Wall Street Aristocracy Got $1.2 Trillion in Secret Loans

Flag of the United States Federal Reserve Bank

Flag of the United States Federal Reserve Bank

Citigroup Inc. (C) and Bank of America Corp. (BAC) were the reigning champions of finance in 2006 as home prices peaked, leading the 10 biggest U.S. banks and brokerage firms to their best year ever with $104 billion of profits.

By 2008, the housing market’s collapse forced those companies to take more than six times as much, $669 billion, in emergency loans from the U.S. Federal Reserve. The loans dwarfed the $160 billion in public bailouts the top 10 got from the U.S. Treasury, yet until now the full amounts have remained secret.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s unprecedented effort to keep the economy from plunging into depression included lending banks and other companies as much as $1.2 trillion of public money, about the same amount U.S. homeowners currently owe on 6.5 million delinquent and foreclosed mortgages. The largest borrower, Morgan Stanley (MS), got as much as $107.3 billion, while Citigroup took $99.5 billion and Bank of America $91.4 billion, according to a Bloomberg News compilation of data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, months of litigation and an act of Congress.

“These are all whopping numbers,” said Robert Litan, a former Justice Department official who in the 1990s served on a commission probing the causes of the savings and loan crisis. “You’re talking about the aristocracy of American finance going down the tubes without the federal money.”

(View the Bloomberg interactive graphic to chart the Fed’s financial bailout.)

Foreign Borrowers

It wasn’t just American finance. Almost half of the Fed’s top 30 borrowers, measured by peak balances, were European firms. They included Edinburgh-based Royal Bank of Scotland Plc, which took $84.5 billion, the most of any non-U.S. lender, and Zurich-based UBS AG (UBSN), which got $77.2 billion. Germany’s Hypo Real Estate Holding AG borrowed $28.7 billion, an average of $21 million for each of its 1,366 employees.

The largest borrowers also included Dexia SA (DEXB), Belgium’s biggest bank by assets, and Societe Generale SA, based in Paris, whose bond-insurance prices have surged in the past month as investors speculated that the spreading sovereign debt crisis in Europe might increase their chances of default.

The $1.2 trillion peak on Dec. 5, 2008 — the combined outstanding balance under the seven programs tallied by Bloomberg — was almost three times the size of the U.S. federal budget deficit that year and more than the total earnings of all federally insured banks in the U.S. for the decade through 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Peak Balance

The balance was more than 25 times the Fed’s pre-crisis lending peak of $46 billion on Sept. 12, 2001, the day after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon. Denominated in $1 bills, the $1.2 trillion would fill 539 Olympic-size swimming pools.

The Fed has said it had “no credit losses” on any of the emergency programs, and a report by Federal Reserve Bank of New York staffers in February said the central bank netted $13 billion in interest and fee income from the programs from August 2007 through December 2009.

“We designed our broad-based emergency programs to both effectively stem the crisis and minimize the financial risks to the U.S. taxpayer,” said James Clouse, deputy director of the Fed’s division of monetary affairs in Washington. “Nearly all of our emergency-lending programs have been closed. We have incurred no losses and expect no losses.”

While the 18-month U.S. recession that ended in June 2009 after a 5.1 percent contraction in gross domestic product was nowhere near the four-year, 27 percent decline between August 1929 and March 1933, banks and the economy remain stressed.

Odds of Recession

The odds of another recession have climbed during the past six months, according to five of nine economists on the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research, an academic panel that dates recessions.

Bank of America’s bond-insurance prices last week surged to a rate of $342,040 a year for coverage on $10 million of debt, above whereLehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEHMQ)’s bond insurance was priced at the start of the week before the firm collapsed. Citigroup’s shares are trading below the split-adjusted price of $28 that they hit on the day the bank’s Fed loans peaked in January 2009. The U.S. unemployment rate was at 9.1 percent in July, compared with 4.7 percent in November 2007, before the recession began.

Homeowners are more than 30 days past due on their mortgage payments on 4.38 million properties in the U.S., and 2.16 million more properties are in foreclosure, representing a combined $1.27 trillion of unpaid principal, estimates Jacksonville, Florida-based Lender Processing Services Inc.

Liquidity Requirements

“Why in hell does the Federal Reserve seem to be able to find the way to help these entities that are gigantic?” U.S. Representative Walter B. Jones, a Republican from North Carolina, said at a June 1 congressional hearing in Washington on Fed lending disclosure. “They get help when the average businessperson down in eastern North Carolina, and probably across America, they can’t even go to a bank they’ve been banking with for 15 or 20 years and get a loan.”

The sheer size of the Fed loans bolsters the case for minimum liquidity requirements that global regulators last year agreed to impose on banks for the first time, said Litan, now a vice president at the Kansas City, Missouri-based Kauffman Foundation, which supports entrepreneurship research. Liquidity refers to the daily funds a bank needs to operate, including cash to cover depositor withdrawals.

The rules, which mandate that banks keep enough cash and easily liquidated assets on hand to survive a 30-day crisis, don’t take effect until 2015. Another proposed requirement for lenders to keep “stable funding” for a one-year horizon was postponed until at least 2018 after banks showed they’d have to raise as much as $6 trillion in new long-term debt to comply.

‘Stark Illustration’

Regulators are “not going to go far enough to prevent this from happening again,” said Kenneth Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and now an economics professor at Harvard University.

Reforms undertaken since the crisis might not insulate U.S. markets and financial institutions from the sovereign budget and debt crises facing Greece, Ireland and Portugal, according to the U.S. Financial Stability Oversight Council, a 10-member body created by the Dodd-Frank Act and led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

“The recent financial crisis provides a stark illustration of how quickly confidence can erode and financial contagion can spread,” the council said in its July 26 report.

21,000 Transactions

Any new rescues by the U.S. central bank would be governed by transparency laws adopted in 2010 that require the Fed to disclose borrowers after two years.

Fed officials argued for more than two years that releasing the identities of borrowers and the terms of their loans would stigmatize banks, damaging stock prices or leading to depositor runs. A group of the biggest commercial banks last year asked the U.S. Supreme Court to keep at least some Fed borrowings secret. In March, the high court declined to hear that appeal, and the central bank made an unprecedented release of records.

Data gleaned from 29,346 pages of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and from other Fed databases of more than 21,000 transactions make clear for the first time how deeply the world’s largest banks depended on the U.S. central bank to stave off cash shortfalls. Even as the firms asserted in news releases or earnings calls that they had ample cash, they drew Fed funding in secret, avoiding the stigma of weakness.

Morgan Stanley Borrowing

Two weeks after Lehman’s bankruptcy in September 2008, Morgan Stanley countered concerns that it might be next to go by announcing it had “strong capital and liquidity positions.” The statement, in a Sept. 29, 2008, press release about a $9 billion investment from Tokyo-based Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., said nothing about Morgan Stanley’s Fed loans.

That was the same day as the firm’s $107.3 billion peak in borrowing from the central bank, which was the source of almost all of Morgan Stanley’s available cash, according to the lending data and documents released more than two years later by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. The amount was almost three times the company’s total profits over the past decade, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Mark Lake, a spokesman for New York-based Morgan Stanley, said the crisis caused the industry to “fundamentally re- evaluate” the way it manages its cash.

“We have taken the lessons we learned from that period and applied them to our liquidity-management program to protect both our franchise and our clients going forward,” Lake said. He declined to say what changes the bank had made.

Acceptable Collateral

In most cases, the Fed demanded collateral for its loans — Treasuries or corporate bonds and mortgage bonds that could be seized and sold if the money wasn’t repaid. That meant the central bank’s main risk was that collateral pledged by banks that collapsed would be worth less than the amount borrowed.

As the crisis deepened, the Fed relaxed its standards for acceptable collateral. Typically, the central bank accepts only bonds with the highest credit grades, such as U.S. Treasuries. By late 2008, it was accepting “junk” bonds, those rated below investment grade. It even took stocks, which are first to get wiped out in a liquidation.

Morgan Stanley borrowed $61.3 billion from one Fed program in September 2008, pledging a total of $66.5 billion of collateral, according to Fed documents. Securities pledged included $21.5 billion of stocks, $6.68 billion of bonds with a junk credit rating and $19.5 billion of assets with an “unknown rating,” according to the documents. About 25 percent of the collateral was foreign-denominated.

‘Willingness to Lend’

“What you’re looking at is a willingness to lend against just about anything,” said Robert Eisenbeis, a former research director at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and now chief monetary economist in Atlanta for Sarasota, Florida-based Cumberland Advisors Inc.

The lack of private-market alternatives for lending shows how skeptical trading partners and depositors were about the value of the banks’ capital and collateral, Eisenbeis said.

“The markets were just plain shut,” said Tanya Azarchs, former head of bank research at Standard & Poor’s and now an independent consultant in Briarcliff Manor, New York. “If you needed liquidity, there was only one place to go.”

Even banks that survived the crisis without government capital injections tapped the Fed through programs that promised confidentiality. London-based Barclays Plc (BARC) borrowed $64.9 billion and Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) got $66 billion. Sarah MacDonald, a spokeswoman for Barclays, and John Gallagher, a spokesman for Deutsche Bank, declined to comment.

Below-Market Rates

While the Fed’s last-resort lending programs generally charge above-market interest rates to deter routine borrowing, that practice sometimes flipped during the crisis. On Oct. 20, 2008, for example, the central bank agreed to make $113.3 billion of 28-day loans through itsTerm Auction Facility at a rate of 1.1 percent, according to a press release at the time.

The rate was less than a third of the 3.8 percent that banks were charging each other to make one-month loans on that day. Bank of America and Wachovia Corp. each got $15 billion of the 1.1 percent TAF loans, followed by Royal Bank of Scotland’s RBS Citizens NA unit with $10 billion, Fed data show.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), the New York-based lender that touted its “fortress balance sheet” at least 16 times in press releases and conference calls from October 2007 through February 2010, took as much as $48 billion in February 2009 from TAF. The facility, set up in December 2007, was a temporary alternative to the discount window, the central bank’s 97-year-old primary lending program to help banks in a cash squeeze.

‘Larger Than TARP’

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), which in 2007 was the most profitable securities firm in Wall Street history, borrowed $69 billion from the Fed on Dec. 31, 2008. Among the programs New York-based Goldman Sachs tapped after the Lehman bankruptcy was the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, or PDCF, designed to lend money to brokerage firms ineligible for the Fed’s bank-lending programs.

Michael Duvally, a spokesman for Goldman Sachs, declined to comment.

The Fed’s liquidity lifelines may increase the chances that banks engage in excessive risk-taking with borrowed money, Rogoff said. Such a phenomenon, known as moral hazard, occurs if banks assume the Fed will be there when they need it, he said. The size of bank borrowings “certainly shows the Fed bailout was in many ways much larger than TARP,” Rogoff said.

TARP is the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, a $700 billion bank-bailout fund that provided capital injections of $45 billion each to Citigroup and Bank of America, and $10 billion to Morgan Stanley. Because most of the Treasury’s investments were made in the form of preferred stock, they were considered riskier than the Fed’s loans, a type of senior debt.

Dodd-Frank Requirement

In December, in response to the Dodd-Frank Act, the Fed released 18 databases detailing its temporary emergency-lending programs.

Congress required the disclosure after the Fed rejected requests in 2008 from the late Bloomberg News reporter Mark Pittman and other media companies that sought details of its loans under the Freedom of Information Act. After fighting to keep the data secret, the central bank released unprecedented information about its discount window and other programs under court order in March 2011.

Bloomberg News combined Fed databases made available in December and July with the discount-window records released in March to produce daily totals for banks across all the programs, including the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, Commercial Paper Funding Facility, discount window, PDCF, TAF, Term Securities Lending Facility and single-tranche open market operations. The programs supplied loans from August 2007 through April 2010.

Rolling Crisis

The result is a timeline illustrating how the credit crisis rolled from one bank to another as financial contagion spread.

Fed borrowings by Societe Generale (GLE), France’s second-biggest bank, peaked at $17.4 billion in May 2008, four months after the Paris-based lender announced a record 4.9 billion-euro ($7.2 billion) loss on unauthorized stock-index futures bets by former trader Jerome Kerviel.

Morgan Stanley’s top borrowing came four months later, after Lehman’s bankruptcy. Citigroup crested in January 2009, as did 43 other banks, the largest number of peak borrowings for any month during the crisis. Bank of America’s heaviest borrowings came two months after that.

Sixteen banks, including Plano, Texas-based Beal Financial Corp. and Jacksonville, Florida-based EverBank Financial Corp., didn’t hit their peaks until February or March 2010.

Using Subsidiaries

“At no point was there a material risk to the Fed or the taxpayer, as the loan required collateralization,” said Reshma Fernandes, a spokeswoman for EverBank, which borrowed as much as $250 million.

Banks maximized their borrowings by using subsidiaries to tap Fed programs at the same time. In March 2009, Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America drew $78 billion from one facility through two banking units and $11.8 billion more from two other programs through its broker-dealer, Bank of America Securities LLC.

Banks also shifted balances among Fed programs. Many preferred the TAF because it carried less of the stigma associated with the discount window, often seen as the last resort for lenders in distress, according to a January 2011 paper by researchers at the New York Fed.

After the Lehman bankruptcy, hedge funds began pulling their cash out of Morgan Stanley, fearing it might be the next to collapse, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission said in a January report, citing interviews with former Chief Executive Officer John Mack and then-Treasurer David Wong.

Borrowings Surge

Morgan Stanley’s borrowings from the PDCF surged to $61.3 billion on Sept. 29 from zero on Sept. 14. At the same time, its loans from the Term Securities Lending Facility, or TSLF, rose to $36 billion from $3.5 billion. Morgan Stanley treasury reports released by the FCIC show the firm had $99.8 billion of liquidity on Sept. 29, a figure that included Fed borrowings.

“The cash flow was all drying up,” said Roger Lister, a former Fed economist who’s now head of financial-institutions coverage at credit-rating firm DBRS Inc. in New York. “Did they have enough resources to cope with it? The answer would be yes, but they needed the Fed.”

While Morgan Stanley’s Fed demands were the most acute, Citigroup was the most chronic borrower among the largest U.S. banks. The New York-based company borrowed $10 million from the TAF on the program’s first day in December 2007 and had more than $25 billion outstanding under all programs by May 2008, according to Bloomberg data.

Tapping Six Programs

By Nov. 21, when Citigroup began talks with the government to get a $20 billion capital injection on top of the $25 billion received a month earlier, its Fed borrowings had doubled to about $50 billion.

Over the next two months the amount almost doubled again. On Jan. 20, as the stock sank below $3 for the first time in 16 years amid investor concerns that the lender’s capital cushion might be inadequate, Citigroup was tapping six Fed programs at once. Its total borrowings amounted to more than twice the federal Department of Education’s 2011 budget.

Citigroup was in debt to the Fed on seven out of every 10 days from August 2007 through April 2010, the most frequent U.S. borrower among the 100 biggest publicly traded firms by pre- crisis market valuation. On average, the bank had a daily balance at the Fed of almost $20 billion.

‘Help Motivate Others’

“Citibank basically was sustained by the Fed for a very long time,” said Richard Herring, a finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia who has studied financial crises.

Jon Diat, a Citigroup spokesman, said the bank made use of programs that “achieved the goal of instilling confidence in the markets.”

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in a letter to shareholders last year that his bank avoided many government programs. It did use TAF, Dimon said in the letter, “but this was done at the request of the Federal Reserve to help motivate others to use the system.”

The bank, the second-largest in the U.S. by assets, first tapped the TAF in May 2008, six months after the program debuted, and then zeroed out its borrowings in September 2008. The next month, it started using TAF again.

On Feb. 26, 2009, more than a year after TAF’s creation, JPMorgan’s borrowings under the program climbed to $48 billion. On that day, the overall TAF balance for all banks hit its peak, $493.2 billion. Two weeks later, the figure began declining.

“Our prior comment is accurate,” said Howard Opinsky, a spokesman for JPMorgan.

‘The Cheapest Source’

Herring, the University of Pennsylvania professor, said some banks may have used the program to maximize profits by borrowing “from the cheapest source, because this was supposed to be secret and never revealed.”

Whether banks needed the Fed’s money for survival or used it because it offered advantageous rates, the central bank’s lender-of-last-resort role amounts to a free insurance policy for banks guaranteeing the arrival of funds in a disaster, Herring said.

An IMF report last October said regulators should consider charging banks for the right to access central bank funds.

“The extent of official intervention is clear evidence that systemic liquidity risks were under-recognized and mispriced by both the private and public sectors,” the IMF said in a separate report in April.

Access to Fed backup support “leads you to subject yourself to greater risks,” Herring said. “If it’s not there, you’re not going to take the risks that would put you in trouble and require you to have access to that kind of funding.”

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Swiss Banks Tax Evasion Deal To Hit UK Savers

British taxpayers who have money stashed in Swiss banks could see a significant chunk taken by the Treasury after a deal was struck between the two countries.

Existing account holders could be hit by a one-off deduction of between 19% and 34% in an attempt to settle any tax they owe.

Those who have already declared the full details of where their money is and paid their taxes should be unaffected by the plan, which could raise £5bn for Treasury coffers by 2015.

Chancellor George Osborne said the agreement heralded the end of an era when it was “easy to stash the profits of tax evasion in Switzerland“.

However, tax justice campaigner Richard Murphy told Sky News the deal set an “appalling precedent”.

“Honest taxpayers will now see that it pays – you get a reduction on your tax bill – by cheating, by hiding your money offshore,” he said.

Treasury minister David Gauke disputed the claim, saying that individuals who were being pursued by HMRC over unpaid taxes would be excluded from the deal.

“This is not one big amnesty,” he told Sky News.

George Osborne leaves 11 Downing Street on August 11

George Osborne said the wealthy must pay their fair share

 UK residents with money in Switzerland will also be affected by a new tax deducted at source, which will be 48% on investment income and 27% on gains.

The two countries have agreed to share more information and, as a gesture of good faith, Swiss banks will make an up-front payment to the UK of £384m.

The country is keen to shed its image as a safe haven for money that has not been properly declared to HM Revenue and Customs in the UK.

“Tax evasion is wrong at the best of times, but in economic circumstances like this it means that hard-pressed, law-abiding taxpayers are forced to pay even more,” Mr Osborne said.

“That is why this coalition Government made it a priority to go after those who don’t pay their fair share.

“We will be as tough on the richest who evade tax as on those who cheat on benefits.”

There is a stark choice for those who have abused Swiss banking secrecy – come forward and disclose, or run the risk of losing over a third of your historic Swiss assets.

Paul Harrison, KPMG‘s head of tax investigations

The deal is politically significant because the coalition wants to demonstrate its cuts to some benefits are being matched by equally stringent policies affecting the rich.

Describing it as an “historic” announcement, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke said too many people had abused Swiss banking secrecy.

“The message is clear: there is no hiding place for tax cheats,” he added.

However, experts warned wealthy UK residents may simply transfer their cash elsewhere to avoid paying up.

Chris Oates, head of Ernst and Young’s tax controversy team, predicts more people will move their assets to Liechtenstein.

“This will undoubtedly provide a much-needed boost to the UK’s finances. It is expected to generate billions of additional tax flows to the UK Exchequer,” he said.

Job Centre Plus

The coalition wants to show it is targeting rich cheats, not just benefit claimants

“But HMRC will miss an opportunity to establish whether these individual cases are involved in much wider tax evasion as it will only be based on Swiss assets.”

KPMG’s head of tax investigations, Paul Harrison, said the move was “very significant”.

“It seems there is a stark choice for those who have abused Swiss banking secrecy – come forward and disclose, or run the risk of losing over a third of your historic Swiss assets,” he explained.

“But the authorities need to take care that the innocent and the confused do not get caught up in this.

“There will be people who simply don’t know whether they have a problem and they will need help to sort their affairs out.”

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Europe’s Failure to Stem Banking Crisis Haunts Markets Again

German Logo of the ECB.

German Logo of the ECB.

Four years to the month since the global credit crisis began, European lenders remain dependent on central bank aid, plaguing markets and economies worldwide.

Emergency steps such as unlimited loans from the European Central Bank are keeping many banks in Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain solvent and greasing the lending of others, while low interest rates and debt-buying are containing borrowing costs. Such aid is needed as concerns about slowing economic growth and sovereign debt prompt banks to curb lending, stockpile dollars and hoard cash in safe havens.

“I’m not sleeping at night,” said Charles Wyplosz, director of the Geneva-based International Center for Money and Banking Studies. “We have moved into a new phase of crisis.”

Central bankers rescued financial firms after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008 by providing limitless funding of as long as a year. While they treated the symptom — a lack of ready cash — politicians, regulators and bankers in Europe have proved unable to cure the root cause: some European lenders are at growing risk of insolvency.

The tremors, the biggest since Lehman’s collapse, were triggered by European governments’ continuing inability to stop the sovereign debt crisis from spreading beyond Greece, Portugal and Ireland to question the Italy and Spain. Renewed signs of economic weakness globally and the downgrading of U.S. debt by Standard & Poor’s rekindled concern about the quality of all government debt.

Bank Stocks Tumble

The signs of distress are widespread and mounting: Banks deposited 128.7 billion euros ($186 billion) overnight with the ECB yesterday, more than three times this year’s average, rather than lend the money to other firms. Banks also borrowed 555 million euros from the Frankfurt-based ECB’s overnight marginal lending facility, up from 90 million euros the day before.

European bank stocks have sunk 20 percent this month, led by Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and Societe Generale SA. Edinburgh-based RBS, Britain’s biggest government-controlled lender, has tumbled 43 percent, and Paris-based Societe Generale, France’s second-largest bank, dropped 39 percent.

The extra yield investors demand to buy bank bonds instead of benchmark government debt surged to 302 basis points yesterday, or 3.02 percentage points, the highest since July 2009, data compiled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch show. The cost of insuring that debt against default surged to a record today. The Markit iTraxx Financial Index linked to senior debt of 25 European banks and insurers rose to 252 basis points, compared with 149 when Lehman collapsed.

Greek Default Concern

It was the specter of government debt turning toxic that has revived the liquidity crisis policy makers had tried to stop in 2008. As speculation grew that European banks would have to write down their holdings of more governments’ debt after a Greek default, lenders pulled funding to those banks that held the most peripheral debt. It also raised concern European governments would struggle to afford a further bail out of their banks, because both the state and the lenders had failed to reduce their borrowings since the onset of the crisis.

“The debt has been transferred from the banks to the sovereign, but it hasn’t actually been eradicated,” said Gary Greenwood, a banking analyst at Shore Capital in Liverpool. “Until the sovereigns get their balance sheets in order, then these concerns are going to remain.”

Funding markets have seized up as investors speculate that sovereign debt writedowns are inevitable. Banks in the region hold 98.2 billion euros of Greek sovereign debt, 317 billion euros of Italian government debt and about 280 billion euros of Spanish bonds, according to European Banking Authority data.

Euribor-OIS

The difference between the three-month euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, and the overnight indexed swap rate, a measure of banks’ reluctance to lend to each other, was at 0.66 percentage point today, within 4 basis points of the widest spread since May 2009.

“The central bank is the only clearer left to settle funds between banks,” said Christoph Rieger, head of fixed-income strategy at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt. “There is a mistrust between banks in general, between regions and with dollar providers overall.”

Overseas banks operating in the U.S. may have cut dollar holdings by as much as $300 billion in the past four weeks as European banks faced a squeeze on funding and sought dollars, Jens Nordvig, a managing director of currency research at Nomura Holdings Inc. in New York said Aug. 18. Dollar assets declined by about 38 percent to $550 billion in the period, he said.

‘More Nervous’

“Banks are becoming more nervous about being exposed to other banks as they hoard liquidity and become more suspicious of other banks’ balance sheets,” Guillaume Tiberghien, analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, wrote in a note to clients on Aug. 19.

By contrast, banks in the U.S. are “flush” with liquidity, loan loss reserves and capital, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analyst Richard Ramsden wrote in an Aug. 6 report. Large commercial banks combined holdings of cash and securities at large have climbed to 30 percent of managed assets, up from 22 percent at the start of the U.S. financial crisis in October 2007, Ramsden wrote, citing Federal Reserve data.

The Federal Reserve, which provided as much as $1.2 trillion of loans to banks in December 2008, wound down most of its emergency programs by early 2010. One of the few exceptions was the central-bank liquidity swap lines that provide dollars to the ECB and other central banks so they can in turn auction off the dollars to banks in their own jurisdictions.

Trichet, Bernanke

Banks’ woes are again thrusting central bankers to the fore as ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet joins Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and their counterparts from around the world in traveling this week to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the Kansas City Fed’s annual policy symposium.

After increasing its benchmark rate twice this year to counter inflation, the ECB this month provided relief for banks by buying Italian and Spanish bonds for the first time, lending unlimited funds for six months, and providing one unnamed bank with dollars to satisfy the first such request since February. In doing so, it’s maintaining a role it began in August 2007 when it injected cash into markets after they began to freeze.

Coming to the rescue isn’t easy for the ECB. Its balance sheet is now 73 percent bigger than in August 2007 and its latest bond-buying opened it to accusations that by rescuing profligate nations it’s breaking a rule of the euro’s founding treaty and undermining its credibility. Policy makers are also divided over the best course of action, with Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann among those opposing the bond program.

Economic Threat

The central bank is acting in part because governments have yet to ratify a plan to extend the scope of a 440-billion euro rescue facility to allow it to buy bonds and inject capital into banks. Markets tumbled last week on concern policy makers aren’t acting fast enough.

The funding difficulties of banks was one reason cited by Morgan Stanley economists Aug. 17 for cutting their forecast for euro-area economic growth this year to 0.5 percent next year, less than half the 1.2 percent previously anticipated. They now expect the ECB to reverse this year’s rate increases, returning its benchmark to 1 percent by the end of next year.

The economic threat is greater in Europe because consumers and companies are more reliant on banks for funding than their U.S. counterparts, said Tobias Blattner, a former ECB economist now at Daiwa Capital Markets Europe in London. He says the ECB should eventually try to hand over fire-fighting duties either to governments, who would then inject capital into financial firms, or national central banks, who could provide short-term loans to lenders.

‘Uncharted Territory’

Longer-term solutions may involve the restructuring the debt of cash-strapped nations in a way that doesn’t roil bank balance sheets, potentially in lockstep with a European version of the U.S.’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Lena Komileva, Group-of-10 strategy head at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. in London, said the central bank may have no option but to extend the backstop role it is playing for periphery banks to lenders elsewhere. Refusal to do so would risk a European bank default by the end of the year, she said.

“Markets are back in uncharted territory,” said Komileva. “The crisis is a whole new story now.”

Nikkei dips on profit-taking after Moody’s downgrade

The Nikkei share average edged
lower on Wednesday as investors took profits amid caution about
the long-term impact from Moody's downgrade of Japan's sovereign debt rating, 
offsetting earlier gains made on speculation of more easing by the U.S. Federal Reserve.	
Moody's Investors Service cut its rating on Japan's
government debt by one notch to Aa3 on Wednesday, blaming large
budget deficits and a buildup of debt since the 2009 global
recession. 	
While stock market investors largely shrugged off the move
after Moody's had warned in May it might cut Japan's rating,
banks came under pressure, with some analysts citing fears about
the move's impact on their holdings of Japanese government
bonds.	
One analyst also said investor sentiment could take a hit in
the short term if the Moody's move spurs other agencies to
follow suit.	
"The Moody's downgrade may trigger further downgrades of
Japan's debt by other agencies," said Takahide Kiuchi, chief
economist at Nomura Securities.	
The benchmark Nikkei was down 0.2 percent at
8,716.76 at the midday break, after rising as high as 8,825.27
earlier. The broader Topix  shed 0.2 percent to 748.67.	
On Tuesday, U.S. stocks surged 3 percent on speculation that
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will signal new help for the economy
when he speaks on Friday at the central bank's annual gathering
in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. 	
The meeting is widely expected to end with a controversial
decision to buy hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S.
government debt to try to foster a stronger recovery.

Traders said that while there are hopes Bernanke will hint
at some easing, foreign investors were hesitant to take large
positions before the event.	
"For the past few days, futures players are thought to be
engaged in arbitrage trading. They are trying to make profits
within a 100-point range, and today it looks like they were
selling when the index rose above 8,800," said a trader at a
Japanese brokerage.	
NOT UNEXPECTED 
Moody's had warned in May that it might downgrade Japan's
Aa2 rating due to heightened concerns about its faltering growth
prospects and a weak policy response to deal with bulging public
debt, now twice the size of its $5 trillion economy.	
"Stock market investors had somewhat expected that it could
happen because Moody's had warned it might downgrade Japan's
sovereign debt earlier," said Norihiro Fujito, senior investment
strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. 	
Unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan confirmed on Tuesday he
would step down as head of the ruling party within the week.    

"We have major developments on the political front, and
while most people in the market believe (former foreign minister
Seiji) Maehara is very likely to win the (ruling party
leadership) election, a swift policy response on debt problems
is unlikely to come out soon," said Fujito.	
The Topix banking subindex was among the biggest
decliners after the Moody's move, losing 0.8 percent. Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group
fell 0.8 percent at 2,192 yen in heavy trading.

 

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group dropped 2.3 percent
to 334 yen. MUFG was also hit by news that the lender lost $1.8
billion from its common stock investment in Morgan Stanley
 so far, at least on paper, according to a regulatory
filing on Tuesday. 	
 But oil-related stocks outperformed, with Inpex 
rising 2.2 percent to 480,000 yen and Japan Petroleum
Exploration soaring 2.3 percent to 3,070 yen. Oil
prices rose on Tuesday on views that the Federal Reserve might
indicate fresh stimulus measures later this week, and also drew
support from fighting in Libya and disrupted Nigerian exports.

20 Signs That A Horrific Global Food Crisis is Underway

I read this article in ProphecyNewsWatch.com and thought it would be good for my prophecy and news updates.

http://www.prophecynewswatch.com/2011/April22/2292.html

The food situation is very serious and I’ve been reporting for the last several years that it just keeps getting worse. Now we are at a time when the world leaders are hording food in underground warehouses and shelters.

 

There is very adequate evidence that a global food crisis is underway and deepening almost daily. The already poor are being hit the hardest but it is also apparent that even the much wealthier middles classes in Western Cultures are beginning to feel the crunch, due mainly to unemployment and the rising cost of living.

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Global Food Crisis

Food prices soar to record levels worldwide while the World Food Security Committee is meeting in Rome to discuss the crisis. Are there winners and losers in the current food crisis? What can the international community do about it on both global and local level?

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We’ve Been Warned: The System Is ready to Blow

New-York-stock-exchange

Traders work at the New York Stock Exchange on 9 August. Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

For the past two centuries and more, life in Britain has been governed by a simple concept: tomorrow will be better than today. Black August has given us a glimpse of a dystopia, one in which the financial markets buckle and the cities burn. Like Scrooge, we have been shown what might be to come unless we change our ways.

There were glimmers of hope amid last week’s despair. Neighbourhoods rallied round in the face of the looting. The Muslim community in Birmingham showed incredible dignity after three young men were mown down by a car and killed during the riots. It was chastening to see consumerism laid bare. We have seen the future and we know it sucks. All of which is cause for cautious optimism – provided the right lessons are drawn.

Lesson number one is that the financial and social causes are linked. Lesson number two is that what links the City banker and the looter is the lack of restraint, the absence of boundaries to bad behaviour. Lesson number three is that we ignore this at our peril.

To understand the mess we are in, it’s important to know how we got here. Today marks the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s announcement that America was suspending the convertibility of thedollar into gold at $35 an ounce. Speculative attacks on the dollar had begun in the late 1960s as concerns mounted over America’s rising trade deficit and the cost of the Vietnam war. Other countries were increasingly reluctant to take dollars in payment and demanded gold instead. Nixon called time on the Bretton Woods system of fixed but adjustable exchange rates, under which countries could use capital controls in order to stimulate their economies without fear of a run on their currency. It was also an era in which protectionist measures were used quite liberally: Nixon announced on 15 August 1971 that he was imposing a 10% tax on all imports into the US.

Four decades on, it is hard not to feel nostalgia for the Bretton Woods system. Imperfect though it was, it acted as an anchor for the global economy for more than a quarter of a century, and allowed individual countries to pursue full employment policies. It was a period devoid of systemic financial crises.

Utter mess

There have been big structural changes in the way the global economy has been managed since 1971, none of them especially beneficial. The fixed exchange rate system has been replaced by a hybrid system in which some currencies are pegged and others float. The currencies in the eurozone, for example, are fixed against each other, but the eurofloats against the dollar, the pound and the Swiss franc. The Hong Kong dollar is tied to the US dollar, while Beijing has operated a system under which the yuan is allowed to appreciate against the greenback but at a rate much slower than economic fundamentals would suggest.

The system is an utter mess, particularly since almost every country in the world is now seeking to manipulate its currency downwards in order to make exports cheaper and imports dearer. This is clearly not possible. Sir Mervyn King noted last week that the solution to the crisis involved China and Germany reflating their economies so that debtor nations like the US and Britain could export more. Progress on that front has been painfully slow, and will remain so while the global currency system remains so dysfunctional. The solution is either a fully floating system under which countries stop manipulating their currencies or an attempt to recreate a new fixed exchange rate system using a basket of world currencies as its anchor.

The break-up of the Bretton Woods system paved the way for the liberalisation of financial markets. This began in the 1970s and picked up speed in the 1980s. Exchange controls were lifted and formal restrictions on credit abandoned. Policymakers were left with only one blunt instrument to control the availability of credit: interest rates.

For a while in the late 1980s, the easy availability of money provided the illusion of wealth but there was a shift from a debt-averse world where financial crises were virtually unknown to a debt-sodden world constantly teetering on the brink of banking armageddon.

Currency markets lost their anchor in 1971 when the US suspended dollar convertibility. Over the years, financial markets have lost their moral anchor, engaging not just in reckless but fraudulent behaviour. According to the US economist James Galbraith, increased complexity was the cover for blatant and widespread wrongdoing.

Looking back at the sub-prime mortgage scandal, in which millions of Americans were mis-sold home loans, Galbraith says there has been a complete breakdown in trust that is impairing the hopes of economic recovery.

“There was a private vocabulary, well-known in the industry, covering these loans and related financial products: liars’ loans, Ninja loans (the borrowers had no income, no job or assets), neutron loans (loans that would explode, destroying the people but leaving the buildings intact), toxic waste (the residue of the securitisation process). I suggest that this tells you that those who sold these products knew or suspected that their line of work was not 100% honest. Think of the restaurant where the staff refers to the food as scum, sludge and sewage.”

Finally, there has been a big change in the way that the spoils of economic success have been divvied up. Back when Nixon was berating the speculators attacking the dollar peg, there was an implicit social contract under which the individual was guaranteed a job and a decent wage that rose as the economy grew. The fruits of growth were shared with employers, and taxes were recycled into schools, health care and pensions. In return, individuals obeyed the law and encouraged their children to do the same. The assumption was that each generation would have a better life than the last.

This implicit social contract has broken down. Growth is less rapid than it was 40 years ago, and the gains have disproportionately gone to companies and the very rich. In the UK, the professional middle classes, particularly in the southeast, are doing fine, but below them in the income scale are people who have become more dependent on debt as their real incomes have stagnated. Next are the people on minimum wage jobs, which have to be topped up by tax credits so they can make ends meet. At the very bottom of the pile are those who are without work, many of them second and third generation unemployed.

Deep trouble

A crisis that has been four decades in the making will not be solved overnight. It will be difficult to recast the global monetary system to ensure that the next few years see gradual recovery rather than depression. Wall Street and the City will resist all attempts at clipping their wings. There is strong ideological resistance to the policies that make decent wages in a full employment economy feasible: capital controls, allowing strong trade unions, wage subsidies, and protectionism.

But this is a fork in the road. History suggests there is no iron law of progress and there have been periods when things have got worse not better. Together, the global imbalances, the manic-depressive behaviour of stock markets, the venality of the financial sector, the growing gulf between rich and poor, the high levels of unemployment, the naked consumerism and the riots are telling us something.

This is a system in deep trouble and it is waiting to blow.