Banks Promise Not to Commit Fraud … Until Next Time

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By John Reeves

As part of a settlement with the SEC last month, Citigroup (NYSE: C) promised it would never again, as The New York Times put it, “violate one of the main antifraud provisions of the nation’s securities laws.” That seems like a noble aim, and we’d love to believe that Citigroup means what it says.

Unfortunately, Citigroup made a similar pledge in July 2010, according to the Times. Oh, wait, and there were other agreements in May 2006, March 2005, and April 2000. When it comes to financial fraud, it seems, you can have five strikes, and still be up at the plate.

And Citi isn’t the only one. According to the Times’ study, during the last 15 years, there were “at least 51 cases in which 19 Wall Street firms had broken antifraud laws they had agreed never to breach.” Here is a complete list of 16 of those companies that declined to comment on the findings:

American International Group (NYSE: AIG)
Ameriprise
Bank of America (NYSE: BAC)
Bear Stearns
Columbia Management
Credit Suisse
Deutsche Asset Management
Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS )
JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM )
Merrill Lynch
Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS )
Putnam Investments
RBC Dain Rauscher
Raymond James
UBS
Wells Fargo/Wachovia (NYSE: WFC )

This is pretty outrageous even by Wall Street standards, and it tells us a lot about our current regulatory system. If financial firms know that their promises to “not commit fraud” are meaningless, then we’ve created a culture where there is very little downside to unethical behavior and the aggressive pursuit of dubious new products.

The SEC seems to be saying, “Hey, our lawyers are overmatched vis-a-vis these big firms. The best we can do is try to squeeze out a token settlement every once in a while, and call it a day.” Surely our financial institutions know this, and probably view the occasional SEC wrist slap as the part of the price of doing business.

All hope is not lost, however. Just the other day a federal judge called into question the toothless practice of asking firms to make meaningless pledges to not break securities laws in the future. U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff asked the SEC if these agreements were “just for show.” He also made it clear that he had very serious concerns about the settlement between the SEC and Citi. He has yet to decide whether or not to approve the deal.

One way or another, we need to ensure that in the future, financial fraud is treated like the serious crime that it is. Maybe the fines should include a few more zeroes at the end of them, and then double from there for future infractions. Remember the “zero tolerance” policy toward petty crime in New York City in the late 1980s and 1990s? Maybe we need “zero tolerance” for financial fraud on Wall Street in 2011 and beyond. Anything would be better than the current “zero effectiveness” approach. We can do better than this.

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The Enemy is Washington: An Economy Destroyed

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Craig Roberts

Recently, the bond rating agencies that gave junk derivatives triple-A ratings threatened to downgrade US Treasury bonds if the White House and Congress did not reach a deficit reduction deal and debt ceiling increase.  The downgrade threat is not credible, and neither is the default threat.  Both are make-believe crises that are being hyped in order to force cutbacks in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

If the rating agencies downgraded Treasuries, the company executives would be arrested for the fraudulent ratings that they gave to the junk that Wall Street peddled to the rest of the world. The companies would be destroyed and their ratings discredited. The US government will never default on its bonds, because the bonds, unlike those of Greece, Spain, and Ireland, are payable in its own currency. Regardless of whether the debt ceiling is raised, the Federal Reserve will continue to purchase the Treasury’s debt.  If Goldman Sachs is too big to fail, then so is the US government.

There is no budget focus on the illegal wars and military occupations that the US government has underway in at least six countries or the 66-year old US occupations of Japan and Germany and the ring of military bases being constructed around Russia.

The total military/security budget is in the vicinity of $1.1-$1.2 trillion, or 70 per cent -75 per cent of the federal budget deficit.

In contrast, Social Security is solvent.  Medicare expenditures are coming close to exceeding the 2.3 per cent payroll tax that funds Medicare, but it is dishonest for politicians and pundits to blame the US budget deficit on “entitlement programs.”

Entitlements are funded with a payroll tax.  Wars are not funded. The criminal Bush regime lied to Americans and claimed that the Iraq war would only cost $70 billion at the most and would be paid for with Iraq oil revenues. When Bush’s chief economic advisor, Larry Lindsay, said the Iraq invasion would cost $200 billion, Bush fired him. In fact, Lindsay was off by a factor of 20. Economic and budget experts have calculated that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have consumed $4,000 billion in out-of-pocket and already incurred future costs.  In other words, the ongoing wars and occupations have already eaten up the $4 trillion by which Obama hopes to cut federal spending over the next ten years. Bomb now, pay later.

As taxing the rich is not part of the political solution, the focus is on rewarding the insurance companies by privatizing Medicare at some future date with government subsidized insurance premiums, by capping Medicaid, and by loading the diminishing middle class with additional Social Security tax.

Washington’s priorities and those of its presstitutes could not be clearer. President Obama, like George W. Bush before him, both parties in Congress, the print and TV media, and National Public Radio have made it clear that war is a far more important priority than health care and old age pensions for Americans.

The American people and their wants and needs are not represented in Washington. Washington serves powerful interest groups, such as the military/security complex, Wall Street and the banksters, agribusiness, the oil companies, the insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, and the mining and timber industries. 

Washington endows these interests with excess profits by committing war crimes and terrorizing foreign populations with bombs, drones, and invasions, by deregulating the financial sector and bailing it out of its greed-driven mistakes after it has stolen Americans’ pensions, homes, and jobs, by refusing to protect the land, air, water, oceans and wildlife from polluters and despoilers, and by constructing a health care system with the highest costs and highest profits in the world.

The way to reduce health care costs is to take out gobs of costs and profits with a single payer system.  A private health care system can continue to operate alongside for those who can afford it.
The way to get the budget under control is to stop the gratuitous hegemonic wars, wars that will end in a nuclear confrontation.

The US economy is in a deepening recession from which recovery is not possible, because American middle class jobs in manufacturing and professional services have been offshored and given to foreigners.  US GDP, consumer purchasing power, and tax base have been handed over to China, India, and Indonesia in order that Wall Street, shareholders, and corporate CEOs can earn more.
When the goods and services produced offshore come back into America, they arrive as imports. The trade balance worsens, the US dollar declines further in exchange value, and prices rise for Americans, whose incomes are stagnant or falling.

This is economic destruction. It always occurs when an oligarchy seizes control of a government. The short-run profits of the powerful are maximized at the expense of the viability of the economy.
The US economy is driven by consumer demand, but with 22.3 per cent unemployment, stagnant and declining wages and salaries, and consumer debt burdens so high that consumers cannot borrow to spend, there is nothing to drive the economy.

Washington’s response to this dilemma is to increase the austerity! 

Cutting back Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, forcing down wages by destroying unions and offshoring jobs (which results in a labor surplus and lower wages), and driving up the prices of food and energy by depreciating the dollar further erodes consumer purchasing power.  The Federal Reserve can print money to rescue the crooked financial institutions, but it cannot rescue the American consumer.

As a final point, confront the fact that you are even lied to about “deficit reduction.”  Even if Obama gets his $4 trillion “deficit reduction” over the next decade, it does not mean that the current national debt will be $4 trillion less than it currently is.  The “reduction” merely means that the growth in the national debt will be $4 trillion less than otherwise.  Regardless of any “deficit reduction,” the national debt ten years from now will be much higher than it presently is.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury, Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, and professor of economics in six universities. His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, was published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com/Counter punch.

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Stocks Teetering on ‘Tipping Point’ of a Correction:

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nouriel Roubini

Dr. Doom sees global economic growth stalling; corporate results will disappoint, he predicts.

Nouriel Roubini, the economist who predicted the global financial crisis, said stock markets are at the “tipping point” of a correction as economic growth may begin to slow.

Companies had ridden a worldwide recovery to boost sales and profits, supporting equity price increases, Roubini told a conference in Budapest today. Now, signs of a global economic slowdown may drag down stock prices, he said.

“Until two weeks ago I’d say markets were shrugging off all these concerns, saying they don’t matter because they were believing the global economic recovery was on track,” Roubini said. “But I think right now we’re on the tipping point of a market correction. Data from the U.S., from Europe, from Japan, from China are suggesting an economic slowdown.”

The world economy is losing strength halfway through the year as high oil prices and fallout from Japan’s natural disaster and Europe’s debt woes take their toll.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. now forecasts global economic growth of 4.3 percent in 2011, down from its 4.8 percent estimate in mid-April. UBS AG has trimmed its forecast to 3.6 percent from 3.9 percent. Downside risks also include a shift to tighter monetary policy in emerging markets.

Roubini, 53, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, predicted in July 2006 a “catastrophic” global financial meltdown that central bankers would be unable to prevent. In October 2008, Roubini said he still saw “significant downside risks to equity markets,” failing to predict the stock market rebound that sent shares soaring around the globe last year. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has almost doubled from its low in March 2009.

Stocks rose today, preventing the fourth straight weekly loss for the MSCI All-Country World Index, and commodities gained after the Group of Eight leaders said the global economy is strengthening. The MSCI index added 0.8 percent at 10:32 a.m. in New York, putting the gauge 0.1 percent higher since May 20. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 0.4 percent.

Data this week showed Chinese manufacturing expanding at the slowest pace in 10 months, orders for U.S. durable goods dropping the most since October and confidence among European executive and consumers sliding for the third straight month. The MSCI World Index of stocks in advanced economies dropped 4.2 percent this month.

“Until now, equity prices were supported by better-than-expected earnings, sales and profit margins,” Roubini said. “But all three are under squeeze. With slow global economic growth, they’re going to surprise on the downside. We’re going to see the beginning of a correction that’s going to increase volatility and that’s going to increase risk aversion.”

–Bloomberg News—

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