Ratings, Appraisal Fraud Unraveling: Testimony Reveals Cover-up

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“According to testimony last week, from January 2006 to June 2007, Clayton reviewed 911,000 loans for 23 investment or commercial banks, including Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, UBS, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns and Morgan Stanley.”

It’s like slapping some paint on a 30 year old Chevy and selling it as a Rolls Royce. As long as the buyer never sees the car, you can get away with it. Well now they are seeing it and not liking it. Investor lawsuits are piling in. Government agencies are “discovering” what borrowers, honest appraisers and economists have been telling them for years. This was gross negligence and probably outright fraud. The rating agencies knew the loans were not meeting industry standards and ignored the information. Why? Because it was not in their economic interest to do their job. In other words, they were being paid to look the other way.

If rating agencies on Wall Street were familiar enough with underwriting standards and the thus the standards set forth in the securitization documents for the loans that would be funded with the lender’s (investor’s) money, then just how likely is it, do you think, that the actually industry that has been doing underwriting of loans, appraisal of property and assessing the viability of loan repayment did NOT know what the people on Wall Street DID know.

I remind again that the ultimate responsibility for the appraisal and the viability of the loan and the borrower’s ability to pay it back is on the lender, as per Federal Law — see the Truth in Lending Act. The statement that it was the borrower’s responsibility is a nice theory if you are into the whole “personal responsibility” thing, but it isn’t the law. So either you are are for law and order or you are for ignoring the law and allowing disorder and chaos to rule the markets and the courts.

The bottom line, whether you feel it just or unjust, is that under the law these loans are unsecured and largely (if not totally) offset by affirmative defenses of third party payments, damages for fraud, and damages for payments they DID make. Why should big business be the only ones that get to feed at the trough?

The only way to get the trillions of dollars back into the marketplace that was stolen and diverted by the intermediary parties in the securitization infrastructure is to give back the wealth that was illicitly obtained. The laws and rules requiring that have been in place for decades, even centuries if you look to the common law. It’s time for the legal profession to rise to the occasion, force the pretender lenders to their knees and make them pay for what they have done. And by the way, lawyers, there are tens of millions to be made for any enterprising lawyer who gets involved — just look at the private jets and $60 millions dollar off-shore deals that the foreclosure mills got when they were on the winning side. Now it’s YOUR turn.

September 26, 2010

Raters Ignored Proof of Unsafe Loans, Panel Is Told

By GRETCHEN MORGENSON

As the mortgage market grew frothy in 2006 — leading to a housing bubble that nearly brought down the banking system two years later — ratings agencies charged with assessing risk in mortgage pools dismissed conclusive evidence that many of the loans were dubious, according to testimony given last week to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

The commission, a bipartisan Congressional panel, has been holding hearings on the origins of the financial crisis. D. Keith Johnson, a former president of Clayton Holdings, a company that analyzed mortgage pools for the Wall Street firms that sold them, told the commission on Thursday that almost half the mortgages Clayton sampled from the beginning of 2006 through June 2007 failed to meet crucial quality benchmarks that banks had promised to investors.

Yet, Clayton found, Wall Street was placing many of the troubled loans into bundles known as mortgage securities.

Mr. Johnson said he took this data to officials at Standard & Poor’s, Fitch Ratings and to the executive team at Moody’s Investors Service.

“We went to the ratings agencies and said, ‘Wouldn’t this information be great for you to have as you assign tranche levels of risk?’ ” Mr. Johnson testified last week. But none of the agencies took him up on his offer, he said, indicating that it was against their business interests to be too critical of Wall Street.

“If any one of them would have adopted it,” he testified, “they would have lost market share.”

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, which has required billions of dollars in taxpayer money to bail out Wall Street, ratings agencies have been sharply criticized for failing to properly assess the securities they were reviewing, and federal regulators are investigating the agencies for the role they played in the credit crisis.

The agencies have said that they had closely watched the mortgage market but had not anticipated how quickly it would deteriorate.

Moody’s aggressively monitored market conditions as the crisis continued to unfold to assess the impact of how the various market participants — including the borrowers, the mortgage servicers, the mortgage originators and the federal government — might respond to the extremely fast-changing conditions,” Raymond W. McDaniel, the chief executive of Moody’s, said in Congressional testimony in April.

Mr. Johnson’s testimony last week, however, cast a new light on that assertion.

Asked about the testimony, officials at Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s said they had worked hard to assess an array of data on the mortgage market in 2006 and 2007. Michael Adler, a spokesman for Moody’s, said the company “considers a range of information from various market participants about factors that could affect the credit quality of the transactions we rate.”

“During this period, Moody’s did in fact observe the trend of loosening underwriting standards, reported on it repeatedly in our research and commentary, and incorporated it into our credit analysis,” Mr. Adler said.

Fitch said it was not aware of a meeting with Clayton.

It has been more than four years since Mr. Johnson and his colleagues at Clayton Holdings started noting that disturbing numbers of mortgages did not meet the lending criteria promised to investors in prospectuses used to market the securities.

Details of what Wall Street firms knew about the loans they were selling to investors, and when they knew it, are still trickling out in regulatory actions and private lawsuits.

The Massachusetts attorney general recently accused Morgan Stanley of deceptive practices in its financing of mortgage lenders during this period, saying that the firm had knowingly placed dubious mortgages into securitized pools. Morgan Stanley settled with the attorney general in June and paid $102 million. The facts in that case relied on Clayton reports of loan quality commissioned by Morgan Stanley.

But until Mr. Johnson’s testimony last week, it was largely unknown that the ratings agencies had been told that vast numbers of loans were being packaged as securities even though they failed to meet underwriting standards.

Before assembling mortgage pools, brokerage firms hired independent analytical companies like Clayton to sample loans and flag any that were problematic. Clayton was one of two large due diligence companies that watched for loans that did not meet specifications like geographic diversity and the loan-to-value ratios between a mortgage and the home that secured it, as well as the credit scores and incomes of borrowers.

It was a trust-but-verify approach to a lucrative business, a way for Wall Street to look over the shoulders of lenders whose operations they did not control but whose mortgages they were buying nonetheless.

According to testimony last week, from January 2006 to June 2007, Clayton reviewed 911,000 loans for 23 investment or commercial banks, including Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, UBS, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns and Morgan Stanley.

The statistics provided by these samples, according to Mr. Johnson and Vicki Beal, a senior vice president at Clayton who also testified before the inquiry commission, indicated that only 54 percent of the loans met the lenders’ underwriting standards, regardless of how stringent or weak they were.

Some 28 percent of the loans sampled over the period were outright failures — that is, they were unable to meet numerous underwriting standards and did not have positive factors that compensated for their failings. And yet, 39 percent of these troubled loans still went into mortgage pools sold to investors during the period, Clayton’s figures showed.

The results varied from firm to firm. At Citigroup, for example, 29 percent of the sample failed to meet underwriting standards over the period, but almost a third of those substandard loans made it into securities pools.

At Goldman Sachs, 19 percent of loans failed to make the grade in the final quarter of 2006 and the first half of 2007, but 34 percent of those loans were still sold by the firm. Throughout this period, Goldman Sachs was also betting against the mortgage market for its own account, according to documents provided to government investigators.

About 17 percent of the loans financed by Deutsche Bank did not make the grade, but the firm still put 50 percent of them into the securities sold to investors, the Clayton report showed.

Deutsche Bank and Citigroup declined to comment.

A Goldman Sachs spokesman said the percentage of deficient loans that went into its pools was smaller than Clayton’s average, indicating that the firm had done a better job than its peers.

Because these loan samples were provided to the Wall Street investment banks that commissioned them, they could see throughout 2006 and into 2007 that the mortgages they were financing and selling to investors were becoming increasingly sketchy.

The results of the Clayton analyses were not disclosed to investors buying the loan pools. Instead, Wall Street firms used the information to pressure the lenders issuing the most troubled loans to accept a lower price for them, according to prosecutors who have investigated these cases.

A more proper procedure, analysts said, would have been for lenders like these — New Century Financial and Fremont Investment and Loan among them — to buy back the problem loans and replace them with higher-quality mortgages. But because these companies did not have enough capital to do that, they were happy to sell the troubled mortgages cheaply to the brokerage firms.

Since Wall Street firms were paying lower prices for the troubled loans, they could have passed along those discounts to customers, reducing investor risk. But Wall Street charged investors the same high prices associated with better-quality loans, thereby increasing their own profits on the problematic securities, according to a law enforcement official and executives with Wall Street companies. To be sure, the prospectuses detailing the types of loans in these pools contained brief warnings that some of the mortgages might not meet stated underwriting standards. But few investors probably realized that huge portions of the pools had failed to meet the benchmarks.

The Clayton figures took into account only small samples of the loan pools that were sold to investors. The 911,000 loans Clayton analyzed over the 18-month period were roughly 10 percent of the total number of mortgages in the securities it was contracted to review.

As a result, it is very likely that many of the loans that were not sampled also failed to meet underwriting standards but were packaged into the securities anyway.

Goldman Sachs Messages Show It Thrived as Economy Fell

Editor’s Note: Now the truth as reported here two years ago.
  • There were no losses.
  • They were making money hand over fist.
  • And this article focuses only on a single topic — some of the credit default swaps — those that Goldman had bought in its own name, leaving out all the other swaps bought by Goldman using other banks and entities as cover for their horrendous behavior.
  • It also leaves out all the other swaps bought by all the other investment banking houses.
  • But most of all it leaves out the fact that at no time did the investment banking firms actually own the mortgages that the world thinks caused enormous losses requiring the infamous bailout. It’s a fiction.
  • In nearly all cases they sold the securities “forward” which means they sold the securities first, collected the money second and then went looking for hapless consumers to sign documents that were called “loans.”
  • The securities created the intended chain of securitization wherein first the investors “owned” the loans (before they existed and before the first application was signed) and then the “loans” were “assigned” into the pool.
  • The pool was assigned into a Special Purpose Vehicle that issued “shares” (certificates, bonds, whatever you want to call them) to investors.
  • Those shares conveyed OWNERSHIP of the loan pool. Each share OWNED a percentage of the loans.
  • The so-called “trust” was merely an operating agreement between the investors that was controlled by the investment banking house through an entity called a “trustee.” All of it was a sham.
  • There was no trust, no trustee, no lending except from the investors, and no losses from mortgage defaults, because even with a steep default rate of 16% reported by some organizations, the insurance, swaps, and other guarantees and third party payments more than covered mortgage defaults.
  • The default that was not covered was the default in payment of principal to investors, which they will never see, because they never were actually given the dollar amount of mortgages they thought they were buying.
  • The entire crisis was and remains a computer enhanced hallucination that was used as a vehicle to keep stealing from investors, borrowers, taxpayers and anyone else they thought had money.
  • The “profits” made by NOT using the investor money to fund mortgages are sitting off shore in structured investment vehicles.
  • The actual funds, first sent to Bermuda and the caymans was then cycled around the world. The Ponzi scheme became a giant check- kiting scheme that hid the true nature of what they were doing.
April 24, 2010

Goldman Sachs Messages Show It Thrived as Economy Fell

By LOUISE STORY, SEWELL CHAN and GRETCHEN MORGENSON

In late 2007 as the mortgage crisis gained momentum and many banks were suffering losses, Goldman Sachs executives traded e-mail messages saying that they were making “some serious money” betting against the housing markets.

The e-mails, released Saturday morning by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, appear to contradict some of Goldman’s previous statements that left the impression that the firm lost money on mortgage-related investments.

In the e-mails, Lloyd C. Blankfein, the bank’s chief executive, acknowledged in November of 2007 that the firm indeed had lost money initially. But it later recovered from those losses by making negative bets, known as short positions, enabling it to profit as housing prices fell and homeowners defaulted on their mortgages. “Of course we didn’t dodge the mortgage mess,” he wrote. “We lost money, then made more than we lost because of shorts.”

In another message, dated July 25, 2007, David A. Viniar, Goldman’s chief financial officer, remarked on figures that showed the company had made a $51 million profit in a single day from bets that the value of mortgage-related securities would drop. “Tells you what might be happening to people who don’t have the big short,” he wrote to Gary D. Cohn, now Goldman’s president.

The messages were released Saturday ahead of a Congressional hearing on Tuesday in which seven current and former Goldman employees, including Mr. Blankfein, are expected to testify. The hearing follows a recent securities fraud complaint that the Securities and Exchange Commission filed against Goldman and one of its employees, Fabrice Tourre, who will also testify on Tuesday.

Actions taken by Wall Street firms during the housing meltdown have become a major factor in the contentious debate over financial reform. The first test of the administration’s overhaul effort will come Monday when the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is to call a procedural vote to try to stop a Republican filibuster.

Republicans have contended that the renewed focus on Goldman stems from Democrats’ desire to use anger at Wall Street to push through a financial reform bill.

Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and head of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said that the e-mail messages contrast with Goldman’s public statements about its trading results. “The 2009 Goldman Sachs annual report stated that the firm ‘did not generate enormous net revenues by betting against residential related products,’ ” Mr. Levin said in a statement Saturday when his office released the documents. “These e-mails show that, in fact, Goldman made a lot of money by betting against the mortgage market.”

A Goldman spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Goldman messages connect some of the dots at a crucial moment of Goldman history. They show that in 2007, as most other banks hemorrhaged losses from plummeting mortgage holdings, Goldman prospered.

At first, Goldman openly discussed its prescience in calling the housing downfall. In the third quarter of 2007, the investment bank reported publicly that it had made big profits on its negative bet on mortgages.

But by the end of that year, the firm curtailed disclosures about its mortgage trading results. Its chief financial officer told analysts at the end of 2007 that they should not expect Goldman to reveal whether it was long or short on the housing market. By late 2008, Goldman was emphasizing its losses, rather than its profits, pointing regularly to write-downs of $1.7 billion on mortgage assets and leaving out the amount it made on its negative bets.

Goldman and other firms often take positions on both sides of an investment. Some are long, which are bets that the investment will do well, and some are shorts, which are bets the investment will do poorly. If an investor’s positions are balanced — or hedged, in industry parlance — then the combination of the longs and shorts comes out to zero.

Goldman has said that it added shorts to balance its mortgage book, not to make a directional bet that the market would collapse. But the messages released Saturday appear to show that in 2007, at least, Goldman’s short bets were eclipsing the losses on its long positions. In May 2007, for instance, Goldman workers e-mailed one another about losses on a bundle of mortgages issued by Long Beach Mortgage Securities. Though the firm lost money on those, a worker wrote, there was “good news”: “we own 10 mm in protection.” That meant Goldman had enough of a bet against the bond that, over all, it profited by $5 million.

Documents released by the Senate committee appear to indicate that in July 2007, Goldman’s daily accounting showed losses of $322 million on positive mortgage positions, but its negative bet — what Mr. Viniar called “the big short” — came in $51 million higher.

As recently as a week ago, a Goldman spokesman emphasized that the firm had tried only to hedge its mortgage holdings in 2007 and said the firm had not been net short in that market.

The firm said in its annual report this month that it did not know back then where housing was headed, a sentiment expressed by Mr. Blankfein the last time he appeared before Congress.

“We did not know at any minute what would happen next, even though there was a lot of writing,” he told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in January.

It is not known how much money in total Goldman made on its negative housing bets. Only a handful of e-mail messages were released Saturday, and they do not reflect the complete record.

The Senate subcommittee began its investigation in November 2008, but its work attracted little attention until a series of hearings in the last month. The first focused on lending practices at Washington Mutual, which collapsed in 2008, the largest bank failure in American history; another scrutinized deficiencies at several regulatory agencies, including the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

A third hearing, on Friday, centered on the role that the credit rating agencies — Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch — played in the financial crisis. At the end of the hearing, Mr. Levin offered a preview of the Goldman hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

“Our investigation has found that investment banks such as Goldman Sachs were not market makers helping clients,” Mr. Levin said, referring to testimony given by Mr. Blankfein in January. “They were self-interested promoters of risky and complicated financial schemes that were a major part of the 2008 crisis. They bundled toxic and dubious mortgages into complex financial instruments, got the credit-rating agencies to label them as AAA safe securities, sold them to investors, magnifying and spreading risk throughout the financial system, and all too often betting against the financial instruments that they sold, and profiting at the expense of their clients.”

The transaction at the center of the S.E.C.’s case against Goldman also came up at the hearings on Friday, when Mr. Levin discussed it with Eric Kolchinsky, a former managing director at Moody’s. The mortgage-related security was known as Abacus 2007-AC1, and while it was created by Goldman, the S.E.C. contends that the firm misled investors by not disclosing that it had allowed a hedge fund manager, John A. Paulson, to select mortgage bonds for the portfolio that would be most likely to fail. That charge is at the core of the civil suit it filed against Goldman.

Moody’s was hired by Goldman to rate the Abacus security. Mr. Levin asked Mr. Kolchinsky, who for most of 2007 oversaw the ratings of collateralized debt obligations backed by subprime mortgages, if he had known of Mr. Paulson’s involvement in the Abacus deal.

“I did not know, and I suspect — I’m fairly sure that my staff did not know either,” Mr. Kolchinsky said.

Mr. Levin asked whether details of Mr. Paulson’s involvement were “facts that you or your staff would have wanted to know before rating Abacus.” Mr. Kolchinsky replied: “Yes, that’s something that I would have personally wanted to know.”

Mr. Kolchinsky added: “It just changes the whole dynamic of the structure, where the person who’s putting it together, choosing it, wants it to blow up.”

The Senate announced that it would convene a hearing on Goldman Sachs within a week of the S.E.C.’s fraud suit. Some members of Congress questioned whether the two investigations had been coordinated or linked.

Mr. Levin’s staff said there was no connection between the two investigations. They pointed out that the subcommittee requested the appearance of the Goldman executives and employees well before the S.E.C. filed its case.

Goldman and JPM Still Playing with Other People’s Money

The five biggest U.S. commercial banks in the derivatives market — JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup and Wells Fargo & Co. — account for 97 percent of the notional value of derivatives held in the banking industry [$605 trillion], according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Goldman Sachs Demands Collateral It Won’t Dish Out

By Michael J. Moore and Christine Harper

March 15 (Bloomberg) — Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., two of the biggest traders of over-the- counter derivatives, are exploiting their growing clout in that market to secure cheap funding in addition to billions in revenue from the business.

Both New York-based banks are demanding unequal arrangements with hedge-fund firms, forcing them to post more cash collateral to offset risks on trades while putting up less on their own wagers. At the end of December this imbalance furnished Goldman Sachs with $110 billion, according to a filing. That’s money it can reinvest in higher-yielding assets.

“If you’re seen as a major player and you have a product that people can’t get elsewhere, you have the negotiating power,” said Richard Lindsey, a former director of market regulation at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission who ran the prime brokerage unit at Bear Stearns Cos. from 1999 to 2006. “Goldman and a handful of other banks are the places where people can get over-the-counter products today.”

The collapse of American International Group Inc. in 2008 was hastened by the insurer’s inability to meet $20 billion in collateral demands after its credit-default swaps lost value and its credit rating was lowered, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at the time of the bailout, testified on Jan. 27. Goldman Sachs was among AIG’s biggest counterparties.

AIG Protection

Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer David Viniar has said that his firm’s stringent collateral agreements would have helped protect the firm against a default by AIG. Instead, a $182.3 billion taxpayer bailout of AIG ensured that Goldman Sachs and others were repaid in full.

Over the last three years, Goldman Sachs has extracted more collateral from counterparties in the $605 trillion over-the- counter derivatives markets, according to filings with the SEC.

The firm led by Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein collected cash collateral that represented 57 percent of outstanding over-the-counter derivatives assets as of December 2009, while it posted just 16 percent on liabilities, the firm said in a filing this month. That gap has widened from rates of 45 percent versus 18 percent in 2008 and 32 percent versus 19 percent in 2007, company filings show.

“That’s classic collateral arbitrage,” said Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York who previously worked as treasurer at Morgan Stanley and chief financial officer at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. “You always want to enter into something where you’re getting more collateral in than what you’re putting out.”

Using the Cash

The banks get to use the cash collateral, said Robert Claassen, a Palo Alto, California-based partner in the corporate and capital markets practice at law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP.

“They do have to pay interest on it, usually at the fed funds rate, but that’s a low rate,” Claassen said.

Goldman Sachs’s $110 billion net collateral balance in December was almost three times the amount it had attracted from depositors at its regulated bank subsidiaries. The collateral could earn the bank an annual return of $439 million, assuming it’s financed at the current fed funds effective rate of 0.15 percent and that half is reinvested at the same rate and half in two-year Treasury notes yielding 0.948 percent.

“We manage our collateral arrangements as part of our overall risk-management discipline and not as a driver of profits,” said Michael DuVally, a spokesman for Goldman Sachs. He said that Bloomberg’s estimates of the firm’s potential returns on collateral were “flawed” and declined to provide further explanation.

JPMorgan, Citigroup

JPMorgan received cash collateral equal to 57 percent of the fair value of its derivatives receivables after accounting for offsetting positions, according to data contained in the firm’s most recent annual filing. It posted collateral equal to 45 percent of the comparable payables, leaving it with a $37 billion net cash collateral balance, the filing shows.

In 2008 the cash collateral received by JPMorgan made up 47 percent of derivative assets, while the amount posted was 37 percent of liabilities. The percentages were 47 percent and 26 percent in 2007, according to data in company filings.

“JPMorgan now requires more collateral from its counterparties” on derivatives, David Trone, an analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd., wrote in a note to investors following a meeting with Jes Staley, chief executive officer of JPMorgan’s investment bank.

Citigroup Collateral

By contrast, New York-based Citigroup Inc., a bank that’s 27 percent owned by the U.S. government, paid out $11 billion more in collateral on over-the-counter derivatives than it collected at the end of 2009, a company filing shows.

Brian Marchiony, a spokesman for JPMorgan, and Alexander Samuelson, a spokesman for Citigroup, both declined to comment.

The five biggest U.S. commercial banks in the derivatives market — JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup and Wells Fargo & Co. — account for 97 percent of the notional value of derivatives held in the banking industry, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

In credit-default swaps, the world’s five biggest dealers are JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank AG and London-based Barclays Plc, according to a report by Deutsche Bank Research that cited the European Central Bank and filings with the SEC.

Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan had combined revenue of $29.1 billion from trading derivatives and cash securities in the first nine months of 2009, according to Federal Reserve reports.

The U.S. Congress is considering bills that would require more derivatives deals be processed through clearinghouses, privately owned third parties that guarantee transactions and keep track of collateral and margin. A clearinghouse that includes both banks and hedge funds would erode the banks’ collateral balances, said Kevin McPartland, a senior analyst at research firm Tabb Group in New York.

When contracts are negotiated between two parties, collateral arrangements are determined by the relative credit ratings of the two companies and other factors in the relationship, such as how much trading a fund does with a bank, McPartland said. When trades are cleared, the requirements have “nothing to do with credit so much as the mark-to-market value of your current net position.”

“Once you’re able to use a clearinghouse, presumably everyone’s on a level playing field,” he said.

Dimon, Blankfein

Still, banks may maintain their advantage in parts of the market that aren’t standardized or liquid enough for clearing, McPartland said. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs’s Blankfein both told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in January that they support central clearing for all standardized over-the-counter derivatives.

“The percentage of products that are suitable for central clearing is relatively small in comparison to the entire OTC derivatives market,” McPartland said.

A report this month by the New York-based International Swaps & Derivatives Association found that 84 percent of collateral agreements are bilateral, meaning collateral is exchanged in two directions.

Banks have an advantage in dealing with asset managers because they can require collateral when initiating a trade, sometimes amounting to as much as 20 percent of the notional value, said Craig Stein, a partner at law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP in New York who represents hedge-fund clients.

JPMorgan Collateral

JPMorgan’s filing shows that these initiation amounts provided the firm with about $11 billion of its $37.4 billion net collateral balance at the end of December, down from about $22 billion a year earlier and $17 billion at the end of 2007. Goldman Sachs doesn’t break out that category.

A bank’s net collateral balance doesn’t get included in its capital calculations and has to be held in liquid products because it can change quickly, according to an executive at one of the biggest U.S. banks who declined to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Counterparties demanding collateral helped speed the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, according to a New York Fed report published in January. Those that had posted collateral with Lehman were often in the same position as unsecured creditors when they tried to recover funds from the bankrupt firm, the report said.

“When the collateral is posted to a derivatives dealer like Goldman or any of the others, those funds are not segregated, which means that the dealer bank gets to use them to finance itself,” said Darrell Duffie, a professor of finance at Stanford University in Palo Alto. “That’s all fine until a crisis comes along and counterparties pull back and the money that dealer banks thought they had disappears.”

‘Greater Push Back’

While some hedge-fund firms have pushed for banks to put up more cash after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and other survivors of the credit crisis have benefited from the drop in competition.

“When the crisis started developing, I definitely thought it was going to be an opportunity for our fund clients to make some headway in negotiating, and actually the exact opposite has happened,” said Schulte Roth’s Stein. “Post-financial crisis, I’ve definitely seen a greater push back on their side.”

Hedge-fund firms that don’t have the negotiating power to strike two-way collateral agreements with banks have more to gain from a clearinghouse than those that do, said Stein.

Regulators should encourage banks to post more collateral to their counterparties to lower the impact of a single bank’s failure, according to the January New York Fed report. Pressure from regulators and a move to greater use of clearinghouses may mean the banks’ advantage has peaked.

“Before the financial crisis, collateral was very unevenly demanded and somewhat insufficiently demanded,” Stanford’s Duffie said. A clearinghouse “should reduce the asymmetry and raise the total amount of collateral.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael J. Moore in New York at mmoore55@bloomberg.net; Christine Harper in New York at charper@bloomberg.net.

FCIC Calm Before the Storm: Bankers Still Basking in Their Own Glory

Phil Angelides, the former state treasurer of California who is the commission’s chairman, told Mr. Blankfein “it sounds more like you were selling cars with faulty brakes and then buying insurance on the driver.”

Mr. Angelides, who lost the governor’s race in California to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, pointedly compared some Wall Street chief executives to blackjack players who could win huge amounts of cash but not lose anything.

The only thing about the current situation that gives me some comfort is the eerie similarity with similar hearings that took place after the the 1929 crash. Stuffed with arrogance and hubris, these bankers have always regarded themselves as the fourth branch of government. As Rothschild said, if you have the purse strings you have the power (paraphrasing). But every so often the bankers get a spanking and some even go to jail.

It is difficult to understand the magnitude of their destruction even now. We know a lot of people lost money, income, savings, wealth and dignity over the course of this mess. But we still have yet to feel the pain of title defects when the title insurers and lawyers start balking at supposedly clear or marketable title created at the inception and during transfers of interests in these loans. And the full loss in taxes on reported income has not been explored, which might (if governments do anything about it) be a positive offset to some of our problems.

And of course the final recognition that there is no where to hide on principal reduction. The only question, which I asked two years ago before this exploded, is how to share the losses so that nobody gets destroyed. (My solution was “amnesty for everyone”, but nobody paid attention). Right now we have fewer TITANS controlling more wealth and the rest of us sucking wind where there was money. That is our money they are controlling. They didn’t earn it, and they didn’t obtain it through normal commerce. They got it through fraud.

So at some point we are going to be required to accept one of two things: (1) the perpetrators get to keep their bounty or (2) the victims are restored, as much as possible, to the condition they were in before the fraud. If we choose option 1 then we are headed down the same rabbit hole that deceived everyone into thinking everything was all right while the banks siphoned the life out of our economy. If we choose option 2, then we start on the road to recovery, regeneration and rejuvenation of a nation that for the sake of everyone needs to succeed.

January 14, 2010 New York Times

Few Burns for Four Bankers on the Hot Seat

WASHINGTON — The four bankers of the apocalypse strode into the Congressional hearing room and formed a crooked line. They raised their hands haltingly, looking at one another as if to see whether the other guys were going to do it, too. It was one of the more indecisive swearings-in you will ever see on Capitol Hill.

As cameras clacked Wednesday, four of the nation’s highest financial fliers took their places before the 10-member Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission charged with determining the causes of the nation’s financial debacle.

The bankers — Lloyd C. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, John J. Mack of Morgan Stanley and Brian T. Moynihan of Bank of America — joined a gallery of titans who have suffered through this ritual: tobacco executives, automakers and baseball’s steroid users, among others. Few Americans remember what they said, but the images endure as cultural mug shots.

Mr. Dimon (the silver-haired one) arrived first Wednesday morning, standing with his arms folded behind his witness chair, smiling for the cameras. He accepted a small packet of peanut butter cookies from a woman in the audience who rushed up to him. He was joined in chit-chat by Mr. Blankfein (the bald one), then Mr. Moynihan (the baby-faced one).

Mr. Mack (the bushy-eyebrowed one) stood apart from the others in the back of the hearing room. “I’m not going up there,” he said to no one in particular, resisting the photographic firing squad until the last possible second.

Then the gang that couldn’t oath straight mumbled its “I do’s.”

For those anticipating a cathartic ceremony of dressing-downs, apologies or verbal brawling, there was little of it during the three-and-a-half-hour hearing. Nor did the circular House hearing room resemble anyone’s idea of a circus tent; it was packed but quiet, scattered with a few innocuous protesters. The 10 commissioners pressed the bankers on executive compensation, on managing risks and on lending practices, keeping up a brisk pace while the witnesses fidgeted like busy people who all had planes or trains to catch.

The initial round of questions and responses provoked disapproval, a few pointed fingers and sporadic shows of humility from the witnesses. “If you do everything right in business, you’re going to make mistakes,” said Mr. Dimon.

Labored metaphors abounded. Phil Angelides, the former state treasurer of California who is the commission’s chairman, told Mr. Blankfein that he sounded like he was selling cars with faulty brakes and then buying insurance on the driver.

Bill Thomas, the panel’s vice chairman and a cantankerous former congressman from California, compared the work of the commission to an iceberg that was only one-eighth visible over the water.

Commissioner Byron S. Georgiou noted that the banks had “eaten their own cooking” (sort of a gastronomic version of the “made their own bed” cliché). Mr. Mack heartily agreed.

“We did eat our own cooking,” he said. “And we choked on it.”

After Mr. Angelides called for a quick break, the chief executives bolted — except for Mr. Mack, who stayed behind at the witness table. “What are people supposed to think when they see these bankers taking big bonuses?” one reporter asked Mr. Mack, who began his answer by noting that he did not get a bonus. Behind him, a woman wearing a Washington Nationals baseball cap was scurrying around, trying to get people to take her homemade fliers denouncing the Bank of America. She wore a “Fire Kenneth Lewis” T-shirt (Mr. Lewis was until recently the bank’s chief executive).

“I’m here because I want to put these guys in jail,” said the woman, Judy Koenick, of Chevy Chase, Md.

No stranger to muscular but diminished adversaries, Mr. Angelides, who lost the governor’s race in California to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, pointedly compared some Wall Street chief executives to blackjack players who could win huge amounts of cash but not lose anything. Mr. Dimon responded, “You can lose your job, and your reputation.”

Finally, before lunchtime, Mr. Angelides dismissed the executives.

A reporter asked Mr. Mack if the experience had been fun. “Well,” he said, making his way to the exit, “it’s just something that we had to do.”

Following a few feet behind, Mr. Dimon made the mistake of stopping to chat with someone and found himself gridlocked in a solo press conference.

Why were the chief executives not more apologetic? a reporter asked.

People “have to be very specific” when asking for apologies, Mr. Dimon cautioned.

He squared his shoulders and headed for the back door, only to meet an insistent question from Jonathan Karl of ABC.

“Mr. Dimon, does Wall Street get it?” Mr. Karl asked the banker, who kept walking and had nothing more to say.

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