THE FED'S OLD BOY NETWORK
Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News, performed an enormous service for the American public when it sued the Federal Reserve and the Clearing House Association LLC, an institution created by several of the nation’s largest banks, to force disclosure of secret loans made by the Federal Reserve principally to the six largest U.S. banks but also to certain foreign banks. The treasure trove of evidence ultimately obtained by Bloomberg reveals that while the public Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailed out leading Wall Street firms for the whopping sum of $700 billion, the Fed at the same time doled out some $7.77 trillion (an astronomical sum equal to half the gross domestic product). To make matters worse, the Fed expanded its emergency discount lending program, giving tens of billions more to the same banks at an interest rate of 1%, while the prime lending rate stood at over 3%. The banks getting these funds often turned them into profit centers, lending out proceeds from them at higher interest rates and pocketing the difference, profiting on federal largesse.
The President and his top economic advisers bought the “too big to fail” concept, the notion that regardless of how profligate, irresponsible, even criminal, heads of the leading financial institutions in America had been, it would be worse for the nation if those institutions were to collapse. Consequently, while pushing a legislative agenda of public bail-outs, the Obama Administration maintained a secret program of multi-trillion dollar loans, including billions at below market interest rates. The principal recipients of the funding were JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley.
The General Accounting Office audit of the Federal Reserve revealed that some $16 trillion was supplied in secret loans from the Federal Reserve between December 1, 2007 and July 21, 2010. The largest single recipients were Citigroup ($2.5 trillion); Morgan Stanley ($2 trillion); Merrill Lynch ($2 trillion); Bank of America ($1.3 trillion); Barclays PLC ($868 billion); Bear Stearns ($853 billion); Goldman Sachs ($814 billion); the Royal Bank of Scotland ($541 billion); JP Morgan Chase ($391 billion); and Deutsche Bank ($354 billion).
Bloomberg discovered that while top banks were touting in their press releases during the crisis that they had fiscal soundness, their balance sheets were made up primarily of federal funds, most from the Federal Reserve. Moreover, while many banks paid back the TARP funds, they most often did so in reliance on the secret receipts of tens of billions of dollars in Federal Reserve money (in other words, the pay back was in that sense a charade: federal money paid back federal loans). In short, the Administration was complicit in the orchestration of a massive fraud on the American public, making it seem that the banks largely responsible for the financial crisis were weathering the storm of their own accord when in fact they were on board the good ship U.S. Taxpayer.
Meanwhile, the bad lending and financial dealing practices that helped produce the financial crisis have been largely kept in place, underwritten by the federal government. The top banks suddenly realized that far from having to suffer ignominy and defeat for their abuses, they would be kept alive by a seemingly endless flow of federal cash. Indeed, the feds accepted as collateral for loans securities of virtually no worth and other properties that would never support private commercial lending. By propping up the major banks despite their irresponsible lending practices, the federal government has given them a privileged financial status whereby private lenders will give them terms far more favorable than their smaller competitors because they understand the federal government will not let them fail. Economist call this safety net a “moral hazard” (effective federal underwriting for heightened risk taking that permits these lenders to profit at above market rates of return in speculative investing without suffering financial liability for loss). The amounts doled out by the federal government to the banks could have paid off as much as one tenth of all of the delinquent mortgages, Bloomberg determined.
Rather than be forced to take their losses on their enormous junk portfolios and interbank lending practices, the top six banks were allowed to keep the junk portfolios, maintain their dubious lending practices, and turn to the Federal Reserve for money on demand whenever problems arose. Repeatedly when the banks should have gone under due to poor lending practices and grossly speculative profiteering, they were complimented by the Federal Reserve, rescued, and then allowed to tout the falsehood that their success came from sharp management rather than from secret loans. At the same time, these banks and others have shut down commercial lending for small businesses nationwide.
The “too big to fail” justification for the massive federal welfare dole to the top six United States banks was based on a faulty premise. Without question the demise of the leading banks would entail hardship, particularly for the employees of those institutions, but the long term prognosis was good for a restructuring of the financial market through bankruptcies and takeovers. The alternative to allowing the market to impose its own swift and harsh corrective involves imposing a massive burden on every American citizen for generations to come for the trillions spent to prop up a few dozen Wall Street moguls. Rather than have the taxpayers pay an inflated sum to keep the banks responsible for the financial crisis alive, the nation could have spared itself an assumption of massive debt and witnessed the demise of these banks and the rise of new competing financial institutions based on a solid financial model.
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The Bush and Obama Administration’s role as Santa Claus for Wall Street has kept from Wall Street the needed lessons that would have otherwise come from the collapse of the major lending institutions. Painful as it may seem to some, it is far better to allow the market to experience a correction for profligate lending practices than to force the American taxpayers for generations to come to pay for the bad decisions made by a few and to let those few go without suffering a single consequence beyond temporary embarrassment.
© 2011 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved