Just another Reality-based bubble in the foam of the multiverse.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Private Profit, Certainly Not Socialized Losses

The Pirate's Code isn't so much a rule book as a set of guidelines...

...On Friday, the Federal Reserve seemed to toss out the rule book altogether when it assumed the role of white knight, temporarily bailing out Bear Stearns, one of Wall Street’s biggest firms, with a short-term loan to help avoid a collapse that might send other dominoes falling.

That move came just days after the Fed announced a $200 billion lending program for investment banks and a $100 billion credit line for banks and thrifts. In a move that would have been unthinkable until recently, the central bank agreed to accept potentially risky mortgage-backed securities as collateral.

On Tuesday, the central bank is expected to reduce short-term interest rates for the sixth time since September. The Fed has already lowered its benchmark federal funds rate to 3 percent from 5.25 percent, and investors are betting that it will cut the rate to just 2.25 percent on Tuesday...
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Via the man in the gray turtleneck:

......non-banks institutions don't have access - based on the Federal Reserve Act - to the lender of last resort support of the Fed unless a very special and unusual procedure and vote is taken. So for the first time in decades - possibly since the Great Depression - the Fed had to rely on this exceptional rule to bail out a non-bank financial institution. So what is next? Bailing out hedge funds, bailing out money market funds, bailing out SIVs? When is enough enough? This when the Fed has already committed this week to swap 60% ($ 400 bn) of its balance sheet of Treasuries for mortgage backed securities of dubious quality and value.

And Bear is only the first broker dealer to go belly up. Rumors had been circulating in the market for days that the exposure of Lehman to toxic ABS/MBS securities is as bad as that of Bear: according to Fitch at the beginning of the turmoil Bear Stearns had the highest toxic waste ("residual balance") exposure as percent of adjusted equity on balance sheet; the exposure of Bear was 54.5% while that of Lehman was only marginally smaller at 53.3%; that of Goldman Sachs was only 21%. And guess what? Today Lehman received a $2 billion unsecured credit line from 40 lenders. Here is another massively leveraged broker dealer that mismanaged its liquidity risk, had massive amount of toxic waste on its books and is now in trouble. Again here we have not only a situation of illiquidity but serious credit problems and losses given the reckless exposure of this second broker dealer to toxic investments.

We will leave aside for today the fact that a growing number of members of the "shadow financial system" have gone belly up in the last month alone: the entire SIV scheme is being wound down and brought back on balance sheet; a few hedge funds are now closing shops (for details see the web site The Hedge Fund Impode-O-Meter) ); a few money market funds that had exposure to toxic MBS have experienced runs and had to be bailed out; a highly leveraged private equity bond fund has gone belly up; a major near prime mortgage lender is bankrupt. In all these cases a poisonous combination of liquidity risk and credit risk was exacerbated by reckless leverage.

So the question is: if Bear Stearns screwed up big time - as it did - with huge leverage, reckless investments, lousy risk management and massive underestimation of liquidity risk why should the US taxpayer bail out this firm and its shareholders? First fully wipe out those shareholders, then fire all the senior management and have the government take over such a bankrupt institution before a penny of public money is wasted in bailing it out. Instead now the use of public money to bail out financial institutions is spreading from banking ones to non banking ones. The Fed should at least give a clear and public explanation of why such extremely exceptional - and almost never used - intervention was justified.

Unless public money is used on a very temporary basis to achieve an orderly wind-down or merger of Bear Stearns this is another case where profits are privatized and losses are socialized...


What, you mean there's a function for government that keeps a good Republican from drowning it in the bathtub? And perish the thought, a socialized function? But let's not be silly, this isn't socialism.

What is this?



It be piracy of the Treasury, me hearties.

Via Snow Moon via Lambert via Greg Palast:

...The press has swallowed Wall Street’s line that millions of US families are about to lose their homes because they bought homes they couldn’t afford or took loans too big for their wallets. Ba-LON-ey. That’s blaming the victim.

Here’s what happened. Since the Bush regime came to power, a new species of loan became the norm, the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage and its variants including loans with teeny “introductory” interest rates. From out of nowhere, a company called ‘Countrywide’ became America’s top mortgage lender, accounting for one in five home loans, a large chunk of these ‘sub-prime.’

Here’s how it worked: The Grinning Family, with US average household income, gets a $200,000 mortgage at 4% for two years. Their $955 monthly payment is 25% of their income. No problem. Their banker promises them a new mortgage, again at the cheap rate, in two years. But in two years, the promise ain’t worth a can of spam and the Grinnings are told to scram - because their house is now worth less than the mortgage. Now, the mortgage hits 9% or $1,609 plus fees to recover the “discount” they had for two years. Suddenly, payments equal 42% to 50% of pre-tax income. The Grinnings move into their Toyota.

Now, what kind of American is ‘sub-prime.’ Guess. No peeking. Here’s a hint: 73% of HIGH INCOME Black and Hispanic borrowers were given sub-prime loans versus 17% of similar-income Whites. Dark-skinned borrowers aren’t stupid – they had no choice. They were ‘steered’ as it’s called in the mortgage sharking business.

‘Steering,’ sub-prime loans with usurious kickers, fake inducements to over-borrow, called ‘fraudulent conveyance’ or ‘predatory lending’ under US law, were almost completely forbidden in the olden days (Clinton Administration and earlier) by federal regulators and state laws as nothing more than fancy loan-sharking.

But when the Bush regime took over, Countrywide and its banking brethren were told to party hearty – it was OK now to steer’m, fake’m, charge’m and take’m.

But there was this annoying party-pooper. The Attorney General of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who sued these guys to a fare-thee-well. Or tried to.

Instead of regulating the banks that had run amok, Bush’s regulators went on the warpath against Spitzer and states attempting to stop predatory practices. Making an unprecedented use of the legal power of “federal pre-emption,” Bush-bots ordered the states to NOT enforce their consumer protection laws.

Indeed, the feds actually filed a lawsuit to block Spitzer’s investigation of ugly racial mortgage steering. Bush’s banking buddies were especially steamed that Spitzer hammered bank practices across the nation using New York State laws.

Spitzer not only took on Countrywide, he took on their predatory enablers in the investment banking community. Behind Countrywide was the Mother Shark, its funder and now owner, Bank of America. Others joined the sharkfest: Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup’s Citibank made mortgage usury their major profit centers. They did this through a bit of financial legerdemain called “securitization.”

What that means is that they took a bunch of junk mortgages, like the Grinning’s, loans about to go down the toilet and re-packaged them into “tranches” of bonds which were stamped “AAA” - top grade - by bond rating agencies. These gold-painted turds were sold as sparkling safe investments to US school district pension funds and town governments in Finland (really).

When the housing bubble burst and the paint flaked off, investors were left with the poop and the bankers were left with bonuses. Countrywide’s top man, Angelo Mozilo, will ‘earn’ a $77 million buy-out bonus this year on top of the $656 million - over half a billion dollars – he pulled in from 1998 through 2007.

But there were rumblings that the party would soon be over. Angry regulators, burned investors and the weight of millions of homes about to be boarded up were causing the sharks to sink. Countrywide’s stock was down 50%, and Citigroup was off 38%, not pleasing to the Gulf sheiks who now control its biggest share blocks.

Then, on Wednesday of this week, the unthinkable happened. Carlyle Capital went bankrupt. Who? That’s Carlyle as in Carlyle Group. James Baker, Senior Counsel. Notable partners, former and past: George Bush, the Bin Laden family and more dictators, potentates, pirates and presidents than you can count.

The Fed had to act. Bernanke opened the vault and dumped $200 billion on the poor little suffering bankers. They got the public treasure – and got to keep the Grinning’s house. There was no ‘quid’ of a foreclosure moratorium for the ‘pro quo’ of public bailout. Not one family was saved – but not one banker was left behind.

Every mortgage sharking operation shot up in value. Mozilo’s Countrywide stock rose 17% in one day. The Citi sheiks saw their company’s stock rise $10 billion in an afternoon.

And that very same day the bail-out was decided – what a coinkydink! – the man called, ‘The Sheriff of Wall Street’ was cuffed. Spitzer was silenced.

Do I believe the banks called Justice and said, “Take him down today!” Naw, that’s not how the system works. But the big players knew that unless Spitzer was taken out, he would create enough ruckus to spoil the party. Headlines in the financial press – one was “Wall Street Declares War on Spitzer” - made clear to Bush’s enforcers at Justice who their number one target should be. And it wasn’t Bin Laden.

It was the night of February 13 when Spitzer made the bone-headed choice to order take-out in his Washington Hotel room. He had just finished signing these words for the Washington Post about predatory loans:

“Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which the federal government was turning a blind eye.”

Bush, Spitzer said right in the headline, was the “Predator Lenders’ Partner in Crime.” The President, said Spitzer, was a fugitive from justice. And Spitzer was in Washington to launch a campaign to take on the Bush regime and the biggest financial powers on the planet.

Spitzer wrote, “When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners the Bush administration will not be judged favorably.”

But now, the Administration can rest assured that this love story – of Bush and his bankers - will not be told by history at all – now that the Sheriff of Wall Street has fallen on his own gun...


In a socialized system, all of society bears the losses, and gains the benefits of policy.

Here, the economically top 0.1% gains the profit- and everyone else bears the loss.

1 comment:

whitewhale said...

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