks and financial companies. In other words, we gave the players with incentives to game the system institutional roles in the economic infrastructure.
Libor, which measures the prices banks charge one another to borrow money, is a perfect example, not only of this basic flaw in the price-setting system but of the weakness in the regulatory framework supposedly policing it. Couple a voluntary reporting scheme with too-big-to-fail status and a revolving-door legal system, and what you get is unstoppable corruption.
Every morning, 18 of the world’s biggest banks submit data to an office in London about how much they believe they would have to pay to borrow from other banks. The 18 banks together are called the “Libor panel,” and when all of these data from all 18 panelist banks are collected, the numbers are averaged out. What emerges, every morning at 11:30 London time, are the daily Libor figures.
Banks submit numbers about borrowing in 10 different currencies across 15 different time periods, e.g., loans as short as one day and as long as one year. This mountain of bank-submitted data is used every day to create benchmark rates that affect the prices of everything from credit cards to mortgages to currencies to commercial loans (both short- and long-term) to swaps.
Dating back perhaps as far as the early Nineties, traders and others inside these banks were sometimes calling up the company geeks responsible for submitting the daily Libor numbers (the “Libor submitters”) and asking them to fudge the numbers. Usually, the gimmick was the trader had made a bet on something – a swap, currencies, something – and he wanted the Libor submitter to make the numbers look lower (or, occasionally, higher) to help his bet pay off.
Famously, one Barclays trader monkeyed with Libor submissions in exchange for a bottle of Bollinger champagne, but in some cases, it was even lamer than that. This is from an exchange between a trader and a Libor submitter at the Royal Bank of Scotland:
SWISS FRANC TRADER: can u put 6m swiss libor in low pls?…
PRIMARY SUBMITTER: Whats it worth
SWSISS FRANC TRADER: ive got some sushi rolls from yesterday?…
PRIMARY SUBMITTER: ok low 6m, just for u
SWISS FRANC TRADER: wooooooohooooooo.?.?. thatd be awesome
Screwing around with world interest rates that affect billions of people in exchange for day-old sushi – it’s hard to imagine an image that better captures the moral insanity of the modern financial-services sector.
Hundreds of similar exchanges were uncovered when regulators like Britain’s Financial Services Authority and the U.S. Justice Department started burrowing into the befouled entrails of Libor. The documentary evidence of anti-competitive manipulation they found was so overwhelming that, to read it, one almost becomes embarrassed for the banks. “It’s just amazing how Libor fixing can make you that much money,” chirped one yen trader. “Pure manipulation going on,” wrote another.
Yet despite so many instances of at least attempted manipulation, the banks mostly skated. Barclays got off with a relatively minor fine in the $450 million range, UBS was stuck with $1.5 billion in penalties, and RBS was forced to give up $615 million. Apart from a few low-level flunkies overseas, no individual involved in this scam that impacted nearly everyone in the industrialized world was even threatened with criminal prosecution.
Two of America’s top law-enforcement officials, Attorney General Eric Holder and former Justice Department Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer, confessed that it’s dangerous to prosecute offending banks because they are simply too big. Making arrests, they say, might lead to “collateral consequences” in the economy.
The relatively small sums of money extracted in these settlements did not go toward reparations for the cities, towns and other victims who lost money due to Libor manipulation. Instead, it flowed mindlessly into government coffers. So it was left to towns and cities like Baltimore (which lost money due to fluctuations in their municipal investments caused by Libor movements), pensions like the New Britain, Connecticut, Firefighters’ and Police Benefit Fund, and other foundations – and even individuals (billionaire real-estate developer Sheldon Solow, who filed his own suit in February, claims that his company lost $450 million because of Libor manipulation) – to sue the banks for damages.
One of the biggest Libor suits was proceeding on schedule when, early in March, an army of superstar lawyers working on behalf of the banks descended upon federal judge Naomi Buchwald in the Southern District of New York to argue an extraordinary motion to dismiss. The banks’ legal dream team drew from heavyweight Beltway-connected firms like Boies Schiller (you remember David Boies represented Al Gore), Davis Polk (home of top ex-regulators like former SEC enforcement chief Linda Thomsen) and Covington & Burling, the onetime private-practice home of both Holder and Breuer.
The presence of Covington & Burling in the suit – representing, of all companies, Citigroup, the former employer of current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew – was particularly galling. Right as the Libor case was being dismissed, the firm had hired none other than Lanny Breuer, the same Lanny Breuer who, just a few months before, was the assistant attorney general who had balked at criminally prosecuting UBS over Libor because, he said, “Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution.”
In any case, this all-star squad of white-shoe lawyers came before Buchwald and made the mother of all audacious arguments. Robert Wise of Davis Polk, representing Bank of America, told Buchwald that the banks could not possibly be guilty of anti- competitive collusion because nobody ever said that the creation of Libor was competitive. “It is essential to our argument that this is not a competitive process,” he said. “The banks do not compete with one another in the submission of Libor.”
But Wise eventually outdid even that argument, essentially saying that while the banks may have lied to or cheated their customers, they weren’t guilty of the particular crime of antitrust collusion. This is like the old joke about the lawyer who gets up in court and claims his client had to be innocent, because his client was committing a crime in a different state at the time of the offense.
“The plaintiffs, I believe, are confusing a claim of being perhaps deceived,” he said, “with a claim for harm to competition.”
Judge Buchwald swallowed this lunatic argument whole and dismissed most of the case. Libor, she said, was a “cooperative endeavor” that was “never intended to be competitive.” Her decision “does not reflect the reality of this business, where all of these banks were acting as competitors throughout the process,” said the antitrust lawyer Sokol. Buchwald made this ruling despite the fact that both the U.S. and British governments had already settled with three banks for billions of dollars for improper manipulation, manipulation that these companies admitted to in their settlements.
Michael Hausfeld of Hausfeld LLP, one of the lead lawyers for the plaintiffs in this Libor suit, declined to comment specifically on the dismissal. But he did talk about the significance of the Libor case and other manipulation cases now in the pipeline.
“It’s now evident that there is a ubiquitous culture among the banks to collude and cheat their customers as many times as they can in as many forms as they can conceive,” he said. “And that’s not just surmising. This is just based upon what they’ve been caught at.”
Greenberger says the lack of serious consequences for the Libor scandal has only made other kinds of manipulation more inevitable. “There’s no therapy like sending those who are used to wearing Gucci shoes to jail,” he says. “But when the attorney general says, ‘I don’t want to indict people,’ it’s the Wild West. There’s no law.”
The problem is, a number of markets feature the same infrastructural weakness that failed in the Libor mess. In the case of interest-rate swaps and the ISDAfix benchmark, the system is very similar to Libor, although the investigation into these markets reportedly focuses on some different types of improprieties.
Though interest-rate swaps are not widely understood outside the finance world, the root concept actually isn’t that hard. If you can imagine taking out a variable-rate mortgage and then paying a bank to make your loan payments fixed, you’ve got the basic idea of an interest-rate swap.
In practice, it might be a country like Greece or a regional government like Jefferson County, Alabama, that borrows money at a variable rate of interest, then later goes to a bank to “swap” that loan to a more predictable fixed rate. In its simplest form, the customer in a swap deal is usually paying a premium for the safety and security of fixed interest rates, while the firm selling the swap is usually betting that it knows more about future movements in interest rates than its customers.
Prices for interest-rate swaps are often based on ISDAfix, which, like Libor, is yet another of these privately calculated benchmarks. ISDAfix’s U.S. dollar rates are published every day, at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., after a gang of the same usual-suspect megabanks (Bank of America, RBS, Deutsche, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, etc.) submits information about bids and offers for swaps.
And here’s what we know so far: The CFTC has sent subpoenas to ICAP and to as many as 15 of those member banks, and plans to interview about a dozen ICAP employees from the company’s office in Jersey City, New Jersey. Moreover, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, or ISDA, which works together with ICAP (for U.S. dollar transactions) and Thomson Reuters to compute the ISDAfix benchmark, has hired the consulting firm Oliver Wyman to review the process by which ISDAfix is calculated. Oliver Wyman is the same company that the British Bankers’ Association hired to review the Libor submission process after that scandal broke last year. The upshot of all of this is that it looks very much like ISDAfix could be Libor all over again.
“It’s obviously reminiscent of the Libor manipulation issue,” Darrell Duffie, a finance professor at Stanford University, told reporters. “People may have been naive that simply reporting these rates was enough to avoid manipulation.”
And just like in Libor, the potential losers in an interest-rate-swap manipulation scandal would be the same sad-sack collection of cities, towns, companies and other nonbank entities that have no way of knowing if they’re paying the real price for swaps or a price being manipulated by bank insiders for profit. Moreover, ISDAfix is not only used to calculate prices for interest-rate swaps, it’s also used to set values for about $550 billion worth of bonds tied to commercial real estate, and also affects the payouts on some state-pension annuities.
So although it’s not quite as widespread as Libor, ISDAfix is sufficiently power-jammed into the world financial infrastructure that any manipulation of the rate would be catastrophic – and a huge class of victims that could include everyone from state pensioners to big cities to wealthy investors in structured notes would have no idea they were being robbed.
“How is some municipality in Cleveland or wherever going to know if it’s getting ripped off?” asks Michael Masters of Masters Capital Management, a fund manager who has long been an advocate of greater transparency in the derivatives world. “The answer is, they won’t know.”
Worse still, the CFTC investigation apparently isn’t limited to possible manipulation of swap prices by monkeying around with ISDAfix. According to reports, the commission is also looking at whether or not employees at ICAP may have intentionally delayed publication of swap prices, which in theory could give someone (bankers, cough, cough) a chance to trade ahead of the information.
Swap prices are published when ICAP employees manually enter the data on a computer screen called “19901.” Some 6,000 customers subscribe to a service that allows them to access the data appearing on the 19901 screen.
The key here is that unlike a more transparent, regulated market like the New York Stock Exchange, where the results of stock trades are computed more or less instantly and everyone in theory can immediately see the impact of trading on the prices of stocks, in the swap market the whole world is dependent upon a handful of brokers quickly and honestly entering data about trades by hand into a computer terminal.
Any delay in entering price data would provide the banks involved in the transactions with a rare opportunity to trade ahead of the information. One way to imagine it would be to picture a racetrack where a giant curtain is pulled over the track as the horses come down the stretch – and the gallery is only told two minutes later which horse actually won. Anyone on the right side of the curtain could make a lot of smart bets before the audience saw the results of the race.
At ICAP, the interest-rate swap desk, and the 19901 screen, were reportedly controlled by a small group of 20 or so brokers, some of whom were making millions of dollars. These brokers made so much money for themselves the unit was nicknamed “Treasure Island.”
Already, there are some reports that brokers of Treasure Island did create such intentional delays. Bloomberg interviewed a former broker who claims that he watched ICAP brokers delay the reporting of swap prices. “That allows dealers to tell the brokers to delay putting trades into the system instead of in real time,” Bloomberg wrote, noting the former broker had “witnessed such activity firsthand.” An ICAP spokesman has no comment on the story, though the company has released a statement saying that it is “cooperating” with the CFTC’s inquiry and that it “maintains policies that prohibit” the improper behavior alleged in news reports.
The idea that prices in a $379 trillion market could be dependent on a desk of about 20 guys in New Jersey should tell you a lot about the absurdity of our financial infrastructure. The whole thing, in fact, has a darkly comic element to it. “It’s almost hilarious in the irony,” says David Frenk, director of research for Better Markets, a financial-reform advocacy group, “that they called it ISDAfix.”
After scandals involving libor and, perhaps, ISDAfix, the question that should have everyone freaked out is this: What other markets out there carry the same potential for manipulation? The answer to that question is far from reassuring, because the potential is almost everywhere. From gold to gas to swaps to interest rates, prices all over the world are dependent upon little private cabals of cigar-chomping insiders we’re forced to trust.
“In all the over-the-counter markets, you don’t really have pricing except by a bunch of guys getting together,” Masters notes glumly.
That includes the markets for gold (where prices are set by five banks in a Libor-ish teleconferencing process that, ironically, was created in part by N M Rothschild & Sons) and silver (whose price is set by just three banks), as well as benchmark rates in numerous other commodities – jet fuel, diesel, electric power, coal, you name it. The problem in each of these markets is the same: We all have to rely upon the honesty of companies like Barclays (already caught and fined $453 million for rigging Libor) or JPMorgan Chase (paid a $228 million settlement for rigging municipal-bond auctions) or UBS (fined a collective $1.66 billion for both muni-bond rigging and Libor manipulation) to faithfully report the real prices of things like interest rates, swaps, currencies and commodities.
All of these benchmarks based on voluntary reporting are now being looked at by regulators around the world, and God knows what they’ll find. The European Federation of Financial Services Users wrote in an official EU survey last summer that all of these systems are ripe targets for manipulation. “In general,” it wrote, “those markets which are based on non-attested, voluntary submission of data from agents whose benefits depend on such benchmarks are especially vulnerable of market abuse and distortion.”
Translation: When prices are set by companies that can profit by manipulating them, we’re fucked.
“You name it,” says Frenk. “Any of these benchmarks is a possibility for corruption.”
The only reason this problem has not received the attention it deserves is because the scale of it is so enormous that ordinary people simply cannot see it. It’s not just stealing by reaching a hand into your pocket and taking out money, but stealing in which banks can hit a few keystrokes and magically make whatever’s in your pocket worth less. This is corruption at the molecular level of the economy, Space Age stealing – and it’s only just coming into view.
This story is from the May 9th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
by Bix Weir
The silver markets are rigged. Every day. Every trade. Every option. Every derivative. The silver markets have been rigged since the early 1970′s when Alan Greenspan introduced computer market trading systems to the world beginning the long term commodity market rigging operation.
Since that time there has not been a day when the silver markets have been “freely traded”. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, knows the true “Fair Market Value” of silver!
But like all price suppression schemes, the silver manipulation must come to an end and we are on the brink of that moment. The only remaining question should be “What is the true value of silver in terms of money?”
First a little background to set the stage.
Computer Commodity Trading
Beginning in the early 1970′s, computers were introduced to control the order flow in financial markets. Order processing was drastically changed with the New York Stock Exchange’s “designated order turnaround” system (DOT, and later SuperDOT) which routed orders electronically to the proper trading post to be executed manually, and the “opening automated reporting system” (OARS) which aided the specialist in determining the market clearing opening price (SOR; Smart Order Routing).
Today we have algorithmic trading, auto trading, algo trading, black-box trading, robo trading…and the list goes on. Algorithmic Trading is widely used by pension funds, mutual funds, and other buy side institutional traders, to divide large trades into several smaller trades in order to manage market impact, and risk. Sell side traders, such as market makers and hedge funds, claim to provide “liquidity to the market”, generating and executing orders automatically. In “high frequency trading” (HFT) computers make the decision to initiate orders based on information that is received electronically, before human traders are even aware of the information.
Over the years computers have played an increasingly important role in everything related to our “free and open market system” such that today’s financial markets CANNOT function without computers. The Federal Reserve, US Treasury, Wall Street insiders and the Exchanges were all instrumental in the integration of computers but they also gained access to secret trading information before the order hit the open market. This information coupled with the fastest computers on earth made market manipulation easy.
This power, the power to control markets, was too much for anyone to resist. Over time those who were given the official key to the back office operations have used and abused their position to its manipulative fullest. Although some of the time they used this power in an official capacity (for the good of the country), more often than not it was used in an unofficial capacity… for the good of themselves.
Bernie Madoff, the ex-head of the NASAQ, was a great example of this public to private transition as his private trading firm was all computer algorithm based market rigging operations. There are many other ex-Exchange/Wall Street officers that went on to open computer trading operations. Many continue to thrive such as EWT, LLC which became a dominant trading/market making firm using “state-of-the-art technology and algorithmic models”. EWT was founded by Vincent Viola (ex NYMEX Chairman) and David Salomon (reported to Robert Ruben at Goldman Sachs) and are also an “Authorized Participant” in the iShares Silver ETF (SLV).
Are you beginning to see the problem? He who has the biggest, fastest and smartest computers (or programmers) can set the price and will ALWAYS WIN! No longer is there any kind of true supply/demand factors related to commodity exchanges or prices. Computer trading should be outlawed…the convenience and efficiency it provides does not offset the detrimental effects and potential for total and complete market manipulation.
CFTC Created to Cover Up the Manipulation
When the computer rigging programs were implemented there needed to be some kind of cover to ensure secrecy and maintain a false confidence in free markets. In 1974 Congress passed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Act that overhauled the Commodity Exchange Act and created the CFTC as an independent agency with powers greater than those of its predecessor agency, the Commodity Exchange Authority.
From that moment the CFTC has been run by board appointees that showcased a revolving door of Wall Street insiders ensuring that the computer market rigging operations were not interfered with. The only notable exception is Brooksley Born who was fired by President Clinton when she found out the truth about our supposed “free markets” and tried to warn everyone. (see The Warning)
Listen to Brooksley Born explain the problems in her own words when she accepted her JFK Profiles in Courage Award in August 2009.
A while back I gave up my fight against the CFTC as I determined that they were NOT protecting the best interest of the investor but rather they were protecting the computer market rigging operations and the people involved. Here is one of my last articles on the subject:
Road to Roota III — Who’s the little man behind the curtain?
Now that you have some background let’s get back to $8,000 Silver!
Historically, when any price rigging operation stops the violence of the ensuing price changes are determined by the length and scale of the manipulation as well as the underlying fundamentals of the item being rigged. Take for example the famous 1980′s case of the Hunt brothers trying to corner the silver market. From early 1974 the Hunt brothers started accumulating silver which ultimately drove the price from $6/oz to $50/oz until January 21, 1980 when the CFTC finally pulled the plug on their operation. Within 2 months the price of silver plummeted from $50/oz to $10/oz and the silver price was back under control of the US Government and Banking Cabal. An excellent account of what transpired can be found here:
This account shows what can happen to the price of a manipulated commodity when the price manipulation is ended. In the case of the Hunt Brothers the manipulation lasted 6 years and involved approximately 130M oz of physical silver and 90M oz of COMEX silver contracts. This was an attempt at a Long Silver price manipulation but it was going on while the Short Silver Official manipulation was going on trying to keep the price down. The only way the Hunt’s accumulated so much silver without the price heading into the many thousands of dollars was the official computer price suppression operation.
The manipulation was ended when the CFTC stopped all COMEX Silver purchases and allowed only silver liquidation sales instantly driving the price down. In 1980 the US Government held 3B oz of silver and in order to maintain the lower silver price levels they sold the entire stock of silver into the market over the next 25 years. That excess supply combined with other governments divesting their silver was enough to continue the price suppression scheme for almost 40 years. That supply is now gone.
One Bank has the Hot Potato
So here we are 40 years after the official manipulation of silver began and the world is finally awakening to the situation. The CFTC, having investigated silver manipulation allegations twice previously, has had an open investigation into silver market manipulation for over 3 years. They have even stated that the investigation was moved to the “Enforcement Division” within the CFTC which pretty much tells you what the conclusion of the investigation revealed. The FBI has separately stated that they are investigating JP Morgan for silver market manipulation.
These two facts and the absolute SILENCE from JP Morgan were strong indicators that the long term manipulation of silver was about to end but on April 5, 2012 JP Morgan broke their silence about silver manipulation. The “Wicked Witch” of silver, Blythe Masters, (the head of JPM Commodities and the creator of the mammoth Credit Default Swaps complex) came on a scripted CNBC interview and denied that JP Morgan manipulates the silver price.
JPMorgan Not Speculating on Commodities: Blythe Masters
Of course she is lying through her teeth when she claims that JP Morgan only has neutral positions. The obvious “tell” is that JPM booked almost $3 BILLION in revenue from their commodities division in 2011! Either they have the highest commission structure in human history or she is LYING THROUGH HER TEETH! As a matter of fact, Blythe’s boss Jamie Dimon recently claimed that they need to get rid of the Volcker Rule so they can continue to offer their customers THE LOWEST prices possible…
Dimon on Price Wars, Volcker Rule, Stock Prices
Here’s the specific quote just over 2:00 into the piece: “When the client calls up JP Morgan, if we don’t give them the best price then we don’t get the business.”
So tell me Blythe…how did you make $3B off your commodity clients by offering them “the best price” and NOT trading for your own book?!
Looks like Blythe has cracked the age old secret for turning lead into gold…PILE ON THE PAPER DERIVATIVES!
*The REASON that Blythe gave this article is that they are about to be BUSTED for silver market manipulation and she is trying to start the defense early…nice try Blythe but you are about to be MELTED!
Ted Butler of Butler Research has been exposing the official manipulation of Silver for the past 25 years. His research was instrumental in exposing the gold/silver leasing operations and the massive concentrated short positions in both gold and silver. On September 3, 2008 Butler published a report entitled Fact Versus Speculation where he showed how one bank, JP Morgan Chase, took over the Bear Stearns Silver COMEX Short position of 30,000 contracts or 150M oz.
Since this report was published JP Morgan has continued its silver market rigging antics in an effort to get out of this precarious short position. After Butler exposed JPM as the culprit there have been wild orchestrated swings in the price of silver as JPM attempts to cover their massive COMEX short position. The price of silver has risen from $13 to currently over $30 in this time frame and the size of the short position held by JP Morgan has gyrated wildly between 30k and 40k contracts as they desperately try to shake the longs to cover their shorts. But even with this rise in price the short position is STILL around 20k contracts according to the CFTC’s latest Bank Participation Report.
Add to this various silver market manipulation tools such as naked shorting silver ETF’s, falsifying COMEX warehouse data, unallocated silver, leasing and swapping metal and you have a situation that dwarfs the Hunt brothers case.
Of course, JP Morgan is no ordinary bank because they are also the LARGEST derivative holder in the WORLD at over $75 TRILLION! Do remember Warren Buffett calling derivatives “Weapons of Mass Financial Destruction”? Well, JP Morgan holds the mother load when it comes to silver too with over $19 BILLION of Silver derivative contracts!
(OCC Report table 9: Classified as “PREC METALS”… might be a little platinum but not much).
This report was for the quarter ending September 2011 when the price of silver was slammed down to $30 from $42/oz at the beginning of Sept. Interesting: Had silver NOT been slammed down almost 30% in Sept 2011 then JPM would have had to declare silver derivative of close to $25B instead of just $19B. Talk about “painting the tape”!
At $30/oz silver the JPM $19B silver derivative position is representative of over 630M ounces of paper silver.
COME ON PEOPLE! I’m starting to think my $8,000/oz silver call is too conservative!
What’s going to happen when JP Morgan’s derivative monument comes crashing down?
Here’s where I get to $8,000 per oz for silver.
1) I know silver has not been freely traded in 40 years so today’s price if irrelevant.
2) I, like many, estimate there is only about 1B ounces in above ground physical silver for investment purposes.
3) I, like many, estimate there is only 5B ounces of above ground physical gold for investment purposes.
4) If the price of gold is not manipulated, like the banks claim, then the price of silver should be 5x the price of gold due to its supply/demand fundamentals.
CONCLUSION: The price of gold is around $1,600/oz so the true Fair Market Value of Silver should be around 5x the price of gold or $8,000/oz in a FREE market!
It’s simple, if you remove ONE BANK from the supply side of the equation the price of silver will SKYROCKET overnight.
ONE BANK controls the price of silver.
ONE BANK controls the fate of our monetary system.
ONE BANK is behind the curtain pulling the silver manipulation levers.
ONE BANK has control over a nation that was founded by “We the People”.
ONE BANK MUST GO AWAY TO SAVE OUR LIBERTY!
May the Road you choose be the Right Road.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Bud Conrad
October 17, 2011
Foreign central banks buy US Treasury and Agency debt through accounts at the Federal Reserve, where it is held in custody. Without these central banks buying our debt, the US federal government would have to find a new source of funds or the result could be higher interest rates. Looking at the data on a monthly basis (and then multiplied by 12 to give the annual rate), here is the dramatic picture of how foreign central-bank purchases of our debt have shifted, from buying $500 billion to selling off $1 trillion. At this rate of selling over several months, interest rates would go higher – if other things were equal. Of course, things are not equal because the Fed has been forcing rates lower with its massive QE2 and other programs. QE 2 was $600 billion over nine months, or an annualized rate of $800 billion per year. Since foreigners are selling off our government debt, Fed purchases of government debt are even more necessary.
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Here are the data on the amount of Treasuries purchased in the last quarter of the year at an annualized rate: Foreigners have decreased their holdings for the first time since 2007.
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Here’s another chart worth considering. This is a comparison to the ten-year Treasury, with the purchases of Treasuries inverted.
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In my latest article in The Casey Report on interest rates, I discuss the above chart and cover the broader issues driving interest rates.
What could be the cause of all this? The Senate passed a controversial bill that threatens to punish China for “currency manipulation” which will bring mandatory tariffs. China’s opposition to the Senate action could be the power behind the big shift in direction of these custody holdings. In an election year, government action against Chinese imports may be seen as supportive for US jobs, thus garnering votes. But unintended consequences of decreasing liquidity in the credit markets will put pressure on financial markets. The movement shown in these charts could be the result of China’s reaction to some of those anticipated policies. We can’t tell what country is doing the selling until two months have gone by and the TIC data are published. In some senses, it doesn’t matter which country is behind the shift. If rates begin to rise rapidly, even in the face of continued Fed manipulation, it could call into question confidence in the Fed’s ability to keep supporting the economy. The rate on the ten-year Treasuries jumped from 1.8% to 2.2% in the last week. Foreign selling of this magnitude is dangerous for the dollar, and it could be very bad for US interest rates.
[Whether this shift is temporary or a long-term reversal remains to be seen – but the end of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency is all but certain. How can one prepare for such a life-changing move? Listen to the audio recordings of the recently held Casey Research/Sprott Summit, When Money Dies, to gain insights and actionable advice from experts including Adam Fergusson and Doug Casey on how you can not just survive what’s coming, but thrive. Order your set today.]
Additional Links and Reads
Banking Corporatism in 1912 (Ludwig von Mises Institute)
The Mises Institute dug up a great cartoon from 1912, representing what would happen to the US with the creation of a central bank. The picture says it all. That’s essentially what did happen.
Kinder Morgan to Buy El Paso for $21.1 Billion (Bloomberg)
In the biggest energy transaction of the year thus far, Kinder Morgan purchased El Paso Corp. to form the country’s largest national gas pipeline network. The natural gas market is an interesting beast. On the one hand, natural gas prices are dirt cheap. On the other, they can’t say low forever, but as Doug Casey says just because something is inevitable doesn’t mean that it’s imminent. There are some who have given up on investing in natural gas, while others are willing to put big bucks into it.
What I find interesting about the whole field is that involves so much hard science. Whether the general economy will go up or down is the realm of economics – not exactly a science. And of course, the economy will affect oil and gas prices, but natural gas requires making estimates of scientific facts. How much gas is left in the ground? What are the well decline rates? How damaging are fracking chemicals? While in economics we can argue back and forth without getting anywhere, these questions will have clear answers in the future. Someone will be right, and someone will be wrong.
The second table of results from this poll, copied below, showed some particularly noteworthy findings which I’ve discussed before. This table represents only workers and the unemployed who are searching for a job. At the top of the unemployment pile are workers aged 18 to 29 with 14% unemployment and 30% underemployment. That’s pretty crazy – only 56% are working full time. And of those 56%, how many do you think actually have a good, career-track job versus something like flipping burgers?
This relates to today’s intro. If one graduated college in 1998, one could get a job at Goldman Sachs. Graduate ten years later, and one will be lucky to find a position as an assistant accounting clerk with the exact same qualifications.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Bruce Krasting
For me, the most significant development from the Fed’s announcement is a change in policy where the Fed will re-invest proceeds of maturing MBS securities in new issues of Agency MBS paper. Prior to today, the Fed re-invested principal repayments in Treasury bonds.
I wrote about the possibility of a mega mortgage ReFi by Fannie and Freddie (here and here). I (and many readers) pointed to an obvious flaw in the ReFi story. If a Trillion or so of mortgages were rapidly prepaid, then who would buy all of the new (much lower coupon) mortgage paper?
Now we have the answer. The Fed will put the new MBS paper back on its Balance Sheet, $ for $. There will still be many bondholders outside of the Fed who will get prepaid much faster than they had assumed. Most of that is in pension/bond funds. No one cares about them.
I think that Treasury will announce the plans for a Mega Refi in the not too distant future. It could come this weekend or next week. Obama will wait just enough time after the complex Fed decision so that 99% of all people don’t connect these two dots.
In that 1% will be Republicans. They are going to be mad as hens tonight that Bernanke ignored their last minute plea not to play more monetary games. The authors of that letter, McConnell, Boehner, Kyle and Cantor are really going to be peeved. Not only did the Fed step further on the gas, they greased the skids for an Administration’s plan to ReFi mortgages.
It’s not at all clear that the Fed’s latest move are going to accomplish a thing. I’m not sure that the Big ReFi is going to be such a success either. But that doesn’t matter.
What’s important about this is that the Republicans will respond. They will not give Obama another leg up with his one-year stimulus program. Any chance of that went up in smoke with the Fed’s VERY political decision on MBS today. Can you say, “Collusion”?
This is a real circus now. In this one the bears aren’t dancing. They’re fighting. The claws are out and it’s going to get bloody.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Matt Taibbi
August 24, 11:17 AM ET
A power play is underway in the foreclosure arena, according to the New York Times.
On the one side is Eric Schneiderman, the New York Attorney General, who is conducting his own investigation into the era of securitizations – the practice of chopping up assets like mortgages and converting them into saleable securities – that led up to the financial crisis of 2007-2008.
On the other side is the Obama administration, the banks, and all the other state attorneys general.
This second camp has cooked up a deal that would allow the banks to walk away with just a seriously discounted fine from a generation of fraud that led to millions of people losing their homes.
The idea behind this federally-guided “settlement” is to concentrate and centralize all the legal exposure accrued by this generation of grotesque banker corruption in one place, put one single price tag on it that everyone can live with, and then stuff the details into a titanium canister before shooting it into deep space.
This is all about protecting the banks from future enforcement actions on both the civil and criminal sides. The plan is to provide year-after-year, repeat-offending banks like Bank of America with cost certainty, so that they know exactly how much they’ll have to pay in fines (trust me, it will end up being a tiny fraction of what they made off the fraudulent practices) and will also get to know for sure that there are no more criminal investigations in the pipeline.
This deal will also submarine efforts by both defrauded investors in MBS and unfairly foreclosed-upon homeowners and borrowers to obtain any kind of relief in the civil court system. The AGs initially talked about $20 billion as a settlement number, money that would “toward loan modifications and possibly counseling for homeowners,” as Gretchen Morgenson reported the other day.
The banks, however, apparently “balked” at paying that sum, and no doubt it will end up being a lesser amount when the deal is finally done.
To give you an indication of how absurdly small a number even $20 billion is relative to the sums of money the banks made unloading worthless crap subprime assets on foreigners, pension funds and other unsuspecting suckers around the world, consider this: in 2008 alone, the state pension fund of Florida, all by itself, lost more than three times that amount ($62 billion) thanks in significant part to investments in these deadly MBS.
So this deal being cooked up is the ultimate Papal indulgence. By the time that $20 billion (if it even ends up being that high) gets divvied up between all the major players, the broadest and most destructive fraud scheme in American history, one that makes the S&L crisis look like a cheap liquor store holdup, will be safely reduced to a single painful but eminently survivable one-time line item for all the major perpetrators.
But Schneiderman, who earlier this year launched an investigation into the securitization practices of Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and other companies, is screwing up this whole arrangement. Until he lies down, the banks don’t have a deal. They need the certainty of having all 50 states and the federal government on board, or else it’s not worth paying anybody off. To quote the immortal Tony Montana, “How do I know you’re the last cop I’m gonna have to grease?” They need all the dirty cops on board, or else the whole enterprise is FUBAR.
In addition to the global settlement, Schneiderman is also blocking an individual $8.5 billion settlement for Countrywide investors. He has sued to stop that deal, claiming it could “compromise investors’ claims in exchange for a payment representing a fraction of the losses.”
If Schneiderman thinks $8.5 billion is an insufficient, fractional payoff just for defrauded Countrywide investors, then you can imagine how bad a $20 billion settlement for the entire industry would be for the victims.
In that particular Countrywide settlement deal, it looks like Bank of New York Mellon, the New York Fed, Pimco and other players negotiated on behalf of defrauded investors. They told the Times they were happy with the deal, but investors outside the talks told Gretchen they weren’t happy with the settlement.
Schneiderman apparently listened to those voices instead of the Mellon-Fed-BofA crowd, which infuriated the insiders who struck the actual deal. In a remarkable quote given to the Times, Kathryn Wylde, the Fed board member who ostensibly represents the public, said the following about Schneiderman:
It is of concern to the industry that instead of trying to facilitate resolving these issues, you seem to be throwing a wrench into it. Wall Street is our Main Street — love ’em or hate ’em. They are important and we have to make sure we are doing everything we can to support them unless they are doing something indefensible.
This, again, is coming not from a Bank of America attorney, but from the person on the Fed board who is supposedly representing the public!
This quote leads one to wonder just what Wylde would consider “indefensible,” given that stealing is pretty much the worst thing that a bank can do — and these banks just finished the longest and most orgiastic campaign of stealing in the history of money. Is Wylde waiting for Goldman and Citi to blow up a skyscraper? Dump dioxin into an orphanage? It’s really an incredible quote.
The banks are going to claim that all they’re guilty of is bad paperwork. But while the banks are indeed being investigated for “paperwork” offenses like mass tax evasion (by failing to pay fees associated with mortgage registrations and deed transfers) and mass perjury (a la the “robo-signing” practices), their real crime, the one Schneiderman is interested in, is even more serious.
The issue goes beyond fraudulent paperwork to an intentional, far-reaching theft scheme designed to take junk subprime loans and disguise them as AAA-rated investments. The banks lent money to corrupt companies like Countrywide, who made masses of bad loans and immediately sold them back to the banks.
The banks in turn hid the crappiness of these loans via certain poorly-understood nuances in the securitization process – this is almost certainly where Scheniderman’s investigators are doing their digging – before hawking the resultant securities as AAA-rated gold to fools in places like the Florida state pension fund.
They did this for years, systematically, working hand in hand in a wink-nudge arrangement with clearly criminal enterprises like Countrywide and New Century. The victims were millions of investors worldwide (like the pensioners who saw their funds drop in value) and hundreds of thousands of individual homeowners, who were often sold trick loans and hustled into foreclosure when unexpected rate hikes kicked in.
In a larger sense, even the (often irresponsible) people who simply bought more house than they could afford were victims of this scam. That’s because in many of these cases, credit simply would not have been available to those people had the banks not first discovered a way to raise vast sums of money dumping crap loans on an unsuspecting market.
In other words: if Bank of America hadn’t found a way to sell worthless subprime loans as AAA paper to the Chinese and the Scandavians in May, you can be sure that it wouldn’t be going back to Countrywide in June to lend out more money for more subprime loans.
And Countrywide, in turn, wouldn’t then have been sending masses of reps out into the ghettoes to offer juicy home loans to undocumented immigrants and refis to confused old ladies on social security.
This is as bad as white-collar crime gets. But to Wylde, it doesn’t rise to the level of being “indefensible.” Until they do something worse than this, we apparently should support the banks, and make sure they don’t have to pay more than a fraction of what they made off of this kind of crime.
What is most amazing about Wylde’s quote is the clear implication that even a law enforcement official like Schneiderman should view it as his job to “do everything we can to support” Wall Street. That would be astonishing interpretation of what a prosecutor’s duties are, were it not for the fact that 49 other Attorneys General apparently agree with her.
In Schneiderman we have at least one honest investigator who doesn’t agree, which is to his great credit. But everyone else is on Wylde’s side now. The Times story claims that HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and various Justice Department officials have been leaning on the New York AG to cave, which tells you that reining in this last rogue cop is now an urgent priority for Barack Obama.
Why? My theory is that the Obama administration is trying to secure its 2012 campaign war chest with this settlement deal. If Barry can make this foreclosure thing go away for the banks, you can bet he’ll win the contributions battle against the Republicans next summer.
Which is good for him, I guess. But it seems to me that it might be time to wonder if is this the most disappointing president we’ve ever had.
Read the entire article HERE.
By Matt Taibbi
August 17, 2011 8:00 AM ET
Imagine a world in which a man who is repeatedly investigated for a string of serious crimes, but never prosecuted, has his slate wiped clean every time the cops fail to make a case. No more Lifetime channel specials where the murderer is unveiled after police stumble upon past intrigues in some old file – “Hey, chief, didja know this guy had two wives die falling down the stairs?” No more burglary sprees cracked when some sharp cop sees the same name pop up in one too many witness statements. This is a different world, one far friendlier to lawbreakers, where even the suspicion of wrongdoing gets wiped from the record.
That, it now appears, is exactly how the Securities and Exchange Commission has been treating the Wall Street criminals who cratered the global economy a few years back. For the past two decades, according to a whistle-blower at the SEC who recently came forward to Congress, the agency has been systematically destroying records of its preliminary investigations once they are closed. By whitewashing the files of some of the nation’s worst financial criminals, the SEC has kept an entire generation of federal investigators in the dark about past inquiries into insider trading, fraud and market manipulation against companies like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and AIG. With a few strokes of the keyboard, the evidence gathered during thousands of investigations – “18,000 … including Madoff,” as one high-ranking SEC official put it during a panicked meeting about the destruction – has apparently disappeared forever into the wormhole of history.
Under a deal the SEC worked out with the National Archives and Records Administration, all of the agency’s records – “including case files relating to preliminary investigations” – are supposed to be maintained for at least 25 years. But the SEC, using history-altering practices that for once actually deserve the overused and usually hysterical term “Orwellian,” devised an elaborate and possibly illegal system under which staffers were directed to dispose of the documents from any preliminary inquiry that did not receive approval from senior staff to become a full-blown, formal investigation. Amazingly, the wholesale destruction of the cases – known as MUIs, or “Matters Under Inquiry” – was not something done on the sly, in secret. The enforcement division of the SEC even spelled out the procedure in writing, on the commission’s internal website. “After you have closed a MUI that has not become an investigation,” the site advised staffers, “you should dispose of any documents obtained in connection with the MUI.”
Many of the destroyed files involved companies and individuals who would later play prominent roles in the economic meltdown of 2008. Two MUIs involving con artist Bernie Madoff vanished. So did a 2002 inquiry into financial fraud at Lehman Brothers, as well as a 2005 case of insider trading at the same soon-to-be-bankrupt bank. A 2009 preliminary investigation of insider trading by Goldman Sachs was deleted, along with records for at least three cases involving the infamous hedge fund SAC Capital.
The widespread destruction of records was brought to the attention of Congress in July, when an SEC attorney named Darcy Flynn decided to blow the whistle. According to Flynn, who was responsible for helping to manage the commission’s records, the SEC has been destroying records of preliminary investigations since at least 1993. After he alerted NARA to the problem, Flynn reports, senior staff at the SEC scrambled to hide the commission’s improprieties.
As a federally protected whistle-blower, Flynn is not permitted to speak to the press. But in evidence he presented to the SEC’s inspector general and three congressional committees earlier this summer, the 13-year veteran of the agency paints a startling picture of a federal police force that has effectively been conquered by the financial criminals it is charged with investigating. In at least one case, according to Flynn, investigators at the SEC found their desire to bring a case against an influential bank thwarted by senior officials in the enforcement division – whose director turned around and accepted a lucrative job from the very same bank they had been prevented from investigating. In another case, the agency farmed out its inquiry to a private law firm – one hired by the company under investigation. The outside firm, unsurprisingly, concluded that no further investigation of its client was necessary. To complete the bureaucratic laundering process, Flynn says, the SEC dropped the case and destroyed the files.
Much has been made in recent months of the government’s glaring failure to police Wall Street; to date, federal and state prosecutors have yet to put a single senior Wall Street executive behind bars for any of the many well-documented crimes related to the financial crisis. Indeed, Flynn’s accusations dovetail with a recent series of damaging critiques of the SEC made by reporters, watchdog groups and members of Congress, all of which seem to indicate that top federal regulators spend more time lunching, schmoozing and job-interviewing with Wall Street crooks than they do catching them. As one former SEC staffer describes it, the agency is now filled with so many Wall Street hotshots from oft-investigated banks that it has been “infected with the Goldman mindset from within.”
The destruction of records by the SEC, as outlined by Flynn, is something far more than an administrative accident or bureaucratic fuck-up. It’s a symptom of the agency’s terminal brain damage. Somewhere along the line, those at the SEC responsible for policing America’s banks fell and hit their head on a big pile of Wall Street’s money – a blow from which the agency has never recovered. “From what I’ve seen, it looks as if the SEC might have sanctioned some level of case-related document destruction,” says Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose staff has interviewed Flynn. “It doesn’t make sense that an agency responsible for investigations would want to get rid of potential evidence. If these charges are true, the agency needs to explain why it destroyed documents, how many documents it destroyed over what time frame and to what extent its actions were consistent with the law.”
How did officials at the SEC wind up with a faithful veteran employee – a conservative, mid-level attorney described as a highly reluctant whistle-blower – spilling the agency’s most sordid secrets to Congress? In a way, they asked for it.
On May 18th of this year, SEC enforcement director Robert Khuzami sent out a mass e-mail to the agency’s staff with the subject line “Lawyers Behaving Badly.” In it, Khuzami asked his subordinates to report any experiences they might have had where “the behavior of counsel representing clients in… investigations has been questionable.”
Khuzami was asking staffers to recount any stories of outside counsel behaving unethically. But Flynn apparently thought his boss was looking for examples of lawyers “behaving badly” anywhere, including within the SEC. And he had a story to share he’d kept a lid on for years. “Mr. Khuzami may have gotten something more than he expected,” Flynn’s lawyer, a former SEC whistle-blower named Gary Aguirre, later explained to Congress.
Flynn responded to Khuzami with a letter laying out one such example of misbehaving lawyers within the SEC. It involved a case from very early in Flynn’s career, back in 2000, when he was working with a group of investigators who thought they had a “slam-dunk” case against Deutsche Bank, the German financial giant. A few years earlier, Rolf Breuer, the bank’s CEO, had given an interview to Der Spiegel in which he denied that Deutsche was involved in übernahmegespräche – takeover talks – to acquire a rival American firm, Bankers Trust. But the statement was apparently untrue – and it sent the stock of Bankers Trust tumbling, potentially lowering the price for the merger. Flynn and his fellow SEC investigators, suspecting that investors of Bankers Trust had been defrauded, opened a MUI on the case.
A Matter Under Inquiry is just a preliminary sort of look-see – a way for the SEC to check out the multitude of tips it gets about suspicious trades, shady stock scams and false disclosures, and to determine which of the accusations merit a formal investigation. At the MUI stage, an SEC investigator can conduct interviews or ask a bank to send in information voluntarily. Bumping a MUI up to a formal investigation is critical, because it enables investigators to pull out the full law-enforcement ass-kicking measures – subpoenas, depositions, everything short of hot pokers and waterboarding. In the Deutsche case, Flynn and other SEC investigators got past the MUI stage and used their powers to collect sworn testimony and documents indicating that plenty of übernahmegespräche indeed had been going on when Breuer spoke to Der Spiegel. Based on the evidence, they sent an “Action Memorandum” to senior SEC staff, formally recommending that the agency press forward and file suit against Deutsche.
Breuer responded to the threat as big banks like Deutsche often do: He hired a former SEC enforcement director to lobby the agency to back off. The ex-insider, Gary Lynch, launched a creative and inspired defense, producing a linguistic expert who argued that übernahmegespräche only means “advanced stage of discussions.” Nevertheless, the request to proceed with the case was approved by several levels of the SEC’s staff. All that was needed to move forward was a thumbs-up from the director of enforcement at the time, Richard Walker.
But then a curious thing happened. On July 10th, 2001, Flynn and the other investigators were informed that Walker was mysteriously recusing himself from the Deutsche case. Two weeks later, on July 23rd, the enforcement division sent a letter to Deutsche that read, “Inquiry in the above-captioned matter has been terminated.” The bank was in the clear; the SEC was dropping its fraud investigation. In contradiction to the agency’s usual practice, it provided no explanation for its decision to close the case.
On October 1st of that year, the mystery was solved: Dick Walker was named general counsel of Deutsche. Less than 10 weeks after the SEC shut down its investigation of the bank, the agency’s director of enforcement was handed a cushy, high-priced job at Deutsche.
Deutsche’s influence in the case didn’t stop there. A few years later, in 2004, Walker hired none other than Robert Khuzami, a young federal prosecutor, to join him at Deutsche. The two would remain at the bank until February 2009, when Khuzami joined the SEC as Flynn’s new boss in the enforcement division. When Flynn sent his letter to Khuzami complaining about misbehavior by Walker, he was calling out Khuzami’s own mentor.
The circular nature of the case illustrates the revolving-door dynamic that has become pervasive at the SEC. A recent study by the Project on Government Oversight found that over the past five years, former SEC personnel filed 789 notices disclosing their intent to represent outside companies before the agency – sometimes within days of their having left the SEC. More than half of the disclosures came from the agency’s enforcement division, who went to bat for the financial industry four times more often than ex-staffers from other wings of the SEC.
Even a cursory glance at a list of the agency’s most recent enforcement directors makes it clear that the SEC’s top policemen almost always wind up jumping straight to jobs representing the banks they were supposed to regulate. Lynch, who represented Deutsche in the Flynn case, served as the agency’s enforcement chief from 1985 to 1989, before moving to the firm of Davis Polk, which boasts many top Wall Street clients. He was succeeded by William McLucas, who left the SEC in 1998 to work for WilmerHale, a Wall Street defense firm so notorious for snatching up top agency veterans that it is sometimes referred to as “SEC West.” McLucas was followed by Dick Walker, who defected to Deutsche in 2001, and he was in turn followed by Stephen Cutler, who now serves as general counsel for JP Morgan Chase. Next came Linda Chatman Thomsen, who stepped down to join Davis Polk, only to be succeeded in 2009 by Khuzami, Walker’s former protégé at Deutsche Bank.
This merry-go-round of current and former enforcement directors has repeatedly led to accusations of improprieties. In 2008, in a case cited by the SEC inspector general, Thomsen went out of her way to pass along valuable information to Cutler, the former enforcement director who had gone to work for JP Morgan. According to the inspector general, Thomsen signaled Cutler that the SEC was unlikely to take action that would hamper JP Morgan’s move to buy up Bear Stearns. In another case, the inspector general found, an assistant director of enforcement was instrumental in slowing down an investigation into the $7 billion Ponzi scheme allegedly run by Texas con artist R. Allen Stanford – and then left the SEC to work for Stanford, despite explicitly being denied permission to do so by the agency’s ethics office. “Every lawyer in Texas and beyond is going to get rich on this case, OK?” the official later explained. “I hated being on the sidelines.”
Small wonder, then, that SEC staffers often have trouble getting their bosses to approve full-blown investigations against even the most blatant financial criminals. For a fledgling MUI to become a formal investigation, it has to make the treacherous leap from the lower rungs of career-level staffers like Flynn all the way up to the revolving-door level at the top, where senior management is composed largely of high-priced appointees from the private sector who have strong social and professional ties to the very banks they are charged with regulating. And if senior management didn’t approve an investigation, the documents often wound up being destroyed – as Flynn would later discover.
After the Deutsche fiasco over Bankers Trust, Flynn continued to work at the SEC for four more years. He briefly left the agency to dabble in real estate, then returned in 2008 to serve as an attorney in the enforcement division. In January 2010, he accepted new responsibilities that included helping to manage the disposition of records for the division – and it was then he first became aware of the agency’s possibly unlawful destruction of MUI records.
Flynn discovered a directive on the enforcement division’s internal website ordering staff to destroy “any records obtained in connection” with closed MUIs. The directive appeared to violate federal law, which gives responsibility for maintaining and destroying all records to the National Archives and Records Administration. Over a decade earlier, in fact, the SEC had struck a deal with NARA stipulating that investigative records were to be maintained for 25 years – and that if any files were to be destroyed after that, the shredding was to be done by NARA, not the SEC.
But Flynn soon learned that the records for thousands of preliminary investigations no longer existed. In his letter to Congress, Flynn estimates that the practice of destroying MUIs had begun as early as 1993, and has resulted in at least 9,000 case files being destroyed. For all the thousands of tips that had come in to the SEC, and the thousands of interviews that had been conducted by the agency’s staff, all that remained were a few perfunctory lines for each case. The mountains of evidence gathered were no longer in existence.
To read through the list of dead and buried cases that Flynn submitted to Congress is like looking through an infrared camera at a haunted house of the financial crisis, with the ghosts of missed prosecutions flashing back and forth across the screen. A snippet of the list:
PARTY MUI # OPENED/CLOSED ISSUE
Goldman Sachs MLA-01909 6/99 – 4/00 Market Manipulation
Deutsche Bank MHO-09356 11/01 – 7/02 Insider Trading
Deutsche Bank MHO-09432 2/02 – 8/02 Market Manipulation
Lehman Brothers MNY-07013 3/02 – 7/02 Financial Fraud
Goldman Sachs MNY-08198 11/09 – 12/09 Insider Trading
One MUI – case MNY-08145 – involved allegations of insider trading at AIG on September 15th, 2008, right in the middle of the insurance giant’s collapse. In that case, an AIG employee named Jacqueline Millan reported irregularities in the trading of AIG stock to her superiors, only to find herself fired. Incredibly, instead of looking into the matter itself, the SEC agreed to accept “an internal investigation by outside counsel or AIG.” The last note in the file indicates that “the staff plans to speak with the outside attorneys on Monday, August 24th , when they will share their findings with us.” The fact that the SEC trusted AIG’s lawyers to investigate the matter shows the basic bassackwardness of the agency’s approach to these crash-era investigations. The SEC formally closed the case on October 1st, 2009.
The episode with AIG highlights yet another obstacle that MUIs experience on the road to becoming formal investigations. During the past decade, the SEC routinely began allowing financial firms to investigate themselves. Imagine the LAPD politely asking a gang of Crips and their lawyers to issue a report on whether or not a drive-by shooting by the Crips should be brought before a grand jury – that’s basically how the SEC now handles many preliminary investigations against Wall Street targets.
The evolution toward this self-policing model began in 2001, when a shipping and food-service conglomerate called Seaboard aggressively investigated an isolated case of accounting fraud at one of its subsidiaries. Seaboard fired the guilty parties and made sweeping changes to its internal practices – and the SEC was so impressed that it instituted a new policy of giving “credit” to companies that police themselves. In practice, that means the agency simply steps aside and allows companies to slap themselves on the wrists. In the case against Seaboard, for instance, the SEC rewarded the firm by issuing no fines against it.
According to Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant at the SEC, the Seaboard case also prompted the SEC to begin permitting companies to hire their own counsel to conduct their own inquiries. At first, he says, the process worked fairly well. But then President Bush appointed the notoriously industry-friendly Christopher Cox to head up the SEC, and the “outside investigations” turned into whitewash jobs. “The investigations nowadays are probably not worth the money you spend on them,” Turner says.
Harry Markopolos, a certified fraud examiner best known for sounding a famously unheeded warning about Bernie Madoff way back in 2000, says the SEC’s practice of asking suspects to investigate themselves is absurd. In a serious investigation, he says, “the last person you want to trust is the person being accused or their lawyer.” The practice helped Madoff escape for years. “The SEC took Bernie’s word for everything,” Markopolos says.
At the SEC, having realized that the agency was destroying documents, Flynn became concerned that he was overseeing an illegal policy. So in the summer of last year, he reached out to NARA, asking them for guidance on the issue.
That request sparked a worried response from Paul Wester, NARA’s director of modern records. On July 29th, 2010, Wester sent a letter to Barry Walters, who oversees document requests for the SEC. “We recently learned from Darcy Flynn… that for the past 17 years the SEC has been destroying closed Matters Under Inquiry files,” Wester wrote. “If you confirm that federal records have been destroyed improperly, please ensure that no further such disposals take place and provide us with a written report within 30 days.”
Wester copied the letter to Adam Storch, a former Goldman Sachs executive who less than a year earlier had been appointed as managing executive of the SEC’s enforcement division. Storch’s appointment was not without controversy. “I’m not sure what’s scarier,” Daniel Indiviglio of The Atlantic observed, “that this guy worked at an investment bank that many believe has questionable ethics and too cozy a Washington connection, or that he’s just 29.” In any case, Storch reacted to the NARA letter the way the SEC often does – by circling the wagons and straining to find a way to blow off the problem without admitting anything.
Last August, as the clock wound down on NARA’s 30-day deadline, Storch and two top SEC lawyers held a meeting with Flynn to discuss how to respond. Flynn’s notes from the meeting, which he passed along to Congress, show the SEC staff wondering aloud if admitting the truth to NARA might be a bad idea, given the fact that there might be criminal liability.
“We could say that we do not believe there has been disposal inconsistent with the schedule,” Flynn quotes Ken Hall, an assistant chief counsel for the SEC, as saying.
“There are implications to admit what was destroyed,” Storch chimed in. It would be “not wise for me to take on the exposure voluntarily. If this leads to something, what rings in my ear is that Barry [Walters, the SEC documents officer] said: This is serious, could lead to criminal liability.”
When the subject of how many files were destroyed came up, Storch answered: “18,000 MUIs destroyed, including Madoff.”
Four days later, the SEC responded to NARA with a hilariously convoluted nondenial denial. “The Division is not aware of any specific instances of the destruction of records from any other MUI,” the letter states. “But we cannot say with certainty that no such documents have been destroyed over the past 17 years.” The letter goes on to add that “the Division has taken steps… to ensure that no MUI records are destroyed while we review this issue.”
Translation: Hey, maybe records were destroyed, maybe they weren’t. But if we did destroy records, we promise not to do it again – for now.
The SEC’s unwillingness to admit the extent of the wrong doing left Flynn in a precarious position. The agency has a remarkably bad record when it comes to dealing with whistle-blowers. Back in 2005, when Flynn’s attorney, Gary Aguirre, tried to pursue an insider-trading case against Pequot Capital that involved John Mack, the future CEO of Morgan Stanley, he was fired by phone while on vacation. Two Senate committees later determined that Aguirre, who has since opened a private practice representing whistle-blowers, was dismissed improperly as part of a “process of reprisal” by the SEC. Two whistle-blowers in the Stanford case, Julie Preuitt and Joel Sauer, also experienced retaliation – including reprimands and demotions – after raising concerns about superficial investigations. “There’s no mechanism to raise these issues at the SEC,” says another former whistle-blower. Contacting the agency’s inspector general, he adds, is considered “the nuclear option” – a move “well-known to be a career-killer.”
In Flynn’s case, both he and Aguirre tried to keep the matter in-house, appealing to SEC chairman Mary Schapiro with a promise not to go outside the agency if she would grant Flynn protection against reprisal. When no such offer was forthcoming, Flynn went to the agency’s inspector general before sending a detailed letter about the wrongdoing to three congressional committees.
One of the offices Flynn contacted was that of Sen. Grassley, who was in the midst of his own battle with the SEC. Frustrated with the agency’s failure to punish major players on Wall Street, the Iowa Republican had begun an investigation into how the SEC follows up on outside complaints. Specifically, he wrote a letter to FINRA, another regulatory agency, to ask how many complaints it had referred to the SEC about SAC Capital, the hedge fund run by reptilian billionaire short-seller Stevie Cohen.
SAC has long been accused of a variety of improprieties, from insider trading to harassment. But no charge in recent Wall Street history is crazier than an episode involving a SAC executive named Ping Jiang, who was accused in 2006 of enacting a torturous hazing program. According to a civil lawsuit that was later dropped, Jiang allegedly forced a new trader named Andrew Tong to take female hormones, come to work wearing a dress and lipstick, have “foreign objects” inserted in his rectum, and allow Jiang to urinate in his mouth. (I’m not making this up.)
Grassley learned that over the past decade, FINRA had referred 19 complaints about suspicious trades at SAC to federal regulators. Curious to see how many of those referrals had been looked into, Grassley wrote the SEC on May 24th, asking for evidence that the agency had properly investigated the cases.
Two weeks later, on June 9th, Khuzami sent Grassley a surprisingly brusque answer: “We generally do not comment on the status of investigations or related referrals, and, in turn, are not providing information concerning the specific FINRA referrals you identified.” Translation: We’re not giving you the records, so blow us.
Grassley later found out from FINRA that it had actually referred 65 cases about SAC to the SEC, making the lack of serious investigations even more inexplicable. Angered by Khuzami’s response, he sent the SEC another letter on June 15th demanding an explanation, but no answer has been forthcoming.
In the interim, Grassley’s office was contacted by Flynn, who explained that among the missing MUIs he had uncovered were at least three involving SAC – one in 2006, one in 2007 and one in 2010, involving charges of insider trading and currency manipulation. All three cases were closed by the SEC, and the records apparently destroyed.
On August 17th, Grassley sent a letter to the SEC about the Flynn allegations, demanding to know if it was indeed true that the SEC had destroyed records. He also asked if the agency’s failure to produce evidence of investigations into SAC Capital were related to the missing MUIs.
The SEC’s inspector general is investigating the destroyed MUIs and plans to issue a report. NARA is also seeking answers. “We’ve asked the SEC to look into the matter and we’re awaiting their response,” says Laurence Brewer, a records officer for NARA. For its part, the SEC is trying to explain away the illegality of its actions through a semantic trick. John Nester, the agency’s spokesman, acknowledges that “documents related to MUIs” have been destroyed. “I don’t have any reason to believe that it hasn’t always been the policy,” he says. But Nester suggests that such documents do not “meet the federal definition of a record,” and therefore don’t have to be preserved under federal law.
But even if SEC officials manage to dodge criminal charges, it won’t change what happened: The nation’s top financial police destroyed more than a decade’s worth of intelligence they had gathered on some of Wall Street’s most egregious offenders. “The SEC not keeping the MUIs – you can see why this would be bad,” says Markopolos, the fraud examiner famous for breaking the Madoff case. “The reason you would want to keep them is to build a pattern. That way, if you get five MUIs over a period of 20 years on something similar involving the same company, you should be able to connect five dots and say, ‘You know, I’ve had five MUIs – they’re probably doing something. Let’s go tear the place apart.’” Destroy the MUIs, and Wall Street banks can commit the exact same crime over and over, without anyone ever knowing.
Regulation isn’t a panacea. The SEC could have placed federal agents on every corner of lower Manhattan throughout the past decade, and it might not have put a dent in the massive wave of corruption and fraud that left the economy in flames three years ago. And even if SEC staffers from top to bottom had been fully committed to rooting out financial corruption, the agency would still have been seriously hampered by a lack of resources that often forces it to abandon promising cases due to a shortage of manpower. “It’s always a triage,” is how one SEC veteran puts it. “And it’s worse now.”
But we’re equally in the dark about another hypothetical. Forget about what might have been if the SEC had followed up in earnest on all of those lost MUIs. What if even a handful of them had turned into real cases? How many investors might have been saved from crushing losses if Lehman Brothers had been forced to reveal its shady accounting way back in 2002? Might the need for taxpayer bailouts have been lessened had fraud cases against Citigroup and Bank of America been pursued in 2005 and 2007? And would the U.S. government have doubled down on its bailout of AIG if it had known that some of the firm’s executives were suspected of insider trading in September 2008?
It goes without saying that no ordinary law-enforcement agency would willingly destroy its own evidence. In fact, when it comes to garden-variety crooks, more and more police agencies are catching criminals with the aid of large and well-maintained databases. “Street-level law enforcement is increasingly data-driven,” says Bill Laufer, a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “For a host of reasons, though, we are starved for good data on both white-collar and corporate crime. So the idea that we would take the little data we do have and shred it, without a legal requirement to do so, calls for a very creative explanation.”
We’ll never know what the impact of those destroyed cases might have been; we’ll never know if those cases were closed for good reasons or bad. We’ll never know exactly who got away with what, because federal regulators have weighted down a huge sack of Wall Street’s dirty laundry and dumped it in a lake, never to be seen again.
Read the entire article HERE.
By Charles Riley
August 5, 2011: 10:46 PM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s on Friday downgraded the credit rating of the United States, stripping the world’s largest economy of its prized AAA status.
In July, S&P placed the United States’ rating on “CreditWatch with negative implications” as the debt ceiling debate devolved into partisan bickering.
To avoid a downgrade, S&P said the United States needed to not only raise the debt ceiling, but also develop a “credible” plan to tackle the nation’s long-term debt.
In its report Friday, S&P ruled that the U.S. fell short: “The downgrade reflects our opinion that the … plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.”
S&P also cited dysfunctional policymaking in Washington as a factor in the downgrade. “The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed.”
A Treasury Department spokesman pushed back on the rating change, saying that S&P’s analysis was flawed.
A source familiar with the matter said S&P initially miscalculated the growth trajectory of the nation’s debt, and then went ahead with its downgrade anyway.
The source also said S&P didn’t give enough credit for the debt-ceiling compromise, which paved the way for more than $2 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years.
However, one of S&P’s explicit criticisms of the compromise was that it didn’t address the biggest drivers of the nation’s debt — Social Security and Medicare — and didn’t allow for additional tax revenue. (“What’s wrong with the debt ceiling deal?”)
John Chambers, Head of Sovereign Ratings for S&P, told CNN that though S&P didn’t have a specific target in mind, the total debt reduction package was not sufficient. Chambers also noted that the plan did not take steps in the near term to boost economic growth.
What does S&P’s downgrade mean? Share your thoughts
Rating agencies — S&P, Moody’s and Fitch — analyze risk and give debt a “grade” that reflects the borrower’s ability to pay the underlying loans.
The safest bets are stamped AAA. That’s where U.S. debt has stood for years. Moody’s first assigned the United States a AAA rating in 1917. The country’s new S&P rating is AA+ — still strong, but not the highest.
The downgrade puts the U.S. debt rating on par with that of Belgium, but below countries like the United Kingdom and Australia.
In the days after lawmakers managed to strike a debt-ceiling deal, the two other major rating agencies have both said the deficit reduction actions taken by Congress were a step in the right direction.
On Tuesday, Moody’s said the United States will keep its sterling AAA credit rating, but lowered its outlook on U.S. debt to “negative.”
Even after a downgrade, the United States will likely still be able to pay its bills for years to come and remains a good credit risk.
A downgrade really just amounts to one agency’s opinion. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke articulated that view in April when S&P placed the United States on credit watch. “S&P’s action didn’t really tell us anything,” Bernanke said. “Everybody who reads the newspaper knows that the United States has a very serious long-term fiscal problem.”
Investors have limited options for making safe investments, and Treasuries are effectively as liquid as cash. And other big countries have been downgraded and were still able to borrow at low rates.
At the same time, some experts warn that a downgrade could gum up the banking system and ripple out onto Main Street. Treasuries are used as collateral in many transactions between financial institutions and grease the skids of lending.
Shortly after the downgrade, the Federal Reserve, FDIC and other bank regulators moved to blunt the affect of the action on the banking system. In a joint release, the agencies said they would continue to treat Treasuries and other securities issued by government-sponsored entities (such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) the same as before they were downgraded. Treasuries are often used as collateral for short-term lending among banks and other financial institutions.
Consumers and investors could feel the impact of a downgrade. Interest rates on bonds could rise, and rates on mortgages and other types of loans along with them.
Government-backed agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may also be downgraded. It’s also possible that some state and local governments could also face a downgrade.
And investment decisions would become complicated for large institutional investors that are required to hold highly-rated securities.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Tyler Durden
08/03/2011 14:50 -0400
The Treasury’s Borrowing Advisory Committee, chaired by such luminaries as JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, which according to some (and by some we mean anyone who cares about such things) is the brains behind the decision-making process of US debt issuance has released its quarterly minutes, in which it has issued one of the most stark warnings about the fate of the US Dollar to date. While it is now a daily occurrence for China and Russia to bash the dollar, for the most part still powerless to provide an alternative (but rapidly gaining), the same warning coming from Jamie and Lloyd has to be taken far, far more seriously. Which is precisely what happened today. As Bloomberg reports, “The Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee… said the outperformance of haven currencies and those from emerging nations has aided in the debasement of the dollar’s reserve status, according to comments included in discussion charts presented ahead of the quarterly refunding. The Treasury published the documents today. “The idea of a reserve currency is that it is built on strength, not typically that it is ‘best among poor choices’,” page 35 of the presentation made by one committee member said. “The fact that there are not currently viable alternatives to the U.S. dollar is a hollow victory and perhaps portends a deteriorating fate.””
But, wait a second… Isn’t Ben Bernanke debasing the dollar precisely for the benefit of the members of the TBAC? And considering that he has done such a tremendous job, is it a little hypocritical to be taking the USD devaluation in one hand, and complaining about it with another? Perhaps someone less jaded than us can answer. As for another important question looming over the US, namely the so called imminent US downgrade, the TBAC has spoken: “None of the members thought that a downgrade was imminent.” Which means that both S&P and Fitch have now been bribed with enough peas to keep their mouths shut. The status quo wins again.
Some other interesting observations:
- Primary Dealers expect a much smaller fiscal deficit in 2011 than either the CBP or OMB, at $1358BN compared to $1480BN and $1645BN respectively. Which means, if wrong, that Dealers will be on the hook to purchase up to $300 billion more debt than currently modelled. Will they be able to handle this extra load?
- PDs expect 2011 Marketable Borrowing to be between $980 and $2055 Billion. A rather wide range
- Bills as a percentage of the portfolio have plunged to decade lows, while coupons are at decade highs
- From the previous bullet point, the PDs expect the average maturity of debt to continue to increase. We disagree considering the hundreds of billions in Bills that will have to be reissued to make up for the 2 month non-rolling fiasco
- There is $1.8 trillion in debt refinancing needs in 2011; Just over $1.4 trillion in 2012, and just under $1.1 trillion in 2013. Good luck rolling all of this debt.
The TBAC’s conclusion is actually rather spot on:
- The benefits of extension do not come for free. Historical analysis suggests that shorter term funding has at many times been both cheaper and the volatility costs have not been high
- Recent cycles of rising rates have not lasted long enough for maturity extension to pay off
- It is possible, however, that “this time is different” because
- Nominal rates are much closer to the zero bound than previous periods
- Deficits are very high historically and rising interest expense less acceptable
- Concentrated foreign ownership creates less reliable demand
- The benefits of funding attributable to being the reserve currency may be fading
- While this presentation has focused exclusively on average maturity, a topic for future study is the impact of the distribution of maturities on total interest expense
That indeed would be an interesting analysis
Full must read presentation:
Read the entire article HERE.
By Chris Martenson PhD
For the record, I still believe that there will not be a breach of the debt ceiling and no overt default for the US. Things will be worked out in the nick of time, like they always are.
However, the media is full of articles wondering about what ‘investors’ might do in response to a US default and/or credit downgrade. What will happen to Treasury prices? Will they go down as investors dump them en masse in response to a credit downgrade forcing interest rates to climb?
It’s a big question and the most likely answer is “No, not really”. Partly because these so-called investors have been well-conditioned to believe that another bailout is always around the corner, but mainly because they have nowhere to go.
The big money is trapped.
For example, imagine that you are in charge of a money market fund with $100 billion under management and your job is to both cover your expenses and assure a return for your depositors and you are heavily invested in US Treasurys. Or imagine that you are in charge of a public pension with $200 billion under management with the same basic concerns of managing expenses and delivering returns and a heavy exposure to US Treasurys but with a much longer time horizon.
In either case, in light of the possibility of a US default what would you do? Where would you put your money right now if you were suddenly of the mind that the $50 billion you had in Treasurys should be placed somewhere else? In reality there are not that many places to quickly move such large sums of money. Further, there might be fiduciary restrictions that limit your investment options to regions, securities types and/or ratings grades or there might be a minimum liquidity requirement for the investment pool.
So let’s imagine that you have to make very large and important financial decisions and that you have to put your money to work; it’s either an actual fiduciary or operational requirement of yours. An excessive amount of cash is not an option and neither are hard assets such as land, gold or silver. Where would you put it? What realistic options exist? It turns out there are not that many.
The Treasury market is the largest and most liquid in the world, by far. For many big money funds there really aren’t any realistic options other than the Treasury market, and this present reality will limit the market reaction to any downgrade.
A Foul Choice
With interest rates on ‘safe’ sovereign debt at or near zero on the short end, and well below the rate of inflation on the long end, safe bonds offer a negative real yield (meaning a yield below the rate of inflation). This is a compounding disaster for everyone but especially for pension funds with their longer time horizons. Worse, we now know sovereign debt can no longer be considered safe (even the US is facing a downgrade threat) - which means that on a risk-adjusted basis, the returns are even more unattractive than the negative real yields on offer.
On the surface, the choice that Bernanke has engineered for investors is between guaranteed losses via the miracle of negative real compounding and taking on more investment risk. But he’s managed to combine both negative returns and risk into a very unattractive investment brew.
Most big money funds have opted to take on more risk rather than suffer such low returns (and who could blame them?) and have done so by going to where the yields happen to be. This means buying up corporate paper and European debt, both of which have far more risk than their nominally more attractive yields would imply. For individual investors, especially savers and those living on small incomes tied to interest rates, the negative interest rates have been especially difficult if not an outright disaster.
Once again, we can thank Ben Bernanke et al for driving interest rates into punishingly-low territory forcing everyone with a desire or responsibility to save and invest to either lose to inflation or to take on more risk.
Part of the goal behind ultra-low interest rates was to drive money back into the stock market, which the Fed has been specifically and openly targeting in both word and deed. It is a well known fact that low interest rates are supportive to the stock market and so far that strategy has worked.
On the flip side of this success is the fact that a lot more risk has been forced into the system. When prices are artificially distorted to the upside for stocks or bonds, then it is axiomatic that risk becomes mispriced.
Having to choose between mispriced risk and negative returns is truly a foul choice indeed.
The Deficit Theatre
All of this brings us to the current sad state of affairs now put into high relief by the deficit talks in DC, which more properly should be viewed as political theater rather than a legitimate attempt to square the federal budget up with reality. If the talks were truly legitimate, then on the expense side everything would be on the table, especially and including defense spending and a balanced budget amendment would not be a source of contention but a mutually agreed upon goal.
Instead the Democrats are willing to entertain higher spending cuts in the vicinity of $250 billion per year as long as they can have a debt ceiling increase that would get them safely past the 2012 elections. Conversely, the Republicans as represented by Boehner are ready to concede to relatively meaningless spending cuts in the vicinity of $100 billion per year as long as they can force the debt ceiling to be an issue for the 2012 election cycle:
Mr. Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, was trying Sunday to cobble together a plan to raise the government’s debt limit by $2.4 trillion through the 2012 election, with spending cuts of about $2.5 trillion. He would seek to avoid cuts to entitlement programs, but it was unclear how those savings would be achieved.
Notably, the plan does not currently contain any new or increased taxes, an approach that many in his caucus would probably balk at.
The contours of Mr. Boehner’s backup plan were far from clear, but it seemed likely to take the form of a two-step process, with a short-term increase in the debt limit along with about $1 trillion in cuts, an amount the Republicans said was sufficient to clear the way for a debt limit increase through year’s end. That would be followed by future cuts guided by a new legislative commission that would consider a broader range of trims, program overhauls and revenue increases.
(Source – NYT)
Just looking at the proposed levels of deficit reduction, whether it’s $1 trillion or $2.5 trillion, neither plan will drop the deficit enough to prevent the US from slipping deeper and deeper into the red. The true drivers of the debate, such as they are, center on political advantage and power. Count us among the unsurprised at this turn of events.
It would be nice – essential even – to have enough information to go on to really assess the true dimensions of the deficit reduction proposals but, even for a committed analyst like myself, there’s just too little detail to make a decent analysis of any of the competing packages.
However, we can be almost certain that their baseline assumptions about GDP and revenue growth that undergird the putative future deficit levels are unrealistic. They always are in these sorts of circumstances, which means the amount of future savings being bandied about are unlikely to be as robust as claimed.
For example, the most recent CBO budget projections (the foundation upon which the deficit reduction proposals are most likely built), assume that over the next 5 years (2011 – 2016) that revenue will grow at a compounded rate of 11.4% per annum(!), expenses by 3.9% and GDP by a whopping 4.95%.
These assumptions are just silly. Costs have risen much faster, and revenue and GDP far slower, over the prior five years, and if these pie in the sky projections do not come to pass then all of the deficit numbers will blow out to the upside in those future years.
For example, if we assume that GDP growth is 2.5% per annum instead of nearly 5% (and that revenues are tied to GDP),adn that revenues will therefore ‘only’ increase by 5% per annum (both completely reasonable assumptions at this stage) then the additional cumulative deficit that will accrue between 2011 and 2016 is $2.7 trillion dollars.
That will completely eliminate all of the projected savings from even the most agressive of the proposals on the table. Is this unlikely? No, in fact these are a far more defensible set of assumptions than those currently being put forth by the CBO.
To really make a mockery of the current budget projections, there is absolutely no chance of the government both cutting its share of GDP by 2% per year and having the GDP grow by nearly 5% per year. Implied is a rate of economic growth in the private sector that would be truly extraordinary. Further, there is no chance of revenues climbing by more than 11% per year over the next five years without an enormous increase in taxes, which neither party is currently proposing.
In short, without knowing the underlying assumptions that are driving the projections, we cannot say much about the proposals themselves. All I can tell you for sure is that for as long as I have been crunching government numbers, taking their rosy projections and cutting them in half has always been a reliable and reasonable starting point.
A Dawning Awareness
What should not be lost on anyone is the degree to which some of the biggest names in the financial world are starting to openly question fiat money and the entire system of debt itself. They’re even doing it on TV, in prime time and on the op-ed pages of the largest newspapers.
Again, by the time we are seeing such open questioning of the very firmament of the entire system, this tells us something about how far along in the narrative we really are. Just a few years ago such talk would have been relegated to the very fringes of the blogosphere.
Here are a few recent examples:
As Washington dithers over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, investor confidence is flowing away.
“The issue is not just whether Moody’s or Standard and Poor’s were to downgrade (U.S. Treasury debt), it’s whether the market decides to downgrade,” said Rochdale Securities bank analyst Richard Bove.
“If they lose faith in the Congress and the government to, in essence, create a solid security for the buyers of that security, then you get the downgrade,” he said.
The sentiment was echoed overseas, where many countries hold U.S. Treasuries as an investment. “An adverse shock in the United States could have serious spillovers on the rest of the world,” warned Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
“We live in a highly interconnected international financial world that is really based upon confidence,” said financial services industry lobbyist Paul Equale.
“And without confidence, both domestically and internationally — that the United States is mature enough and has a system that can handle making the big decisions — without that confidence we’re going to see things like the dollar becoming less important as the world’s reserve currency.“
Debt-based fiat money relies on multiple levels of confidence. There has to be confidence that the money will not be over-produced in response to every perceived crisis (oops), that its allocation is justified and fair to all parties when it is placed into circulation (oops, again), and there has to be confidence that the future will be exponentially larger than the past to justify ever-increasing levels of debt (this is the big ‘oops’).
We are drawing ever closer to the recognition that endless growth is simply neither possible nor a reasonable expectation. There are even doubts now that growth as we’ve recently know it will return for one last cameo appearance over the next five to ten years.
With the evaporation of that all-important narrative of growth, everything else becomes immediately suspect, especially money itself.
Sometimes you will hear or read someone exclaim that ever since the slamming of the gold window in 1971 that US dollars are not backed by anything. This is not true, they are backed by debt. Debt is an incredible motivator and assures that the person, entity or country under its yoke will dedicate some portion of their productive efforts towards servicing that debt.
Another Big Round Number (and a Nice Symmetry)
On August 15th 2011 we experience the 40th anniversary of the slamming of the gold window back on the same date in 1971. Perhaps we should all bow our heads and have a silent moment to mark the occasion.
Interestingly, that’s almost exactly the date, give or take a few days, on which the US treasury will run out of money here in 2011:
“We don’t think there will be a default,” Ahrens, head of U.S. rates strategy for UBS in Stamford, Connecticut, said yesterday in a telephone interview. He estimates the Treasury has enough cash to make all payments until Aug. 8-10.
Forty years between a final abandonment of the last vestige of external restraint on money/credit creation and the dawning recognition that the US has simply gone too far, spent too much, and is now in an enormous fiscal predicament. In the annals of history that’s just about right for the lifespan of a purely fiat currency.
Mark the date on your calendars: we’ll certainly be observing the anniversary here at ChrisMartenson.com. Forty is a big, round number and therefore important.
So what’s likely to happen to the dollar and key asset classes in the aftermath of the looming August 2 deadline? In Part II of this report: What Should Happen and What Will Happen we analyze the probable future direction of stocks, bonds, precious metals, commodities, real estate and other assets. Additionally, we assess the odds of a resumption of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve, and what changes to the picture that will cause when/if it occurs.
Read the entire article HERE.
By Neil Irwin
July 21, 2011
For instance, William C. Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York who was a senior official there in 2008, owned stock of American International Group before the Fed bailed out the giant insurance firm. The GAO report did not mention him by name, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who spearheaded the audit, identified Dudley as the unnamed official described in the report.
Lawyers at the New York Fed allowed Dudley to continue owning the shares while working on issues relating to the bailout. They concluded that for him to sell the shares immediately after the central bank bailed out the firm would be more ethically problematic than simply holding onto them and selling at a later date.
Dudley “held shares in these companies as part of his personal portfolio that predated his service at the New York Fed,” a spokesman for the central bank said. “A waiver was granted allowing him to hold these shares based in part on the judgement that had he sold these shares immediately after the interventions it would have the appearance of a conflict.”
The GAO report did not condemn the Fed’s actions, it simply illuminated them. Dudley has subsequently sold all the shares on dates agreed to with the bank’s ethics officers, the spokesman said.
The GAO also recommended that the Fed make clearer and more rigorous its policies for hiring independent contractors to manage investment programs. During the crisis, the New York Fed hired outside firms to manage many of its special lending programs, such as one designed to backstop the market for short-term corporate loans, without holding a normal bidding process for the contracts.
The report also found that lines of authority between the Fed’s Board of Governors in Washington and the 12 regional Fed banks around the country were sometimes muddled during the crisis. For example, it was not always clear where authority resided on questions of what collateral would be adequate for an emergency loan.
The report was the latest to detail aspects of the Fed’s actions during the financial crisis that were shrouded in mystery at the time. Another provision in last year’s Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulatory overhaul, also instigated by Sanders, required the disclosure of what individual banks and other entities received loans from the Fed.
“As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world,” Sanders said in a statement. “This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else.”
The Fed’s general counsel, Scott Alvarez, said in a letter responding to the GAO’s audit that officials will “strongly consider” the recommendations.
Read the entire article HERE.