Who Made This Decision?

On Sunday The Wall Street Journal posted an article about some of the recent bank settlements that were supposed to help consumers. Well, I think consumers were on the list right after political entities.

The article reports:

Imagine if the president of the United States forced America’s biggest banks to funnel hundreds of millions—and potentially billions—of dollars to the corporations and lobbyists who supported his agenda, all while calling it “Main Street Relief.” The public outcry would rightly be deafening. Yet the Obama administration has used a similar strategy to enrich its political allies, advance leftist pet projects, and protect its legacy—and hardly anyone has noticed.

The administration’s multiyear campaign against the banking industry has quietly steered money to organizations and politicians who are working to ensure liberal policy and political victories at every level of government. The conduit for this funding is the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, a coalition of federal and state regulators and prosecutors created in 2012 to “identify, investigate, and prosecute instances of wrongdoing” in the residential mortgage-backed securities market. In conjunction with the Justice Department, the RMBS Working Group has reached multibillion-dollar settlements with essentially every major bank in America.

The most recent came in April when the Justice Department announced a $5.1 billion settlement with Goldman Sachs. In February Morgan Stanley agreed to a $3.2 billion settlement. Previous targets were Citigroup ($7 billion), J.P. Morgan Chase ($13 billion), and Bank of America, which in 2014 reached the largest civil settlement in American history at $16.65 billion. Smaller deals with other banks have also been announced.

You might expect that maybe some of the money would go into the U.S. Treasury to pay off some of the deficit. Silly person.

The article reports:

…a substantial portion is allocated to private, nonprofit organizations drawn from a federally approved list. Some groups on the list—Catholic Charities, for instance—are relatively nonpolitical. Others—La Raza, the National Urban League, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and more—are anything but.

…As part of their “consumer relief” penalties, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase must also pay a minimum $75 million to Community Development Financial Institutions—taxpayer-funded groups propped up by the Obama administration as an alternative to payday lenders. “Housing Counseling Agencies” also get at least $30 million. This essentially circumvents Congress’s recent decision to cut $43 million in federal funds routed to these groups through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The politicians who negotiate the settlements as part of the RMBS Working Group have also directed money to their supporters and states. Illinois’s Democratic attorney general Lisa Madigan announced she had secured $22.5 million from February’s Morgan Stanley deal for her state’s debt-ridden pension funds—a blatant payout to public unions. The deals with J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup yielded a further $344 million for both “consumer relief” and direct payments to pension funds.

The article concludes:

Despite the best efforts of a few principled legislators late last year, Congress missed an opportunity to amend the Justice Department’s funding bill to stop further handouts. Lawmakers now have another opportunity as Congress enters budget negotiation for fiscal year 2017. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) introduced a bill in April that would prevent government officials from enforcing settlements that funnel money to third parties, and it needs to gain wider traction with his colleagues. The political shakedowns disguised as public service must end.]

Is there any doubt that we need a new paradigm in Washington? There was no “Main Street Relief” involved in any of this–there was, however, Washington corruption. It was nothing more than a legal stick-up.

Some Thoughts On Recent Financial News

Peter Wallison writes on financial matters at the American Enterprise Institute. This morning he was interviewed on the Bill Bennett radio show about the recent trading losses suffered by JPMorgan Chase (as reported in USA Today). I don’t claim to understand this level of finance, but there were a few things I picked up along the way.

I am going to attempt to repeat what he said, because he clearly understood exactly what was going on and shed considerable light on the subject.

Mr. Wallison explained that the JPMorgan Chase trades had to do with something called “hedging,” a process that is legal. The bank was using “hedging” to protect itself from losses it felt would occur due to the unraveling of the financial situation in Europe. Mr. Wallison further explained that the loss represented a very small percentage of the total worth of the bank and was actually not as significant as it is being made out to be. Essentially, the news media is being part of the ‘silly season’ of an election year. The Volcker Rule (part of the Dodd-Frank bill that was supposed to reform Wall Street) would not have stopped this loss–“hedging” is legal under Dodd-Frank. What is not legal is the buying and selling securities by banks for their own accounts. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell the difference between “hedging” and trading for their own accounts. Because it is so difficult to differentiate between “hedging” and banks trading for their own accounts, Dodd-Frank is essentially an unworkable law that needs to be changed or overturned.

The link to the American Enterprise Instituteabove links to Peter Wallison’s article entitled, “Dissent from the Majority Report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.” I strongly suggest reading this in order to understand how politics has hindered, rather than helped, America in solving the financial crisis that we have been in for the past four years.

 

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Where Did The Money Go?

Yesterday Bloomberg.com posted an article showing where some of the money that disappeared from MF Global Holding Ltd. under the guidance of Jon Corzine might have gone. There is a memo showing Jon Corzine gave direct orders to transfer money from customer accounts to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The article reports:

Edith O’Brien, a treasurer for the firm, said in an e-mail quoted in the memo that the transfer was “Per JC’s direct instructions,” according to a copy of the memo obtained by Bloomberg News. The e-mail, dated Oct. 28, was sent three days before the company collapsed, the memo says. The memo does not indicate whether that phrase was the full text of the e-mail or an excerpt.

Jon Corzine testified before Congress in December:

“I never gave any instruction to misuse customer funds, I never intended anyone at MF Global to misuse customer funds and I don’t believe that anything I said could reasonably have been interpreted as an instruction to misuse customer funds,”

Whoops! It sounds as if Mr. Corzine has some ‘splainin’ to do.

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The Mortgage Settlement

It’s easier for the government to blame the banks than to take responsibility for their own role in the housing meltdown. CNN Money posted an article today about the settlement reached with five of the largest home loan lenders.

The article reports:

Participating banks: The five mortgage servicers that are parties to the settlement — Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500), Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) and Ally Financial — will pay a total of $5 billion to the states. Some of that money will go to foreclosed homeowners and the rest to the states.

Federal officials say negotiations are underway to expand the settlement to nine other major servicers, which would raise the overall value of the settlement to $30 billion.

I am not in any way connected to a bank (although I do use them), but this makes me totally furious. On September 28, 2008, Jeff Jacoby at Boston.com stated:

The roots of this crisis go back to the Carter administration. That was when government officials, egged on by left-wing activists, began accusing mortgage lenders of racism and “redlining” because urban blacks were being denied mortgages at a higher rate than suburban whites.

The pressure to make more loans to minorities (read: to borrowers with weak credit histories) became relentless. Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act, empowering regulators to punish banks that failed to “meet the credit needs” of “low-income, minority, and distressed neighborhoods.” Lenders responded by loosening their underwriting standards and making increasingly shoddy loans. The two government-chartered mortgage finance firms,Fannie Mae andFreddie Mac, encouraged this “subprime” lending by authorizing ever more “flexible” criteria by which high-risk borrowers could be qualified for home loans, and then buying up the questionable mortgages that ensued.

I commend the effort to make home ownership available to more people; I object to putting pressue on banks to make bad loans. The fact that the government is now going after the banks they put at risk is the height of chutzpah. Going after the lenders they forced to make bad loans is simply another example of the anti-business attitude of the Obama Administration.

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The Wall Street Journal’s View Of The Wall Street Protesters

Today’s Wall Street Journal posted an article on the ongoing Wall Street protests. There were some interesting points:

In the matter of Occupy Wall Street, the allegedly anticapitalist movement that’s been camped out in lower Manhattan for the past few weeks and has inspired copycat protests from Boston to Los Angeles, we have some sympathy. Really? Well, yeah.

OK, not for the half-naked demonstrators, the ranting anti-Semites, Kanye West or anyone else who has helped make Occupy Wall Street a target for easy ridicule. But to the extent that the mainly young demonstrators have a valid complaint, it’s that they are trying to bust their way into an economy where there is one job for every five job-seekers, and where youth unemployment runs north of 18%. That is a cause for frustration, if not outrage.

That’s editorial speak for “I feel their pain.” I think everyone can identify with the struggles of young people trying to get jobs in a miserable economy, but the protesters need to rethink some of their protest targets. On Wednesday, they marched on J.P. Morgan Chase’s headquarters. J.P. Chase did not take excessive mortgage risk and did not need or receive TARP money. So why are they being protested?

Something else the protesters might consider when complaining that they cannot find jobs:

Now move from words to actions. Want a shovel-ready job? The Administration has spent three years sitting on the Keystone XL pipeline project that promises to create 13,000 union jobs and 118,000 “spin-off” jobs. A State Department environmental review says the project poses no threat to the environment, but the Administration’s eco-friends are screaming lest it go ahead. 

The article concludes:

This probably won’t do much to persuade the Occupiers of Wall Street that their cause would be better served in Washington, D.C., where a sister sit-in this week seems to have fizzled. Then again, most of America’s jobless also won’t recognize their values or interests in the warmed-over anticapitalism being served up in lower Manhattan. Three years into the current Administration, most Americans are getting wise to the source of their economic woes. It’s a couple hundred miles south of Wall Street. 

The easiest way to revive the stalled economy is the develop America’s fossil fuel energy sources. Unfortunately, under this administration, that will not happen.

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