Simon Johnson on Business Model of Lie More

Featured Products and Services by The Garfield Firm

——–>SEE TABLE OF CONTENTS: WHOSE LIEN IS IT ANYWAY TOC

LivingLies Membership – If you are not already a member, this is the time to do it, when things are changing.

For Customer Service call 1-520-405-1688

Editor’s Comment:  

Anyone who is curious why I named this blog LivingLies will have all their questions answered by this well-articulated article by Simon Johnson, Chief economist of the World Bank, author of 13 Bankers, and the main writer for www.baseline scenario.com. Johnson is first among the world of economists who instantly knew the severity of the culture of lying and deception at the TBTF banks. He is joined in these views by the Financial Times, normally rabidly pro-bank and no less than the Governor of the Bank of England who apparently coined the phrase “Lie More” to replace what was the only index that mattered in the world of finance and bond trading.

The consequences of this culture of lying will be laid bare in the weeks and months and years to come. But as Johnson points out, the days are over when anyone trusts a bank or bank statement. Representations of bank officials once considered as good as gold or what used to be called good as Libor, are now going to be subject of scrutiny and will no doubt reveal a pattern of deceit even deeper than thes we already know about the mortgage meltdown and the trading scam resulting from intentionally manipulating Libor — the gold standard of all indexes.

Lie-More As A Business Model

By Simon Johnson

On Monday, Bob Diamond – the CEO of Barclays, one of the largest banks in the world – was supposedly the indispensable man, with his supporters claiming he was the only person who could see that global megabank through a growing scandal.  On Tuesday morning Mr. Diamond resigned and the stock market barely blinked – in fact, Barclays’ stock was up 0.3 percent.  As Charles de Gaulle supposedly remarked, “the cemeteries are full of indispensable men.”

Mr. Diamond’s fall was spectacular and complete.  It was also entirely appropriate.

Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets – a financial reform advocacy group – summarized the situation nicely in an interview with the BBC World Service on Tuesday.  The controversy that brought down Mr. Diamond had to do with deliberate and now acknowledged deception by Barclays’ staff with regard to the data they reported for Libor – the London Interbank Offered Rate (with the abbreviation pronounced Lie-Bore).  Mr. Kelleher was blunt: the issue in question is “Lie More” not Libor.  (See also this post on his blog, making the point that this impacts credit transactions with a face value of at least $800 trillion.)

Mr. Kelleher’s words may seem harsh, but they are exactly in line with the recently articulated editorial position of the Financial Times (FT) – not a publication that is generally hostile to the banking sector.  In a scathing editorial last weekend (“Shaming the banks into better ways,” June 28th), the typically nuanced FT editorial writers blasted behavior at Barclays and nailed the broader issue in what it called “a long-running confidence trick”:

“The Barclays affair may lack the spice of some recent banking scandals, involving as it does the rather dry “crime” of misreporting interest rates.  But few have shone such an unsparing light on the rotten heart of the financial system.”

The editorial was exactly right with regard to the cultural problem – within that Barclays it had become acceptable or perhaps even encouraged to provide false information.  It underemphasized, however, the importance of incentives in creating that culture.  The employees of Barclays were doing what they were paid to do – and the latest indications from the company are that none of their bonuses will now be “clawed back”.

Martin Wolf, senior economics columnist at the FT and formerly a member of the UK’s Independent Banking Commission, sees to the core issue:

“banks, as presently constituted and managed, cannot be trusted to perform any publicly important function, against the perceived interests of their staff. Today’s banks represent the incarnation of profit-seeking behaviour taken to its logical limits, in which the only question asked by senior staff is not what is their duty or their responsibility, but what can they get away with.”

This matters because, “Trust is not an optional extra in banking, it is, as the salience of the word “credit” to this industry implies, of the essence.”

As the FT editorial put it, “The bankers involved have betrayed an important public trust – that of keeping an accurate public record of the key market rates that are used to value contracts worth trillions of dollars”.

In the words of Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, “the idea that my word is my Libor is dead.”  Translation: No one will believe large banks again when their executives claim they could have borrowed at a particular interest rate – we will need to see actual transaction data, i.e., what they actually paid.  Presumably there should be similar skepticism about other claims made by global megabanks, including whenever they plead that this or that financial reform – limiting their ability to take excessive risk and impose inordinate costs on society – will bring the economy to its knees.  It is all special pleading of one or another, mostly intended to rip off customers or taxpayers or, ideally perhaps, both.

Mr. Kelleher has the economics exactly right.  Global megabanks have an incentive to deceive customers, including both individuals and nonfinancial corporations.  Their size confers both market power and the political power needed to conceal the extent to which they are engage in economic fraud.  The lack of transparency in derivatives markets provides them with an opportunity to cheat, but the abuses are much wider – as the Libor scandal demonstrates.

The rip-off is not just for retail investors; chief financial officers of major corporations who should be up in arms.  Boards of directors and shareholders of companies that buy services from big banks should be asking much harder questions about all kinds of derivatives transactions – and who exactly is served by the terms of such agreements.

As Mr. Kelleher puts it on his blog,

“They like to call themselves “banks,” but they aren’t banks in any traditional sense. They are global behemoths that are not just too-big-to-fail, but also too-big-to-regulate and too-big-to-manage. Take JP Morgan Chase for example. It has a $2.35 trillion balance sheet, more than 270,000 employees worldwide, thousands of legal entities, 554 subsidiaries and, as proved by the recent trading losses in London, a CEO, CFO and management team that has no idea what is going on in their own bank.”

“Let’s hope for the sake of the global financial system, the global economy and taxpayers worldwide that Mr. Diamond’s resignation is the first of many. What is needed is a clean sweep of the executive offices of these too-big-to-fail banks, which are still being governed by the same business model as before the crisis: do whatever they can get away with to get the biggest paychecks as possible. (Remember, CEO Diamond paid himself 20 million pounds last year and was the UK banking leader insisting that everyone stop picking on the banks.)

Lie-more is just the latest example of why that all has to change and the sooner the better”


BUY THE BOOK! CLICK HERE!

BUY WORKSHOP COMPANION WORKBOOK AND 2D EDITION PRACTICE MANUAL

GET TWO HOURS OF CONSULTATION WITH NEIL DIRECTLY, USE AS NEEDED

COME TO THE 1/2 DAY PHOENIX WORKSHOP: CLICK HERE FOR PRE-REGISTRATION DISCOUNTS

Everything Built on Myth Eventually Fails

Featured Products and Services by The Garfield Firm

NEW! 2nd Edition Attorney Workbook,Treatise & Practice Manual – Pre-Order NOW for an up to $150 discount
LivingLies Membership – Get Discounts and Free Access to Experts
For Customer Service call 1-520-405-1688

Want to read more? Download entire introduction for the Attorney Workbook, Treatise & Practice Manual 2012 Ed – Sample

Pre-Order the new workbook today for up to a $150 savings, visit our store for more details. Act now, offer ends soon!

Editor’s Comment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Banks Small Enough And Simple Enough To Fail

By Simon Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

%d bloggers like this: