Everything Built on Myth Eventually Fails

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Editor’s Comment:

The good news is that the myth of Jamie Dimon’s infallaibility is at least called into question. Perhaps better news is that, as pointed out by Simon Johnson’s article below, the mega banks are not only Too Big to Fail, they are Too Big to Manage, which leads to the question, of why it has taken this long for Congress and the Obama administration to conclude that these Banks are Too Big to Regulate. So the answer, now introduced by Senator Brown, is to make the banks smaller and  put caps on them as to what they can and cannot do with their risk management.

But the real question that will come to fore is whether lawmakers in Dimon’s pocket will start feeling a bit squeamish about doing whatever Dimon asks. He is now becoming a political and financial liability. The $2.3 billion loss (and still counting) that has been reported seems to be traced to the improper trading in credit default swaps, an old enemy of ours from the mortgage battle that continues to rage throughout the land.  The problem is that the JPM people came to believe in their own myth which is sometimes referred to as sucking on your own exhaust. They obviously felt that their “risk management” was impregnable because in the end Jamie would save the day.

This time, Jamie can’t turn to investors to dump the loss on, thus drying up liquidity all over the world. This time he can’t go to government for a bailout, and this time the traction to bring the mega banks under control is getting larger. The last vote received only 33 votes from the Senate floor, indicating that Dimon and the wall Street lobby had control of 2/3 of the senate. So let ius bask in the possibility that this is the the beginning of the end for the mega banks, whose balance sheets, business practices and public announcements have all been based upon lies and half truths.

This time the regulators are being forced by public opinion to actually peak under the hood and see what is going on there. And what they will find is that the assets booked on the balance sheet of Dimon’s monolith are largely fictitious. This time the regulators must look at what assets were presented to the Federal Reserve window in exchange for interest free loans. The narrative is shifting from the “free house” myth to the reality of free money. And that will lead to the question of who is the creditor in each of the transactions in which a mortgage loan is said to exist.

Those mortgage loans are thought to exist because of a number of incorrect presumptions. One of them is that the obligation remains unpaid and is secured. Neither is true. Some loans might still have a balance due but even they have had their balances reduced by the receipt of insurance proceeds and the payoff from credit default swaps and other credit enhancements, not to speak of the taxpayer bailout.

This money was diverted from investor lenders who were entitled to that money because their contracts and the representations inducing them to purchase bogus mortgage bonds, stated that the investment was investment grade (Triple A) and because they thought they were insured several times over. It is true that the insurance was several layers thick and it is equally true that the insurance payoff covered most if not all the balances of all the mortgages that were funded between 1996 and the present. The investor lenders should have received at least enough of that money to make them whole — i.e., all principal and interest as promissed.

Instead the Banks did the unthinkable and that is what is about to come to light. They kept the money for themselves and then claimed the loss of investors on the toxic loans and tranches that were created in pools of money and mortgages — pools that in fact never came into existence, leaving the investors with a loose partnership with other investors, no manager, and no accounting. Every creditor is entitled to payment in full — ONCE, not multiple times unless they have separate contracts (bets) with parties other than the borrower. In this case, with the money received by the investment banks diverted from the investors, the creditors thought they had a loss when in fact they had a claim against deep pocket mega banks to receive their share of the proceeds of insurance, CDS payoffs and taxpayer bailouts.

What the banks were banking on was the stupidity of government regulators and the stupidity of the American public. But it wasn’t stupidity. it was ignorance of the intentional flipping of mortgage lending onto its head, resulting in loan portfolios whose main characteristic was that they would fail. And fail they did because the investment banks “declared” through the Master servicer that they had failed regardless of whether people were making payments on their mortgage loans or not. But the only parties with an actual receivable wherein they were expecting to be paid in real money were the investor lenders.

Had the investor lenders received the money that was taken by their agents, they would have been required to reduce the balances due from borrowers. Any other position would negate their claim to status as a REMIC. But the banks and servicers take the position that there exists an entitlement to get paid in full on the loan AND to take the house because the payment didn’t come from the borrower.

This reduction in the balance owed from borrowers would in and of itself have resulted in the equivalent of “principal reduction” which in many cases was to zero and quite possibly resulting in a claim against the participants in the securitization chain for all of the ill-gotten gains. remember that the Truth In Lending Law states unequivocally that the undisclosed profits and compensation of ANYONE involved in the origination of the loan must be paid, with interest to the borrower. Crazy you say? Is it any crazier than the banks getting $15 million for a $300,000 loan. Somebody needs to win here and I see no reason why it should be the megabanks who created, incited, encouraged and covered up outright fraud on investor lenders and homeowner borrowers.

Making Banks Small Enough And Simple Enough To Fail

By Simon Johnson

Almost exactly two years ago, at the height of the Senate debate on financial reform, a serious attempt was made to impose a binding size constraint on our largest banks. That effort – sometimes referred to as the Brown-Kaufman amendment – received the support of 33 senators and failed on the floor of the Senate. (Here is some of my Economix coverage from the time.)

On Wednesday, Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair and Efficient Banking Act, or SAFE, which would force the largest four banks in the country to shrink. (Details of this proposal, similar in name to the original Brown-Kaufman plan, are in this briefing memo for a Senate banking subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, available through Politico; see also these press release materials).

His proposal, while not likely to immediately become law, is garnering support from across the political spectrum – and more support than essentially the same ideas received two years ago.  This week’s debacle at JP Morgan only strengthens the case for this kind of legislative action in the near future.

The proposition is simple: Too-big-to-fail banks should be made smaller, and preferably small enough to fail without causing global panic. This idea had been gathering momentum since the fall of 2008 and, while the Brown-Kaufman amendment originated on the Democratic side, support was beginning to appear across the aisle. But big banks and the Treasury Department both opposed it, parliamentary maneuvers ensured there was little real debate. (For a compelling account of how the financial lobby works, both in general and in this instance, look for an upcoming book by Jeff Connaughton, former chief of staff to former Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware.)

The issue has not gone away. And while the financial sector has pushed back with some success against various components of the Dodd-Frank reform legislation, the idea of breaking up very large banks has gained momentum.

In particular, informed sentiment has shifted against continuing to allow very large banks to operate in their current highly leveraged form, with a great deal of debt and very little equity.  There is increasing recognition of the massive and unfair costs that these structures impose on the rest of the economy.  The implicit subsidies provided to “too big to fail” companies allow them to boost compensation over the cycle by hundreds of millions of dollars.  But the costs imposed on the rest of us are in the trillions of dollars.  This is a monstrously unfair and inefficient system – and sensible public figures are increasingly pointing this out (including Jamie Dimon, however inadvertently).

American Banker, a leading trade publication, recently posted a slide show, “Who Wants to Break Up the Big Banks?” Its gallery included people from across the political spectrum, with a great deal of financial sector and public policy experience, along with quotations that appear to support either Senator Brown’s approach or a similar shift in philosophy with regard to big banks in the United States. (The slide show is available only to subscribers.)

According to American Banker, we now have in the “break up the banks” corner (in order of appearance in that feature): Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; Sheila Bair, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Tom Hoenig, a board member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City; Jon Huntsman, former Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Utah; Senator Brown; Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England; Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont; and Camden Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America. (I am also on the American Banker list).

Anat Admati of Stanford and her colleagues have led the push for much higher capital requirements – emphasizing the particular dangers around allowing our largest banks to operate in their current highly leveraged fashion. This position has also been gaining support in the policy and media mainstream, most recently in the form of a powerful Bloomberg View editorial.

(You can follow her work and related discussion on this Web site; on twitter she is @anatadmati.)

Senator Brown’s legislation reflects also the idea that banks should fund themselves more with equity and less with debt. Professor Admati and I submitted a letter of support, together with 11 colleagues whose expertise spans almost all dimensions of how the financial sector really operates.

We particularly stress the appeal of having a binding “leverage ratio” for the largest banks. This would require them to have at least 10 percent equity relative to their total assets, using a simple measure of assets not adjusted for any of the complicated “risk weights” that banks can game.

We also agree with the SAFE Banking Act that to limit the risk and potential cost to taxpayers, caps on the size of an individual bank’s liabilities relative to the economy can also serve a useful role (and the same kind of rule should apply to non-bank financial institutions).

Under the proposed law, no bank-holding company could have more than $1.3 trillion in total liabilities (i.e., that would be the maximum size). This would affect our largest banks, which are $2 trillion or more in total size, but in no way undermine their global competitiveness. This is a moderate and entirely reasonable proposal.

No one is suggesting that making JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo smaller would be sufficient to ensure financial stability.

But this idea continues to gain traction, as a measure complementary to further strengthening and simplifying capital requirements and generally in support of other efforts to make it easier to handle the failure of financial institutions.

Watch for the SAFE Banking Act to gain further support over time.

“Keep your fingers crossed but I think we will price this just before the market falls off a cliff,” a Deutsche Bank manager wrote in February 2007

Internal emails indicate Deutsche Bank knew they were bankrolling toxic mortgages by Ameriquest and others

Internal emails indicate Deutsche Bank knew they were bankrolling toxic mortgages by Ameriquest and others

iWatch

In 2007, the report says, Deutsche Bank rushed to sell off mortgage-backed investments amid worries that the market for subprime loans was deteriorating.

“Keep your fingers crossed but I think we will price this just before the market falls off a cliff,” a Deutsche Bank manager wrote in February 2007 about a deal stocked with securities created from raw material produced by Ameriquest and other subprime lenders.

Deutsche Bank Analyst: Overpay For Our Assets, Or You’ll Regret It

By Zachary Roth – February 12, 2009, 3:49PM

For a while now, it’s seemed like Wall Street’s message to government has been: We screwed up. But if you don’t rescue us on our terms, you’re all gonna be in trouble.

But you don’t usually see that expressed quite as clearly as it was in a research memo sent out yesterday by a senior Deutsche Bank analyst, and obtained by TPMmuckraker.

In the memo — one of Deutsche’s daily “Economic Notes” sent out to the firm’s clients, and to some members of the press — Joseph LaVorgna, the bank’s chief US economist, essentially, appears to warn that if the government doesn’t pay high prices for the toxic assets on the books of Deutsche and other big firms, there will be massive consequences for the US economy.

Writes LaVorgna:

One main stumbling block to the purchasing of troubled assets has been pricing, specifically how does the government price a diverse set of assets in a way that does not put the taxpayer on the hook. However, this should not be the standard by which we judge the efficacy of the plan, because a more prolonged deterioration in the
economy will result in a higher terminal unemployment rate and a greater deterioration of the tax base. As such, the decline in tax revenues will crimp many of the essential services provided by the government. Ultimately, the taxpayer will pay one way or another, either through greatly diminished job prospects and/or significantly higher taxes down the line to pay for the massive debt issuance required to fund current and prospective fiscal spending initiatives.

We think the government should do the following: estimate the highest price it can pay for the various toxic assets residing on financial institution balance sheets which would still return the principal to taxpayers.

One leading economist described the memo to TPMmuckraker as a “ransom note” to the US government. And David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors, who writes such research memos for his own clients, acknowledged that the memo, like all such communications, could be interpreted as an attempt to influence policy-makers.

Still, seeing the memo as a threat to the government to drive the softest of bargains wouldn’t be entirely fair. Kotok that cautioned that the effects of a single analyst’s memo are limited: “Joe LaVorgna doesn’t have enough clout to hold the US government hostage.”

LaVorgna himself was blunt: “I don’t write editorials,” he told TPMmuckraker.

At the very least, the memo can be seen as a frank statement of position from the chief economist of a major bank: if the government doesn’t cave and buy up all the banks’ toxic assets at inflated prices, the country will suffer.

Nice fix we’ve got ourselves into.


FEDERAL NOTARY BILL ATTEMPTS TO GRANT FULL PARDON TO LENDER, NOTARIES, WITNESSES

FULL TEXT OF BILL

PRESIDENT OBAMA has headed for his desk a bill that would ratify the illegal practices revealed for the past three years on this blog and for the past three weeks and mainstream media. He might just as well issue Robo signed presidential pardons for the thousands of people involved in defrauding homeowners, investors and the entire judicial system. Send him a letter and tell him not to sign it.

Under the guise of simply reflecting changes in technology, the bill would force state and federal courts to recognize and accept the notarization from another state. This would be true even if the notary signed in blank. It would be true even if the witnesses were not present despite the recitation to the contrary signed by the notary. It would be true even if the main person signing the alleged document was not the person named as having signed the alleged document. It would be true even if the main person signing the alleged document was not present or identified by the notary. In other words under this new bill passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, both essentially bought and paid for by the financial services industry, all of the illegal, improper and criminal acts performed by the “lenders” (mainstream media insists on using this term even though it is not true) would be made legal. That sounds like a pardon to me, how about you?

If Pres. Obama signs this bill it will become law. At that point, more than half of the meritorious defenses of borrowers (homeowners) or petitioners in bankruptcy courts will go down the drain. The fact that this bill even got introduced without the mainstream media taking note is not really surprising considering the fact that mainstream media has failed to grasp the true  scope of this fraud which began with the first sale of a fake mortgage bond to an investor. A fake financial services product was marketed to investors who believed they were lenders and to homeowners who believed they were borrowers, both of whom were mere pawns in the Wall Street game. In fact they supplied the only two ingredients that Wall Street wanted —money from the lenders and a signature from the homeowners. The nature of the document was immaterial. Now that the foreclosures are obviously fake, lawmakers responsive to the demands of the financial services industry have quietly passed a bill in both houses of Congress that would allow the fraud to be ratified and the perpetrators to escape any accountability whatsoever.

If Pres. Obama signs this bill he will be condemning the victims of this fraud to bear the full cost of the losses. If Pres. Obama signs this bill he will be awarding the perpetrators of this fraud all of their winnings. In case anybody hasn’t been looking, another development which has been ignored by our mainstream media is that countries around the world are looking for an alternative reserve currency to replace the once almighty US dollar. The reason they are looking is because they no longer have confidence in a system that produced a Wall Street scheme which in essence depreciated the value and viability of currencies and economies all over the world.

If Pres. Obama signs this bill he will be giving a signal to the world that the United States will be more vigilant, more sophisticated and much more involved in enforcement of laws, rules and regulations already existing in the marketplace and upon which all investors, lenders, homeowners, borrowers and foreign governments had placed reasonable reliance and suffered to their detriment. The loss of our status as the issuer of the world’s reserve currency will have profound consequences on our nation, our citizens, our businesses, and the prospects for generations of Americans yet unborn.

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