It took the journalists at Bloomberg News two years - and presumably lots of legal fees - to pry information out of the Federal Reserve that should have been made public long ago. We now know that the Fed's secret $7.7 trillion lending program wasn't just the most massive bank bailout ever seen, and it wasn't just free money for mega-bankers - though it was certainly both of those things. It was also the greatest hoax in stock market history.
No, scratch that. It was the greatest hoax in the history of money. And it was built on lies. How many? Let us count the ways.
Here's the first one: The banks paid back all the money back that they were given. No, they didn't. They paid back the principal on these loans. But by obtaining loans at rates far below market value, we now know they received the equivalent of $13 billion in cash giveaways.
Here's another lie: Fed economists support a free-market economy.
Ben Bernanke is a conservative economist who claims to support a free-market system. But we now know that the Federal Reserve lent astonishing sums to US banks in secret, and Bernanke fought with all the resources at his disposal to ensure that this information didn't become public. He didn't just want it to be held back to avoid a panic during the crisis. He wanted it kept secret forever.
I don't know what you call somebody like that, but I know what you don't call him: A capitalist. Free markets need transparency, so that investors and customers can make informed decisions and 'the wisdom of the market' can prevail. Nobody wanted the market to do its job. When it came to banks, they wanted it to be blind, deaf, and dumb, unable to make sound judgments about their financial soundness.
They still want it that way. They don't want investors to know how badly Wall Street executives failed at their jobs. They don't want the free market to do what it does best - thin the herd so it's free of incompetent managers like the executives who still run our largest banks.
You can believe in the free market, ur you can believe in today's Wall Street. But you can't do both.
Here's another lie, one that's spread by Dimon and others: Giant banks are more efficient. Size brings efficiency in other kinds of business, but these banks needed massive help. America's six largest banks accounted on any given day for an average of 63 percent of the debt on these loans. The only thing they're more efficient at is wringing free money out of government-created institutions.
And, wow. Jamie Dimon sure is a hypocrite. As Bloomberg noted:
JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon told shareholders in a March 26, 2010, letter that his bank used the Fed's Term Auction Facility "at the request of the Federal Reserve to help motivate others to use the system." He didn't say that the New York-based bank's total TAF borrowings were almost twice its cash holdings or that its peak borrowing of $48 billion on Feb. 26, 2009, came more than a year after the program's creation.
He also didn't mention that these favorable loans gave his bank nearly half a billion dollars in cash it otherwise wouldn't have had. Know what's convenient about that? It helps make up for the three-quarters of a billion Dimon's bank gave up to settle charges of bribery and corruption in Jefferson County, Alabama.
Chase borrowed massive sums of money, either because it was in bigger trouble than it has admitted or because it was bleeding an emergency public program out of greed. Either way, they weren't doing anybody a favor except themselves. How big a favor? Chase netted $457.9 million.
Citigroup's an even more extreme example. Once our largest bank (until continued mismanagement led to ongoing shrinkage). It only exists because Robert Rubin and other officials in the Clinton Administration,cleared the way for the largest merger in history with the enthusiastic support of the Republicans. That merger combined a bank with an insurance company, a harbinger of bad things to come in the risk area.
Citigroup's got the equivalent of a $1.8 billion gift, courtesy of Uncle Sam.
Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan sneers at his critics, especially those who think you shouldn't foreclose on families without obtaining proof that you own their mortgage. "Oh, sure," he said in response to government demands, "we'll do our homework."
Bank of America's gift came to $1.5 billion.
Goldman Sachs shouldn't have been eligible for any Fed giveaways because it wasn't a commercial bank. But a special "waiver" allowed Goldman allowed to become commercial bank so it could be rescued from actions it took before it was a commercial bank. Before that it was an investment bank. Yet, strangely, it seems to have kept operating as an investment bank even after the transition, too, even though commercial banks aren't allowed to do that.
Understand that? Don't take it personally if you don't. You're not supposed to.
Goldman Sachs's take? Just under $1 billion.
Washington's always telling us that bankers may have done naughty things, but they weren't illegal things. That gets us to our next lie: There's no evidence that bank executives have committed crimes. Thanks to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, we may be about to discover whether that's true regarding foreclosures and mortgage filings. But when it comes to stock fraud, the evidence is already piling up.
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