Whistleblower Richard Bowen: Barclays Bank Gets Its Hands Slapped… and What Does That Change!!!??

By Richard Bowen
http://www.richardmbowen.com/barclays-bank-gets-its-hands-slapped-and-what-does-that-change/

Is getting its hands slapped a strong enough message? The latest in the bad bank sagas has the British bank, Barclays, red-faced. As it should.

CEO Jes Staley has been reprimanded for attempting to discover the identity of an internal company whistleblower. Mr. Staley stated that he was trying to protect a colleague from what he considered an unfair attack.

Mr. Staley took his inquiry so far he had Barclay employees reach out to postal inspectors in his attempt to discover who had anonymously mailed two letters to the Barclays board, which complained about the bank hiring a mid-level executive. 

The resulting fallout will see Mr. Staley facing a significant pay cut plus regulatory probes. The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has him under investigation which could result in a fine and a possible ban from the financial services industry if the FCA does not find him “fit and proper to lead the firm.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is also investigating whether any officials at Barclays or even the USPS may have violated civil Dodd-Frank Whistleblower protections; as well as criminal law in its attempts to uncover the whistleblower’s identity.

Mr. Staley has apologized to Barclays’ board and he states, “accepted its conclusion that my personal actions in this matter were errors on my part.”  However, he’d previously told the Barclays board “that he thought it was legal to unmask a whistleblower.” 

In the NY Post article, Jordan Thomas, Chair of the Whistleblower committee at Labaton Sucharow, the New York law firm responsible for the survey of 1200 plus U.S. and U.K. based financial services professionals on workplace ethics, principles, profits, leadership and confidence (re bank and bankers) asks, of the Barclays fiasco, “Under what circumstances do government agencies work for corporations?“

“Unfortunately” he points out, “you regularly see leaders within corporate America wanting to hunt down whistleblowers within their organization.” The survey’s findings pointed out a continued disregard for ethical engagement as well as alarming new tactics being attempted to silence potential whistleblowers.

In an earlier article, I’d posted New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley’s comment about ”an apparent lack of respect for law, regulation, and public trust that persists within some large financial institutions.”

Yes, absolutely there is cause for concern; the issues are ongoing. I continued that the article goes on to say that the Labaton Sucharow survey said “that one in four bankers said they knew co-workers who had run afoul of the law.” And nearly a third of those surveyed said bonus and compensation incentives encouraged malfeasance.

Profits continue to hold sway over principles no matter how many regulations or checks and balances large banks and their officials, employees and boards are accountable for. Accountable! Did I actually use that word as it regards the big banks?

As Marianne Jennings, professor emeritus of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State says in her recent article about the Barclays situation, Barclays has been sending mixed messages for a long time.

She says, “Antony Jenkins was named Barclays’ CEO in December 2012 following the LIBOR rate-fixing problems at the bank, a serious misstep that cost the bank almost one-half billion in fines. Mr. Jenkins, by all accounts, worked diligently to change the Barclay’s culture.”

She points out, Mr. Jenkins did indeed try to change the culture, yet he was fired in July 2015 for not “doing enough shareholder-wise”. The message? Forget culture change, stick to earnings and profits! … “In the world of ethics and compliance, one of the keys to anonymous reporting is anonymity. However, Mr. Staley insists that he did not know such a request was wrong.” Yet he was told at the time he made the request that in fact “he could not unmask the identity of whistleblowers.”

He tried anyway, admitted such and now will reap the consequences.  Ironic, as she points out, that the media is lauding the board’s actions yet they fired the last CEO for trying to build a much-needed culture of accountability. Ms. Jennings says, and I agree, “This guy needs to go if the board expects to ever hear about any issue.”

We may not expect bankers to be girl and boy scouts any longer. But what’s it going to take to assure accountability? What is it about the makeup of big banks that has built a culture of profits at any cost even though this has resulted in such egregious malfeasance?

Is there any solution? If so, let me know.

It’s Not Even a Bubble: Foreclosures on the Rise

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Editor’s Comment: Realtors and Banks want you to think that you need to buy now before the  market takes off and prices spiral upward. I say don’t believe a word of it.

If you are buying to live in a house, you should know that the actual and shadow inventory of foreclosures will keep intense downward pressure on housing prices for many years to come. Some estimates, including mine, are that the housing market might take more than 10 years to recover and that it could be as much as 20 years. This is why so many people are renting rather than buying. Rental values are going up because there is actual demand for renting.

If you are buying for investment, see the above paragraph. You might have a viable investment if you are willing to stay in for the long pull and you are willing to take on the duties and obligations of a landlord.

If you are selling and you are waiting for the market to bottom out, or maybe you see a spike and you think you’ll wait just a little bit longer to get a higher price, forget it. Sellers, as realtors will even tell you, are mostly unrealistic about the sales price of their property. This is because they bought or once saw the price of their property at twice the price as the offers now. The reason is simple — prices went up but values stayed the same or even declined. The difference between prices and values has never been as big a deal as it is now.

Prices can be forced up by actual demand but never as much as we saw from the late 90’s to the peak at 2006. The prices went up because the payments went down or appeared to go down.

Free money was everywhere and nobody was reading the fine print or even questioning why Banks would offer such deals as teaser rates and other nonsensical things to entice people into signing up for mortgages, whose payment would eventually rise above their household income or where the payment was the equivalent of doubling the interest rate because they were going to be sitting with a home that declined to its real value.

The truth is that even if a recovery eventually occurs, it will be 20+ years before we see those prices again. And that will only result from inflation which eventually will pick up steam.

And by all means remember what I have been writing about these last few weeks. The title they are offering you, with a deed signed by a bank, or even a satisfaction of mortgage signed by a bank may not be worth the paper it is written on and the title policy normally excludes that sort of risk from what they  are covering in title insurance. So if you don’t pose the hard questions and negotiate a real title policy that covers all the known risks, you could be the angry owner of a white elephant that cannot be sold later nor refinanced.

From CNBC:

Home prices rose, just barely, in the second quarter of this year annually for the first time since 2007, according to online real estate firm Zillow. That prompted the popular site to call a “bottom” to home prices nationally. The increase was a mere 0.2 percent, but in today’s touch and go housing recovery, that was enough.

Nearly one third of the 167 markets Zillow tracks in this survey saw annual price gains from a year ago.

“After four months with rising home values and increasingly positive forecast data, it seems clear that the country has hit a bottom in home values,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. “The housing recovery is holding together despite lower-than-expected job growth, indicating that it has some organic strength of its own.”

Zillow’s report, which compares prices of homes sold in the same neighborhood, also showed a stronger 2.1 percent gain quarter to quarter, which is the biggest uptick since 2005. The biggest price gains, however, are in the markets that saw the biggest price drops during the latest housing crash. Phoenix, for example, saw a 12 percent annual price gain on the Zillow index.

That has other analysts claiming that the overall surge in national prices is due to price bubbles in certain markets.

“Strong demand, particularly in areas of California, Arizona and Nevada, are pushing up home prices very quickly in the short-term. And because many of the home purchases in these areas are cash transactions, there appears to be less braking of prices by our current appraisal system than seen in other parts of the country,” noted Thomas Popik, research director for Campbell Surveys and chief analyst for HousingPulse. “The trend raises the distinct possibility of housing price bubbles emerging in some of these hot housing markets.”

The supply of foreclosed properties for sale has been dropping steadily, as lenders try to modify more loans or actively pursue foreclosure alternatives, like short sales (where the home is sold for less than the value of the mortgage). Investors, eager to take advantage of the hot rental market, are having to spread out to more markets in order to find the best deals.

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“We were heavily into Phoenix early in the cycle. Those markets are heating up,” said James Breitenstein, CEO of investment firm Landsmith in an interview on CNBC Monday. “We see a shift more to the east, states like North Carolina, Michigan, Florida.”

While home prices on the Zillow index are improving most in formerly distressed markets, like Miami, Orlando and much of California, they are still dropping in other non-distressed markets, like St. Louis (down 4 percent annually) Chicago (down 5.8 percent annually) and Philadelphia (down 3.5 percent annually).

“Those people looking at current results and calling a bottom are being dangerously short-sighted,” said Michael Feder, CEO of Radar Logic, a real estate data and analytics company. “Not only are the immediate signs inconclusive, but the broad dynamics are still quite scary. We think housing is still a short.”

Radar Logic sees price increases as well, but blames that on mild winter weather that temporarily boosted demand. This means there will be payback, or weakness in prices during the latter half of this year. And even without the weather hypothesis, they see further trouble ahead:

“On the supply side, higher prices will entice financial institutions to sell more of their inventories of foreclosed homes and allow households that were previously unable to sell due to negative equity to put their homes on the market. As a result, the supply of homes for sale will increase, placing downward pressure on prices. On the demand side, rising prices could reduce investment buying,” according to the Radar Logic report.

Investors are driving much of the housing market today, anywhere from one third to one quarter of home sales. That makes these supposedly national price gains more precarious than ever, because they are based on a finite supply of distressed homes and that supply is dependent on the nation’s big banks. First time home buyers, who should be 40 percent of the market, are barely making up one third, and millions of potential move-up buyers are trapped in their homes due to negative and near negative equity.

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Homeowner Associations On the Attack, As Predicted Here

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Editor’s Comment:  Thousands of homeowner associations are filing foreclosure actions on banks owning property that are not paying the monthly assessments or special assessments. We’ve written about this before and encouraged the associations to do so.

The irony is very interesting here. The Banks, having never funded a loan and never purchased a loan, managed to foreclose a loan they never had and get title, possession and even eviction if the rightful homeowner failed to leave as ordered by the bogus pretender lender. Now they must pay the taxes, insurance, and maintain the place as it is written in the Declaration of Condominium, or Community restrictions. AND they must pay monthly “Dues” or assessments as well as special assessments.

So that free house the bank got by submitting a credit bid even though they were never the creditor and never had the right to call themselves a creditor, and even though the debt was either unsecured or paid off, now they re suddenly required to pay the piper.

After all, they say they are the homeowner now. So the banks, knowing this would happen have transferred title into “bankruptcy remote vehicles” which are in fact vehicles for avoiding creditors. A transfer in fraud of creditors is intended to be prosecuted by the Association or any other person effected and the association this time is neither intimidated nor unwilling to press their claim. These are the same banks that decimated their neighborhood. The battle is on.

I wonder how this disclosed to Canadian and other investors who think they are getting clear title? This is only one of several reasons why they are getting clouded title — the pendency of assessments.

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Pensions to Be Slashed By Fake Losses on Mortgage Bonds

 

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Editor’s Comment:  

Many of the most conservative, pro-business people who think they escaped the travesty of the mortgage scam and meltdown are in for a big surprise starting this year. Pension funds were the investors. And they lost big. In some cases the fund managers were in bed with the investment bankers who were peddling this crap.

If you read the Wall Street Journal they explain how the already underfunded pension funds (due to accounting tricks that were illegal and then made legal) are now unable to escape the reality admitting the losses being pitched over the fence at them by investment bankers who are rolling in money from bailouts, insurance (that should have paid the pension fund), credit default swaps (that should have paid the pension fund).

Deep in the articles is a description of exactly what is happening in simple math terms. That description applies equally to the intentionally manipulated underwriting standards to assure the loans would fail. If you or I did this, we would be in jail. Instead Jamie Dimon sits on the Board of the New York Fed. what a country. Millions of people are thrown out of their homes, cities and counties go bankrupt, most from mythical losses they don’t understand.

It all comes from what are called yield spreads, premiums and losses from changes in yield. Under normal protocol investors protect themselves by using various hedge products.

But the investment bankers didn’t make the investors the beneficiary of those hedges, they made themselves the beneficiaries instead. Since they were the agents of the investors they should and still can be forced to apply those proceeds, and pay them to the pension funds, which in turn will reduce the amount due under each loan that was funded.

Sources tell me that not only are the pension funds being forced to accept losses on loans they never owned until it was time to foreclose, but that some of the “bets” that went bad are being tacked on as additional fees or losses.

The pension funds are therefore suffering from two huge write-downs — one from the change in accounting rules that allowed them to kick the can down the road (passed 30+ Years ago), and the other from losses that don’t actually exist but were convenient for the banks to assert when they asked for bailouts.

Pension funds become underfunded automatically when the interest and dividends they get paid shrink. In order to bring up income they need to invest more. Neither the companies nor the pensioners are doing that so there is a shortfall. So when interest rates go down, someone must invest more money to earn the interest required to pay to the pensioners. Nobody is making that investment.

Example: If interest rates were 6% when the pension funds made commitments to retiring employees and the amount of money promised those retiring employees just happened to be $60,000, the pension fund would need $1 million invested (over simplifying by taking out amortization of principal). If interest rates fall to 3%, then the $1 million fund is only getting $30,000 per year. In order to raise it back up to $60,000 per year, the fund needs $2 million invested at 3% to stay fully funded. Without additional contribution, there is a $1 million shortfall.

Right now interest rates, manipulated as they are have never been lower which means that pension funds are getting less income than they were getting before, and since nobody is putting in more money to cover the difference the pension fund is underfunded.

When pension funds must declare the losses on mortgage bonds they will be far more underfunded than currently appears and the amount received by each pensioner will be slashed. Say thank you to Wall Street for that.

Curious coincidence: This same analysis applies to the tier 2 yield spread premium grabbed by the investment bank under false pretenses from investors. For purposes of this article you can spell investor as “Pension Fund.”

When the fund manager for the pension fund gave the investment banker $1 million in our example above, he was expecting a 6% return on investment.

But in the most unbridled breach of trust ever recorded in Wall Street history, the investment banker instead invested half the money at twice the rate.

So they only funded $500,000 in “mortgage” loans carrying a nominal interest rate of 12%, even though they had received $1 million and they pocketed the other $500,000 as “trading profits.”Anyone with any investment knowledge understands that this was (1) an immediate loss of $500,000 to the investor (Pension Fund) and (2) a probable loss of the other $500,000 or most of it after the obvious market crash this would cause.

Of course the people accepting those 12% loans were extremely poor credit risks and were literally guaranteed to default.

So Wall Street took the other half of the money they stole from the pension fund, unknown to the pension fund manager, and bet against the mortgages that were underwritten.

Instead of making the pension fund the beneficiary of that protection the investment banker made himself the beneficiary of the insurance, hedge or credit default swap.

And instead of informing the pension fund manager of the loss in a report in which the fund manager could detect what was really happening, the banks announced that the BANKS had suffered trillions of dollars in losses that never happened except in the mythical world of “cash equivalent” derivatives.

So if you are looking for the rest of your pension income you were promised, you can find it on Wall Street.

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Local Governments on Rampage Against Banks’ Manipulation of Credit Markets

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“When both government and the citizens start acting together, things are likely to change in a big way. There appears to be a unity of interests — the investors who thought they were buying bonds from a REMIC pool, the homeowners who thought they were buying a properly verified and underwritten loan from a pretender lender, and the local governments who were tricked into believing that their loans were viable and trustworthy based upon the gold standard of rate indexes. In many cases, the only reason for the municipal loan, was the illusion of growing demographics requiring greater infrastructure, instead of repairing the existing the infrastructure. As a result, the cities ended up with loans on unneeded products just like homeowners ended up with loans on houses that were always worth far less than the appraisal used.” — Neil F Garfield, www.livinglies.me

Editors Note: Hundreds of government agencies and local governments are on the rampage realizing that they were duped by Wall Street into buying into defective loan products. This puts them in the same class as homeowners who bought such loan products, investors who believed they were buying Mortgage Bonds to fund the loans, and dozens of other institutions who relied upon the lies told by the banks who were having a merry old time creating “trading profits” that were the direct result of stealing money and homes, and misleading the financial world on the status of the interest rates in the financial world. All loans tied to Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate), which was the gold standard,  are now in question as to whether the reset on those loans was true, correct or simply faked.

The repercussions of this will grow as the realization hits the victims of this gigantic fraud broadens into a general inquiry about most of the major practices in use — especially those in which claims of securitization were offered. It is now obvious that the deal proposed to pension funds and other investors was simply ignored by the banks who used the money to create faked trading profits, removing from the pool of investments money intended for funding loans that were properly originated and dutifully underwritten.

Cities, Counties, Homeowners and Investors are all victims of being tricked into loans that were simply unsustainable and were being manipulated to the advantage of the banks they trusted to act responsibly and who instead acted reprehensibly.

The ramifications for the mortgage and foreclosure markets could not be larger. If the banks were lying about the basics of the rate and the terms then what else did they do? As the Governor or of the Bank of England said, the business model of the banks appears to have been “lie More” rather than living up to the trust reposed in them by those who dealt with them as “customers.” Specifically, the evidence suggests that while the funding of the loan and the closing documents were coincidentally related in time, they specifically excluded any reference to each other, which means that the financial transaction as it actually occurred is undocumented and the document trail refers to financial transactions that did not involve money exchanging hands.

The natural conclusion created by the coincidence of the funding and the documents was to conclude that the two were related. But the actual instructions and wire transfers tell another story. This debunks the myth of securitization and more particularly the mortgage lien. How can the mortgage apply to a transaction described in the note that never took place and where the terms of the loan were different than what was expected by the creditors (investors, like pension and other managed funds) in the mortgage bond. The parties are different too. The wires funding the transaction are devoid of any reference to the supposed lender in the closing documents presented to borrowers. Thus you have different parties and different terms — one in the money trail, which was undocumented, and the other in the document trail which refers to transactions in which no money exchanged hands.

When the municipalities like Baltimore start digging they are going to find that manipulation of Libor was only one of several issues about which the Banks lied.

Rate Scandal Stirs Scramble for Damages

BY NATHANIEL POPPER

As unemployment climbed and tax revenue fell, the city of Baltimore laid off employees and cut services in the midst of the financial crisis. Its leaders now say the city’s troubles were aggravated by bankers’ manipulation of a key interest rate linked to hundreds of millions of dollars the city had borrowed.

Baltimore has been leading a battle in Manhattan federal court against the banks that determine the interest rate, the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, which serves as a benchmark for global borrowing and stands at the center of the latest banking scandal. Now cities, states and municipal agencies nationwide, including Massachusetts, Nassau County on Long Island, and California’s public pension system, are looking at whether they suffered similar losses and are weighing legal action.

Dozens of lawsuits filed by municipalities, pension funds and hedge funds have been consolidated into a few related cases against more than a dozen banks that are involved in setting Libor each day, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank and Barclays. Last month, Barclays admitted to regulators that it tried to manipulate Libor before and during the financial crisis in 2008, and paid $450 million to settle the charges. It said other banks were doing the same, but none of them have been accused of wrongdoing. Libor, a measure of how much banks must pay to borrow money from one another in the short term, is set through a daily poll of the banks.

The rate influences what consumers, businesses and investors pay on a wide range of financial contracts, as varied as mortgages and interest rate swaps. Barclays has said it and other banks understated the rate during the financial crisis to make themselves look healthier to the public, rather than to make more money from clients. As regulators and lawmakers in Washington and Europe assess the depth of the Libor abuse and the failure to address it, economists and analysts are already predicting it could be one of the most expensive scandals to hit Wall Street since the financial crisis.

Governments and other investors may face many hurdles in proving damages. But Darrell Duffie, a professor of finance at Stanford, said he expected that their lawsuits alone could lead to the banks’ paying out tens of billions of dollars, echoing numbers from a recent report by analysts at Nomura Equity Research.

American municipalities have been among the first to claim losses from the supposed rate-rigging, because many of them borrow money through investment vehicles that directly derive their value from Libor. Peter Shapiro, who advises Baltimore and other cities on their use of these investments, said that “about 75 percent of major cities have contracts linked to this.”

If the banks submitted artificially low Libor rates during the financial crisis in 2008, as Barclays has admitted, it would have led cities and states to receive smaller payments from financial contracts they had entered with their banks, Mr. Shapiro said.

“Unambiguously, state and local government agencies lost money because of the manipulation of Libor,” said Mr. Shapiro, who is managing director of the Swap Financial Group and is not involved in any of the lawsuits. “The number is likely to be very, very big.”

The banks have declined to comment on the lawsuits, but their lawyers have asked for the cases to be dismissed in court filings, pointing to the many unusual factors that influenced Libor during the crisis.

The efforts to calculate potential losses are complicated by the fact that Libor is used to determine the cost of thousands of financial products around the globe each day. If Libor was artificially pushed down on a particular day, it would help people involved in some types of contracts and hurt people involved in others.

Securities lawyers say the lawsuits will not be easy to win because the investors will first have to prove that the banks successfully pushed down Libor for an extended period during the crisis, and then will have to demonstrate that it was down on the day when the bank calculated particular payments. In addition, investors may have to prove that the specific bank from which they were receiving their payment was involved in the manipulation. Before it even reaches the point of proving such subtleties, however, the banks could be compelled to settle the cases.

One of the major complaints was filed by several traders and hedge funds that entered into futures contracts that are traded through the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and that pay out based on Libor. These contracts were a popular way to protect against spikes in interest rates, but they would not have paid off as expected if Libor had been artificially lowered.

A 2010 study cited in the suit — conducted by professors at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Minnesota — indicated that Libor was significantly lower than it should have been throughout 2008 and was particularly skewed around the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

A separate complaint filed in 2010 by the investment firm Charles Schwab asserts that some of its mutual funds, including popular ones like the Schwab Total Bond Market Fund, lost money on similar investments.

The complaints being voiced by municipalities are mostly related to their use of a popular financial contract known as an interest rate swap. States and cities generally enter into these swaps with specific banks so that they can borrow money in the bond market. They pay bondholders based on a floating interest rate — like an adjustable-rate mortgage — but end up paying their bankers a fixed rate through a swap. If Libor is artificially lowered, the municipality is stuck paying the same fixed rate, but it receives a smaller variable payment from its bank.

Even before the current controversy, some municipal activists have said that banks took advantage of the financial inexperience of municipal officials to sell them billions of dollars of interest rate swaps. Experts in municipal finance say that because of the particular way that cities and states borrow money, they are especially liable to lose out on their swaps if Libor drops.

Mr. Shapiro, who helps cities, states and companies negotiate these contracts, said that if a city had interest rate swaps on bonds worth $1 billion and Libor was artificially pushed down by 0.30 percent, which is what the lawsuits contend, that city would have lost $3 million a year. The lawsuit claims the manipulation occurred over three years. Barclays’ settlement with regulators did not specify how much the banks’ actions may have moved Libor.

In Nassau County, the comptroller, George Maragos, said in a statement that according to his own calculations, Libor manipulation may have cost the county $13 million on swaps related to $600 million of outstanding bonds.

A Massachusetts state official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of potential future legal actions, said the state was calculating its potential losses.

“We are deeply concerned and we are carefully analyzing all of our options,” the official said.

Anne Simpson, a portfolio manager at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System — the nation’s largest pension fund — said that the fund’s officials “are sifting through the impact, but there certainly is an impact.”

In Baltimore, the city had Libor-based interest rate swaps on about $550 million of bonds, according to the city’s financial report from 2008, the central year discussed in the lawsuit. The city’s lawyers have declined to specify what they think Baltimore’s losses were.

The city solicitor, George Nilson, said that the rate manipulation claims meant that the city lost out on money when it needed it the most.

“The injury we suffered during the time we suffered it hurt more because we were challenged budgetarily,” Mr. Nilson said. “Every dollar we lost due to illegal conduct was a dollar we couldn’t pay to keep open recreation centers or to pay police officers.”


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Simon Johnson on Business Model of Lie More

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Editor’s Comment:  

Anyone who is curious why I named this blog LivingLies will have all their questions answered by this well-articulated article by Simon Johnson, Chief economist of the World Bank, author of 13 Bankers, and the main writer for http://www.baseline scenario.com. Johnson is first among the world of economists who instantly knew the severity of the culture of lying and deception at the TBTF banks. He is joined in these views by the Financial Times, normally rabidly pro-bank and no less than the Governor of the Bank of England who apparently coined the phrase “Lie More” to replace what was the only index that mattered in the world of finance and bond trading.

The consequences of this culture of lying will be laid bare in the weeks and months and years to come. But as Johnson points out, the days are over when anyone trusts a bank or bank statement. Representations of bank officials once considered as good as gold or what used to be called good as Libor, are now going to be subject of scrutiny and will no doubt reveal a pattern of deceit even deeper than thes we already know about the mortgage meltdown and the trading scam resulting from intentionally manipulating Libor — the gold standard of all indexes.

Lie-More As A Business Model

By Simon Johnson

On Monday, Bob Diamond – the CEO of Barclays, one of the largest banks in the world – was supposedly the indispensable man, with his supporters claiming he was the only person who could see that global megabank through a growing scandal.  On Tuesday morning Mr. Diamond resigned and the stock market barely blinked – in fact, Barclays’ stock was up 0.3 percent.  As Charles de Gaulle supposedly remarked, “the cemeteries are full of indispensable men.”

Mr. Diamond’s fall was spectacular and complete.  It was also entirely appropriate.

Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets – a financial reform advocacy group – summarized the situation nicely in an interview with the BBC World Service on Tuesday.  The controversy that brought down Mr. Diamond had to do with deliberate and now acknowledged deception by Barclays’ staff with regard to the data they reported for Libor – the London Interbank Offered Rate (with the abbreviation pronounced Lie-Bore).  Mr. Kelleher was blunt: the issue in question is “Lie More” not Libor.  (See also this post on his blog, making the point that this impacts credit transactions with a face value of at least $800 trillion.)

Mr. Kelleher’s words may seem harsh, but they are exactly in line with the recently articulated editorial position of the Financial Times (FT) – not a publication that is generally hostile to the banking sector.  In a scathing editorial last weekend (“Shaming the banks into better ways,” June 28th), the typically nuanced FT editorial writers blasted behavior at Barclays and nailed the broader issue in what it called “a long-running confidence trick”:

“The Barclays affair may lack the spice of some recent banking scandals, involving as it does the rather dry “crime” of misreporting interest rates.  But few have shone such an unsparing light on the rotten heart of the financial system.”

The editorial was exactly right with regard to the cultural problem – within that Barclays it had become acceptable or perhaps even encouraged to provide false information.  It underemphasized, however, the importance of incentives in creating that culture.  The employees of Barclays were doing what they were paid to do – and the latest indications from the company are that none of their bonuses will now be “clawed back”.

Martin Wolf, senior economics columnist at the FT and formerly a member of the UK’s Independent Banking Commission, sees to the core issue:

“banks, as presently constituted and managed, cannot be trusted to perform any publicly important function, against the perceived interests of their staff. Today’s banks represent the incarnation of profit-seeking behaviour taken to its logical limits, in which the only question asked by senior staff is not what is their duty or their responsibility, but what can they get away with.”

This matters because, “Trust is not an optional extra in banking, it is, as the salience of the word “credit” to this industry implies, of the essence.”

As the FT editorial put it, “The bankers involved have betrayed an important public trust – that of keeping an accurate public record of the key market rates that are used to value contracts worth trillions of dollars”.

In the words of Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, “the idea that my word is my Libor is dead.”  Translation: No one will believe large banks again when their executives claim they could have borrowed at a particular interest rate – we will need to see actual transaction data, i.e., what they actually paid.  Presumably there should be similar skepticism about other claims made by global megabanks, including whenever they plead that this or that financial reform – limiting their ability to take excessive risk and impose inordinate costs on society – will bring the economy to its knees.  It is all special pleading of one or another, mostly intended to rip off customers or taxpayers or, ideally perhaps, both.

Mr. Kelleher has the economics exactly right.  Global megabanks have an incentive to deceive customers, including both individuals and nonfinancial corporations.  Their size confers both market power and the political power needed to conceal the extent to which they are engage in economic fraud.  The lack of transparency in derivatives markets provides them with an opportunity to cheat, but the abuses are much wider – as the Libor scandal demonstrates.

The rip-off is not just for retail investors; chief financial officers of major corporations who should be up in arms.  Boards of directors and shareholders of companies that buy services from big banks should be asking much harder questions about all kinds of derivatives transactions – and who exactly is served by the terms of such agreements.

As Mr. Kelleher puts it on his blog,

“They like to call themselves “banks,” but they aren’t banks in any traditional sense. They are global behemoths that are not just too-big-to-fail, but also too-big-to-regulate and too-big-to-manage. Take JP Morgan Chase for example. It has a $2.35 trillion balance sheet, more than 270,000 employees worldwide, thousands of legal entities, 554 subsidiaries and, as proved by the recent trading losses in London, a CEO, CFO and management team that has no idea what is going on in their own bank.”

“Let’s hope for the sake of the global financial system, the global economy and taxpayers worldwide that Mr. Diamond’s resignation is the first of many. What is needed is a clean sweep of the executive offices of these too-big-to-fail banks, which are still being governed by the same business model as before the crisis: do whatever they can get away with to get the biggest paychecks as possible. (Remember, CEO Diamond paid himself 20 million pounds last year and was the UK banking leader insisting that everyone stop picking on the banks.)

Lie-more is just the latest example of why that all has to change and the sooner the better”


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Cities, Counties Realize They Have Common Interests With Homeowners

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One More Windfall for the Banks

Editor’s Comment:  

If it is any comfort, the chief financial officers and treasury management officers of cities and counties are starting to realize that they are victims of the banks and that most of these bankruptcies (Stockton CA for example) or near bankruptcy were completely avoidable. Their complaints are sounding more and more like the complaints of homeowners. And they are both right. Those debts should not be paid at all until the amount of the debt can be ascertained in real dollars and the identity of the actual losing party — whether they are defined as creditor or not —- can be ascertained. I don’t think any of the cities, counties or the homeowners and businesses whose debts were subject to false claims of securitization should pay anything to anyone until the governments and law enforcement figures it out. 

The federal government is the only one with the resources to go through all the data  and come up with at least an approximation of the truth of the path of the money. The Courts, Judges and Lawyers are woefully under-resourced to take this mess apart. The only reason that Too Big to Fail is believed by anyone is that nobody fully understands the consequences and actual money impact of the false cloud of derivatives created by the banks exceeding all the money in the word by a wide margin. We have let the Banks minimize the actual currency in favor of looking at a cloud of illusions created by the banks which they and only they want treated as real. We will find the same things operating on student loans where the intermediated banks actually never funded the loans but claim a guarantee from the Federal government. 

These debts should fall squarely on the banks, whether they fail or not, until we get a real accounting of the real transactions in which real money exchanged hands. And that is the mantra of my seminars for lawyers, paralegals, homeowners, city and county officials coming up at the end of this month as I travel through Phoenix, Stockton,  Anaheim etc. 

There is no possibility that  actual debt is $800 Trillion because all the money we have in the world amounts to only $70 trillion. So the loans were part of a chaotic, complex series of dots on a scatter diagram wherein all the data was an illusion except perhaps one of the hundreds of dots on each loan, bond or mortgage. And they certainly were not secured because the terms of repayment and the amount of the loan were off from the beginning as was the index from which they took data to change the so-called payments dude on loans that perhaps never existed but certainly do not exist now. 

The door that opened just a crack has been the Libor rate scandal in which the banks, led by Barclay’s, set interest rates based upon actual and perceived movement of interest rates in the markets. As in other things, these rates were as bogus, since 2008 as the Triple AAA ratings offered to investors in Mortgage-Backed Bonds and the appraisals offered to homeowners. 

City and County officials, once completely blind to the realities of the situation and skeptical of homeowner claims that the mortgages, foreclosures and auctions were rigged, are now realizing that their loans, interest rates, and terms were rigged just like homeowners’ were and that the trap they supposedly are in is an illusion just like the premises upon which Wall Street convinced them (city and County officials) that these loan products were viable and correct implementation of sound fiscal policy.

It wasn’t sound fiscal policy, they weren’t good loans and had the officials actually understood what Wall Street was doing —- creating false demands for services and infrastructure as well as complex financial products that were doomed from the start, they would never have gone ahead with these bonds or loans. Now the whole municipal market is as screwed up as the mortgage and housing markets and we know the banks are to blame because they have already admitted everything necessary to blame them. 

Besides prosecuting claims against the banks for civil and criminal penalties, everyone needs to contemplate the consequences of the status quo and whether they want to change it. One such game changer is eminent domain takeovers of  those toxic mortgages that “seemed right at the time.” But more than that, the cities and counties must look to experts who understand the derivative market (as well as anyone can) and realize that their debt, like everyone else’s debt is an illusion created in the cloud of credit derivatives now estimated at $800 trillion while the total amount of real credit and currency is only $70 trillion. 

Like Homeowners, they must realize that while they borrowed the money, the loan or liability created by the loan or bond was an illusion already paid in full at the time they incurred the obligation. That seems impossible but so does the news on these subjects as one digs deeper and deeper. The banks collected up all the money made under these circumstances and gave their people bonuses amounting to 50% of the profit of each financial institution. Inside that “profit”were trading profits claims by trading fake paper claimed to be owned by the banks while the paper was in the cloud of derivatives that is 10-12 times all the money in the world. 

That debt has long since been paid in full. The only question remaining is whether we can identify the actual people who have lost actual money and what we are going to do for them. But paying the banks on the loan or bonds is certainly not one of the alternatives that should be considered because, like the bailout, it just gives them one more windfall.

Rate Scandal Stirs Scramble for Damages

As unemployment climbed and tax revenue fell, the city of Baltimore laid off employees and cut services in the midst of the financial crisis. Its leaders now say the city’s troubles were aggravated by bankers’ manipulation of a key interest rate linked to hundreds of millions of dollars the city had borrowed.

Baltimore has been leading a battle in Manhattan federal court against the banks that determine the interest rate, the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, which serves as a benchmark for global borrowing and stands at the center of the latest banking scandal. Now cities, states and municipal agencies nationwide, including Massachusetts, Nassau County on Long Island, and California’s public pension system, are looking at whether they suffered similar losses and are weighing legal action.

Dozens of lawsuits filed by municipalities, pension funds and hedge funds have been consolidated into a few related cases against more than a dozen banks that are involved in setting Libor each day, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank and Barclays. Last month, Barclays admitted to regulators that it tried to manipulate Libor before and during the financial crisis in 2008, and paid $450 million to settle the charges. It said other banks were doing the same, but none of them have been accused of wrongdoing.

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