Banks Have Recognized 60% of Expected Loan Charge-Offs: Moody’s

Gee, and here I thought that the Federal Reserve bought $1.4-$2 *trillion* of them! Let alone Lehman and its 50 billion in subprime mortgages that it “hid” (and what about all the other TARP/Federal Reserve member banks??)

BY: CARRIE BAY 6/3/2010 DSNEWS

n its latest quarterly report on credit conditions of the U.S. banking system, Moody’s Investors Service says banks’ asset quality issues are “past the peak” butcharge-offs and non-performers continue to eat away at profitability and sheer fundamentals.

Based on Moody’s market data, banks’ non-performing loans stood at 5.0 percent of total loan assets at March 31, 2010.

Moody’s says U.S. rated banks have already charged off or written-down $436 billion of loans in 2008, 2009, and the first quarter of 2010. That leaves another $307 billion to reach the rating agency’s full estimate of $744 billion of loan charge-offs from 2008 through 2011.

In aggregate, the banks have recognized 60 percent of Moody’s estimated total charge-offs and 65 percent of estimated residential mortgage losses, but only 45 percent of projected commercial real estate losses.

In the first quarter of this year, the banking industry’s collective annualized net charge-offs came to 3.3 percent of loans, versus 3.6 percent of loans in the fourth quarter

of 2009, Moody’s said. Despite two consecutive quarters of improvement in charge-offs, the ratings agency notes that the figures still remain near historic highs, dating back to the Great Depression.

According to Moody’s analysts, the decline in aggregate charge-offs was driven by commercial real estate improvement, which “we believe is likely to reverse in coming quarters,” they said in the report. A similar commercial real estate decline was experienced in the first quarter of 2009 before charge-offs accelerated through the rest of the year.

“The return to ‘normal’ levels of asset quality will be slow and uneven over the next 12 to 18 months,” said Moody’sSVP Craig Emrick.

But Emrick added that “Although remaining losses are sizable, they are beginning to look manageable in relation to bank’s loan loss allowances and tangible common equity.”

U.S. banks’ allowances for loan losses stood at $221 billion as of March 31, 2010, which is equal to 4.1 percent of loans, Moody’s reported. Although this can be used to offset a sizable portion of remaining charge-offs, banks will still require substantial provisions in 2010, the agency said.

Moody’s says its negative outlook for the U.S. banking system is driven by asset quality concerns and effects on profitability and capital. The agency’s ratings outlook is also influenced by the potential for a worse-than-expected macroeconomic environment, Moody’s said.

“More severe macroeconomic developments, the probability of which we place at 10 percent to 20 percent, would significantly strain U.S. bank fundamental credit quality,” Moody’s analysts wrote in their report.

Housing Market Update: When Will House Prices Recover?

Since they all seem to be talking out of their asses…let me be frank and speaketh Le Face! Not in 5 yrs…not in 10 years…maybe in 20 years from now!

Seeing the inventory of shadow “hidden” reo’s there is no near in sight!

Now why give any loans today? The housing market is going down, these homes will continue to head under water? Buy today…Loose Tomorrow mentality? Especially the FHA loans??

5465.0

Description: A sign advertising new homes for sale is seen on March 24 in Davie, Florida. (Getty Images)

May 27, 2010 | From theTrumpet.com
Not any time soon.

Remember when all those government economists and National Association of Realtors analysts were saying that housing prices wouldn’t recover until the first half of 2009? Then it was by 2010? Now the truth is coming out. No one knows when housing prices will recover—if ever.

According to mortgage-bond legend Lewis Ranieri, don’t expect a meaningful rebound in house prices for at least three to five years: “There is another big leg down and the question is how long does it stay.”

Don’t be quick to dismiss what Ranieri says, because he is possibly the one individual who is arguably just as responsible for America’s great housing bubble as former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (who lowered interest rates to record lows to try to get us to spend our way out of a recession), the politicians (who forced banks to lend to unqualified individuals) and the investment ratings agencies (that rated subprime mortgages as triple-A safe).

Ranieri was the high-flying Salomon Brothers trader who first packaged mortgages into bundles that could be sold and traded as securities on a national and international level. He was the man who institutionalized mass mortgage investing. His innovations back in the 1980s helped reduce the cost of mortgages for millions of people. But they also paved the way for the junk subprime lending that helped fuel the housing bubble.

Now Ranieri is saying to get set for more trouble ahead. Over the next 18 months, at least 3 million more properties will join the 5 million already in some stage of distress. “It’s an immense problem” that risks “flooding the market,” he said.

The market for mortgage-backed securities has virtually dried up since 2008. With so many people falling behind on their payments, investors have not been able to rely on the steady streams of income that mortgage bonds historically produce. Plus, with house prices plummeting, investors don’t even have the protection of collateral.

With such adverse conditions, investors don’t want to touch American mortgages with a 10-foot pole.

Normally this lack of investment demand would drive up mortgage rates and weed out weaker borrowers—thus allowing the housing market to return to investable conditions.

However, due to government intervention to prop up the housing market, there has been an unforeseen side effect. America’s pool of mortgages has actually become riskier for investors.

In an effort to prop up house prices in America and thus keep the big banks solvent, the government began massively encouraging more people to invest in homes: It changed tax laws, it used taxpayer money to modify loans for people who had borrowed too much, it offered first-time home buyers credits, and then extended the buyers’ credits again once they expired.

It even used taxpayer dollars to ramp up subprime lending—the same kind of risky lending that got the banks into trouble in the first place.

It was one massive taxpayer-backed effort to increase the pool of home buyers and thus demand for houses and house prices.

But the scheme largely backfired.

The government subsidies and handouts did encourage more people to buy homes—but mostly people who couldn’t normally afford homes on their own.

Look at the numbers. About 95 percent of the money used to buy homes in America today comes from the government. And guess which government organization issues the most loans. Is it Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government mortgage giants notorious for their low lending standards? No, it is a new government agency with even lower standards.

Meet the Federal Housing Authority (fha). You can get an fha-backed loan for a house with as little as 3.5 percent down. This is the most common loan in America today. If you include the government’s $8,000 first-time buyer’s credit (that just expired), the government was actually paying people to borrow taxpayer dollars to purchase homes.

“This is a market purely on life support, sustained by the federal government,” admits fha president David Stevens. “Having fha do this much volume is a sign of a very sick system.”

The fha backed more loans during the first quarter of this year than the $6 trillion Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage giants did! Those were your dollars being given to subprime borrowers.

If you were an investor, would you want to lend money to someone who could not save up a down payment? Would you lend to a family that required two incomes to afford the loan and still couldn’t save up a down payment?

Thus, the government is stuck with all the mortgages. It can’t stop giving money for loans, or the market will collapse, the economy will head down again and politicians will look incompetent. Yet at the same time, how long can the government afford to provide money for 95 percent of all home-buying activity in the country?

With America’s ballooning budget deficits, the days of government handouts may soon come to an end. When they do, don’t be surprised if house prices fall a whole lot further.

So when will a recovery come? No one knows for sure, but even Lewis Ranieri will likely be proved an optimist.

For the real reason America’s housing market exploded, and how to fix it, read “The Cause of the Crisis People Won’t Face.” •

Lehman sues JPMorgan for billions in damages: REUTERS

Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK
Wed May 26, 2010 7:56pm EDT

The JP Morgan and Chase headquarters is seen in New York in this January 30, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc (LEHMQ.PK) on Wednesday sued JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), accusing the second-largest U.S. bank of illegally siphoning billions of dollars of desperately-needed assets in the days leading up to its record bankruptcy.

Hot Stocks

The lawsuit filed in Manhattan bankruptcy court accused JPMorgan of using its “unparalleled access” to inside details of Lehman’s distress to extract $8.6 billion of collateral in the four business days ahead of Lehman’s September 15, 2008, bankruptcy, including $5 billion on the final business day.

JPMorgan was Lehman’s main “clearing” bank, in which it acts as a go-between in Lehman’s dealings with other parties.

According to the complaint, JPMorgan knew from this relationship that Lehman’s viability was fast weakening, and threatened to deprive Lehman of critical clearing services unless it posted an excessive amount of collateral.

“With this financial gun to Lehman’s head, JPMorgan was able to extract extraordinarily one-sided agreements from Lehman literally overnight,” the complaint said. “Those billions of dollars in collateral rightfully belong to the Lehman estate and its creditors.”

Lehman also said JPMorgan officials including Chief Executive Jamie Dimon decided to extract the collateral after learning from meetings with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that the government would not rescue Lehman from bankruptcy.

In the widely expected lawsuit, Lehman and its official committee of unsecured creditors are seeking $5 billion of damages, a return of the collateral and other remedies.

JPMorgan spokesman Joe Evangelisti called the lawsuit “meritless,” and said the bank will defend against it.

Any money recovered could increase the payout to creditors. Lehman has also sued Barclays Plc (BARC.L) to recover an $11.2 billion “windfall” from the takeover of U.S. assets.

In March, a bankruptcy judge approved an accord providing for JPMorgan to return several billion dollars of assets to Lehman’s estate, but giving Lehman a right to sue further.

Lehman collapsed after letting its balance sheet swell through exposure to commercial real estate, subprime mortgages and other risky sectors. With $639 billion of assets, Lehman was by far the largest U.S. company to go bankrupt.

EXAMINER REPORT

In his March report on Lehman’s bankruptcy, court-appointed examiner Anton Valukas said Lehman could raise a “colorable claim” against JPMorgan over the collateral demands.

He nevertheless said JPMorgan could raise “substantial defenses” under U.S. bankruptcy law.

Evangelisti contended that “as the examiner’s report makes clear, it was the ill-advised decisions of Lehman and its principals to take on perilous leverage and to double down on subprime mortgages and overpriced commercial real estate — and not conduct by our firm — that led to Lehman’s demise.”

Lehman, though, maintained that JPMorgan extracted the collateral to “catapult” itself ahead of other creditors.

“A century ago, John Pierpont Morgan used his position atop the world of finance to shore up a teetering firm and rescue the nation from the brink of financial collapse,” the complaint said, referring to the Panic of 1907.

“A century later, when the nation faced another epic financial crisis, Morgan’s namesake firm stripped a faltering Lehman Brothers of desperately needed cash,” it added.

The case is In re: Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc et al, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-13555.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Additional reporting by Matthew Goldstein; Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Bernard Orr,Gary Hill)

Ask Goldman Sachs to Give it Back! RALLY AT THE TREASURY 6/7/2010! HUFFINGTON POST

WE WANT A REFUND!

Cenk UygurHost of The Young Turks
Posted: May 24, 2010 06:44 AM

Sometimes when you explain to people that some of the most complicated financial transactions in the country were just side bets, they don’t really believe you. They think it’s an oversimplification. We couldn’t have wrecked the global economy because some people made side bets. These are sophisticated bankers with sophisticated financial instruments, so it must be more complicated than that. It isn’t. They bet one another, whoever lost got paid by the American taxpayer.

To be fair, sometimes they had the money to pay off one another without government bailouts, but not often. That’s because they were largely betting with money they never had. AIG is the perfect example. Their executives made hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses from the early wins in these bets, but then stuck the taxpayers with a $182 billion bill when they lost.

A credit default swap is when you bet that a certain asset is going to default. If you’re wrong, then you have to pay a little bit. If you’re right, you get paid a ton. So, AIG collected a lot of little winnings when they bet that mortgage backed securities would not go into default. But then when they did go into default, they lost big.

So, what does all of this have to do with us? Well, Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke in their infinite wisdom decided that we should pay AIG’s bets for them. Did they go back and take the money the AIG executives got for their earlier so-called winnings? No, of course not. Did they even inquire into whether these bets were on actual assets that the other parties were on the hook for? Apparently not.

Let me explain that more. If you bought a package of mortgage backed securities and wanted to insure it in case anything went wrong, that’s a fairly normal derivative. That basically works as insurance for your security. So, if we paid off people who actually owned those securities, it still wouldn’t be right in my opinion but it would be a lot more understandable. The argument would be that it would destabilize the economy too much if all of the people holding the mortgages all of sudden lost most of their value.

But what if they didn’t hold the mortgages, they just bet on them? That’s like the difference between bailing out the Dallas Cowboys to help the local Dallas economy versus bailing out bookies who bet too much on the last Cowboys game. The latter is what we did with AIG. We paid off people’s bets for almost no reason.

I explain all of this because it’s very important that you understand that when we paid $62 billion to AIG “counterparties,” we weren’t saving the economy, we were paying off the bookies. The money we gave them didn’t go toward saving one house or one mortgage or even a package of mortgages or even investors who bought the packages of mortgages. It went to paying off people who made side bets on the mortgages (and even sometimes put down bets on a made up collection of mortgages that didn’t even exist in the real world called “synthetic” collateralized debt obligations).

This is insanity. When you understand what really happened, you have one natural reaction – I want my money back. It’s like we paid Donald Trump for a bet he made against Steve Wynn. Why did we do that? I don’t give a damn if The Mirage or Caesar’s Casino won. Why did you pay them with my money?

So, we’re now starting a campaign to get our money back. I’d love to get the whole $62 billion paid out to the AIG counterparties (let alone the whole $182 billion we’ve sunk into AIG all together). But, we’re going to start out nice and modest. We’d like to have Goldman Sachs pay us our $12.9 billion back that they got from AIG.

That’s all taxpayer money. All of it went to Goldman for some silly bet they made with a buffoonish company that never had the money in the first place. As “sophisticated investors” they should have realized that AIG never really had the cash to pay them.

It’s like making a million dollar bet with your deadbeat friend. Do you really expect to get paid when he doesn’t have ten bucks to his name? How sophisticated can you be if you don’t even realize that your counterparties are broke? So, sad day for you, you made a bet with the wrong guy. That’s capitalism, baby. Go home, lick your wounds.

Except as we all know, that’s not how it worked out. Instead the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Hank Paulson decided to give them the money anyway, from the United States Treasury. Paulson had made $700 million dollars earlier when he made the same kind of deals as the head of Goldman before he became our Treasury Secretary. Not much bias there, right?

So, other than this enormous conflict of interest, why target just Goldman Sachs? Many reasons. They were one of the largest beneficiaries of this “backdoor bailout” from AIG. They were the ones who set up many of the securities in the first place. In fact, they sold $23 billion worth of this junk to AIG (they’re lucky we’re not asking for all of that back).They set them to blow and then bet against them. And they said they didn’t need the money away. Great, then we’ll take it back please.

Yes, they actually said they didn’t need the taxpayers to pay them. They said many times on the record that they were “properly hedged” and that they could have gotten paid off by other companies and didn’t need AIG to pay them. Fantastic! Out with it. We’re going to be generous and not charge much interest, so we’ll take a check for $13 billion made to the United States Treasury.

I’m not kidding. We are going to start applying pressure to both Goldman and the Treasury Department to return that money to its rightful owners, the American taxpayer. Of course, we need your help. We want everyone across the political spectrum to put pressure on the Treasury Department to ask for that money back and for Goldman to give it back.

I invite conservatives, libertarians and tea party activists to join us as well. Don’t you want your money back? Weren’t you angry about the bailouts? Don’t you have a sense that the people in Washington and Wall Street are screwing you? Well, this is how they’re doing it. Time to stand up and fight. Tell Goldman not to tread on you.

To show you how nonpartisan this is, the first protest will be aimed at one of the one guys most responsible for this atrocious decision – Tim Geithner. He is our Treasury Secretary and should be fighting for us and not for the bankers. He can fix his original mistake (he was at the New York Fed when they decided to give these backdoor bailouts at a hundred cents on the dollar when no one thought they were worth anywhere near that much) and get our money back from Goldman.

I have a question for the tea party participants, have you ever wondered why you’ve never protested the one guy in the Obama administration most responsible for the bailouts and the economy? That’s the Treasury Secretary. And the reason you’ve never protested him is because the corporate front groups who organize your protests love Geithner and want to look out for him. Isn’t it time you corrected your mistake, too?

Come join us. Let’s do a real protest of the people who caused this mess in the first place. And let’s get our damn money back.

Join us on Monday, June 7th at noon in front of the Treasury building to demand our $13 billion back from Goldman Sachs. First job is to get Geithner to recognize that he should have never given that particular money to that particular bank for that particular transaction. Or to come out and justify his actions. Let him step out, greet us and tell us why it was such a smart idea to pay off AIG’s side bets with Goldman. I’ll be looking forward to that.

And I’ll be looking forward to seeing you at the protest, no matter what your politics are. You can RSVP by going to the Facebook page for this event. See you there.

Join the Protest Here

UPDATE: Progressive Change Campaign Committee has joined our effort now and we are doing a joint petition to get our money back. Please sign the petition here so your voice can be heard on this even if you can’t make it out to the DC protest.

Everyone in the country should be able to agree to this. I was just on the Dylan Ratigan program on MSNBC and even the conservative on the panel agreed. Sign the petition and help get our money back.

Follow Cenk Uygur on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheYoungTurks

MELTUP: The truth of our economy…Must watch video!

The beginning of a U.S. currency crisis and hyperinflation. Become a member of NIA for free at http://inflation.us

ONE TO WATCH! Civil Lawsuit, Allran vs. New York Fed, alleges cartel & Ponzi: ZeroHedge

Via Zerohedge

 All we can hope for is for this to get to trial. And any case which in its brief says: “As American citizens, the Plaintiffs allege the financial and banking system imposed on them by the Federal Reserve Banking sytem is a violation of their Constitutional and Human Rights. That the banking system practiced by the New York Federal Reserve Bank, owned and controlled by the Defendant Wall Street Banks, is the most sinful and evil PONZI scheme man is capable of devising” deserves a hearing.The ratings for C-Span will blow the Superbowl away. A 30 second ad slot will cost exponentially more as the case progresses adversely for the Federal Reserve, and the dollar gets increasingly devalued. Allran v NY Fed Reserve

Bank Investigations Cheat Sheet: ProPublica

by Marian Wang, ProPublica – May 13, 2010

Here’s our attempt to lay out exactly what’s known about which banks are being investigated by whom and for what. We’re going to keep updating this page, so please send usstories or details we’ve missed. Related: Covering the Bank Investigations: A Cautionary Tale

  What has been reported What the bank has said
 
Citigroup
Citing “a person familiar with the matter,” The Wall Street Journal has reported that Citigroup is under “early-stage criminal scrutiny” by the Department of Justice. Also citing unnamed sources, Fox Business reported on May 12 that the SEC has an active civil investigation into Citigroup and has subpoenaed the firm, but has not issued any Wells notices. A report on May 12th by the Journal cited unnamed sources saying that the Department of Justice is scrutinizing a few CDO deals that Morgan Stanley bet against–but which were underwritten by Citigroup and UBS. Neither the SEC nor the Justice Department have confirmed these reports.

Citing two anonymous sources, The New York Times has reported that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating eight banks to determine whether they misled rating agencies in order to get higher ratings for their mortgage-related products; Citigroup has been named as one of the banks. Subpoenas were issued on May 12, according to the Times and the Dow Jones Newswires, both of which relied on anonymous sourcing for their reports.

Citigroup has declined to comment to us and other outlets.

Credit Agricole
Credit Agricole has also been named as one of the banks that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating separately. Credit Agricole did not immediately respond to the Times’ request for comment and has not yet responded to ours.

Credit Suisse
Credit Suisse has also been named as one of the banks that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating. Credit Suisse declined to comment to the Times about the New York attorney general’s investigation.

Deutsche Bank
Citing “a person familiar with the matter,” The Wall Street Journal has reported that Deutsche Bank is under “early-stage criminal scrutiny” by the Department of Justice. Also citing unnamed sources, Fox Business reported on May 12 that the SEC has an active civil investigation into Deutsche and has subpoenaed the firm, but has not issued any Wells notices. Neither agency has confirmed these reports.

Deutsche Bank has also been named as one of the banks that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating separately.

Deutsche Bank declined to comment to Fox, the Journal, and the Times about possible investigations.

Goldman Sachs
The SEC has brought a civil fraud lawsuit against Goldman, alleging that the investment bank made “materially misleading statements and omissions” when it allowed a hedge fund to help create and bet against a CDO, called Abacus, without disclosing the hedge fund’s role to investors.

The Wall Street Journal, citing “people familiar with the probe,” reported in April that the Justice Department has been conducting a criminal investigation into Goldman’s CDO dealings following a referral from the SEC. Neither agency has confirmed this, but the AP, citing another unnamed source, has reported the same thing. Since then, many news organizations–including the The New York TimesABC News and the Washington Post–have also reported on the criminal probe, citing unnamed sources. No charges have been brought.

Goldman Sachs has also been named as one of the banks that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating separately.

Goldman called the SEC’s accusations “unfounded in law and fact.

After the reports of a criminal investigation, a Goldman Sachs spokesman declined to confirm that the bank had been contacted by the DOJ but also told several news outlets that “given the recent focus on the firm, we’re not surprised by the report of an inquiry. We would cooperate fully with any request for information.”

The bank has declined to comment to us on the New York attorney general’s investigation.

 
JP Morgan Chase
Citing “a person familiar with the matter,” The Wall Street Journal has also reported that JPMorgan Chase has received civil subpoenas from the SEC and is under “early-stage criminal scrutiny” by the Department of Justice. Neither the SEC nor the Justice Department has confirmed these reports. A JPMorgan spokesman told the Journal that the bank “hasn’t been contacted” by federal prosecutors and isn’t aware of a criminal investigation.

Merrill Lynch (now part of Bank of America)
Merrill has not been named in any SEC investigations. But as we pointed out, a lawsuit brought by a Dutch bank asserts that Merrill Lynch did a CDO deal that was “precisely” like Goldman’s. The SEC has declined to comment on whether it is investigating the deal.

Merrill Lynch has also been named as one of the banks that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating.

Merrill has said its CDO deal was not like Goldman’s, calling Goldman’s Abacus deal an “entirely different transaction.”

The bank did not immediately return the Times’ request for comment about the investigation by Coumo, but when we called and asked, a spokesman from Bank of America, which merged with Merrill, said, “We are cooperating with the attorney general’s office on this matter.”


Morgan Stanley
Citing “people familiar with the matter,” The Wall Street Journal reported on May 12 that the Justice Department has been conducting a criminal investigation into Morgan Stanley’s CDO dealings, including its role in helping design and betting against two sets of CDOs from 2006 known as Jackson and Buchanan. The Justice Department declined to comment. No charges have been brought, and according to the Journal, the probe is “at a preliminary stage.” A Morgan Stanley spokeswoman said the bank had “no knowledge of a Justice Department investigation into these transactions.” The Journal reported that the SEC has subpoenaed Morgan Stanley on several occasions, but the bank says it has received no Wells notices, which would indicate pending SEC charges.

Morgan Stanley has also been named as one of the banks that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating.

A Morgan Stanley spokeswoman said on May 12that the firm has “not been contacted by the Justice Department about the transactions being raised by The Wall Street Journal, and we have no knowledge of a Justice Department investigation into these transactions.”

The investment bank declined to comment to the Times about the Coumo’s investigation.


UBS
Citing “a person familiar with the matter,” The Wall Street Journal reported that UBS has received civil subpoenas from the SEC and is under “early-stage criminal scrutiny” by the Department of Justice. In a report on May 12, the Journal reported that the Justice Department is scrutinizing a few CDO deals that Morgan Stanley helped design and bet against–but which were marketed by Citigroup and UBS. Neither the SEC nor the Justice Department has confirmed these reports. The firm has not disclosed that it has gotten any Wells notices.

UBS has also been named as one of the banks New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating.

A UBS spokesman has declined to comment on any of the investigations.

Moooove Over SLACKERS!! NY AG CUOMO probing 8 banks over securities

AP Source: NY AG probing 8 banks over securities

NEW YORK — The New York attorney general has launched an investigation into eight banks to determine whether they misled ratings agencies about mortgage securities, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

finance-20100513-US.Wall.Street.InvestigationAttorney General Andrew Cuomo is trying to figure out if banks provided the agencies with false information in order to get better ratings on the risky securities, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation has not been made public.

Cuomo’s office is investigating Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, UBS AG, Citigroup Inc., Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Credit Agricole and Merrill Lynch, which is now part of Bank of America Corp.

Representatives from Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Credit Agricole declined to comment. Others were not immediately available comment.

During the housing boom, Wall Street banks often packaged pools of risky subprime mortgages together. The securities were then typically given top-notch ratings and investors purchased them, in part, because of their high ratings.

The ratings, given out by Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings, are used as a guide for investors to judge how risky an investment might be.

As the housing market collapsed and more customers fell behind on repaying their mortgages, the securities began to fail.

The securities have been widely blamed for exacerbating the credit crisis and costing investors and the banks themselves billions of dollars in losses. The ratings agencies have come under fire for having given such high ratings to securities that soured.

The attorney general’s probe comes as federal regulators are investigating whether some of the banks misled investors when marketing and selling the securities and other investments that were tied to mortgages.

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Goldman Sachs with fraud over its packaging of mortgage securities. Goldman is facing a separate criminal investigation into the same securities. Goldman has denied the charges and plans to defend itself.

Earlier this week it was reported that federal prosecutors are investigating whether Morgan Stanley misled investors about its role in a pair of $200 million derivatives whose performance was tied to mortgage-backed securities.

The increased scrutiny over how banks managed, packaged and portrayed mortgage securities and derivatives comes as Congress discusses a major overhaul of financial regulations. Politicians have said an overhaul would add more transparency to investments and trading.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Was There a Plan to Blow Up the Economy? The Subprime Conspiracy: COUNTERPUNCH

May 3, 2010

Was There a Plan to Blow Up the Economy?

The Subprime Conspiracy

By MIKE WHITNEY

Many people now believe that the financial crisis was not an accident. They think that the Bush administration and the Fed knew what Wall Street was up to and provided their support. This isn’t as far fetched as it sounds. As we will show, it’s clear that Bush, Greenspan and many other high-ranking officials understood the problem with subprime mortgages and knew that a huge asset bubble was emerging that threatened the economy. But while the housing bubble was more than just an innocent mistake, it doesn’t rise to the level of “conspiracy” which Webster defines as  “a secret agreement between two or more people to perform an unlawful act.”  It’s actually worse than that, because bubblemaking is the dominant policy, and it’s used to overcome structural problems in capitalism itself, mainly stagnation.

The whole idea of a conspiracy diverts attention from what really happened. It conjures up a comical vision of  top-hat business tycoons gathered in a smoke-filled room stealthily mapping out the country’s future. It ignores the fact, that the main stakeholders don’t need to convene a meeting to know what they want. They already know what they want; they want a process that helps them to maintain profitability even while the “real” economy remains stuck in the mud.  Historian Robert Brenner has written extensively on this topic and dispels the mistaken view that the economy is “fundamentally strong”. (in the words of former Treasury secretary Henry Paulson)  Here’s Brenner :

“The current crisis is more serious than the worst previous recession of the postwar period, between 1979 and 1982, and could conceivably come to rival the Great Depression, though there is no way of really knowing. Economic forecasters have underestimated how bad it is because they have over-estimated the strength of the real economy and failed to take into account the extent of its dependence upon a buildup of debt that relied on asset price bubbles.

“In the U.S., during the recent business cycle of the years 2001-2007, GDP growth was by far the slowest of the postwar epoch. There was no increase in private sector employment. The increase in plants and equipment was about a third of the previous, a postwar low. Real wages were basically flat. There was no increase in median family income for the first time since World War II. Economic growth was driven entirely by personal consumption and residential investment, made possible by easy credit and rising house prices. Economic performance was weak, even despite the enormous stimulus from the housing bubble and the Bush administration’s huge federal deficits. Housing by itself accounted for almost one-third of the growth of GDP and close to half of the increase in employment in the years 2001-2005. It was, therefore, to be expected that when the housing bubble burst, consumption and residential investment would fall, and the economy would plunge. ” (“Overproduction not Financial Collapse is the Heart of the Crisis”, Robert P. Brenner speaks with Jeong Seong-jin, Asia Pacific Journal)

What Brenner describes is an economy \that–despite unfunded tax cuts, massive military spending and gigantic asset bubbles–can barely produce positive growth.  The pervasive lethargy of mature capitalist economies poses huge challenges for industry bosses who are judged solely on their ability to boost quarterly profits. Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein and JPM’s Jamie Dimon could care less about economic theory, what they’re interested in is making money; how to deploy their capital in a way that maximizes return on investment. “Profits”, that’s it.  And that’s much more difficult in a world that’s beset by overcapacity and flagging demand.  The world doesn’t need more widgets or widget-makers. The only way to ensure profitability is to invent an alternate system altogether, a new universe of financial exotica (CDOs, MBSs, CDSs) that operates independent of the sluggish real economy. Financialization provides that opportunity. It allows the main players to pump-up the leverage, minimize capital-outlay, inflate asset prices, and skim off record profits even while the real  economy endures severe stagnation.

Financialization provides a  path to wealth creation, which is why the sector’s portion of total corporate profits is now nearly 40 per cent. It’s a way to bypass the pervasive inertia of the production-oriented economy. The Fed’s role in this new paradigm is to create a hospitable environment (low interest rates) for bubble-making so the upward transfer of wealth can continue without interruption. Bubblemaking is policy.

As we’ve pointed out in earlier articles, scores of people knew what was going on during the subprime fiasco. But it’s worth a quick review, because Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan, Timothy Geithner, and others have been defending themselves saying, “Who could have known?”.

The FBI knew (“In September 2004, the FBI began publicly warning that there was an “epidemic” of mortgage fraud, and it predicted that it would produce an economic crisis, if it were not dealt with.”) The FDIC knew. ( In testimony before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, FDIC chairman Sheila Bair confirmed that she not only warned the Fed of what was going on in 2001, but cited particular regulations (HOEPA) under which the Fed could stop the “unfair, abusive and deceptive practices” by the banks.) Also Fitch ratings knew, and even Alan Greenspan’s good friend and former Fed governor Ed Gramlich knew. (Gramlich personally warned Greenspan of the surge in predatory lending that was apparent as early as 2000. Here’s a bit of what Gramlich said in the Wall Street Journal:

“I would have liked the Fed to be a leader” in cracking down on predatory lending, Mr. Gramlich, now a scholar at the Urban Institute, said in an interview this past week. Knowing it would be controversial with Mr. Greenspan, whose deregulatory philosophy is well known, Mr. Gramlich broached it to him personally rather than take it to the full board. “He was opposed to it, so I didn’t really pursue it,” says Mr. Gramlich. (Wall Street Journal)

So, Greenspan knew, too. And, according to Elizabeth MacDonald  in an article titled “Housing Red flags Ignored”:

“One of the nation’s biggest mortgage industry players repeatedly warned the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and other bank regulators during the housing bubble that the U.S. faced an imminent housing crash….But bank regulators not only ignored the group’s warnings, top Fed officials also went on the airwaves to say the economy was “building on a sturdy foundation” and a housing crash was “unlikely.”

So, the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America [MICA] also knew. And, here’s a clip from the Washington Post by former New York governor Eliot Spitzer who accused Bush of being a ‘partner in crime’ in the subprime fiasco. Spitzer says that the OCC launched “an unprecedented assault on state legislatures, as well as on state attorneys general just to make sure the looting would continue without interruption. Here’s an except from Spitzer’s article:

“In 2003, during the height of the predatory lending crisis….the OCC promulgated new rules that prevented states from enforcing any of their own consumer protection laws against national banks. The federal government’s actions were so egregious and so unprecedented that all 50 state attorneys general, and all 50 state banking superintendents, actively fought the new rules. (Washington Post)

So, the Fed knew, the Treasury knew, the FBI knew, the OCC knew, the FDIC knew, Bush knew, the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America knew, Fitch ratings knew, all the states Attorneys General knew, and thousands, of traders, lenders, ratings agency executives, bankers, hedge fund managers, private equity bosses, regulators knew. Everyone knew, except the unlucky people who were victimized in the biggest looting operation of all time.

Once again, looking for conspiracy, just diverts attention from the nature of the crime itself. Here’s a statement from former regulator and white collar criminologist William K. Black which helps to clarify the point:

“Fraudulent lenders produce exceptional short-term ‘profits’ through a four-part strategy: extreme growth (Ponzi), lending to uncreditworthy borrowers, extreme leverage, and minimal loss reserves. These exceptional ‘profits’ defeat regulatory restrictions and turn private market discipline perverse. The profits also allow the CEO to convert firm assets for personal benefit through seemingly normal compensation mechanisms. The short-term profits cause stock options to appreciate. Fraudulent CEOs following this strategy are guaranteed extraordinary income while minimizing risks of detection and prosecution.” (William K. Black,“Epidemics of’Control Fraud’ Lead to Recurrent, Intensifying Bubbles andCrises”, University of Missouri at Kansas City – School of Law)

Black’s definition of “control fraud” comes very close to describing what really took place during the subprime mortgage frenzy. The investment banks and other financial institutions bulked up on garbage loans and complex securities backed by dodgy mortgages so they could increase leverage and rake off large bonuses for themselves. Clearly, they knew the underlying collateral was junk, just as they knew that eventually the market would crash and millions of people would suffer.

But, while it’s true that Greenspan and Wall Street knew how the bubble-game was played; they had no intention of blowing up the whole system. They simply wanted to inflate the bubble, make their profits, and get out before the inevitable crash.  But, then something went wrong. When Lehman collapsed, the entire financial system suffered a major heart attack. All of the so-called “experts” models turned out to be wrong.

Here’s what happened: Before to the meltdown, the depository “regulated” banks got their funding through the repo market by exchanging collateral (mainly mortgage-backed securities) for short-term loans with the so-called “shadow banks” (investment banks, hedge funds, insurers) But after Lehman defaulted, the funding stream was severely impaired because the prices on mortgage-backed securities kept falling. When the bank-funding system went on the fritz,  stocks went into a nosedive sending panicky investors fleeing for the exits. As unbelievable as it sounds, no one saw this coming.

The reason that no one anticipated a run on the shadow banking system is because the basic architecture of the financial markets has changed dramatically in the last decade due to deregulation. The fundamental structure is different and the traditional stopgaps have been removed. That’s why no one knew what to do during the panic. The general assumption was that there would be a one-to-one relationship between defaulting subprime mortgages and defaulting mortgage-backed securities (MBS). That turned out to be a grave miscalculation. The subprimes were only failing at roughly 8 percent rate when the whole secondary market collapsed. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill explained it best using a clever analogy. He said, “It’s like you have 8 bottles of water and just one of them has arsenic in it. It becomes impossible to sell any of the other bottles because no one knows which one contains the poison.”

And that’s exactly what happened. The market for structured debt crashed, stocks began to plummet, and the Fed had to step in to save the system. Unfortunately, that same deeply-flawed system is being rebuilt brick by brick without any substantive changes.. The Fed and Treasury support this effort, because–as agents of the banks–they are willing to sacrifice their own credibility to defend the primary profit-generating instruments of the industry leaders. (Goldman, JPM, etc) That means that Bernanke and Geithner will go to the mat to oppose any additional regulation on derivatives, securitization and off-balance sheet operations, the same lethal devices that triggered the financial crisis.

So, there was no conspiracy to blow up the financial system, but there is an implicit understanding that the Fed will serve the interests of Wall Street by facilitating asset bubbles through “accommodative” monetary policy and by opposing regulation. It’s just “business as usual”, but it’s far more damaging than any conspiracy, because it ensures that the economy will continue to stagnate, that inequality will continue to grow, and that the gigantic upward transfer of wealth will continue without pause.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached atfergiewhitney@msn.com

What happened to the global economy and what we can do about it: The Baseline Scenario

Our Pecora Moment

By Simon Johnson

We have waited long and patiently for our Ferdinand Pecora moment – a modern equivalent of the episode when a tough prosecutor from New York seized the imagination of the country in the early 1930s and, over a series of congressional hearings: laid bare the wrong-doings of Wall Street in simple and vivid terms that everyone could understand, and created the groundswell of public support necessary for comprehensive reregulation.  On Friday, that moment finally arrived.

There is fraud at the heart of Wall Street, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Pecora took on National City Bank and J.P. Morgan (the younger); these were the supposedly untouchable titans of their day.  The SEC is taking on Goldman Sachs; no firm is more powerful.

Pecora exposed the ways in which leading banks mistreated their customers – typically, retail investors.  The SEC alleges, with credible detail, that Goldman essentially set up some trusting clients and deliberately misled them – to the tune of effectively transferring $1 billion from them to a particular unscrupulous investor.

Pecora had the drama of the congressional hearing room and used his skills as an interrogator to batter the bastions of Wall Street, day-after-day, with gruesome and convincing detail.  We don’t know where and when, but the SEC action points in one direction only: Lloyd Blankfein (CEO of Goldman) in the witness box, while John Paulson (unindicted co-conspirator) waits in the on-deck circle.

Either Blankfein knew what was going on – and is therefore liable before the law – or he was clueless and therefore incompetent.  Either way, the much vaunted risk management and control systems of Goldman, i.e., what is supposed to prevent this kind of thing from happening, are exposed to be what we have long here claimed: bunk (as I argued with Gerry Corrigan, former head of the NY Fed and long-time Goldman executive, before the Senate Banking Committee when we both testified on the Volcker Rules in February).

 “Too big and complex to manage” is actually the best defense for Goldman’s executives and they should offer to break up the firm into smaller and more transparent pieces as a way to settle the firm’s liability with the SEC.  The current management of Goldman – along with the team that ran the firm under Hank Paulson – have destroyed the value of an illustrious franchise.  Goldman used to stand for something that customers felt they could trust; now it is just a sophisticated way of ripping them off.

John Paulson obviously knew what he was doing in helping to create the “designed to fail” securities – and the consequences this would have.  If he cannot be convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud, then the law in this regard needs to be tightened significantly.  The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, chaired by Phil Angelides, is probably already planning to grill John Paulson about his taxes – the point Pecora made in this regard with J.P. Morgan junior was most telling and gripped the nation; it turned out that Morgan hardly paid any tax.  I would respectfully suggest that the Angelides Commission also pull in Hank Paulson and pursue a similar line of questioning with him – when it focuses on how much money Hank Paulson made, and how little tax he paid, while building and overseeing an extortion scheme of grand proportions, America will scream.

We have something today that Pecora did not have – the pattern of behavior is already established, if not yet widely comprehended.  Senator Levin’s recent grilling of WaMu revealed another layer of deliberate mistreatment of consumers within the mortgage industry.  The Valukas report on the failure of Lehman exposed exactly how investors are misled by balance sheet manipulation in its most modern and insidious form.  And we have learned more than enough about Goldman misleading investors over Greek debt levels.

Brooksley Born was right, a very long time ago, to fear the “dark markets” of over-the-counter derivatives and what those would bring.

Senator Ted Kaufman was right.  Just a few weeks ago, he argued strongly from the Senate floor that there is fraud at the heart of Wall Street.  Even some people who are generally sympathetic to his critique of modern financial practices thought perhaps that this specific notion was pushing the frontier.  But now they get it – and today Ted Kaufman is more than mainstream; he is the public figure who made everything crystal clear.

When you deliberately withhold adverse material information from customers, that is fraud.  When you do this on a grand scale, the full weight of the law will come down on you and the people who supposedly supervised you.  And if the weight of that law is no longer sufficient to deal with – and to prevent going forward – the latest forms of very old and reprehensible crimes, then it is again time to change the law.