Bank of America Is Pulling the Scam Which Banks Have Pulled for Decades
Professor of economics and law – and the senior S&L prosecutor who put more than 1,000 top executives in jail for fraud (Bill Black) writes today:
Lewis and his successor, Brian Moynihan, have destroyed nearly one-half trillion dollars in BAC shareholder value [through control fraud]. (See my prior post on the “Divine Right of Bank Profits…”) BAC continues to deteriorate and the credit rating agencies have been downgrading it because of its bad assets, particularly its derivatives. BAC’s answer is to “transfer” the bad derivatives to the insured bank – transforming (ala Ireland) a private debt into a public debt.
Banking regulators have known for well over a century about the acute dangers of conflicts of interest. Two related conflicts have generated special rules designed to protect the bank and the insurance fund. One restricts transactions with senior insiders and the other restricts transactions with affiliates. The scam is always the same when it comes to abusive deals with affiliates – they transfer bad (or overpriced) assets or liabilities to the insured institution. As S&L regulators, we recurrently faced this problem. For example, Ford Motor Company attempted to structure an affiliate transaction that was harmful to the insured S&L (First Nationwide). The bank, because of federal deposit insurance, typically has a higher credit rating than its affiliate corporations.
BAC’s request to transfer the problem derivatives to B of A was a no brainer – unfortunately, it was apparently addressed to officials at the Fed who meet that description. Any competent regulator would have said: “No, Hell NO!” Indeed, any competent regulator would have developed two related, acute concerns immediately upon receiving the request. First, the holding company’s controlling managers are a severe problem because they are seeking to exploit the insured institution. Second, the senior managers of B of A acceded to the transfer, apparently without protest, even though the transfer poses a severe threat to B of A’s survival. Their failure to act to prevent the transfer contravenes both their fiduciary duties of loyalty and care and should lead to their resignations.
I would bet large amounts of money that I do not have that neither B of A’s CEO nor the Fed even thought about whether the transfer was consistent with the CEO’s fiduciary duties to B of A (v. BAC). We took depositions during the S&L debacle in which senior officials of Lincoln Savings and its affiliates were shocked when we asked “whose interests were you representing – the S&L or the affiliate?” They had obviously never even considered their fiduciary duties or identified their actual client.
Reread the Bloomberg column and wrap your mind around the size of Merrill Lynch’s derivatives positions. Next, consider that Merrill is only one, shrinking player in derivatives. Finally, reread Yves’ column in Naked Capitalism where she explains (correctly) that many derivatives cannot be used safely. Add to that my point about how they can be used to create a “sure thing” of record fictional profits, record compensation, and catastrophic losses. This is particularly true about credit default swaps (CDS) because of the grotesque accounting treatment that typically involves no allowances for future losses. (FASB: you must fix this urgently or you will allow a “perfect crime.”). It is insane that we did not pass a one sentence law repealing the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000. Between the SDIs, the massive, sometimes inherently unsafe and largely opaque financial derivatives, the appointment, retention, and promotion of failed anti-regulators, and the continuing ability of elite control frauds to loot with impunity we are inviting recurrent, intensifying crises.
… And Which White Collar Criminals Have Been Pulling for Hundreds of Years
Professor Black has previously pointed out that we’ve known for hundreds of years that the failure to punish financial fraud leads to more and more destructive impacts on the economy:
Nobel prize winning economist George Akerlof has demonstrated that failure to punish white collar criminals – and instead bailing them out- creates incentives for more economic crimes and further destruction of the economy in the future. Indeed, William Black notes that we’ve known of this dynamic for “hundreds of years”.