This is a very informative podcast below. Credit Default Swaps 101.
Many thanks to Dylan Ratigan and Chris Whalen for this!
Welcome to another episode of Greedy Bastards Antidote — a podcast series that zeroes in on “Greedy Bastardism” in our country, and highlights the people out there who are finding the “Antidotes.” Dylan will be talking to the heroes and the visionaries out there on the front lines of education, health care, the environment, trade, taxes, finance and government, all of whom are finding solutions to America’s biggest challenges — and doing it creatively and fearlessly.
This week, we’re focusing on the swaps market — not only to learn exactly what credit default swaps are, but why they’re one of the favorite financial products of Greedy Bastards. This is the one market that betrays every fundamental principal of American values — it is not transparent, it does not require collateral if you’re a AAA rated bank, and you can sell insurance globally on credit. This incentivizes clients to buy them by offering lower interest rates (and who doesn’t want that?)
One of the most frustrating facts of the recently abated financial crisis is that those who might have been partly responsible for it have got off scot-free. The only two people prosecuted criminally — the Bear Stearns hedge fund managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin — were found not guilty by a jury in Brooklyn. Other potential culprits — Angelo Mozilo, chief executive of Countrywide Financial, Joseph Cassano, chief executive of AIG Financial Products, and Dick Fuld, the chief executive of Lehman Brothers — were either slapped with a small civil penalty, in the case of Mozilo, or the Justice Department made the decision not to prosecute after months of investigation.
There’s been plenty of recent media attention to the prospect of investor lawsuits over fraudulent mortgages and mortgage securities. But investor lawsuits against mortgage servicers could be even more damaging than these other lines of legal inquiry. The four largest banks hold nearly half a trillion dollars worth of second-lien mortgages on their books—loans that could be decimated if investors successfully target improper mortgage servicing operations. The result would be major trouble for the financial system. The result would be major trouble for too-big-to-fail behemoths.
Mortgage servicers are the banking industry’s debt collectors. They accept payments and forward them along to investors who own mortgage securities– servicers themselves don’t actually own the mortgages they handle. This is a recipe for trouble for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest problems is the fact that the nation’s four largest banks also operate the four largest mortgage servicers. Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup service about half of all mortgages in the United States. They also have multi-trillion-dollar businesses whose interests often conflict with those of mortgage security investors.
Economics Editor, AlterNet; Fellow, Campaign for America’s Future
Posted: September 12, 2010 02:52 PM
The Washington Post has published a very silly op-ed by Chrystia Freeland accusing President Barack Obama of unfairly “demonizing” Wall Street. Freeland wants to see Obama tone down his rhetoric and play nice with executives in pursuit of a harmonious economic recovery. The trouble is, Obama hasn’t actually deployed harsh words against Wall Street. What’s more, in order to avoid being characterized as “anti-business,” the Obama administration has refused to mete out serious punishment for outright financial fraud. Complaining about nouns and adjectives is a little ridiculous when handcuffs and prison sentences are in order.
Freeland is a long-time business editor at Reuters and the Financial Times, and the story she spins about the financial crisis comes across as very reasonable. It’s also completely inaccurate. Here’s the key line:
“Stricter regulation of financial services is necessary not because American bankers were bad, but because the rules governing them were.”
Bank regulations were lousy, of course. But Wall Street spent decades lobbying hard for those rules, and screamed bloody murder when Obama had the audacity to tweak them. More importantly, the financial crisis was not only the result of bad rules. It was the result of bad rules and rampant, straightforward fraud, something a seasoned business editor like Freeland ought to know. Seeking economic harmony with criminals seems like a pretty poor foundation for an economic recovery.
The FBI was warning about an “epidemic” of mortgage fraud as early as 2004. Mortgage fraud is typically perpetrated by lenders, not borrowers — 80 percent of the time, according to the FBI. Banks made a lot of quick bucks over the past decade by illegally conning borrowers. Then bankers who knew these loans were fraudulent still packaged them into securities and sold them to investors without disclosing that fraud. They lied to their own shareholders about how many bad loans were on their books, and lied to them about the bonuses that were derived from the entire scheme. When you do these things, you are stealing lots of money from innocent people, and you are, in fact, behaving badly (to put it mildly).
The fraud allegations that have emerged over the past year are not restricted to a few bad apples at shady companies– they involve some of the largest players in global finance. Washington Mutual executives knew their company was issuing fraudulent loans, and securitized them anyway without stopping the influx of fraud in the lending pipeline. Wachovia is settling charges that it illegally laundered $380 billion in drug money in order to maintain access to liquidity. Barclays is accused of illegally laundering money from Iran, Sudan and other nations, jumping through elaborate technical hoops to conceal the source of their funds. Goldman Sachs set up its own clients to fail and bragged about their “shitty deals.” Citibank executives deceived their shareholders about the extent of their subprime mortgage holdings. Bank of America executives concealed heavy losses from the Merrill Lynch merger, and then lied to their shareholders about the massive bonuses they were paying out. IndyMac Bank and at least five other banks cooked their books by backdating capital injections.
Fraudulent activities should always be reported to your local law enforcement office. The following is additional information on how specific types of fraud complaints or cases of suspected fraud can be submitted to federal agencies.