Inside the Federal Reserve, Bank Bailouts and Demand for Transparency

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This Bloomberg Markets piece on the action’s of the Federal Reserve, in secret, should be required reading for every American citizen.  While ‘too complex’ for the masses, what is going on in the back halls of D.C. is simply amazing.  Bloomberg has been fighting for two years through Freedom of Information acts to get to the data – thankfully some parts of our press are not completely owned and paid for by the corporatacity (yes, I’m making up words).   As with almost everything else in this country, the numbers are so large as to escape comprehension – at this point the Fed could be handing out $500 quadrillion, and it would not make that much of a difference in terms of impact to the psyche.  TBTF lives on…..

Further Reading: Big Banks: We Earned Billions From Fed Bailout>>

Quite a lengthy read so I encourage the full review, but some snippets:

  • The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing.
  • The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day.  (let’s stop there for a moment – absorb that number – the entire national GDP in a year is $14T.  In one day the banks required 1/14th of our entire national output!  Too big to fail? or bail? Certainly not the latter)
  • Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy.
  • And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.
  • Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse.
  • A fresh narrative of the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 emerges from 29,000 pages of Fed documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and central bank records of more than 21,000 transactions. While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger.
  • The size of the bailout came to light after Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, won a court case against the Fed and a group of the biggest U.S. banks called Clearing House Association LLC to force lending details into the open.
  • The Fed, headed by Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, argued that revealing borrower details would create a stigma — investors and counterparties would shun firms that used the central bank as lender of last resort — and that needy institutions would be reluctant to borrow in the next crisis. Clearing House Association fought Bloomberg’s lawsuit up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the banks’ appeal in March 2011.
  • The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.
  • “TARP at least had some strings attached,” says Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, referring to the program’s executive-pay ceiling. “With the Fed programs, there was nothing.”
  • The Fed initially released lending data in aggregate form only. Information on which banks borrowed, when, how much and at what interest rate was kept from public view.  The secrecy extended even to members of President George W. Bush’s administration who managed TARP. Top aides to Paulson weren’t privy to Fed lending details during the creation of the program that provided crisis funding to more than 700 banks, say two former senior Treasury officials who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak.
  • The Treasury Department relied on the recommendations of the Fed to decide which banks were healthy enough to get TARP money and how much, the former officials say. The six biggest U.S. banks, which received $160 billion of TARP funds, borrowed as much as $460 billion from the Fed, measured by peak daily debt calculated by Bloomberg using data obtained from the central bank.
  • The six — JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C), Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE:WFC), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) — accounted for 63 percent of the average daily debt to the Fed by all publicly traded U.S. banks, money managers and investment- services firms, the data show. By comparison, they had about half of the industry’s assets before the bailout, which lasted from August 2007 through April 2010.
  • Judd Gregg, a former New Hampshire senator who was a lead Republican negotiator on TARP, and Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who chaired the House Financial Services Committee, both say they were kept in the dark. “We didn’t know the specifics,” says Gregg, who’s now an adviser to Goldman Sachs. (I’m laughing more at where Gregg landed rather than our Congress being in the dark – although both are laughable)  “We were aware emergency efforts were going on,” Frank says. “We didn’t know the specifics.”
  • Byron L. Dorgan, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, says the knowledge might have helped pass legislation to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which for most of the last century separated customer deposits from the riskier practices of investment banking.  “Had people known about the hundreds of billions in loans to the biggest financial institutions, they would have demanded Congress take much more courageous actions to stop the practices that caused this near financial collapse,” says Dorgan, who retired in January.  (Dorgan is one of the few in Congress who actually seemed to be doing his job – he saw this crisis coming a decade earlier!)
  • Instead, the Fed and its secret financing helped America’s biggest financial firms get bigger and go on to pay employees as much as they did at the height of the housing bubble.  Total assets held by the six biggest U.S. banks increased 39 percent to $9.5 trillion on Sept. 30, 2011, from $6.8 trillion on the same day in 2006, according to Fed data. (“too even bigger to fail”)
  • Lobbying expenditures by the six banks that would have been affected by the legislation rose to $29.4 million in 2010 compared with $22.1 million in 2006, the last full year before credit markets seized up — a gain of 33 percent, according to OpenSecrets.org, a research group that tracks money in U.S. politics. Lobbying by the American Bankers Association, a trade organization, increased at about the same rate, OpenSecrets.org reported.
  • Top officials in President Barack Obama’s administration sided with the FSF in arguing against legislative curbs on the size of banks.

And of course the man whose negligence of regulation at the head of the NY Fed…. was promoted for his ‘good works’ for the banks or as Blankfein would say he was ‘doing God’s work’.

  • On May 4, 2010, Geithner visited Kaufman in his Capitol Hill office. As president of the New York Fed in 2007 and 2008, Geithner helped design and run the central bank’s lending programs. The New York Fed supervised four of the six biggest U.S. banks and, during the credit crunch, put together a daily confidential report on Wall Street’s financial condition.
  • At the meeting with Kaufman, Geithner argued that the issue of limiting bank size was too complex for Congress and that people who know the markets should handle these decisions, Kaufman says.   In the end, Geithner had his way. The Brown-Kaufman proposal to limit the size of banks was defeated, 60 to 31
  • Lobbyists for the big banks made the winning case that forcing them to break up was “punishing success,” Brown says.

Trader Mark is the author of Fund My Mutual Fund.

Further Reading: Big Banks: We Earned Billions From Fed Bailout>>

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