U.S. Banks WILL BE ‘Toast’ If Struggling Homeowners Keep Walking Away (VIDEO)

Huffington Post | Sherry Shen First Posted: 06- 2-10 05:11 PM | Updated: 06- 2-10 05:11 PM

Felix Salmon

click for video

Reuters blogger Felix Salmon believes that if more and more struggling homeowners continue walking away from their homes, U.S. banks could be “toast.”

As strategically defaults continue to rise, some homeowners are using their inability to pay their mortgage to live rent free — often for more than a year, the New York Times reported.

“Trying to renegotiate your mortgage is not a morally reprehensible thing to do,” Salmon said, pointing out that mainstream media organization’s like the New York Times magazine has been publishing columns about this trend and how it makes so much “financial sense.” Corporations walk away from commercial mortgages, Salmon said. “It’s not clear to me why an individual should behave any different,” Salmon said.

Wells Fargo is most exposed to the trend, affecting the bank’s livelihood. “Sand state” banks such as those in Florida and California are also far more exposed. Here’s more from Salmon:

“From the bank’s point of view, if this catches on, there’s a very large number of banks in this country who are just toast. And in hindsight they were just much better off dealing in a realistic way with these borrowers a year ago or two years ago when the problem first reeled its head instead of extending and pretending. Now they are in a pickle.”

“If this trend continues, then the banking system is probably insolvent,” he said.

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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

GORED BY WALL STREET: Senate Blocks Vote To Rein In Big Banks — Because It Probably Would Have Passed

Simon JohnsonSimon Johnson

: May 21, 2010 09:21 AM

Focus on This: Merkley-Levin Did Not Get a Vote

After nine months of hard fighting, yesterday financial reform came down to this: an amendment, proposed by Senators Jeff Merkley and Carl Levin that would have forced big banks to get rid of their speculative proprietary trading activities (i.e., a relatively strong version of the Volcker Rule.)

The amendment had picked up a great deal of support in recent weeks, partly because of unflagging support from Paul Volcker and partly because of the broader debate around the Brown-Kaufman amendment (which would have forced the biggest 6 banks to become smaller). Brown-Kaufman failed, 33-61, but it demonstrated that a growing number of senators were willing to confront the power of our biggest and worst banks.

Yet, at the end of the day, the Merkley-Levin amendment did not even get a vote. Why?

Partly this was because of procedural maneuvers. Merkley-Levin could only get a vote if another amendment, proposed by Senator Brownback (on exempting auto dealers from new consumer protection rules) got a vote. Late yesterday afternoon, Senator Brownback was persuaded, presumably by his Republican colleagues and by financial lobbyists, to withdraw his amendment.

Of course, Merkley-Levin was only in this awkward position because of an earlier lack of wholehearted support from the Democratic leadership — and from the White House. Again, the long reach of Wall Street was at work.

But the important point here is quite different. If Merkley-Levin did not have the votes, it was in the interest of the megabanks to have it come to the floor and be defeated. That would have been a clear victory for the status quo.

But Merkley-Levin had momentum and could potentially have passed — reflecting a big change of opinion within the Senate (and more broadly around the country). The big banks were forced into overdrive to stop it.

The Volcker Rule, in its weaker Dodd bill form (“do a study and think about implementing”), perhaps will survive the upcoming House-Senate conference — although, because this process likely will not be televised, all kinds of bad things may happen behind closed doors. Regulators may also take the Volcker Rule more seriously — but the most probable outcome is that the Fed and other officials will get a great deal of discretion regarding how to implement the principles, and they will completely fudge the issue.

Most importantly, everyone who wants to rein in the largest banks now has a much clearer idea of what to push for, what to campaign on, and for what purpose to raise money. This is the completely reasonable and responsible ask:

  1. The Volcker Rule, as specifically proposed in the Merkley-Levin amendment
  2. Constraints on the size and leverage of our largest banks, as proposed by the Brown-Kaufman amendment

When the mainstream consensus shifts in favor of these measures, or their functional equivalents, we will have finally begun the long process of reining in the dangerous economic and political power of our largest banks.

This post was originally published on The Baseline Scenario.

Chase Sued AGAIN Over Mortgage Modifications Gone Wrong: HUFFINGTON POST

Arthur DelaneyArthur Delaney arthur@huffingtonpost.com | HuffPost Reporting

First Posted: 05- 4-10 03:15 PM   |   Updated: 05- 4-10 04:58 PM

Three frustrated homeowners in New York City are suing JPMorgan Chase over the bank’s failure to permanently modify their mortgages under the Obama administration’s plan to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.Earns Jpmorgan Chase

The complaint, filed in federal court in New York, says the plaintiffs, who are represented by attorneys with the nonprofit Urban Justice Center, relied on promises by Chase that they could have their loans modified if they made reduced payments per the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Despite making payments on time, they’ve received foreclosure threats but no modifications.

One of the plaintiffs, Alex Lam, a 35-year-old restaurant manager, alleges Chase told him to actually stop making payments in order to be eligible for help. In early 2009, Lam contacted Washington Mutual (since absorbed by Chase) about a modification after his adjustable-rate mortgage blew up in his face. He was told he didn’t qualify for help because he was current on his payments.

“Mr. Lam was specifically told that if he stopped making payments for several months, he could be considered for a modification,” the says the complaint.

The next big surprise came in December, when, after making trial payments of $1,568 for the previous six months, Lam was told he owed the bank $12,000. When he protested, Chase relented and told Lam to apply once again for a mod, this time under HAMP. He made his payments until March, when Chase told him he’d failed HAMP’s opaque “Net Present Value” test, meaning the bank determined the investors who owned the loan would make more money via foreclosure than modification. Lam alleges Chase used bogus inputs for the NPV test and that Chase refuses to show its work.

Lam called the situation “very upsetting” in an interview with HuffPost. “I trusted them because they’re a big bank. I did whatever they asked me to.”

HuffPost asked Lam what he wanted from suing Chase.

“Just to get a modification, that’s all I’m asking for,” he said. “Since day one, that’s all I’m asking for.”

HAMP lawsuits have been flying. Last week a 91-year-old veteran of three wars named Peter Ruplenas sued Bank of America over mortgage mod malfeasance in West Virginia.

In April, Faiz and Khadija Jahani of California sued Chase for reasons similar to Lam’s — the bank told them to stop making payments to qualify for help, then foreclosed. A similar case is brewing in Seattle.

Homeowners are supposed to be eligible for HAMP mods if they’re having trouble making monthly payments, owe less than $729,750, took out the loan before January 2009, and if their payment on their first mortgage is more than 31 percent of their income. In theory, if homeowners make reduced payments (typically $500 cheaper) for three months, they are put in “permanent” modifications that last for five years.

But the banks voluntarily participating in HAMP have given permanent mods to just 230,000 homeowners in the program’s first year, a far cry from the three to four million officials said HAMP would help. Meanwhile, frustrated homeowners’ stories of lost paperwork, dishonesty, and incompetence by banks are piling up.

A Chase spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Too Big To Jail? Executives Unscathed As Regulators Let Banks Report Criminal Fraud: HUFFINGTON POST

Huffington Post Investigative Fund |  David Heath First Posted: 05- 3-10 09:24 PM   |   Updated: 05- 3-10 09:44 PM

Republished from the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.

The financial crisis has spawned hundreds of criminal prosecutions for alleged fraud. Yet so far, defendants have been mostly minor players such as real-estate agents, mortgage brokers, borrowers and a few low-level bank employees. No senior executives at large financial institutions face criminal charges.

Too Big To JailThats in stark contrast to prosecutions during the savings and loan scandal two decades ago, when the government’s strategy targeted and snagged some of banking’s most powerful players. The approach back then succeeded in sending scores of S&L executives to prison, as well as junk-bond king Michael Milken and business tycoon Charles Keating Jr.

One explanation for the difference may be that key bank regulators — who did the detective work during the S&L crisis and sent more than 1,000 criminal referrals to prosecutors — have this time left reporting fraud up to the banks themselves.

Spokesmen for two chief regulators, the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision, say that they have not sent prosecutors a single case for criminal prosecution.

An OTS spokesman said the agency, much like the banks themselves, does not see much evidence of criminal fraud inside the financial institutions. The spokesman, Bill Ruberry, citing the agency’s enforcement director, said, “There may be some isolated cases, but certainly there’s no widespread patterns.”

That surprises William K. Black, a former OTS official who helped coordinate criminal investigations during the S&L crisis.

“Dear God,” Black said when told bank regulators haven’t made any criminal referrals. “Not a single one?”

Black sees many signs the the government is less aggressive than during the S&L era — and could result in more bad behavior.

“This crisis was not bad luck,” he said. “It was done to us. When you bring those convictions, you hope that at least for a while to deter.”

Banks have reported massive amounts of fraud to the Treasury Department but have not held themselves — or their top executives — responsible, instead pinning blame on borrowers, independent mortgage brokers, and others.

That may account for the dearth of prosections against big fry. For instance, in California, among states where the mortgage meltdown hit hardest, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund identified 170 mortgage fraud prosecutions in federal courts. Only two are against employees of a regulated lender.

An Investigative Fund analysis shows that two-thirds of the 170 prosecutions are against mortgage brokers, real-estate professionals or borrowers — the same groups blamed by the banks when they report suspicious activities to regulators.

Besides the absence of criminal referrals, other plausible factors for the lack of major prosecutions may include a skittishness among prosecutors about filing cases they could have trouble winning, and a severe decline in investigative resources. The FBI dramatically shifted resources away from white-collar crime after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

To be sure, there are also notable differences between the S&L and current financial crisis, in the behavior of lenders during both periods, and between civil allegations of fraud and proving that someone committed a crime — all of which could account for the lack of big prosecutions.

But interviews with several law enforcement authorities suggest another explanation: A lack of active assistance to prosecutors by bank regulators who played key roles during the S&L crackdown. Those regulators sent detailed reports to prosecutors of known and suspicious criminal activity.

“Only the regulators can make a lot of these cases,” Black said. “The FBI can make a few, but the regulators are the ones that understand the industry.”

Under intense political pressure in the late 1980s, the Justice Department and thrift regulators developed a strategy to thoroughly investigate failed S&Ls for evidence of fraud and to focus their resources on the highest ranking executives.

In the early years, between 1987 and 1989, there were more than 300 prosecutions. Some bank executives were already behind bars. In 1989, Woody Lemons, chairman of Vernon Savings and Loan in Texas, was sentenced to 30 years.

In June 1990, then-OTS director Timothy Ryan told Congress that his agency had established criminal-referral units in each of 12 district offices. In addition, more than 30 OTS employees were assigned as full-time agents of grand juries or assistant US attorneys to help prosecutions. And the agency prioritized prosecutions to a Top 100 list, targeting senior S&L executives and directors.

While data on criminal referrals during the S&L crisis is spotty, the Government Accountability Office reported that in the first ten months of 1992 alone — a random snapshot — financial regulators sent the Justice Department more than 1,000 cases for criminal prosecution.

One study showed that 35 percent of criminal referrals in Texas — ground zero for the S&L problems — were against officers and directors.

This time, prosecutors are relying more heavily on banks to report suspicious activity to the Treasury Department. Banks are required to report known or suspected criminal violations, including fraud, on Suspicious Activity Reports designed for the purpose. In effect, the reports, which can be many pages in length, provide substantive leads for criminal investigations.

Black scoffs at the strategy of leaving it to banks to ferret out all the fraud. “Institutions will not make criminal referrals against the people who control the institutions,” said Black.

A white-collar criminologist and law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, he argues that there’s ample evidence of fraud. Insiders working for lenders openly referred to loans they made without proof of income as “liar loans.” Many banks actively sought inflated appraisals in their rush to make as many loans as possible. As previously reported by the Investigative Fund, such lending practices contributed to the demise of Washington Mutual.

Not everyone agrees that such a case can be successful. Benjamin Wagner, a U.S. Attorney who is actively prosecuting mortgage fraud cases in Sacramento, Calif., points out that banks lose money when a loan turns out to be fraudulent. An investor in loans who documents fraud can force a bank to buy the loan back. But convincing a jury that executives intended to make fraudulent loans, and thus should be held criminally responsible, may be too difficult of a hurdle for prosecutors.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me that they would be deliberately defrauding themselves,” Wagner said.

So far, only sporadic news reports suggest that the Justice Department has ongoing criminal investigations against major banks such as Washington Mutual and Countrywide, as well as investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Fewer Cops on the Beat

The Justice Department, in response to written questions from the Investigative Fund, acknowledged the absence of criminal referrals from financial regulators. Months into the financial crisis, a new Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, formed by President Obama last fall, was trying to work out communication problems between Justice and the regulatory agencies, according to the head of the task force, Robb Adkins. Adkins has said that criminal referrals from regulators have been “too often the exception to the rule.”

At a Congressional hearing in December, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer was asked why there have been no criminal cases brought yet against CEOs. “Don’t for a moment think [these cases] aren’t being investigated,” Breuer replied. “They are complicated cases. It took a long time in hatching them and developing them. But they will be brought.”

The system that tracks Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, detected a dramatic increase in mortgage fraud starting in 2003, when reports of mortgage fraud nearly doubled within a year from 5,400 to 9,500. By 2007, the number had exploded to 53,000. During those same years, many mortgage lenders dramatically lowered their lending standards. Banks often required no proof of income. Borrowers could even get loans without be able to repay them.

Yet in their reports, banks overwhelmingly have blamed others for fraud. Whenever a borrower’s income was wrong on a loan application, the banks fingered borrowers 87 percent of the time and independent mortgage brokers 64 percent of the time, according to a 2006 Treasury analysis of the SARs. But the bank’s own employees were almost never blamed — only about four times in every 1,000 reports.

That might explain why so few prosecutions have targeted bank insiders.

Another reason for fewer prosecutions against bank employees is that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has far fewer agents working on the current crisis. Deputy Director John Pistole testified before Congress last year that the bureau had 1,000 people working on the S&L crisis at its height. That compares to about 240 agents working on mortgage fraud cases last year.

The FBI dramatically shifted its resources away from white-collar crime and to terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We just didn’t have the cops on the beat” during the recent crisis, said Sen. Ted Kaufman, the Delaware Democrat who conducted a hearing on the lack of criminal prosecutions. “I was around during the savings and loan crisis [as a Congressional aide] and we had a lot more folks working it when it went down.”

Even with additional funding from Congress, which Kaufman helped push through, the FBI is budgeted to have 377 people working mortgage fraud cases this year, about a third as many as during the S&L investigations.

Charges Harder to Prove?

Charges in the recent banking crisis may be harder to prove, said Robert H. Tillman, who teaches at St. John’s University and who analyzed data about S&L prosecutions. Savings and loan executives who were convicted often personally approved large commercial loans for projects doomed to fail. Some would use federally insured deposits to pay themselves excessive salaries or to lend money to their own real estate projects. A few even took kickbacks.

This time, lending executives may have encouraged the making of bad loans, but they generally did not personally approve the loans, Tillman said. They didn’t send emails telling the troops to make fraudulent loans but paid big commissions to loan offers who made risky loans. Then the executives were able to reap huge bonuses for making the company look so profitable.

So far, the biggest cases have been civil lawsuits brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, including most recently a highly publicized securities fraud case against Goldman Sachs and one of its vice presidents, Fabrice P. Tourre. News reports suggest that a referral from the SEC’s enforcement division to the Justice Department has led to a criminal inquiry.

Typically, federal authorities deal with massive financial scandals by picking a few cases they are confident they can win, said Henry Pontell, an expert on fraud at the University of California — Irvine.

This time, the administration may have been more focused on saving failing banks — and an entire financial system — than in prosecuting bank executives, Pontell said. Giving billions in bailout dollars to executives who encouraged fraudulent practices not only could complicate a case, it could prove embarrasing, he added.

New York Fed Warehousing Junk Loans On Its Books: Examiner’s Report

Ryan Grim 
ryan@huffingtonpost.com
| HuffPost Reporting                                                                                                                 First Posted: 03-22-10 01:12 PM   |   Updated: 03-22-10 04:34 PM

As Lehman Brothers careened toward bankruptcy in 2008, the New York Federal Reserve Bank came to its rescue, For once, Grayson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke are in agreement, to a point. A New York Fed spokesman directed HuffPost to congressional testimony Bernanke delivered last month. “While the emergency credit and liquidity facilities were important tools for implementing monetary policy during the crisis, we understand that the unusual nature of those facilities creates a special obligation to assure the Congress and the public of the integrity of their operation,” Bernanke said. “Accordingly, we would welcome a review by the GAO of the Federal Reserve’s management of all facilities created under emergency authorities.”

Just how far that review would go is the subject of debate in the Senate.

The Valukas report found clear evidence that the New York Fed knew that Lehman was sending it garbage that it had no intention to market. In other words, the baskets of assets were created for the specific purpose of selling to the Fed for far more than they were worth.

Lehman knew it too: “No intention to market” was scrawled on one of the internal presentations about the assets. A separate bank, Citigroup, later characterized the assets as “bottom of the barrel” and “junk” when Lehman tried to push them their way, according to the report.

If Lehman hadn’t gone bankrupt anyway, the public would have no knowledge of this backdoor bailout. “It’s just fortuitous that we found out about this through a bankruptcy proceeding and a trustee that was willing to allow and pay for some digging,” said Grayson. “Do we really just have to hope for the best, that whenever the Fed does something wrong, we might someday find out about it?”

Geithner himself was aware that there was a gap between what Lehman claimed the assets were worth and what they were really worth. “The challenge for the Government, and for troubled firms like Lehman, was to reduce risk exposure, and the act of reducing risk by selling assets could result in ‘collateral damage’ by demonstrating weakness and exposing air’ in the marks,” Geithner said, according to the report.

The assets, called “Freedom CLOs”, were sold to the Fed’s “Primary Dealer Credit Facility,” according to the report.

Lehman immediately recognized the value of what the Fed had set up. A day after the PDCF was announced, an internal Lehman analysis suggested that “the new ‘Primary Dealer Credit Facility’ is a LOT bigger deal than it is being played to be.” The facility could be a used as “as a warehouse for all types of collateral, we should have plenty of flexibility to structure and rethink CLO/CDO structures.”

It was a get-out-of-debt scheme and could “serve as a ‘warehouse’ for short term securities [b]acked by corporate loans [and] “MAY BE THE ‘EXIT STRATEGY’ FUNDING SOURCE WE NEED TO GET NEW COMPETITION IN THE CORPORATE LOAN MARKET,” according to the Lehman analysis.

But not one that Lehman felt like discussing with the public. “Given that the press has not focused (yet) on the Fed window in relation to the [Freedom] CLO, I’d suggest deleting the reference in the summary below,” CEO Dick Fuld wrote in an April 4, 2008 email uncovered by the report. “Press will be in attendance at the shareholder meeting and my concern is that volunteering this information would result in a story.”

Fuld has declared himself vindicated by the report.

The Fed won’t say how much more toxic “garbage” is in the Fed’s “warehouse” and that also concerns Grayson.

“The Fed’s balance sheet is a cartoon version of what’s actually inside,” said Grayson.
“We only get to basically do autopsies on the carcasses of the Fed’s failures, but what we don’t find out is when they show favoritism to companies that do not end up in bankruptcy.”

The Treasury didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Below is the relevant section of the report:

(c) In Addition to a Liquidity Backstop, Lehman Viewed the PDCF as an Outlet for Its Illiquid Positions
The PDCF not only provided Lehman with a ready response to those who speculated it would go the way of Bear Stearns, but also a potential vehicle to finance its illiquid corporate and real estate loans. A day after the PDCF became operational, Lehman personnel commented: “I think the new ‘Primary Dealer Credit Facility’ is a LOT bigger deal than it is being played to be . . . .” They mused that if Lehman could use the PDCF “as a warehouse for all types of collateral, we should have plenty of flexibility to structure and rethink CLO/CDO structures . . . .” Additionally, by viewing the PDCF as “available to serve as a ‘warehouse’ for short term securities [b]acked by corporate loans,” the facility “MAY BE THE ‘EXIT STRATEGY’ FUNDING SOURCE WE NEED TO GET NEW COMPETITION IN THE CORPORATE LOAN MARKET.”

Lehman did indeed create securitizations for the PDCF with a view toward treating the new facility as a “warehouse” for its illiquid leveraged loans. In March 2008, Lehman packaged 66 corporate loans to create the “Freedom CLO.” The transaction consisted of two tranches: a $2.26 billion senior note, priced at par, rated single A, and designed to be PDCF eligible, and an unrated $570 million equity tranche. The loans that Freedom “repackaged” included high‐yield leveraged loans, which Lehman had difficulty moving off its books, and included unsecured loans to Countrywide Financial Corp.

Lehman did not intend to market its Freedom CLO, or other similar securitizations, to investors. Rather, Lehman created the CLOs exclusively to pledge to the PDCF. An internal presentation documenting the securitization process for Freedom and similar CLOs named “Spruce” and “Thalia,” noted that the “[r]epackage[d] portfolio of HY [high yield leveraged loans]” constituting the securitizations, “are not meant to be marketed.”

Handwriting from an unknown source underlines this sentence and notes at the margin: “No intention to market.”

Lehman may have also managed its disclosures to ensure that the public did not become aware that the CLOs were not created to be sold on the open market, but rather were intended solely to be pledged to the PDCF. An April 4, 2008 email containing edits to talking points concerning the Freedom CLO to be delivered by Fuld stated:

“Given that the press has not focused (yet) on the Fed window in relation to the [Freedom] CLO, I’d suggest deleting the reference in the summary below. Press will be in attendance at the shareholder meeting and my concern is that volunteering this information would result in a story.”

It is unclear, based solely on the e‐mail, why a reference linking the FRBNY’s liquidity facility to the Freedom CLO was deleted. One explanation could be that Lehman did not want the public to learn that it had securitized illiquid loans exclusively to be pledged to the PDCF. Another reason may have been to hide the fact that Lehman needed to access the PDCF in the first place, given that accessing the securities dealers’ lender of last resort could have negative signaling implications.

The FRBNY was aware that Lehman viewed the PDCF not only as a liquidity backstop for financing quality assets, but also as a means to finance its illiquid assets. Describing a March 20, 2008 meeting between the FRBNY and Lehman’s senior management, FRBNY examiner Jan Voigts wrote that Lehman “intended to use the PDCF as both a backstop, and business opportunity.” With respect to the Freedom securitization in particular, Voigts wrote that Lehman saw the PDCF

as an opportunity to move illiquid assets into a securitization that would be PDCF eligible. They [Lehman] also noted they intended to create 2 or 3 additional PDCF eligible securitizations. We avoided comment on the securitization but noted the firm’s intention to use the PDCF as an opportunity to finance assets they could not finance elsewhere.

Thus, the FRBNY was aware that Lehman viewed the PDCF as an opportunity to finance its repackaged illiquid corporate loans. The Examiner’s investigation has not determined whether the FRBNY also understood that these Freedom-style securitizations were never intended for sale on the broader market.

In response to a question from FRBNY analyst Patricia Mosser on whether Voigts knew “if they [Lehman] intend to pledge to triparty or PDCF,”5359 Voigts replied that the Freedom CLO was “created with the PDCF in mind.”

According to internal Lehman documents, Lehman did in fact pledge the Freedom CLO to the PDCF. On three dates, March 24, 25 and 26, 2008, Lehman pledged the Freedom CLO to the FRBNY on an overnight basis, and received $2.13 billion for each transfer.5361 FRBNY discussions concerning the CLO’s underlying assets, however, took place on or around April 9, 20085362 — more than a week after the FRBNY began accepting the CLO.

 

UPDATE: Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge has been all over this scandal.

Get HuffPost Business On Twitter, Facebook, and Google Buzz! Know something we don’t? E-mail us at huffpostbiz@gmail.comsopping up junk loans that the investment bank couldn’t sell in the market, according to a report from court-appointed examiner Anton R. Valukas.

Federal Reserve Must Disclose Bank Bailout Records (Update5): We love Bloomberg.com

SHOCK & AWE …I’m betting! Thanks to Bloomberg for the lawsuit to DISCLOSE! Notice how both Bloomberg & Huffington are always the ones who go after the banksters…Because they probably don’t use the banksters to fund them!

By David Glovin and Bob Van Voris

March 19 (Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve Board must disclose documents identifying financial firms that might have collapsed without the largest U.S. government bailout ever, a federal appeals court said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled today that the Fed must release records of the unprecedented $2 trillion U.S. loan program launched primarily after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. The ruling upholds a decision of a lower-court judge, who in August ordered that the information be released.

The Fed had argued that disclosure of the documents threatens to stigmatize borrowers and cause them “severe and irreparable competitive injury,” discouraging banks in distress from seeking help. A three-judge panel of the appeals court rejected that argument in a unanimous decision.

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, “sets forth no basis for the exemption the Board asks us to read into it,” U.S. Circuit Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote in the opinion. “If the Board believes such an exemption would better serve the national interest, it should ask Congress to amend the statute.”

The opinion may not be the final word in the bid for the documents, which was launched by Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, with a November 2008 lawsuit. The Fed may seek a rehearing or appeal to the full appeals court and eventually petition the U.S. Supreme Court.

Right to Know

If today’s ruling is upheld or not appealed by the Fed, it will have to disclose the requested records. That may lead to “catastrophic” results, including demands for the instant disclosure of banks seeking help from the Fed, resulting in a “death sentence” for such financial institutions, said Chris Kotowski, a bank analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York.

“Whenever the Fed extends funds to a bank, it should be disclosed in private to the Congressional oversight committees, but to release it to the public I think would be a horrific mistake,” Kotowski said in an interview. “It would stigmatize the banks, it would lead to all kinds of second-guessing of the Fed, and I don’t see what public purpose is served by it.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, said the decision was a “major victory” for U.S. taxpayers.

“This money does not belong to the Federal Reserve,” Sanders said in a statement. “It belongs to the American people, and the American people have a right to know where more than $2 trillion of their money has gone.”

Fed Review

The Fed is reviewing the decision and considering its options for reconsideration or appeal, Fed spokesman David Skidmore said.

“We’re obviously pleased with the court’s decision, which is an important affirmation of the public’s right to know what its government is up to,” said Thomas Golden, a partner at New York-based Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and Bloomberg’s outside counsel.

The court was asked to decide whether loan records are covered by FOIA. Historically, the type of government documents sought in the case has been protected from public disclosure because they might reveal competitive trade secrets.

The Fed had argued that it could withhold the information under an exemption that allows federal agencies to refuse disclosure of “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential.”

Payment Processors

The Clearing House Association, which processes payments among banks, joined the case and sided with the Fed. The group includes ABN Amro Bank NV, a unit of Royal Bank of Scotland Plc, Bank of America Corp., The Bank of New York Mellon Corp., Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG, HSBC Holdings Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co., US Bancorp and Wells Fargo & Co.

Paul Saltzman, general counsel for the Clearing House, said the decision did not address the “fundamental issue” of whether disclosure would “competitively harm” borrower banks.

“The Second Circuit declined to follow the decisions of other circuit courts recognizing that disclosure of certain confidential information can impair the effectiveness of government programs, such as lending programs,” Saltzman said in a statement.

The Clearing House is considering whether to ask for a rehearing by the full Second Circuit and, ultimately, review by the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

Deep Crisis

Oscar Suris, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, JPMorgan spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli, Bank of New York Mellon spokesman Kevin Heine, HSBC spokeswoman Juanita Gutierrez and RBS spokeswoman Linda Harper all declined to comment. Deutsche Bank spokesman Ronald Weichert couldn’t immediately comment. Bank of America declined to comment, Scott Silvestri said. Citigroup spokeswoman Shannon Bell declined to comment. U.S. Bancorp spokesman Steve Dale didn’t return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

Bloomberg, majority-owned by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sued after the Fed refused to name the firms it lent to or disclose loan amounts or assets used as collateral under its lending programs. Most of the loans were made in response to the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Lawyers for Bloomberg argued in court that the public has the right to know basic information about the “unprecedented and highly controversial use” of public money.

“Bloomberg has been trying for almost two years to break down a brick wall of secrecy in order to vindicate the public’s right to learn basic information,” Golden wrote in court filings.

Potential Harm

Banks and the Fed warned that bailed-out lenders may be hurt if the documents are made public, causing a run or a sell- off by investors. Disclosure may hamstring the Fed’s ability to deal with another crisis, they also argued.

Much of the debate at the appeals court argument on Jan. 11 centered on the potential harm to banks if it was revealed that they borrowed from the Fed’s so-called discount window. Matthew Collette, a lawyer for the government, said banks don’t do that unless they have liquidity problems.

FOIA requires federal agencies to make government documents available to the press and public. An exception to the statute protects trade secrets and privileged or confidential financial data. In her Aug. 24 ruling, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in New York said the exception didn’t apply because there’s no proof banks would suffer.

Tripartite Test

In its opinion today, the appeals court said that the exception applies only if the agency can satisfy a three-part test. The information must be a trade secret or commercial or financial in character; must be obtained from a person; and must be privileged or confidential, according to the opinion.

The court said that the information sought by Bloomberg was not “obtained from” the borrowing banks. It rejected an alternative argument the individual Federal Reserve Banks are “persons,” for purposes of the law because they would not suffer the kind of harm required under the “privileged and confidential” requirement of the exemption.

In a related case, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in New York previously sided with the Fed and refused to order the agency to release Fed documents that Fox News Network sought. The appeals court today returned that case to Hellerstein and told him to order the Fed to conduct further searches for documents and determine whether the documents should be disclosed.

“We are pleased that this information is finally, and rightfully, going to be made available to the American public,” said Kevin Magee, Executive Vice President of Fox Business Network, in a statement.

Balance Sheet Debt

The Fed’s balance sheet debt doubled after lending standards were relaxed following Lehman’s failure on Sept. 15, 2008. That year, the Fed began extending credit directly to companies that weren’t banks for the first time since the 1930s. Total central bank lending exceeded $2 trillion for the first time on Nov. 6, 2008, reaching $2.14 trillion on Sept. 23, 2009.

More than a dozen other groups or companies filed friend- of-the-court briefs. Those arguing for disclosure of the records included the American Society of News Editors and individual news organizations.

“It’s gratifying that the court recognizes the considerable interest in knowing what is being done with our tax dollars,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Virginia.

“We’ve learned some powerful lessons in the last 18 months that citizens need to pay more attention to what’s going on in the financial world. This decision will make it easier to do that.”

The case is Bloomberg LP v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 09-04083, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (New York).

To contact the reporters on this story: David Glovin in New York at dglovin@bloomberg.net; Bob Van Voris in New York at vanvoris@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: March 19, 2010 16:15 EDT

also see  huffington post articles on this