Posts Tagged ‘banks’

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The latest bank to admit criminal fraud is Wells-Fargo. The largest U.S. mortgage lender and third-largest U.S. bank by assets, Wells-Fargo deceived the U.S. government into insuring thousands of risky mortgages, and formally reached a record $1.2 billion settlement of a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit. Several lenders, including Bank of America Corp, Citigroup Inc, Deutsche Bank AG, and JPMorgan Chase & Co, previously settled similar federal lawsuits.

To read Paul Krugman (who’s “been doing a lot of shovel work for the Hillary Clinton campaign lately”), the real problem in the run-up to the spectacular crash of 2007-08 was not Too Big to Fail banks like Wells-Fargo, but the so-called shadow-banking system. But, as Matt Taibi [ht: db] explains, “Krugman is just wrong about this.”

The root problem of the ’08 crisis lay in a broad criminal fraud scheme in the mortgage markets. Real-estate agents fanned out into middle- and low-income neighborhoods in huge numbers and coaxed as many people as possible into loans, whether they could afford them or not.

Those loans in turn were bought up by giant financial companies on Wall Street, who chopped them up into a kind of mortgage hamburger. Out of this hamburger, they made securities. These securities were then sold to institutional investors like pension funds, unions, insurance companies and hedge funds.

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source (pdf)

There’s no doubt shadow-banking activities surpassed those of the traditional banking system in the years leading up to the crash. But—and this is crucial—they weren’t two separate systems or sets of institutions; they were just two different sets of activities by a wide variety of firms within the financial system. And so-called traditional banks were heavily involved in the shadow-banking activities.

The two economically most important shadow banking activities are securitization and collateral intermediation. According to Stijn Claessens, Zoltan Pozsar, Lev Ratnovski, and Manmohan Singh,

The first key shadow banking function, securitisation, is a process that repackages cash flows from loans to create assets that are perceived by market participants as almost fully safe and liquid. The repackaging occurs in steps, and takes the form of risk transfer. First, risky long-term loans are ‘tranched’ into safe and complementary (‘equity’ and ‘mezzanine’ respectively) tranches. Then the safe tranche is funded in short-term money markets, with additional protection provided by liquidity lines from banks. The resulting assets, such as Asset-Backed Commercial Papers (ABCPs), were regarded prior to the crisis by market participants as safe, liquid, and short-term, i.e. almost money-like, but with returns exceeding those on short-term government debt. . .

Another key function of shadow banking is supporting collateral-based operations within the financial system. Such operations include secured funding (of bank and, especially, nonbank investors), securities lending, and hedging (including with OTC derivatives). Collateral helps deal with counterpart risks and more generally greases financial intermediation. One of the main challenges in using collateral is its scarcity. The shadow banking system deals with the scarcity through an intensive re-use of collateral, so that it can support as large as possible a volume of financial transactions. The multiplier of the volume of transactions to the volume of collateral (the ‘velocity’ of collateral) was recently about 2.5 to 3.

The key is that traditional banks (such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, and Citibank in the United States, in addition to Barclays, BNP Paribas, Crédit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Société Générale, Nomura, and UBS elsewhere—all of them classified as “strategically important financial institutions”) both financed and directly participated in shadow-banking activities. The traditional banks made record profits from those activities and served both to expand shadow banking and to increase the degree of risk, instability, and contagion.

In other words, traditional banks played a key role in creating the financial house of cards that came crashing down in 2007-08.

So, it’s simply wrong to assert that Too Big to Fail or Jail banks were peripheral in creating the conditions that caused the global financial crisis—or, for that matter, that continue to plague the financial system today.

What this means is that regulating and transforming the financial system—by taxing financial transactions, breaking up the now-Too Bigger to Fail banks, and creating new forms of financial intermediation (such as various forms of public and community banking)—are still on the agenda.

It’s time, then, to bring both the financial system and arguments by mainstream economists that attempt to shield traditional banks and their favorite political candidates out of the shadows.

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Cartoon of the day

Posted: 21 March 2016 in Uncategorized
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We’re more than seven years out from the most severe economic crash since the First Great Depression and nothing much on Wall Street has changed.

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As everyone knows, the Too Big To Fail banks that got us into the current mess are now Too Bigger to Fail. The top five U.S. banks had approximately 30 percent of U.S. banking assets in 1998; this rose to 45 percent by 2008 and to more than 47 percent in 2013 (the last year for which data are available).

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Meanwhile, the U.S. banking industry topped off 2015 with record profits of $163.63 billion, the highest net income of any year in the SNL bank regulatory database, which dates back to 1991. The largest four banks—JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citibank—together captured 42.7 percent of the industry’s income in 2015.

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And, as it turns out, the three big ratings firms that played such a central role in the financial crisis—Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, Moody’s Investors Service, and Fitch Ratings—have themselves never been downgraded.

The three issue more than 95% of global bond ratings, a total virtually unchanged from the pre-2008 period.

Profits also are nearing all-time highs as they ride a recent wave of debt sales and push into new lines of business. . .

The fallout from the financial crisis was supposed to crimp the credit-ratings model. Firms awarded rosy ratings to residential mortgage bonds that later soured, triggering widespread losses.

Lawmakers and regulators called for a major shake-up of the way the firms made their money. But seven years later, the industry’s business blueprint—in which banks and debt issuers still pay ratings firms to have their deals graded—remains in place despite concerns about its potential conflicts.

No wonder folks are still angry at Wall Street.

*Yes, for those who follow such things, that’s the image from the cover of the 1975 Supertramp album, “Crisis? What Crisis?”

Update

And just as I posted this, I learned, according to a new Institute for Policy Studies report, the $25 billion in bonuses Wall Street banks handed out to their 172,400 New York City-based employees last year amounted to double the combined earnings of all 895,000 Americans who work full-time at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

The Wall Street bonus pool has become so large that in 2015 it would’ve been enough to have lifted all of America’s 2.6 million fast food prep and serving workers up to $15 per hour — and still have had $4 billion left over. Or that bonus pool could have raised to $15 the hourly wage of all our nation’s 1.6 million home care aides or all of our 2.6 million restaurant servers and bartenders.

Sanders-growth

Economists and economic commentators have started to push back against the attacks of liberal mainstream economists on Bernie Sanders’s economic proposals and the analysis of the consequences of those proposals by Gerald Friedman.

Here’s a quick rundown:

Matthew Klein notes that the “supposedly ‘extreme’ and ‘unsupportable’ forecast” that was part of Friedman’s analysis merely “implies American output will return to its previous trend just as Sanders would be finishing up his second term, in the third quarter of 2024.”

we have no insight into the macroeconomic effects of Sanders’s entire programme, which has lots of moving parts and would not just affect things like the quantity of infrastructure investment and the distribution of income, but also the incentives to work and take risks. Our point is a simple one: a prolonged period of rapid growth in the US is plausible, with the right policy mix. The burden of proof should be on those who say otherwise.

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David Dayen makes much the same point (that Friedman’s “economic growth numbers would simply eliminate the GDP gap that was created by the Great Recession and was never filled in the subsequent years of slow growth”) and then notes that the growth projections of some of the liberal critics (such as Laura Tyson, Christina Romer, Austan Goolsbee, and Alan Krueger) were themselves far off the mark.

Economist Jamie Galbraith (pdf), who was Executive Director of the Joint Economic Committee in 1981-82, agrees that “skepticism about standard forecasting methods is perfectly reasonable” but then observes that Friedman’s methods are actually pretty mainstream.

It is not fair or honest to claim that Professor Friedman’s methods are extreme. On the contrary, with respect to forecasting method, they are largely mainstream. Nor is it fair or honest to imply that you have given Professor Friedman’s paper a rigorous review. You have not.

What you have done, is to light a fire under Paul Krugman, who is now using his high perch to airily dismiss the Friedman paper as “nonsense.” Paul is an immensely powerful figure, and many people rely on him for careful assessments. It seems clear that he has made no such assessment in this case. . .

Let’s turn, finally, to the serious question. What does the Friedman paper really show? The answer is quite simple, and the exercise is – while not perfect – almost entirely ordinary.

What the Friedman paper shows, is that under conventional assumptions, the projected impact of Senator Sanders’ proposals stems from their scale and ambition. When you dare to do big things, big results should be expected. The Sanders program is big, and when you run it through a standard model, you get a big result.

Finally, economist Joshua Mason makes five main points about Friedman’s analysis of of the results one might expect from Sanders’s programs.

First, conventional wisdom in economics is that an exceptionally deep recession should be followed by a period of exceptionally strong growth. Second, the growth in output and employment implied by the paper are more or less what is required to return to the pre-recession trend. Third, discussions of macroeconomic policy in other contexts imply the possibility of growth qualitatively similar to what Jerry describes. Fourth, it is not necessarily the case that the employment Jerry projects would exceed full employment in any meaningful sense. Fifth, if you don’t believe a growth performance at this level is possible, that implies a sharp slowdown in potential output, for which you need a credible story.

In Mason’s view, the fifth point is the most important. And the bottom line is this:

Ten years ago, the CBO expected GDP to be $20.5 trillion (correcting for inflation) as of the end of 2015. Today, it is $18.1, trillion, or about 12 percent lower. Similarly, the employment-population ratio fell by 5 points during the recession (from 63.4 to 58.4 percent) and has risen by only one point during the past six years of recovery. Either these facts — unprecedented in the postwar period — reflect a shortfall of effective demand, or they don’t. If they do reflect a lack of demand, then there is no reason the expanded pubic spending and downward redistribution that Sanders proposes cannot close the gap, with a period of high growth while output and employment return to trend. (The fact that such high growth hasn’t been seen in the postwar period is neither here nor there, since there also has been no comparable deviation from trend.) Alternatively, you may think that the shortfall relative to previous growth rates reflects a decline in potential output. But then you need to offer some explanation of why the growth of the economy’s productive capacity slowed so abruptly, and you need to apply this belief consistently. I think it’s more reasonable to believe that the gaps in output and employment reflect a demand shortfall. In which case, the Sanders plan could in principle have the kind of results Friedman describes.

As for myself, I believe there is a debate worth having—which, alas, the liberal mainstream critics are attempting to shut down.

If however we let that debate unfold, it will show that contemporary capitalism produces a grotesquely unequal distribution of income, a crumbling physical and social infrastructure, inadequate healthcare, heavily indebted college students, a Too Big to Fail financial sector that threatens another collapse, and slow rates of growth that simply cannot employ the U.S. working-age population.

All that Sanders’s proposals and Friedman’s analysis demonstrate is how far we’ve fallen and what it would take for the United States to reverse those disturbing trends.

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“Goldman Sachs Republican” Neel Kashkari, the new president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, has warned that the biggest banks in the United States “are still too big to fail and continue to pose a significant, ongoing risk to our economy.”

Although TBTF [Too Big to Fail] banks were not the sole cause of the recent financial crisis and Great Recession, there is no question that their presence at the center of our financial system contributed significantly to the magnitude of the crisis and to the extensive damage it inflicted across the economy. . .

Going forward

I believe we need to complete the important work that my colleagues are doing so that, at a minimum, we are as prepared as we can be to deal with an individual large bank failure. But given the enormous costs that would be associated with another financial crisis and the lack of certainty about whether these new tools would be effective in dealing with one, I believe we must seriously consider bolder, transformational options. Some other Federal Reserve policymakers have noted the potential benefits to considering more transformational measures. I believe we must begin this work now and give serious consideration to a range of options, including the following:

  • Breaking up large banks into smaller, less connected, less important entities.
  • Turning large banks into public utilities by forcing them to hold so much capital that they virtually can’t fail (with regulation akin to that of a nuclear power plant).
  • Taxing leverage throughout the financial system to reduce systemic risks wherever they lie.

I’m curious to see what liberal critics of Bernie Sanders have to say about Kashkari’s analysis.