Posts filed under “Bailout Nation”
Some people look at subprime lending and see evil. I look at subprime lending and I see the American dream in action. My mother lived it as a result of a finance company making a mortgage loan that a bank would not make.
–former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm
Many elected or appointed officials have a specific belief system that they may act upon in the implementation of policies. When the policies that flow from those beliefs go terribly wrong, it is natural to want to learn why. As is so often the case, that underlying ideology is usually a good place to begin looking.
In the aftermath of the great credit crisis, we have seen all manner of contrition from responsible parties. Most notably, Alan Greenspanadmitted error, saying as much in Congressional testimony. Greenspan was unintentionally ironic when he answered a question about whether ideology led him down the wrong path when it came to preventing irresponsible lending practices in subprime mortgages: “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”
Other contributors to the crisis have been similarly humbled. In “Bailout Nation,” I held former President Bill Clinton, and his two Treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, responsible for signing the ruinous Commodity Futures Modernization Act that exempted derivatives from regulation and oversight. The CFMA was passed as part of a larger bill by unanimous consent, and that Clinton signed on Dec. 21, 2000. Clinton joined Greenspan in admitting his contribution to the credit crisis, as well as saying the advice he received from his Treasury secretaries — Rubin and Summers — was wrong.
The CFMA removed the standard regulations that all other financial instruments follow: reserve requirements, counter-party disclosures and exchange listings.
Bloomberg reported that Clinton said his advisers argued that derivatives didn’t need transparency because they were “expensive and sophisticated and only a handful of people will buy them and they don’t need any extra protection. The flaw in that argument was that first of all, sometimes people with a lot of money make stupid decisions and make it without transparency.”
Even the American Enterprise Institute changed the name of its “Financial Deregulation Project” to the more benign “program on financial policy studies.” That is as close to an apology as we can expect for its part in pushing for market deregulation.
The exception to any post-crisis self-reflection is former Senator Phil Gramm. Although he was one of the chief architects of the radical gutting of financial regulations and oversight rules during the two decades that preceded the financial crisis, the former senator remains a stubborn believer that banks and markets can regulate themselves.
Perhaps more than anyone else, Gramm drove the legislation that allowed banks to get much bigger and derivatives to run wild. His name is on the law — the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 — that overturned the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that forced commercial banks to get out of the risky investment-banking business.
How responsible was Gramm for the financial crisis? Consider the following from the New York Times in 2008:
In one remarkable stretch from 1999 to 2001, he pushed laws and promoted policies that he says unshackled businesses from needless restraints but his critics charge significantly contributed to the financial crisis that has rattled the nation.
He led the effort to block measures curtailing deceptive or predatory lending, which was just beginning to result in a jump in home foreclosures that would undermine the financial markets. He advanced legislation that fractured oversight of Wall Street while knocking down Depression-era barriers that restricted the rise and reach of financial conglomerates.
And he pushed through a provision that ensured virtually no regulation of the complex financial instruments known as derivatives, including credit swaps, contracts that would encourage risky investment practices at Wall Street’s most venerable institutions and spread the risks, like a virus, around the world.
The causes of the crisis are complex and developed over many years. But if you want to hold a single elected official responsible for the collapse of American International Group — if any one event could have taken down the entire financial system, that was it — it would have to be Gramm.
Today, we will see the former Senate deregulator in chief defend his actions in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. Don’t expect a Greenspan-like moment of self-criticism.
Originally published as: The Few Who Won’t Say `Sorry’ for Financial Crisis
After seven years, the federal government has finally received its comeuppance. U.S. Judge Thomas C. Wheeler gave the Federal Reserve a severe tongue lashing, a tsk-tsking for the central bank’s financial-crisis overreach. That ought to teach ‘em. The actual result of the case is to confirm the status quo. In “emergencies,” restraint on government adds…Read More
This is an amazing decision; you should read the entire thing!
“The main issues in the case are: (1) whether the Federal Reserve Bank of New York possessed the legal authority to acquire a borrower’s equity when making a loan under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act, 12 U.S.C. § 343 (2006); and (2) whether there could legally be a taking without just compensation of AIG’s equity under the Fifth Amendment where AIG’s Board of Directors voted on September 16, 2008 to accept the Government’s proposed terms. If Starr prevails on either or both of these questions of liability, the Court must also determine what damages should be awarded to the plaintiff shareholders. Other subsidiary issues exist in varying degrees of importance, but the two issues stated above are the focus of the case . . .”
The weight of the evidence demonstrates that the Government treated AIG much more harshly than other institutions in need of financial assistance. In September 2008, AIG’s international insurance subsidiaries were thriving and profitable, but its Financial Products Division experienced a severe liquidity shortage due to the collapse of the housing market. Other major institutions, such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, encountered similar liquidity shortages.
Thus, while the Government publicly singled out AIG as the poster child for causing the September 2008 economic crisis (Paulson, Tr. 1254-55), the evidence supports a conclusion that AIG actually was less responsible for the crisis than other major institutions. The notorious credit default swap transactions were very low risk in a thriving housing market, but they quickly became very high risk when the bottom fell out of this market. Many entities engaged in these transactions, not just AIG. The Government’s justification for taking control of AIG’s ownership and running its business operations appears to have been entirely misplaced. The Government did not demand shareholder equity, high interest rates, or voting control of any entity except AIG. Indeed, with the exception of AIG, the Government has never demanded equity ownership from a borrower in the 75-year history of Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act. Paulson, Tr. 1235-36; Bernanke, Tr. 1989-90 . . .
The Government’s unduly harsh treatment of AIG in comparison to other institutions seemingly was misguided and had no legitimate purpose, even considering concerns about “moral hazard.”4 The question is not whether this treatment was inequitable or unfair, but whether the Government’s actions created a legal right of recovery for AIG’s shareholders.
Turning to the issue of damages, there are a few relevant data points that should be noted. First, the Government profited from the shares of stock that it illegally took from AIG and then sold on the open market. One could assert that the revenue from these unauthorized transactions, approximately $22.7 billion, should be returned to the rightful owners, the AIG shareholders. Starr’s claim, however, is not based upon any disgorgement of illegally obtained revenue. Instead, Starr’s claim for shareholder loss is premised upon AIG’s stock price on September 24, 2008, which is the first stock trading day when the public learned all of the material terms of the FRBNY/AIG Credit Agreement. The September 24, 2008 closing price of $3.31 per share also is a conservative choice because it represents the lowest AIG stock price during the period September 22-24, 2008. Yet, this stock price irrefutably is influenced by the $85 billion cash infusion made possible by the Government’s credit facility. To award damages on this basis would be to force the Government to pay on a propped-up stock price that it helped create with an $85 billion loan. See United States v. Cors, 337 U.S. 325, 334 (1949) (“[V]alue which the government itself created” is a value it “in fairness should not be required to pay.”).
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In the end, the Achilles’ heel of Starr’s case is that, if not for the Government’s intervention, AIG would have filed for bankruptcy. In a bankruptcy proceeding, AIG’s shareholders would most likely have lost 100 percent of their stock value . . .
Particularly in the case of a corporate conglomerate largely composed of insurance subsidiaries, the assets of such subsidiaries would have been seized by state or national governmental authorities to preserve value for insurance policyholders. Davis Polk’s lawyer, Mr. Huebner, testified that it would have been a “very hard landing” for AIG, like cascading champagne glasses where secured creditors are at the top with their glasses filled first, then spilling over to the glasses of other creditors, and finally to the glasses of equity shareholders where there would be nothing left. Huebner, Tr. 5926, 5930-31; see also Offit, Tr. 7370 (In a bankruptcy filing, the shareholders are “last in line” and in most cases their interests are “wiped out.”).
Richard Fuld, the former chief executive officer of Lehman Brothers, is the Shaggy of finance. On the cause of the financial crisis and the collapse of Lehman Brothers, his claim is, “It wasn’t me.” Seven years after he drove the 158-year old firm he ran with an iron fist into bankruptcy, he has reappeared to…Read More
Dissenting Statement Regarding Certain Waivers Granted by the Commission for Certain Entities Pleading Guilty to Criminal Charges Involving Manipulation of Foreign Exchange Rates Commissioner Kara M. Stein May 21, 2015 I dissent from the Commission’s Orders, issued on May 20, 2015, that granted the following waivers from an array of disqualifications required by federal…Read More
Since CEO compensation is back in the news, I thought we might want to revisit this collection of excess via Bailout Nation: Pre-Crisis Financial Company CEO Compensation • Lehman Brothers Chairman and CEO Richard Fuld Jr. made $34 million in 2007. Fuld also made nearly a half-billion—$490 million—from selling Lehman stock in the years before Lehman…Read More
This week in encouraging news, we learn that the Securities and Exchange Commission may finally be pursuing one of the prime enablers of the financial crisis — the ratings companies. Previously, it was reported that disclosure violations were on the SEC’s radar, but truth be told, those are minor offenses. The SEC’s Office of Credit…Read More
“To avert panic, central banks should lend early and freely, to solvent firms, against good collateral, and at ‘high rates.’ ” -Walter Bagehot, Lombard Street Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has been promoting his new book, “Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.” I haven’t read it, and based on what I have heard…Read More
Barry Ritholtz is a Wall Street money manager and Washington Post columnist who writes a popular investment-focused blog, The Big Picture. He is also the author of Bailout Nation, explaining for the general reader the finance behind the financial crisis -Five Books The Wall Street money manager diagnoses the ills of America’s political…Read More
Five years ago today I was hard at work revising all of my prior efforts on Bailout Nation. Once Lehman hit the pavement after Bear was rescued, it was clear there were lessons to be learned. Here was my short list: The Terrible Lessons of Bear Stearns • Go Big: Don’t just risk your…Read More