Do you want the truth about what shape banks are in right now? Sure you can handle it? Shah Gilani explains why nothing has really changed. Read more...
- Why Crime Pays for "Too-Big-To-Fail" Banks
- Too Big To Jail: It's a Dark Day For the Rule of Law
- Banks Are Setting Us Up Again, This Time The Fall Could Be $2.6 Trillion or More
- The Banks Win, Again
- Robo-Signing is the Tip of the Iceberg for the Banks
- Fed's Easing Spurs Treasury Purchases as Banks Shun Lending
- Smaller U.S. Regional Banks Fast Becoming Takeover Targets
- Taipan Daily: Three Ways to Tell if Your Bank Is Safe
- Covered Bonds: An Investing Stalwart Through the Centuries
- Covered Bonds: The Solution to America's Economic Ills
- AIG and Government Looking to Accelerate Exit Strategy
- Money Morning Mailbag: Small Business Owners Find Hope in Big Banks' Lending Promises
- Two Ways to Tell if the U.S. Economy is Ready to Get Back on its Feet
- It's Time to Keep America From Becoming Just Another Banana Republic
- Ignoring Sovereign Default Damages Credibility of EU's Bank Stress Tests
- Money Morning Mailbag: Big Banks Under Fire for Metals-Market Manipulation
I'm not buying any bank stocks at these levels. I don't own any at present. And if I did, I'd either sell them or at least hedge them.
But it's not that they're doing poorly. They're not.
Citigroup beat analysts' expectations and finished up yesterday - even though the Dow took a big tumble. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase didn't do badly last week, in terms of their earnings and profit numbers either.
Admittedly, if you're a "too-big-to-fail bank or a shareholder, it's been a good ride.
But here's why it's about to end...
U.S. banks will pay more than $100 billion in fines due to acts that caused the financial crisis. Think that bothers them? Shah Gilani explains why it's just business as usual…
It may be a dark day for the rule of law, but it's business as usual for the banks.
America's heralded and frighteningly powerful Department of Justice, along with all of the not so heralded or frightening banking regulators, simply refused to prosecute Britain's biggest bank out of fear of "collateral consequences."
In other words, they're "too big to prosecute."
That's what Andrew Bailey, the chief executive-designate of the Prudential Regulation Authority, said about the usual deferred prosecution agreement that accompanied HSBC's $1.9 billion fine. The Prudential Regulation Authority is set to replace the U.K.'s Financial Services Authority - the country's current toothless watch dog,
It's just another example of too big to fail and too big to jail.
Deferred prosecution agreements and hefty fines levied against the world's TBTF banks have become commonplace. Still, there are relatively few criminal charges, just wrist-slapping, don't-do-it-again fines and public spankings.
It is a dark day for the rule of law because the money cloak has effectively been cast over all things having to do with justice.
Let's call it what it is: buying immunity.
Only this go-round the costs will be far higher and the damage much worse. This time the fall could be $2.6 trillion or more.
Let me explain.
It started back in the mid-2000s. Wall Street was busy packaging low-rated subprime loans into securitized offerings that were somehow worth more than the sum of their parts.
In reality, what they were doing was little more than laundering toxic debt while raking in obscene profits along the way.
You know the rest of the story as well as I do. Not long after, the stuff hit the proverbial fan and it was not evenly distributed.
Well here we go again...
Both JPMorgan and Bank of America are quietly marketing a new scheme designed to "transform" sub-par assets into quality holdings that will serve as treasury-quality collateral needed to meet the new capital requirements that come into effect in 2013 as part of the Dodd-Frank Act.
Wall Street Is Up to Its Old TricksThis may sound complicated but it's not. It works like this.
When you trade on margin like these mega-institutions do, you are required to post collateral to offset counterparty risk. That way, if the trade busts and you are unable to deliver on your side of the trade, there is recourse.
If you have a mortgage or a car loan, you know what I'm talking about. Your lender can seize both if you default or otherwise fail to meet your payment obligations.
Trading collateral works the same way. In years past, trading collateral has most commonly taken the form of U.S. treasuries (or other securities) that meet stringent requirements with regard to ratings, liquidity, value and pricing.
However, since the financial crisis began, treasuries are in increasingly short supply. Investors and traders who have preferred safety over return are hoarding them.
Consequently, traders like JPMorgan's London-based "whale," Bruno Iksil, who want to write increasingly bigger, more sophisticated trades are in bind. They find themselves unable to trade because many times the clients they represent can't post the collateral needed to "gun" the trades.
As you might imagine, Wall Street doesn't like that because it means billions in profits and bonuses get lost as trading volumes drop.
So they've gone to the unregulated woodshed again and come up with yet more financial hocus pocus designed to circumvent rules in the name of profits.
At the same time, they're once again hiding the true extent of the risks they are taking - and that's the outrageous part.
These same banks that have already driven the world to the brink of financial oblivion and been bailed out once may need another $2.6 trillion dollars or more to backstop the unregulated $648 trillion derivatives playground they've created for themselves.
And don't think for a minute that your money isn't at risk either...
Make that, well on its way.
Those poor big banks accidently and inadvertently got caught up making so many easy loans to deserving, hard-up borrowers, who wanted to buy overpriced dream homes, and a few million other folks who deserved two homes and McMansions to keep up with the Joneses (you know the Joneses... most of them were "friends of Angelo").
But now, at last, the banks are making profits again.
After suffering the indignity of insolvency and near collapse for all their hard work, the New Samaritans are still being haunted by their generosity, as regulators hound them into settlement submission, merely for doing God's work.
So, what's the good news?
The second quarter may be a good one for the three biggest servicer banks, namely Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), and - the little bank that could, run by that kid named Jamie - JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM).
What's strange is that these do-gooders are being helped by some of the same government folks who are still attacking them in public venues where voters hang their hats.
What's not strange is that tons of underwater homebuyers, who are drowning in debt on dwellings whose prices have fallen 30% to 40%, aren't blaming banks and are running to their rescue.
Okay, maybe they're not running, maybe it's more that they're being corralled, like sheep. But either way, they are helping banks fatten their profits pools (make that bonus pools) again.
They're repaying the banks' favor of giving them loans in the first place by coming (more like being forced) back to the banks to get refinanced on better terms.
But they're not doing it on their own. The banks have a partner helping to round up their old customers and corral them into the breeding profits barn.
That Partner is HARP 2.0The original Home Affordable Refinance Program, which was launched in April 2009, failed miserably (because there was nothing in it for banks). But the powers that be (the banks... DUH) harped for a new HARP, and they got it last November.
The new program is known as HARP 2.0 (that's because it's twice as profitable for the big banks that sunk the economy and the world under Housing Bubblemania 1.0).
Okay, enough sarcasm; let me slice and dice this succinctly for you.
It turns out the "robo-signing" of foreclosure affidavits is just the tip of the iceberg.
In what one judge called "robo-testimony," falsely attested-to statements by bank document custodians have been submitted in courts around the country by banks trying to win judgments against delinquent credit card debtors.
Apparently, tens of millions of credit cards issued by banks have not been accompanied by good recordkeeping, either.
Chasing down delinquent borrowers in court requires original credit agreements and accurate payment histories to verify outstanding balances and claims.
As it turns out, banks aren't providing them - either to the courts or to third-party debt collection companies that buy uncollected debts for pennies on the dollar.
As a result of these shoddy practices, judgments already granted to banks could be overturned and they could be sued by state attorney generals or pursued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The same banks could even be potentially charged by the Justice Department under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Statutes for selling dubiously documented accounts to debt collection companies.
While some debtors will take comfort in what they read here, investors in banks may want to question how legal issues and regulatory investigations will impact their stocks.
U.S. commercial banks are buying the most Treasury and agency debt since the Fed began tracking the data in 1950, adding $186.2 billion to their inventories through Oct. 20 bringing the total to $1.62 trillion. At the same time, commercial and industrial loans outstanding have fallen by about $68.5 billion this year to $1.23 trillion, according to central bank data compiled by Bloomberg News.
By tying up their capital in government securities, banks make it more difficult for small businesses to get loans and create jobs, which discourages consumer spending.
Activity in the financial services industry has been subdued for the past three years as weak loan growth, shrinking profit margins, increased regulation and low valuations kept investors at bay. But now forces pressuring the industry to contract "will create more willingness to sell from bank management teams and board of directors over the next year," and drive consolidation, according to the report by Credit Suisse Equity Research.
Specifically, weak U.S. regional banks could be attractive targets for Canadian banks looking to expand their U.S. holdings, the report said.
Created in Prussia in 1769 by Frederick the Great, covered bonds have a long history and through the centuries have become a very popular investment instrument in Europe. There, known as Pfandbriefs, these mostly AAA-rated debentures make up the third-largest segment of the German bond market (behind public-sector bonds and unsecured bank debt).
"In the past few years, covered bonds have enjoyed a resurgence as investors search for high quality investments with attractive yields and as European banks look to finance the growth in mortgage lending," fixed-income heavyweight PIMCO wrote in a 2006 research note to investors.
I'm talking about securitization, a masterstroke of financial engineering in which assets are aggregated in order to reduce risk. Once heralded as the greatest financial innovation of modern times, abusive securitization practices instead generated a feeding frenzy of gross excesses that exponentially multiplied risk and drove the world to the brink of financial Armageddon.
Now, a hybrid form of securitization called "covered bonds" may be our only way out.
Under the plan, the Treasury Department is likely to convert $49 billion of AIG preferred shares it holds into common shares, a move that could bring the government's ownership stake in AIG to above 90%, from 79.8% currently, The Journal reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
The common shares would then be gradually sold off to private investors, a move that would reduce U.S. ownership and potentially earn the government a profit if the shares rise in value.
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke noted at a lending conference in July that there was a serious gap developing between large businesses that were building up cash and smaller ones still unable to get credit, and blamed tight credit for preventing small businesses from hiring.
"Making credit accessible to sound small businesses is crucial to our economic recovery," Bernanke said at the conference.
According to the National Small Business Association's 2010 Mid-Year Economic Report, 41% of small businesses were still having trouble obtaining credit in July.
Simply put, there's no chance that stock investors will see a healthy, long-term bull market until credit again begins to flow freely and home prices start rising.
Unfortunately, neither the credit market nor the housing market is yet ready to lead a sustainable economic rebound. But knowing that these are the two legs on which our economy stands, we can effectively gauge their condition, and thus be better able to predict a stock market rally.
Let me explain.
To find out how you can effectively diagnose the economic recovery read on...