Wells Fargo Fined $185 Million for Fraudulently Opening Accounts [The New York Times] “For years, Wells Fargo employees secretly issued credit cards without a customer’s consent. They created fake email accounts to sign up customers for online banking services. They set up sham accounts that customers learned about only after they started accumulating fees. On Thursday, these illegal banking practices cost Wells Fargo $185 million in fines, including a $100 million penalty from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the largest such penalty the agency has issued. Federal banking regulators said the practices, which date back to 2011, reflected serious flaws in the internal culture and oversight at Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest banks. The bank has fired at least 5,300 employees who were involved. In all, Wells Fargo employees opened roughly 1.5 million bank accounts and applied for 565,000 credit cards that may not have been authorized by customers, the regulators said in a news conference. The bank has 40 million retail customers.” [more inside]
It was 2008, after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. Markets were in turmoil. Banks were failing left and right. I worked at a major investment bank, and while I didn’t think the disastrous deal I’d done would cause its collapse, my losses were quickly decimating its commodities profits for the year... [more inside]
Greece's recently appointed finance minister may have a secret weapon -- charisma. One commenter has called him the world's most interesting man. He certainly lives in interesting times.
The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase's Worst Nightmare. "Meet the woman JPMorgan Chase paid one of the largest fines in American history to keep from talking." [more inside]
Tim Geithner says he doesn't know how he went from a "mediocre student" to leading the response to the "largest destruction of GDP in world history." His resume highlights were from addressing economic crises in developing countries in ways that correlated strongly to increasing poverty and reducing growth. His main response to critics of his "bailout the top" approach is that disaster was the only alternative.
Photojournal of Spain's new squatters: families, young professionals, degree-holders, single mothers, the elderly. "I have grandchildren," she says. "When I die I would like to be able to say to myself that they will have jobs, homes and a happy life. The corralas are important. They set an example to people who are struggling. They show that we can help ourselves and each other. I don't know what the future will hold for any of us, but one way or another I believe that this will be a successful fight. I have to, otherwise I wouldn't be able to sleep at night." [more inside]
The last mystery of the financial crisis. It's long been suspected that ratings agencies like Moody's and Standard & Poor's helped trigger the meltdown. A new trove of embarrassing documents shows how they did it. by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone.
Wall Street begins playing again with the same matches that burned the economy in 2008 From the New York Times: "The banks that created risky amalgams of mortgages and loans during the boom — the kind that went so wrong during the bust — are busily reviving the same types of investments that many thought were gone for good. Once more, arcane-sounding financial products like collateralized debt obligations are being minted on Wall Street. " (View article on a single page) [more inside]
On Saturday the EU mandated that all bank deposits in Cyprus pay a 6.75% "stability levy" on the first €100,000 and 9.9% on the excess to help pay for €6 billion of the €10 billion bank bailout. This is despite opposition from the Cyprus finance minister, who stated earlier this month that "there really couldn't be a more stupid idea" and more recently that "I wish I was not the minister to do this". The scale of the bailout is nearly 50% of Cyprus' entire GPD, and many officials are concerned that the money will go to Russian gangsters and oligarchs. The Saturday announcement lead to a run on the ATMs, which caused banks to restrict electronic transfers and set a €400 withdrawal limit. Most ATMs were out of money by the end of the day and a frustrated man threatened one bank with a bulldozer. The plan was scheduled to be voted on by parliament on Sunday, but it has been delayed to Monday and might not be passed by politicians who have heard complaints from their Cypriot constituents all weekend. The Cyprus President warned of total financial collapse and euro exit if it is not approved.
US Justice Department suing Standard and Poor's over a "scheme to defraud investors" before the financial crisis. More details on these recent developments from The Tech online edition here, which notes: "For many years, the ratings agencies have defended themselves successfully in civil litigation by saying their ratings were independent opinions, protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to free speech. Developments in the wake of the financial crisis have raised questions about the agencies’ independence, however." Reuters opts to let S&P break the news for themselves here.
Wall Street's leaders have utterly escaped jail. "There have been no arrests of senior Wall Street executives." Frontline examines why the United States federal government didn't go after the financial titans. (via)
"Of the top 100 Swiss companies, 49 give shareholders a consulting vote on the pay of executives. A few other countries, including the United States and Germany, have introduced advisory "say on pay" votes in response to the anger over inequality and corporate excess that drove the Occupy Wall Street movement. Britain is also planning to implement rules in late 2013 that will give shareholders a binding vote on pay and "exit payments" at least every three years. Minder's initiative goes further, forcing all listed companies to have binding votes on compensation for company managers and directors, and ban golden handshakes and parachutes. It would also ban bonus payments to managers if their companies are taken over, and impose severe penalties — including possible jail sentences and fines — for breaches of these new rules."
"We decided to go on an adventure through the financial statements of one bank [Wells Fargo], to explore exactly what they do and do not show, and to gauge whether it is possible to make informed judgments about the risks the bank may be carrying. We chose a bank that is thought to be a conservative financial institution, and an exemplar of what a large modern bank should be."
Secret and Lies of the Bailout. "The federal rescue of Wall Street didn’t fix the economy – it created a permanent bailout state based on a Ponzi-like confidence scheme. And the worst may be yet to come." [Via]
Be it the United States or the European Union, most Western countries are so highly indebted today that the markets have a greater say in their policies than the people. Why are democratic countries so pathetic when it comes to managing their money sustainably? This clear, well-written essay in Der Speigel lays out the current debt crisis - along with current, proposed solutions - in an understandable manner. Not included among the so-far-proposed solutions is one other that has opened up a veritable financial market and debt Pandora's Box - i.e. a central bank debt jubilee.
"Fundamentally flawed, unreasonable and irrational." In 2006, ABN Amro created a new type of financial instrument, the constant proportion debt obligation (CPDO), and sold a number of them to 15 local councils in Australia. Standard & Poor's rated these CPDOs as AAA. The Federal Court of Australia has now determined that both ABN Amro and S&P are liable for the losses the councils suffered when the value of the CPDOs collapsed during the financial crisis; the councils lost 90 per cent on the deal. S&P's rating of the CPDOs was found to have been "misleading and deceptive". Felix Salmon provides some analysis. [more inside]
The American people “should be enraged by the broken promises to Main Street and the unending protection of Wall Street” writes Neil Barofsky, former Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program in his new book, Bailout, about his time in that office. His trenchant criticisms of Washington egos, moneyed interests, and political games has some calling him an "idealistic alien" and others vehemently defending him. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner comes off particularly poorly in Bailout, unsurprising in light of his well-known feud with Barofsky over the efficacy of the bailouts. (previously)
"Some date the crisis to August 9 2007, the day it became clear that Europe’s banks were up to their necks in US housing debt. The ECB flooded markets with €95bn of liquidity. It seemed a lot of money then. The term “trillion” was still banned by the Telegraph style book in those innocent days. We have since learned to swing with the modern dance music from central banks." [Five years on, the Great Recession is turning into a life sentence]
Financial Markets, Politics and the New Reality: "Louis M. Bacon is the head of Moore Capital Management, one of the largest and most influential hedge funds in the world. Last week, he announced that he was returning one quarter of his largest fund, about $2 billion, to his investors, [saying] it is impossible to make money when there is heavy political involvement, because political involvement introduces unpredictability in the market… Adam Smith and David Ricardo, who modern investors so admire, [never] used the term "economics" by itself, but only in conjunction with politics; they called it political economy… The investors' problem is that they mistake the period between 1991 and 2008 as the norm and keep waiting for it to return."
Last year the CEO of Barclays Bank, Bob Diamond, told MPs that “There was a period of remorse and apology for banks. I think that period needs to be over.” Yesterday, Barclays was fined £290M by UK and US regulators for manipulating the key LIBOR lending rate. [more inside]
Hospitals in Minnesota have hired a collections company that plants its employees in the ER, squeezing money out of patients before they can get further care.
You know about the Great Depression, but do you know about the Long Depression? For a while now some have been suggesting we're in a "Third Depression", not so much like the Great one, but more like the Long Depression (1873–96) of 23 years (originally called the Great Depression). Suggesting "This slump won’t end until 2031". [more inside]
"GOVERNMENT debt dynamics, once an esoteric subject of interest only to macroeconomists, are suddenly in vogue. With Greece flirting with default, Italy's bond yields rising fast, and America's government bonds losing their AAA status, public-debt burdens have become dinner-party talk. Our interactive chart shows current IMF forecasts but also allows you to input some basic economic assumptions to see where general government debt as a percentage of GDP might head."
Mired deep in financial crisis, the Greek government of George Papandreou has sacked the country's military leadership:
In a surprise development, Panos Beglitis, Defence Minister, a close confidante of Mr Papandreou, summoned the chiefs of the army, navy and air-force and announced that they were being replaced by other senior officers. Neither the minister nor any government spokesman offered an explanation for the sudden, sweeping changes, which were scheduled to be considered on November 7 as part of a regular annual review of military leadership retirements and promotions. Usually the annual changes do not affect the entire leadership.[more inside]
Coming Apart: After 9/11 transfixed America, the country’s problems were left to rot. "No national consensus formed around 9/11. Indeed, the decade since has destroyed the very possibility of a common narrative."
Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes? "A whistleblower claims that over the past two decades, the agency has destroyed records of thousands of investigations, whitewashing the files of some of the nation's worst financial criminals."
Jeff Stone, a politician from Riverside County, wants 13 conservative Southern California counties to secede and become the country's 51st state.
Sheila Bair just stepped down from leading the FDIC, and has a sad, sordid story to tell . As head of the FDIC, her attempts to correct the imbalances which led to the financial crash were repeatedly ignored. [more inside]
The Destruction of Economic Facts - "Renowned Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto argues that the financial crisis wasn't just about finance—it was about a staggering lack of knowledge" (via) [more inside]
One percent of Americans now "earn" 25% of the income. Many of them have grown their wealth through criminal exploitation. Roger Ebert asks the burning question: why aren't more people outraged?
Homeowners are using a little known loophole in the bankruptcy laws to shed their second mortgages.
Matt and Jamie Danielson, with the aid of their bankruptcy attorney, were able to use a little known loophole in the Iowa law to void their mortgage and own their house outright after making just one payment. However, further investigation has uncovered some unsavory events in the couple's past.
Why is the Federal Reserve forking over $220 million in bailout money to the wives of two Morgan Stanley bigwigs? The Real Housewives of Wall Street (via) [more inside]
In his Oscar acceptance speech, documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson reminded viewers worldwide that "not a single financial executive has gone to jail" for the fraud that created the 2008 financial meltdown. His film Inside Job (on Netflix DVD) explains, among other things, that the crisis was avoidable. See also the Inside Job trailer and a subsequent followup video in which Ferguson says that many sources "mysteriously backed out" before being filmed. He also spoke at MIT in January.
Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer. "Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail," he said. "That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that." I put down my notebook. "Just that?" "That's right," he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. "Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there."
"The World", an ambitious real estate project conceived at the height of the real estate boom, is sinking back into the sea.
Patsy Campbell has been fighting her foreclosure in Florida courts for the past 25 years. She has not made a mortgage payment since 1985 while foiling the efforts of several banks to evict her from her home in Okeechobee, Florida.
Are you ok with your bank playing roulette with your deposits? Yes? No? Well, today is the last day to speak up and be heard! [more inside]
"The first thing that needs to happen, I think, is to get these people out of their homes," a man wearing a bespoke blue-striped shirt, a Hermés tie patterned with elephants and Ferragamo loafers said recently. But, maybe Wall Street doesn't understand why foreclosure fraud is so dangerous to property rights? And, the Obama administration doesn't understand why HAMP has been a portrait in failure for homeowners (in eight parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII.)
New allegations of Widespread foreclosure fraud on the part of major US banks: As the housing crisis has unfolded, some of the biggest banks lenders have reportedly been so eager to reposses homes that, in some cases, they've changed the locks on occupied homes that hadn't even been foreclosed yet. Meanwhile, congress quietly passed little noticed bipartisan legislation that would have made it harder for home owners to contest foreclosure proceedings in some cases--legislation which President Obama vetoed despite it's legislative support among both parties. On a related topic: It's finally becoming clearer that widespread mortgage fraud, not ordinary homeowners living beyond their means, caused the housing collapse.
"If there were any justice in the world the Greek bankers would be in the streets marching to protest the morals of the ordinary Greek citizen." Michael Lewis investigates Greece's economy. "In Greece the banks didn’t sink the country. The country sank the banks." In this terrific Vanity Fair piece, Michael Lewis visits Greece and examines a country where the general sense of civil society and trust has broken down, allowing mismanagement of the country's finances and economy on an unbelievably massive scale. [more inside]
Sovereign debt issued by governments is immense. In 2009, worldwide sovereign debt exceeded $34 trillion and is now the largest risk to the global financial system. Many of the potential problems and risks are surprising, even to those well-versed in their particular area of finance. What happens if Things Go Really Bad? ...out of the multitude of potential scenarios, I have settled upon one which is really bad, but doesn’t involve asteroids, mass extinctions, or apes taking over. It is consistent with prior bad episodes of sovereign debt default. Here is the Really Bad scenario. It’s not a worst possible scenario. It is more like the Long Depression or the Great Depression reoccurring under 2010 conditions. In the Really Bad scenario, 45% of the countries with large outstanding sovereign debts are in default within a 2-3 year period." A five-part article series on the imminent dangers of sovereign default from a guest columnist at Calculated Risk blog. Some of this strays into finance ubernerd territory but Part 5C in particular is the likely the playbook for the next financial crisis. [more inside]
In Spain, almost everyone is ‘not in education or employment.’ It’s the end of the job for life [more inside]
Wajahat Ali, a solo practitioner from California, takes on Wells Fargo in an attempt to get his clients' home loan modified. Lots of ball dropping and passing of the buck ensues. He describes the Kafka-esque nature of the experience.
Six Simple Ways to Fix Wall Street. "Elements of our Six Simple Steps are in the pending legislation. If they're part of what's adopted, we may get true and lasting reform. If they're not, it won't be long before Wall Street is back to business -- and bailouts -- as usual."
September 18, 2008 - Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy four days earlier and the Federal Reserve had authorized the New York Fed to lend up to $85 billion to insurance giant AIG. That afternoon, Nancy Pelosi called Henry Paulson to ask for a full briefing the next morning. "They said, 'That will be too late. That will be too late. Tomorrow morning, 9 o'clock will be too late.' ... 'We were not allowed to tell Congress, but since you called, we're going to answer your questions.'" The Bush administration prohibited its own top officials from briefing Congress on the financial crisis.
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