Goldman Sachs’ Global Coup D’etat
by Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks / 27 November 2012

When the people of Greece saw their democratically elected Prime Minister George Papandreou forced out of office in November of 2011 and replaced by an unelected Conservative technocrat, Lucas Papademos, most were unaware of the bigger picture of what was happening all around them. Similarly, most of us in the United States were equally as ignorant when, in 2008, despite the switchboards at the US Capitol collapsing under the volume of phone calls from constituents urging a “no” vote, our elected representatives voted “yes” at the behest of Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen and jammed through the biggest bailout of Wall Street in our nation’s history. But now, as the Bank of England, a key player in the ongoing Eurozone crisis,announces that former investment banker Mark Carney will be its new chief, we can’t afford to ignore what’s happening around the world. Steadily – and stealthily – Goldman Sachs is carrying out a global coup d’etat.

There’s one tie that binds Lucas Papademos in Greece, Henry Paulsen in the United States, and Mark Carney in the U.K., and that’s Goldman Sachs. All were former bankers and executives at the Wall Street giant, all assumed prominent positions of power, and all played a hand after the global financial meltdown of 2007-08, thus making sure Goldman Sachs weathered the storm and made significant profits in the process. But that’s just scratching the surface. As Europe descends into an austerity-induced economic crisis, Goldman Sachs’s people are managing the demise of the continent. As the British newspaper The Independent reported earlier this year, the Conservative technocrats currently steering or who have steered post-crash fiscal policy in Greece, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, and now the UK, all hail from Goldman Sachs. In fact, the head of the European Central Bank itself, Mario Draghi, was the former managing director of Goldman Sachs International.

And here in the United States, after Treasury Secretary and former Goldman CEO Henry Paulsen did his job in 2008 securing Goldman’s multi-billion dollar bailout, he was replaced in the new Obama administration with Tim Geithner who worked very closely with Goldman Sachs as head of the New York Fed and made sure Goldman received more than $14 billion from the bailout of failed insurance giant AIG.

What’s happening here goes back more than a decade. In 2001, Goldman Sachs secretly helped Greece hide billions of dollars through the use of complex financial instruments like credit default swaps. This allowed Greece to meet the baseline requirements to enter the Eurozone in the first place. But it also created a debt bubble that would later explode and bring about the current economic crisis that’s drowning the entire continent. But, always looking ahead, Goldman protected itself from this debt bubble by betting against Greek bonds, expecting that they would eventually fail. Ironically, the man who headed up the Central Bank of Greece while this deal was being arranged with Goldman was – drumroll please – Lucas Papademos.

Goldman made similar deals here in the United States, masking the true value of investments, then selling those worthless investments to customers while placing bets that those same investments would eventually fail. The most notorious example was the “Timberwolf” deal, which brought down an Australian hedge fund, and which Goldman Sachs banksters emailed each other about, bragging, “Boy, that Timberwolf was one shitty deal.” This sort of behavior by Goldman helped inflate, and then eventually pop, the housing bubble in the United States. The shockwave then ran across the Atlantic, hitting Europe and turning Goldman’s debt-masking deal with Greece years earlier sour, thus deepening the crisis.

All of these antics should have brought about the demise of Goldman as well, but with their alumni in key policy positions on both sides of the Atlantic, Goldman not only survived, it flourished. As the DailyKos sums up, “The normal scenario usually involves helping a nation hide a problem and sell its debt until the problem blows up into a bubble that bursts in a spectacular way…Goldman Sachs then puts their ‘man’ into a position of power to direct the bailouts so that Goldman gets all its money back and more, while the nation’s economy gets gutted.”

For years, tinfoil hat crazies who’ve bookmarked Glenn Beck’s websites and often appear as “experts” on Fox so-called News have warned us about a one-world government (herehere, and here). The latest threat, according to them, is Agenda 21and the creation of a Soviet-style world authority that will confiscate private party everywhere, redistribute wealth to developing nations, and force us all to live by new global laws that sacrifice our national sovereignty. It’s totalitarian governments and not transnational corporations that we should be afraid of, they warn. But when the tinfoil hat is removed, you can see that a sort of one-world government has already been established in a far more subtle form, through the rise of Goldman Sachs and their colleagues in the Wall Street elite. A million questions arise when looking at what’s happening around the world. But many of these questions can be answered, once it’s acknowledged that Goldman Sachs alumni have executed a global coup d’etat.

Why are the working people of Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy suffering under austerity and being asked to sacrifice their pensions, their wages, and their jobs when, after five years, it’s clear these policies are only making these nations’ debts even harder to pay off? It’s because Goldman Sachs is sucking the last remaining wealth out of those nations to recoup whatever failed investments they made before the Crash. Why have thousands of homeowners in the United States turned to suicide, domestic violence, and even mass murder when faced with home foreclosure, when a simple solution like re-writing mortgages, which FDR did successfully during the Great Depression, could put an end to the bloodshed and misery?

It’s because re-writing mortgages would force banks like Goldman Sachs to take a hit. And thanks to the game they’ve created, they actually make more money when a home they own is foreclosed on. Why, despite mountains of evidence, have banksters at Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street institutions not been thrown in jail for defrauding customers, manipulating LIBOR interest rates, and throwing thousands of Americans out of their homes illegally in a massive robo-signing scandal? It’s because we have a two-tiered justice system in which those in power, like Goldman Sachs executives, get a slap on the wrist when they steal $50 billion, but people like you and me go to jail for stealing a 7-11 Slurpee. Now does it make sense why Wall Street was bailed out and Main Street was sold out?

In this post-crash world, where agents of Goldman Sachs have infiltrated key positions of power all around the world, we must all fundamentally re-understand how we view the global economy and just how much effect our democratic institutions have on this economy. We no longer have an economy geared to benefit working people around the world; we have an economy that’s geared to exploit working people for Goldman Sachs’ profits. Trader Alessio Rastani told the BBC in September before Goldman’s Lucas Papademos was installed as Greece’s Prime Minister, “We don’t really care about having a fixed economy, having a fixed situation, our job is to make money from it…Personally, I’ve been dreaming of this moment for three years. I go to bed every night and I dream of another recession.” Rastani continued, “When the market crashes… if you know what to do, if you have the right plan set up, you can make a lot of money from this.” And as we’ve seen over the last decade, Goldman Sachs knows exactly what to do. They’ve had the right plan set-up, and it’s nothing short of a global coup d’etat. As Rastani bluntly told the BBC, “This is not a time right now for wishful thinking that governments are going to sort things out. The governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world.”


“Far more importantly, Carney was a 13 year veteran of Goldman Sachs, most recently and very appropriately co-head of sovereign risk, which is ironic considering that Goldman had a grand rehearsal for the Greek currency swaps fiasco precisely with Carney at the helm in 1998, when Goldman got into hot water for the first time because while the company was advising Russia it was simultaneously betting against the country‘s ability to repay its debt.”



by Stephan Foley / 18 November 2011

The ascension of Mario Monti to the Italian prime ministership is remarkable for more reasons than it is possible to count. By replacing the scandal-surfing Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has dislodged the undislodgeable. By imposing rule by unelected technocrats, it has suspended the normal rules of democracy, and maybe democracy itself. And by putting a senior adviser at Goldman Sachs in charge of a Western nation, it has taken to new heights the political power of an investment bank that you might have thought was prohibitively politically toxic. This is the most remarkable thing of all: a giant leap forward for, or perhaps even the successful culmination of, the Goldman Sachs Project.

It is not just Mr Monti. The European Central Bank, another crucial player in the sovereign debt drama, is under ex-Goldman management, and the investment bank’s alumni hold sway in the corridors of power in almost every European nation, as they have done in the US throughout the financial crisis. Until Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund’s European division was also run by a Goldman man, Antonio Borges, who just resigned for personal reasons. Even before the upheaval in Italy, there was no sign of Goldman Sachs living down its nickname as “the Vampire Squid”, and now that its tentacles reach to the top of the eurozone, sceptical voices are raising questions over its influence. The political decisions taken in the coming weeks will determine if the eurozone can and will pay its debts – and Goldman’s interests are intricately tied up with the answer to that question.

Simon Johnson, the former International Monetary Fund economist, in his book 13 Bankers, argued that Goldman Sachs and the other large banks had become so close to government in the run-up to the financial crisis that the US was effectively an oligarchy. At least European politicians aren’t “bought and paid for” by corporations, as in the US, he says. “Instead what you have in Europe is a shared world-view among the policy elite and the bankers, a shared set of goals and mutual reinforcement of illusions.”

This is The Goldman Sachs Project. Put simply, it is to hug governments close. Every business wants to advance its interests with the regulators that can stymie them and the politicians who can give them a tax break, but this is no mere lobbying effort. Goldman is there to provide advice for governments and to provide financing, to send its people into public service and to dangle lucrative jobs in front of people coming out of government. The Project is to create such a deep exchange of people and ideas and money that it is impossible to tell the difference between the public interest and the Goldman Sachs interest.

Mr Monti is one of Italy’s most eminent economists, and he spent most of his career in academia and thinktankery, but it was when Mr Berlusconi appointed him to the European Commission in 1995 that Goldman Sachs started to get interested in him. First as commissioner for the internal market, and then especially as commissioner for competition, he has made decisions that could make or break the takeover and merger deals that Goldman’s bankers were working on or providing the funding for. Mr Monti also later chaired the Italian Treasury’s committee on the banking and financial system, which set the country’s financial policies. With these connections, it was natural for Goldman to invite him to join its board of international advisers. The bank’s two dozen-strong international advisers act as informal lobbyists for its interests with the politicians that regulate its work. Other advisers include Otmar Issing who, as a board member of the German Bundesbank and then the European Central Bank, was one of the architects of the euro. Perhaps the most prominent ex-politician inside the bank is Peter Sutherland, Attorney General of Ireland in the 1980s and another former EU Competition Commissioner. He is now non-executive chairman of Goldman’s UK-based broker-dealer arm, Goldman Sachs International, and until its collapse and nationalisation he was also a non-executive director of Royal Bank of Scotland. He has been a prominent voice within Ireland on its bailout by the EU, arguing that the terms of emergency loans should be eased, so as not to exacerbate the country’s financial woes. The EU agreed to cut Ireland’s interest rate this summer.

Picking up well-connected policymakers on their way out of government is only one half of the Project, sending Goldman alumni into government is the other half. Like Mr Monti, Mario Draghi, who took over as President of the ECB on 1 November, has been in and out of government and in and out of Goldman. He was a member of the World Bank and managing director of the Italian Treasury before spending three years as managing director of Goldman Sachs International between 2002 and 2005 – only to return to government as president of the Italian central bank. Mr Draghi has been dogged by controversy over the accounting tricks conducted by Italy and other nations on the eurozone periphery as they tried to squeeze into the single currency a decade ago. By using complex derivatives, Italy and Greece were able to slim down the apparent size of their government debt, which euro rules mandated shouldn’t be above 60 per cent of the size of the economy. And the brains behind several of those derivatives were the men and women of Goldman Sachs.

The bank’s traders created a number of financial deals that allowed Greece to raise money to cut its budget deficit immediately, in return for repayments over time. In one deal, Goldman channelled $1bn of funding to the Greek government in 2002 in a transaction called a cross-currency swap. On the other side of the deal, working in the National Bank of Greece, was Petros Christodoulou, who had begun his career at Goldman, and who has been promoted now to head the office managing government Greek debt. Lucas Papademos, now installed as Prime Minister in Greece’s unity government, was a technocrat running the Central Bank of Greece at the time. Goldman says that the debt reduction achieved by the swaps was negligible in relation to euro rules, but it expressed some regrets over the deals. Gerald Corrigan, a Goldman partner who came to the bank after running the New York branch of the US Federal Reserve, told a UK parliamentary hearing last year: “It is clear with hindsight that the standards of transparency could have been and probably should have been higher.” When the issue was raised at confirmation hearings in the European Parliament for his job at the ECB, Mr Draghi says he wasn’t involved in the swaps deals either at the Treasury or at Goldman.

It has proved impossible to hold the line on Greece, which under the latest EU proposals is effectively going to default on its debt by asking creditors to take a “voluntary” haircut of 50 per cent on its bonds, but the current consensus in the eurozone is that the creditors of bigger nations like Italy and Spain must be paid in full. These creditors, of course, are the continent’s big banks, and it is their health that is the primary concern of policymakers. The combination of austerity measures imposed by the new technocratic governments in Athens and Rome and the leaders of other eurozone countries, such as Ireland, and rescue funds from the IMF and the largely German-backed European Financial Stability Facility, can all be traced to this consensus. “My former colleagues at the IMF are running around trying to justify bailouts of €1.5trn-€4trn, but what does that mean?” says Simon Johnson. “It means bailing out the creditors 100 per cent. It is another bank bailout, like in 2008: The mechanism is different, in that this is happening at the sovereign level not the bank level, but the rationale is the same.” So certain is the financial elite that the banks will be bailed out, that some are placing bet-the-company wagers on just such an outcome. Jon Corzine, a former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, returned to Wall Street last year after almost a decade in politics and took control of a historic firm called MF Global. He placed a $6bn bet with the firm’s money that Italian government bonds will not default. When the bet was revealed last month, clients and trading partners decided it was too risky to do business with MF Global and the firm collapsed within days. It was one of the ten biggest bankruptcies in US history.

The grave danger is that, if Italy stops paying its debts, creditor banks could be made insolvent. Goldman Sachs, which has written over $2trn of insurance, including an undisclosed amount on eurozone countries’ debt, would not escape unharmed, especially if some of the $2trn of insurance it has purchased on that insurance turns out to be with a bank that has gone under. No bank – and especially not the Vampire Squid – can easily untangle its tentacles from the tentacles of its peers. This is the rationale for the bailouts and the austerity, the reason we are getting more Goldman, not less. The alternative is a second financial crisis, a second economic collapse. Shared illusions, perhaps? Who would dare test it?

Mario Monti, Lucas Papademos and Mario Draghi have something in common: they have all worked for the American investment bank. This is not a coincidence, but evidence of a strategy to exert influence that has perhaps already reached its limits.

Our friends from Goldman Sachs…
by Marc Roche / 16 November 2011 / Le Monde

Serious and competent, they weigh up the pros and cons and study all of the documents before giving an opinion. They have a fondness for economics, but these luminaries who enter into the temple only after a long and meticulous recruitment process prefer to remain discreet. Collectively they form an entity that is part pressure group, part fraternal association for the collection of information, and part mutual aid network. They are the craftsmen, masters and grandmasters whose mission is “to spread the truth acquired in the lodge to the rest of the world.” According to its detractors, the European network of influence woven by American bank Goldman Sachs (GS) functions like a freemasonry. To diverse degrees, the new European Central Bank President, Mario Draghi, the newly designated Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Monti, and the freshly appointed Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos are totemic figures in this carefully constructed web.

Heavyweight members figure large in the euro crisis
Draghi was Goldman Sachs International’s vice-chairman for Europe between 2002 and 2005, a position that put him in charge of the the “companies and sovereign” department, which shortly before his arrival, helped Greece to disguise the real nature of its books with a swap on its sovereign debt. Monti was an international adviser to Goldman Sachs from 2005 until his nomination to lead the Italian government. According to the bank, his mission was to provide advice “on European business and major public policy initiatives worldwide”. As such, he was a “door opener” with a brief to defend Goldman’s interest in the corridors of power in Europe. The third man, Lucas Papademos, was the governor of the Greek central bank from 1994 to 2002. In this capacity, he played a role that has yet to be elucidated in the operation to mask debt on his country’s books, perpetrated with assistance from Goldman Sachs. And perhaps more importantly, the current chairman of Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency, Petros Christodoulos, also worked as a trader for the bank in London. Two other heavyweight members of Goldman’s European network have also figured large in the euro crisis: Otmar Issing, a former member of the Bundesbank board of directors and a one-time chief economist of the European Central Bank, and Ireland’s Peter Sutherland, an administrator for Goldman Sachs International, who played a behind the scenes role in the Irish bailout.

Relay exclusive information to the bank’s trading rooms
How was this loyal network of intermediaries created? The US version of this magic circle is composed of former highly placed executives of the bank who effortlessly enter the highest level of the civil service. In Europe, on the other hand, Goldman Sachs has worked to accumulate a capital of relationships. But unlike its competitors, the bank has no interest in retired diplomats, highly placed national and international civil servants, or even former prime ministers and ministers of finance. Goldman’s priority has been to target central bankers and former European commissioners. Its main goal is to legally collect information on initiatives in the near future and on the interest rates set by central banks. At the same time, Goldman likes its agents to remain discreet. That is why its loyal subjects prefer not to mention their filiation in interviews or in the course of official missions. These well-connected former employees simply have to talk about this and that secure in the knowledge that their prestige will inevitably be rewarded with outspoken frankness on the part of those in powerful positions. Put simply they are there to see “which way the wind is blowing,” and thereafter to relay exclusive information to the bank’s trading rooms.

Bid for global dominance
Now that it has a former director at the head of the ECB, a former intermediary leading the Italian government, and another in charge in Greece, the bank’s antagonists are eager to highlight the extraordinary power of its network in in Frankfurt, Rome and Athens, which could prove extremely useful in these turbulent times. But looking beyond these details, the power of Goldman’s European government before and during the financial ordeal of 2008 may well prove to be an obstacle. The relationships maintained by experienced former central bankers are less likely to be useful now that politicians are aware of the unpopularity of finance professionals who are seen to be responsible for the present crisis. Where Goldman Sachs used to be able to exercise its talents, it now has to contend with opposition from public authorities raising questions about a series of scandals. A well stocked address book is no longer sufficient in a complex and highly technical financial world, where a new generation of industry leaders are less likely to be imbued with an unquestioning respect for the establishment. In their bid for global dominance, they no longer need to rely on high finance crusaders in the Goldman mould, while the quest to protect shareholder’s rights, demands for more transparency and active opposition from the media, NGOs, and institutional investors continue to erode the potency of “the network effect.”

{Translated from the French by Mark McGovern}

The giant American investment bank which is accused of helping the Greek state to conceal the real nature of its financial situation while speculating on its debts can count on a remarkable network of advisers with very close links to European leaders, reports Le Monde.

Goldman Sachs, the international web
by Marc Roche / 3 March 2010 / Le Monde

Petros Christodoulou affects not to care about compliments or their source. Ever since he was a teenager, this top-of-the-class student has grown used to hearing his praises sung. Appointed on 19 February to the head of the organization for the management of Greek public debt, he has arrived at the top of the tree. However, the trouble is that the former manager of global markets at the National Bank of Greece (NBG) is at the centre of an inquiry, announced on 25 February by the United States Federal Reserve, on contracts relating to Greek national debt, which link Goldman Sachs and other companies to the government in Athens. The New York based investment bank was paid as a banking advisor to the Greek government while speculating on the Hellenic nation’s sovereign debt. In particular, the American regulator is interested in the role played by Petros Christodoulou, who, in collaboration with Goldman, supervised the creation of the London company Titlos to transfer debt from Greece’s national accounts to the NBG. Before joining the NBG in 1998, Mr Christodoulou had worked as a banker for – you guessed it – Goldman Sachs.

“Government Sachs”
The affair has highlighted the powerful network of influence that Goldman Sachs has maintained in Europe since 1985 – a tightly woven group of underground and high-profile go-betweens and loyal supporters, whose address books open the doors of ministries of finance. These carefully recruited and extraordinarily well-paid advisors understand all the subtleties of the corridors of power within the European Union, and have a direct line to decision makers that they can call during moments of crisis. But who are the members of the European arm of the institution which is so powerful in Washington that it is referred to as “government Sachs”? The key figure is Peter Sutherland, chairman of Goldman Sachs International, the bank’s London-based European subsidiary. The former European commissioner for competition and ex-chairman of BP, is an essential link between the investment bank and the 27 EU member states and Russia. In France, Goldman Sachs benefits from the support of Charles de Croisset, a former chairman of Crédit Commercial de France (CCF), who took over from Jacques Mayoux, a government inspector of finances and former chairman of Société Générale. In the United Kingdom, it can count on Lord Griffiths, who advised former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and in Germany, on Otmar Issing, a one-time board member of the Bundesbank and ex-chief economist of the European Central Bank (ECB).

Discreetly advances its interests
And that is not to mention the many Goldman alumni who go onto hold positions of power, which the bank can count on to advance its position. The best known of these is Mario Draghi, Goldman’s vice-president for Europe between 2001 and 2006, who is the current governor of the Bank of Italy and Chairman of international regulator, the Financial Stability Board. But do not expect to come across former diplomats in the austere corridors of Goldman Sachs International. As an institution with real world interests, the bank prefers to recruit financiers, economists, central bankers, and former highly placed civil servants from international economic organizations, but considers retired ambassadors to be jovial status symbols without any real high-level contacts or business sense. For Goldman Sachs, this network has the advantage of enabling it to discreetly advance its interests. In the Financial Times of 15 February, Otmar Issing published an article voicing his hostility to any attempt by the European Union to rescue Greece. However, he omitted to mention the fact that he has been an international advisor to Goldman Sachs since 2006. Nor did he say that the bank’s traders, who have been speculating against the single European currency, might well lose their shirts if the EU does intervene.

Max Keiser & Catherine Austin Fitts on Goldman Sachs (2009)

The government and the big banks deceived the public about their $7 trillion secret loan program. They should be punished
by Eliot Spitzer  /   Nov. 30, 2011

Imagine you walked into a bank, applied for a personal line of credit, and filled out all the paperwork claiming to have no debts and an income of $200,000 per year. The bank, based on these representations, extended you the line of credit. Then, three years later, after fighting disclosure all the way, you were forced by a court to tell the truth: At the time you made the statements to the bank, you actually were unemployed, you had a $1 million mortgage on your house on which you had failed to make payments for six months, and you hadn’t paid even the minimum on your credit-card bills for three months. Do you think the bank would just say: Never mind, don’t worry about it? Of course not. Whether or not you had paid back the personal line of credit, three FBI agents would be at your door within hours. Yet this is exactly what the major American banks have done to the public. During the deepest, darkest period of the financial cataclysm, the CEOs of major banks maintained in statements to the public, to the market at large, and to their own shareholders that the banks were in good financial shape, didn’t want to take TARP funds, and that the regulatory framework governing our banking system should not be altered. Trust us, they said. Yet, unknown to the public and the Congress, these same banks had been borrowing massive amounts from the government to remain afloat. The total numbers are staggering: $7.7 trillion of credit—one-half of the GDP of the entire nation. $460 billion was lent to J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley alone—without anybody other than a few select officials at the Fed and the Treasury knowing. This was perhaps the single most massive allocation of capital from public to private hands in our history, and nobody was told. This was not TARP: This was secret Fed lending. And although it has since been repaid, it is clear why the banks didn’t want us to know about it: They didn’t want to admit the magnitude of their financial distress.

The banks’ claims of financial stability and solvency appear at a minimum to have been misleading—and may have been worse. Misleading statements and deception of this sort would ordinarily put a small-market player or borrower on the wrong end of a criminal investigation. So where are the inquiries into the false statements made by the bank CEOs? And where are the inquiries about the Fed and Treasury officials who stood by silently as bank representatives made claims that were false, misleading, or worse? Only now, because of superb analysis done by Bloomberg reporters—who litigated against the Fed and the banks for years to get the information—are we getting a full picture of the Fed and Treasury lending. The reporters also calculated that recipient banks and other borrowers benefited by approximately $13 billion simply by taking advantage of the “spread” between their cost of capital in these almost interest-free loans and their ability to lend the capital.

In addition to the secrecy, what is appalling is that these loans were made with no strings attached, no conditions, and no negotiation to achieve any broader public purpose. Even if one accepts the notion that the stability of the financial system could not be sacrificed, those who dispensed trillions of dollars to private parties made no apparent effort to impose even minimal obligations to condition the loans on the structural reforms needed to prevent another crisis, made no effort to require that those responsible for creating the crisis be relieved of their jobs, took zero steps towards the genuine mortgage-reform that is so necessary to begin a process of economic renewal. The dollars lent were simply a free bridge loan so the banks could push onto others the responsibility for the banks’ own risk-taking. If ever there was an event to justify the darkest, most conspiratorial view held by many that the alliance of big money on Wall Street and big government produces nothing but secret deals that profit insiders—this is it.

So what to do? The revelations of the secret loan program may provide the opportunity for Occupy Wall Street to suggest a few concrete steps that would be difficult to oppose.

First: Demand a hearing where the bank executives have to answer questions—under oath—about the actual negotiations, or lack thereof, that led to these loans; about the actual condition of each of the borrowing banks and whether that condition differed from the public statements made by the banks at the time.

Second: Require the recipient banks to use this previously undisclosed gift—the profit they made by investing this almost interest-free money—to write down the value of mortgages of those who are underwater. The loans to the banks were meant to solve a short-term liquidity problem, not be a source of profits to fund bonuses. Take back the profits and put them to apublic use.

Third: Require the government officials responsible for authorizing these loans to explain why there was no effort made to condition these loans on changes in policy that would protect the public going forward.

Fourth: Ask congress to examine every filing and statement made to Congress by the banks about their financial condition and their indebtedness to see if any misrepresentations were made in an effort to hide these trillions of dollars of loans. Misleading Congress can be a felony, and willful deception of the Congress to hide the magnitude of the public bailouts should not go unprosecuted.

Finally: Demand that politicians return all contributions made by the institutions that got hidden loans. Pressure the politicians who continue to feed from the trough of Wall Street, even as they know all too well how the banks and others have gamed the system and the public.

The Fed’s European “Rescue”: Another back-door US Bank / Goldman bailout?
by Nomi Prins /  November 30, 2011

In the wake of chopping its Central Bank swap rates today, the Fed has been called a bunch of names: a hero for slugging the big bailout bat in the ninth inning, and a villain for printing money to help Europe at the expense of the US. Neither depiction is right. The Fed is merely continuing its unfettered brand of bailout-economics, promoted with heightened intensity recently by President Obama and Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner in the wake of Germany not playing bailout-ball.  Recall, a couple years ago, it was a uniquely American brand of BIG bailouts that the Fed adopted in creating $7.7 trillion of bank subsidies that ran the gamut from back-door AIG bailouts (some of which went to US / some to European banks that deal with those same US banks), to the purchasing of mortgage-backed–securities, to near zero-rate loans (for banks). Similarly, today’s move was also about protecting US banks from losses – self inflicted by dangerous derivatives-chain trades, again with each other, and with European banks. Before getting into the timing of the Fed’s god-father actions, let’s discuss its two kinds of swaps (jargon alert – a swap is a trade between two parties for some time period – you swap me a sweater for a hat because I’m cold, when I’m warmer, we’ll swap back). The Fed had both of these kinds of swaps set up and ready-to-go in the form of : dollar liquidity swap lines and foreign currency liquidity swap lines. Both are administered through Wall Street’s staunchest ally, and Tim Geithner’s old stomping ground, the New York Fed.

The dollar swap lines give foreign central banks the ability to borrow dollars against their currency, use them for whatever they want – like to shore up bets made by European banks that went wrong, and at a later date, return them. A ‘temporary dollar liquidity swap arrangement” with 14 foreign central banks was available between December 12, 2007 (several months before Bear Stearn’s collapse and 9 months before the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy that scared Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley into getting the Fed’s instant permission to become bank holding companies, and thus gain access to any Feds subsidies.) Those dollar-swap lines ended on February 1, 2010. BUT – three months later, they were back on, but this time the FOMC re-authorized dollar liquidity swap lines with only 5 central banks through January 2011. BUT – on December 21, 2010 – the FOMC extended the lines through August 1, 2011. THEN– on June 29th, 2011, these lines were extended through August 1, 2012.  AND NOW – though already available, they were announced with save-the-day fanfare as if they were just considered.

Then, there are the sneakily-dubbed “foreign currency liquidity swap” lines, which, as per the Fed’s own words, provide “foreign currency-denominated liquidity to US banks.” (Italics mine.) In other words, let US banks play with foreign bonds. These were originally used with 4 foreign banks on April, 2009  and expired on February 1, 2010. Until they were resurrected today, November 30, 2011, with foreign currency swap arrangements between the Fed, Bank of Canada, Bank of England, Bank of Japan. Swiss National Bank and the European Central Bank. They are to remain in place until February 1, 2013, longer than the original time period for which they were available during phase one of the global bank-led meltdown, the US phase. (For those following my work, we are in phase two of four, the European phase.) That’s a lot  of jargon, but keep these two things in mind: 1) these lines, by the Fed’s own words, are to provide help to US banks. and 2) they are open ended.

There are other reasons that have been thrown up as to why the Fed acted now – like, a European bank was about to fail. But, that rumor was around in the summer and nothing happened. Also, dozens of European banks have been downgraded, and several failed stress tests. Nothing. The Fed didn’t step in when it was just Greece –or Ireland  – or when there were rampant ‘contagion’ fears, and Italian bonds started trading above 7%, rising unabated despite the trick of former Goldman Sachs International advisor Mario Monti replacing former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi’s with his promises of fiscally conservative actions (read: austerity measures) to come. Perhaps at that point, Goldman thought they had it all under control, but Germany’s bailout-resistence was still a thorn, which is why its bonds got hammered in the last auction, proving that big Finance will get what it wants, no matter how dirty it needs to play.  Nothing from the Fed, except a small increase in funding to the IMF. Rating agency Moody’s  announced it was looking at possibly downgrading 87 European banks. Still the Fed waited with open lines. And then, S&P downgraded the US banks again, including Goldman ,making their own financing costs more expensive and the funding of their seismic derivatives positions more tenuous. The Fed found the right moment. Bingo.

Now, consider this: the top four US banks (JPM Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs) control nearly 95% of the US derivatives market, which has grown by 20% since last year to  $235 trillion. That figure is a third of all global derivatives of $707 trillion (up from $601 trillion in December, 2010 and $583 trillion mid-year 2010. )

Breaking that down:  JPM Chase holds 11% of the world’s derivative exposure, Citibank, Bank of America, and Goldman comprise about 7% each. But, Goldman has something the others don’t – a lot fewer assets beneath its derivatives stockpile. It has 537 times as many (from 440 times last year) derivatives as assets. Think of a 537 story skyscraper on a one story see-saw. Goldman has $88 billon in assets, and $48 trillion in notional derivatives exposure. This is by FAR the highest ratio of derivatives to assets of any so-called bank backed by a government. The next highest ratio belongs to Citibank with $1.2 trillion in assets and $56 trillion in derivative exposure, or 46 to 1. JPM Chase’s ratio is 44 to 1. Bank of America’s ratio is 36 to 1. Separately Goldman happened to have lost a lot of money in Foreign Exchange derivative positions last quarter. (See Table 7.) Goldman’s loss was about equal to the total gains of the other banks, indicative of some very contrarian trade going on. In addition, Goldman has the most credit risk with respect to the capital  it holds, by a factor of 3 or 4 to 1 relative to the other big banks. So did the Fed’s timing have something to do with its star bank? We don’t really know for sure.

Sadly, until there’s another FED audit, or FOIA request, we’re not going to know which banks are the beneficiaries of the Fed’s most recent international largesse either, nor will we know what their specific exposures are to each other, or to various European banks, or which trades are going super-badly. But we do know from the US bailouts in phase one of the global meltdown, that providing ‘liquidity’ or ‘greasing the wheels of ‘ banks in times of ‘emergency’ does absolute nothing for the Main Street Economy. Not in the US. And not in Europe. It also doesn’t fix anything, it just funds bad trades with impunity.

As the World Crumbles: the ECB spins, FED smirks, and US Banks Pillage
by Nomi Prins / November 21, 2011

Often, when I troll around websites of entities like the ECB and IMF, I uncover little of startling note. They design it that way. Plus, the pace at which the global financial system can leverage bets, eviscerate capital, and cry for bank bailouts financed through austerity measures far exceeds the reporting timeliness of these bodies. That’s why, on the center of the ECB’s homepage, there’s a series of last week’s rates – and this relic – an interactive Inflation Game (I kid you not)  where in 22 different languages you can play the game of what happens when inflation goes up and down. If you’re feeling more adventurous, there’s also a game called Economia, where you can make up unemployment rates, growth rates and interest rates and see what happens. What you can’t do is see what happens if you bet trillions of dollars against various countries to see how much you can break them, before the ECB, IMF, or Fed (yes, it’ll happen) swoops in to provide “emergency” loans in return for cuts to pension funds, social programs, and national ownership of public assets. You also can’t input real world scenarios, where monetary policy doesn’t mean a thing in the face of  tidal waves of derivatives’ flow. You can’t gauge say, what happens if Goldman Sachs bets $20 billion in leveraged credit default swaps against Greece, and offsets them (partially) with JPM Chase which bets $20 billion, and offsets that with Bank of America, and then MF Global (oops) and then… see where I’m going with this.

We’re doomed if even their board games don’t come close to mimicking the real situation in Europe, or in the US, yet they supply funds to banks torpedoing local populations with impunity. These central entities also don’t bother to examine (or notice) the intermingled effect of leveraged derivatives and debt transactions per country; which is why no amount of funding from the ECB, or any other body, will be able to stay ahead of the hot money racing in and out of various countries.  It’s not about inflation – it’s about the speed, leverage, and daring of capital flow, that has its own power to select winners and losers. It’s not the ‘inherent’ weakness of national economies that a few years ago were doing fine, that’s hurting the euro. It’s the external bets on their success, failure, or economic capitulation running the show. Similarly, the US economy was doing much better before banks starting leveraging the hell out of our subprime market through a series of toxic, fraudulent, assets.

Elsewhere in my trolling, I came across a gem of a working paper on the IMF website, written by Ashoka Mody and Damiano Sandri,  entitled ‘The Eurozone Crisis; How Banks and Sovereigns Came to be Joined at the Hip” (The paper does not ‘necessarily represent the views of the IMF or IMF policy’.) The paper is full of mathematical formulas and statistical jargon, which may be why the media didn’t pick up on it, but hey, I got a couple of degrees in Mathematics and Statistics, so I went all out.  And it’s fascinating stuff. Basically, it shows that between the advent of the euro in 1999, and 2007, spreads between the bonds of peripheral countries and core ones in Europe were pretty stable. In other words, the risk of any country defaulting on its debt was fairly equal, and small. But after the 2007 US subprime asset crisis, and more specifically, the advent of  Federal Reserve / Treasury Department construed bailout-economics, all hell broke loose – international capital went AWOL daring default scenarios, targeting them for future bailouts, and when money leaves a country faster than it entered, the country tends to falter economically. The cycle is set.

The US subprime crisis wasn’t so much about people defaulting on loans, but the mega-magnified effects of those defaults on a $14 trillion asset pyramid created by the banks. (Those assets were subsequently sold, and used as collateral for other borrowing and esoteric derivatives combinations, to create a global $140 trillion debt binge.) As I detail in It Takes Pillage, the biggest US banks manufactured more than 75% of those $14 trillion of assets. A significant portion was sold in Europe – to local banks, municipalities, and pension funds – as lovely AAA morsels against which more debt, or leverage, could be incurred. And even thought the assets died, the debts remained.

Greek banks bought US-minted AAA assets and leveraged them. Norway did too (through the course of working on a Norwegian documentary, I discovered that 8 tiny towns in Norway bought $200 million of junk assets from Citigroup, borrowed money from local banks to pay for them, and pledged 10 years of power receipts from hydroelectric plants in return. The AAA assets are now worth zero, the power has been curtailed for residents, and the Norwegian banks want their money back–blood from a stone.) The same kind of thing happend in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Holland, France, and even Germany – in different degrees and with specific national issues mixed in.  Problem is – when you’ve already used worthless collateral to borrow tons of money you won’t ever be able to repay, and international capital slams you in other ways, and your funding costs rise, and your internal development and lending seize up, you’re screwed – or rather the people in your country are screwed.

In the IMF paper, the authors convincingly make the case that it wasn’t just the US subprime asset meltdown itself that initiated Europe’s implosion, but the fact that our Federal Reserve and Treasury Department adopted a reckless don’t-let-em-fail doctrine. Even though Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers failed, their investors, the huge ones anyway, were protected. The Fed subsidized, and still subsidizes, $29 billion of risk for JPM Chase’s acquisition of Bear. The philosophy of saving banks and their practices poisoned Europe, as those same financial firms played euro-roulette in the global derivatives markets, once the subprime betting train slowed down.

The first fatal stop of the US bailout mentaility was the ECB’s 2010 bailout of Anglo Irish bank, which got the lion’s share of the ECB’s Irish-bailout: $51 billion euro of ELA (Emergency Loan Assistance) and $100 billion euro of regular lending at the time. After the international financial community saw the pace and volume of Irish bank bailouts, the game of euro-roulette went turbo, country by country.  More ‘fiscally conservative’ governments are replacing any semblance of population-supportive ones. The practice of  extracting ‘fiscal prudency’ from people and providing bank subsidies for bets gone wrong has infected all of Europe. It will continue to do so, because anything less will threathen the entire Euro experiement, plus otherwise, the US banks might be on the hook again for losses, and the Fed and Treasury won’t let that happen. They’ve already demonstrated that. It’d be just sooo catastrophic.

In the wings, the smugness of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke is palpable – ‘hey, we acted heroically and “decisively” to provide a multi-trillion dollar smorgasbord  of subsidies for our biggest banks and look how great we  (er, they) are doing now? Seriously, Europe – get your act together already, don’t do the trickle-bailout game – just dump a boatload of money into the same banks – and a few of your own before they go under  – do it for the sake of global economic stability. It’ll really work. Trust us.’ Most of the media goes along with the notion that US banks exposed to the ‘euro-contagion’ will hurt our (nonexistent) recovery. US Banks assure us, they don’t have much exposure – it’s all hedged. (Like it was all AAA.) The press doesn’t tend to question the global harm caused by never having smacked US banks into place, cutting off their money supply, splitting them into commercial and speculative parts ala Glass-Steagall and letting the speculative parts that should have died, die, rather than enjoy public subsidization and the ability to go globe-hopping for more destructive opportunity, alongside some of the mega-global bank partners.

Today, the stock prices of the largest US banks are about as low as they were in the early part of 2009, not because of euro-contagion or Super-committee super-incompetence (a useless distraction anyway) but because of the ongoing transparency void surrouding the biggest banks amidst their central-bank-covered risks, and the political hot potato of how many emergency loans are required to keep them afloat at any given moment.  Because investors don’t know their true exposures, any more than in early 2009. Because US banks catalyzed the global crisis that is currently manifesting itself in Europe. Because there never was a separate US housing crisis and European debt crisis. Instead, there is a worldwide, systemic, unregulated, uncontained,  rapacious need for the most powerful banks and financial institutions to leverage whatever could be leveraged in whatever forms it could be leveraged in. So, now we’re just barely in the second quarter of the game of thrones, where the big banks are the kings, the ECB, IMF and the Fed are the money supply, and the populations are the powerless serfs. Yeah, let’s play the ECB inflation game, while the world crumbles.

Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion Undisclosed to Congress
by Bob Ivry, Bradley Keoun and Phil Kuntz   /  Nov 27, 2011

The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing. The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue. Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse. A fresh narrative of the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 emerges from 29,000 pages of Fed documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and central bank records of more than 21,000 transactions. While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger.

‘Change Their Votes’
“When you see the dollars the banks got, it’s hard to make the case these were successful institutions,” says Sherrod Brown, a Democratic Senator from Ohio who in 2010 introduced an unsuccessful bill to limit bank size. “This is an issue that can unite the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. There are lawmakers in both parties who would change their votes now.” The size of the bailout came to light after Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, won a court case against the Fed and a group of the biggest U.S. banks called Clearing House Association LLC to force lending details into the open. The Fed, headed by Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, argued that revealing borrower details would create a stigma — investors and counterparties would shun firms that used the central bank as lender of last resort — and that needy institutions would be reluctant to borrow in the next crisis. Clearing House Association fought Bloomberg’s lawsuit up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the banks’ appeal in March 2011.

$7.77 Trillion
The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year. “TARP at least had some strings attached,” says Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, referring to the program’s executive-pay ceiling. “With the Fed programs, there was nothing.” Bankers didn’t disclose the extent of their borrowing. On Nov. 26, 2008, then-Bank of America (BAC) Corp. Chief Executive Officer Kenneth D. Lewis wrote to shareholders that he headed “one of the strongest and most stable major banks in the world.” He didn’t say that his Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm owed the central bank $86 billion that day.

‘Motivate Others’
JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon told shareholders in a March 26, 2010, letter that his bank used the Fed’s Term Auction Facility “at the request of the Federal Reserve to help motivate others to use the system.” He didn’t say that the New York-based bank’s total TAF borrowings were almost twice its cash holdings or that its peak borrowing of $48 billion on Feb. 26, 2009, came more than a year after the program’s creation. Howard Opinsky, a spokesman for JPMorgan (JPM), declined to comment about Dimon’s statement or the company’s Fed borrowings. Jerry Dubrowski, a spokesman for Bank of America, also declined to comment. The Fed has been lending money to banks through its so- called discount window since just after its founding in 1913. Starting in August 2007, when confidence in banks began to wane, it created a variety of ways to bolster the financial system with cash or easily traded securities. By the end of 2008, the central bank had established or expanded 11 lending facilities catering to banks, securities firms and corporations that couldn’t get short-term loans from their usual sources.

‘Core Function’
“Supporting financial-market stability in times of extreme market stress is a core function of central banks,” says William B. English, director of the Fed’s Division of Monetary Affairs. “Our lending programs served to prevent a collapse of the financial system and to keep credit flowing to American families and businesses.” The Fed has said that all loans were backed by appropriate collateral. That the central bank didn’t lose money should “lead to praise of the Fed, that they took this extraordinary step and they got it right,” says Phillip Swagel, a former assistant Treasury secretary under Henry M. Paulson and now a professor of international economic policy at the University of Maryland. The Fed initially released lending data in aggregate form only. Information on which banks borrowed, when, how much and at what interest rate was kept from public view. The secrecy extended even to members of President George W. Bush’s administration who managed TARP. Top aides to Paulson weren’t privy to Fed lending details during the creation of the program that provided crisis funding to more than 700 banks, say two former senior Treasury officials who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak.

Big Six
The Treasury Department relied on the recommendations of the Fed to decide which banks were healthy enough to get TARP money and how much, the former officials say. The six biggest U.S. banks, which received $160 billion of TARP funds, borrowed as much as $460 billion from the Fed, measured by peak daily debt calculated by Bloomberg using data obtained from the central bank. Paulson didn’t respond to a request for comment. The six — JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup Inc. (C)Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC)Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Morgan Stanley — accounted for 63 percent of the average daily debt to the Fed by all publicly traded U.S. banks, money managers and investment- services firms, the data show. By comparison, they had about half of the industry’s assets before the bailout, which lasted from August 2007 through April 2010. The daily debt figure excludes cash that banks passed along to money-market funds.

Bank Supervision
While the emergency response prevented financial collapse, the Fed shouldn’t have allowed conditions to get to that point, says Joshua Rosner, a banking analyst with Graham Fisher & Co. in New York who predicted problems from lax mortgage underwriting as far back as 2001. The Fed, the primary supervisor for large financial companies, should have been more vigilant as the housing bubble formed, and the scale of its lending shows the “supervision of the banks prior to the crisis was far worse than we had imagined,” Rosner says. Bernanke in an April 2009 speech said that the Fed provided emergency loans only to “sound institutions,” even though its internal assessments described at least one of the biggest borrowers, Citigroup, as “marginal.” On Jan. 14, 2009, six days before the company’s central bank loans peaked, the New York Fed gave CEO Vikram Pandit a report declaring Citigroup’s financial strength to be “superficial,” bolstered largely by its $45 billion of Treasury funds. The document was released in early 2011 by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a panel empowered by Congress to probe the causes of the crisis.

‘Need Transparency’
Andrea Priest, a spokeswoman for the New York Fed, declined to comment, as did Jon Diat, a spokesman for Citigroup. “I believe that the Fed should have independence in conducting highly technical monetary policy, but when they are putting taxpayer resources at risk, we need transparency and accountability,” says Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee. Judd Gregg, a former New Hampshire senator who was a lead Republican negotiator on TARP, and Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who chaired the House Financial Services Committee, both say they were kept in the dark. “We didn’t know the specifics,” says Gregg, who’s now an adviser to Goldman Sachs. “We were aware emergency efforts were going on,” Frank says. “We didn’t know the specifics.”

Disclose Lending
Frank co-sponsored the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, billed as a fix for financial-industry excesses. Congress debated that legislation in 2010 without a full understanding of how deeply the banks had depended on the Fed for survival. It would have been “totally appropriate” to disclose the lending data by mid-2009, says David Jones, a former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York who has written four books about the central bank. “The Fed is the second-most-important appointed body in the U.S., next to the Supreme Court, and we’re dealing with a democracy,” Jones says. “Our representatives in Congress deserve to have this kind of information so they can oversee the Fed.” The Dodd-Frank law required the Fed to release details of some emergency-lending programs in December 2010. It also mandated disclosure of discount-window borrowers after a two- year lag.

Protecting TARP
TARP and the Fed lending programs went “hand in hand,” says Sherrill Shaffer, a banking professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie and a former chief economist at the New York Fed. While the TARP money helped insulate the central bank from losses, the Fed’s willingness to supply seemingly unlimited financing to the banks assured they wouldn’t collapse, protecting the Treasury’s TARP investments, he says. “Even though the Treasury was in the headlines, the Fed was really behind the scenes engineering it,” Shaffer says. Congress, at the urging of Bernanke and Paulson, created TARP in October 2008 after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. made it difficult for financial institutions to get loans. Bank of America and New York-based Citigroup each received $45 billion from TARP. At the time, both were tapping the Fed. Citigroup hit its peak borrowing of $99.5 billion in January 2009, while Bank of America topped out in February 2009 at $91.4 billion.

No Clue
Lawmakers knew none of this. They had no clue that one bank, New York-based Morgan Stanley (MS), took $107 billion in Fed loans in September 2008, enough to pay off one-tenth of the country’s delinquent mortgages. The firm’s peak borrowing occurred the same day Congress rejected the proposed TARP bill, triggering the biggest point drop ever in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. (INDU) The bill later passed, and Morgan Stanley got $10 billion of TARP funds, though Paulson said only “healthy institutions” were eligible. Mark Lake, a spokesman for Morgan Stanley, declined to comment, as did spokesmen for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Had lawmakers known, it “could have changed the whole approach to reform legislation,” says Ted Kaufman, a former Democratic Senator from Delaware who, with Brown, introduced the bill to limit bank size.

Moral Hazard
Kaufman says some banks are so big that their failure could trigger a chain reaction in the financial system. The cost of borrowing for so-called too-big-to-fail banks is lower than that of smaller firms because lenders believe the government won’t let them go under. The perceived safety net creates what economists call moral hazard — the belief that bankers will take greater risks because they’ll enjoy any profits while shifting losses to taxpayers. If Congress had been aware of the extent of the Fed rescue, Kaufman says, he would have been able to line up more support for breaking up the biggest banks. Byron L. Dorgan, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, says the knowledge might have helped pass legislation to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which for most of the last century separated customer deposits from the riskier practices of investment banking. “Had people known about the hundreds of billions in loans to the biggest financial institutions, they would have demanded Congress take much more courageous actions to stop the practices that caused this near financial collapse,” says Dorgan, who retired in January.

Getting Bigger
Instead, the Fed and its secret financing helped America’s biggest financial firms get bigger and go on to pay employees as much as they did at the height of the housing bubble. Total assets held by the six biggest U.S. banks increased 39 percent to $9.5 trillion on Sept. 30, 2011, from $6.8 trillion on the same day in 2006, according to Fed data. For so few banks to hold so many assets is “un-American,” says Richard W. Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “All of these gargantuan institutions are too big to regulate. I’m in favor of breaking them up and slimming them down.” Employees at the six biggest banks made twice the average for all U.S. workers in 2010, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics hourly compensation cost data. The banks spent $146.3 billion on compensation in 2010, or an average of $126,342 per worker, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s up almost 20 percent from five years earlier compared with less than 15 percent for the average worker. Average pay at the banks in 2010 was about the same as in 2007, before the bailouts.

‘Wanted to Pretend’
“The pay levels came back so fast at some of these firms that it appeared they really wanted to pretend they hadn’t been bailed out,” says Anil Kashyap, a former Fed economist who’s now a professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “They shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of people find some of the stuff that happened totally outrageous.” Bank of America took over Merrill Lynch & Co. at the urging of then-Treasury Secretary Paulson after buying the biggest U.S. home lender, Countrywide Financial Corp. When the Merrill Lynch purchase was announced on Sept. 15, 2008, Bank of America had $14.4 billion in emergency Fed loans and Merrill Lynch had $8.1 billion. By the end of the month, Bank of America’s loans had reached $25 billion and Merrill Lynch’s had exceeded $60 billion, helping both firms keep the deal on track.

Prevent Collapse
Wells Fargo bought Wachovia Corp., the fourth-largest U.S. bank by deposits before the 2008 acquisition. Because depositors were pulling their money from Wachovia, the Fed channeled $50 billion in secret loans to the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank through two emergency-financing programs to prevent collapse before Wells Fargo could complete the purchase. “These programs proved to be very successful at providing financial markets the additional liquidity and confidence they needed at a time of unprecedented uncertainty,” says Ancel Martinez, a spokesman for Wells Fargo. JPMorgan absorbed the country’s largest savings and loan, Seattle-based Washington Mutual Inc., and investment bank Bear Stearns Cos. The New York Fed, then headed by Timothy F. Geithner, who’s now Treasury secretary, helped JPMorgan complete the Bear Stearns deal by providing $29 billion of financing, which was disclosed at the time. The Fed also supplied Bear Stearns with $30 billion of secret loans to keep the company from failing before the acquisition closed, central bank data show. The loans were made through a program set up to provide emergency funding to brokerage firms.

‘Regulatory Discretion’
“Some might claim that the Fed was picking winners and losers, but what the Fed was doing was exercising its professional regulatory discretion,” says John Dearie, a former speechwriter at the New York Fed who’s now executive vice president for policy at the Financial Services Forum, a Washington-based group consisting of the CEOs of 20 of the world’s biggest financial firms. “The Fed clearly felt it had what it needed within the requirements of the law to continue to lend to Bear and Wachovia.” The bill introduced by Brown and Kaufman in April 2010 would have mandated shrinking the six largest firms. “When a few banks have advantages, the little guys get squeezed,” Brown says. “That, to me, is not what capitalism should be.” Kaufman says he’s passionate about curbing too-big-to-fail banks because he fears another crisis.

‘Can We Survive?’
“The amount of pain that people, through no fault of their own, had to endure — and the prospect of putting them through it again — is appalling,” Kaufman says. “The public has no more appetite for bailouts. What would happen tomorrow if one of these big banks got in trouble? Can we survive that?” Lobbying expenditures by the six banks that would have been affected by the legislation rose to $29.4 million in 2010 compared with $22.1 million in 2006, the last full year before credit markets seized up — a gain of 33 percent, according to, a research group that tracks money in U.S. politics. Lobbying by the American Bankers Association, a trade organization, increased at about the same rate, reported. Lobbyists argued the virtues of bigger banks. They’re more stable, better able to serve large companies and more competitive internationally, and breaking them up would cost jobs and cause “long-term damage to the U.S. economy,” according to a Nov. 13, 2009, letter to members of Congress from the FSF. The group’s website cites Nobel Prize-winning economist Oliver E. Williamson, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, for demonstrating the greater efficiency of large companies.

‘Serious Burden’
In an interview, Williamson says that the organization took his research out of context and that efficiency is only one factor in deciding whether to preserve too-big-to-fail banks.  “The banks that were too big got even bigger, and the problems that we had to begin with are magnified in the process,” Williamson says. “The big banks have incentives to take risks they wouldn’t take if they didn’t have government support. It’s a serious burden on the rest of the economy.” Dearie says his group didn’t mean to imply that Williamson endorsed big banks. Top officials in President Barack Obama’s administration sided with the FSF in arguing against legislative curbs on the size of banks.

Geithner, Kaufman
On May 4, 2010, Geithner visited Kaufman in his Capitol Hill office. As president of the New York Fed in 2007 and 2008, Geithner helped design and run the central bank’s lending programs. The New York Fed supervised four of the six biggest U.S. banks and, during the credit crunch, put together a daily confidential report on Wall Street’s financial condition. Geithner was copied on these reports, based on a sampling of e- mails released by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. At the meeting with Kaufman, Geithner argued that the issue of limiting bank size was too complex for Congress and that people who know the markets should handle these decisions, Kaufman says. According to Kaufman, Geithner said he preferred that bank supervisors from around the world, meeting in Basel, Switzerland, make rules increasing the amount of money banks need to hold in reserve. Passing laws in the U.S. would undercut his efforts in Basel, Geithner said, according to Kaufman. Anthony Coley, a spokesman for Geithner, declined to comment.

‘Punishing Success’
Lobbyists for the big banks made the winning case that forcing them to break up was “punishing success,” Brown says. Now that they can see how much the banks were borrowing from the Fed, senators might think differently, he says. The Fed supported curbing too-big-to-fail banks, including giving regulators the power to close large financial firms and implementing tougher supervision for big banks, says Fed General Counsel Scott G. Alvarez. The Fed didn’t take a position on whether large banks should be dismantled before they get into trouble. Dodd-Frank does provide a mechanism for regulators to break up the biggest banks. It established the Financial Stability Oversight Council that could order teetering banks to shut down in an orderly way. The council is headed by Geithner. “Dodd-Frank does not solve the problem of too big to fail,” says Shelby, the Alabama Republican. “Moral hazard and taxpayer exposure still very much exist.”

Below Market
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, says banks “were either in bad shape or taking advantage of the Fed giving them a good deal. The former contradicts their public statements. The latter — getting loans at below-market rates during a financial crisis — is quite a gift.” The Fed says it typically makes emergency loans more expensive than those available in the marketplace to discourage banks from abusing the privilege. During the crisis, Fed loans were among the cheapest around, with funding available for as low as 0.01 percent in December 2008, according to data from the central bank and money-market rates tracked by Bloomberg. The Fed funds also benefited firms by allowing them to avoid selling assets to pay investors and depositors who pulled their money. So the assets stayed on the banks’ books, earning interest. Banks report the difference between what they earn on loans and investments and their borrowing expenses. The figure, known as net interest margin, provides a clue to how much profit the firms turned on their Fed loans, the costs of which were included in those expenses. To calculate how much banks stood to make, Bloomberg multiplied their tax-adjusted net interest margins by their average Fed debt during reporting periods in which they took emergency loans.

Added Income
The 190 firms for which data were available would have produced income of $13 billion, assuming all of the bailout funds were invested at the margins reported, the data show. The six biggest U.S. banks’ share of the estimated subsidy was $4.8 billion, or 23 percent of their combined net income during the time they were borrowing from the Fed. Citigroup would have taken in the most, with $1.8 billion. “The net interest margin is an effective way of getting at the benefits that these large banks received from the Fed,” says Gerald A. Hanweck, a former Fed economist who’s now a finance professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. While the method isn’t perfect, it’s impossible to state the banks’ exact profits or savings from their Fed loans because the numbers aren’t disclosed and there isn’t enough publicly available data to figure it out. Opinsky, the JPMorgan spokesman, says he doesn’t think the calculation is fair because “in all likelihood, such funds were likely invested in very short-term investments,” which typically bring lower returns.

Standing Access
Even without tapping the Fed, the banks get a subsidy by having standing access to the central bank’s money, says Viral Acharya, a New York University economics professor who has worked as an academic adviser to the New York Fed. “Banks don’t give lines of credit to corporations for free,” he says. “Why should all these government guarantees and liquidity facilities be for free?” In the September 2008 meeting at which Paulson and Bernanke briefed lawmakers on the need for TARP, Bernanke said that if nothing was done, “unemployment would rise — to 8 or 9 percent from the prevailing 6.1 percent,” Paulson wrote in “On the Brink” (Business Plus, 2010).

Occupy Wall Street
The U.S. jobless rate hasn’t dipped below 8.8 percent since March 2009, 3.6 million homes have been foreclosed since August 2007, according to data provider RealtyTrac Inc., and police have clashed with Occupy Wall Street protesters, who say government policies favor the wealthiest citizens, in New York, Boston, Seattle and Oakland, California. The Tea Party, which supports a more limited role for government, has its roots in anger over the Wall Street bailouts, says Neil M. Barofsky, former TARP special inspector general and a Bloomberg Television contributing editor. “The lack of transparency is not just frustrating; it really blocked accountability,” Barofsky says. “When people don’t know the details, they fill in the blanks. They believe in conspiracies.”

In the end, Geithner had his way. The Brown-Kaufman proposal to limit the size of banks was defeated, 60 to 31. Bank supervisors meeting in Switzerland did mandate minimum reserves that institutions will have to hold, with higher levels for the world’s largest banks, including the six biggest in the U.S. Those rules can be changed by individual countries. They take full effect in 2019. Meanwhile, Kaufman says, “we’re absolutely, totally, 100 percent not prepared for another financial crisis.”

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