The Election is Over! Wall Street Won!

By Nomi Prins Before the campaign contributors lavished billions of dollars on their favorite candidate; and long after they toast their winner or drink to forget their loser, Wall Street was already primed to continue its reign over the economy. For, after three debates (well, four), when it comes to banking, finance, and the ongoing subsidization of Wall Street, both presidential candidates and their parties’ attitudes toward the banking sector is similar – i.e. it must be preserved – as is – at all costs, rhetoric to the contrary, aside. Obama hasn’t brought ‘sweeping reform’ upon the Establishment Banks, nor does Romney need to exude deregulatory babble, because nothing structurally substantive has been done to harness the biggest banks of the financial sector, enabled, as they are, by entities from the SEC to the Fed to the Treasury Department to the White House. In addition, though much is made of each candidates’ tax plans, and the related math that doesn’t add up (for both presidential candidates), the bottom line is, Obama hasn’t explained exactly WHY there’s $5 trillion more in debt during his presidency, nor has Romney explained HOW to get a $5 trillion savings. For the record, both missed, or don’t get, that nearly 32% of that Treasury debt is reserved (in excess) at the Fed, floating the banking system that supposedly doesn’t need help. The ‘worst economic period since the Great Depression’ barely produced a short-fall of an approximate average of $200 billion in personal and corporate tax revenues per year, according to federal data .) Consider that the amount of tax revenue since 2008, has dropped for individual income contributions from $1.15 trillion in 2008 to $915 billion in 2009, to $899 billion in 2010, then risen to $1.1 trillion in 2011. Corporate tax contributions have dropped (by more of course) from $304 billion in 2008 to $138 billion in 2009 to $191 billion in 2010, to $181 billion in 2011. Thus, at most, we can consider to have lost $420 billion in individual revenue and $402 billion in corporate revenue, or $822 billion from 2009 on. The Fed has, in addition, held on average of $1.6 trillion Treasuries in excess reserves. That, plus $822 billion equals $2.42 trillion, add on the other $900 billion of Fed held mortgage securities, and you get $3.32 trillion, NOT $5 trillion, and most to float banks. The most consistent political platform is that big finance trumps main street economics, and the needs of the banking sector trump those of the population. We have a national policy condoning zero-interest-rate policy (ZIRP) as somehow job-creative. (Fed Funds rates dropped to 0% by the end of 2008 , where they have remained since.) We are left with a regulatory policy of pretend. Rather than re-instating Glass-Steagall to divide commercial from investment banking and insurance activity, thereby removing the platform of government (or public) supported speculation and expansion, props leaders that pretend linguistic tweaks are a match for financial might. We have no leader that will take on Jamie Dimon, Chairman of the country’s largest bank, JPM Chase, who can devote 15% of the capital of JPM Chase, which remains backstopped by customer deposit insurance, to bet on the direction of potential corporate defaults, and slide by two Congressional investigations like walks in the park. Pillars of Collusion A few months ago, Paul Craig Roberts and I co-wrote an article about the LIBOR scandal; the crux of which, was lost on most of the media. That is; the banks, the Fed, and the Treasury Department knew banks were manipulating rates lower to artificially support the prices of hemorrhaging assets and debt securities. But no one in Washington complained, because they were in on it; because it made the over-arching problem of debt-manufacturing and bloating the Fed’s balance sheet to subsidize a banking industry at the expense of national economic health, evaporate in the ether of delusion. In the same vein, the Fed announced QE3, the unlimited version – the Fed would buy $40 billion a month of mortgage-backed securities from banks. Why – if the recession is supposedly over and the housing market has supposedly bottomed out – would this be necessary? Simple. If the Fed is buying securities, it’s because the banks can’t sell them anywhere else. And because banks still need to get rid of these mortgage assets, they won’t lend again or refinance loans at faster rates, thereby sharing their advantage for cheaper money, as anyone trying to even refinance a mortgage has discovered. Thus, Banks simply aren’t ‘healthy’, not withstanding their $1.53 trillion of excess reserves (earning interest), and nearly $900 billion in mortgage backed securities parked at the Fed. The open-ended QE program is merely perpetuating the illusion that as long as bank assets get marked higher (through artificial buyers, zero percent interest rates, or not having to mark them to market), everything is fine. Meanwhile, Washington coddles and subsidizes the biggest banks – not to encourage lending, not to encourage saving, and not to better the country, but to contain harsh truths about how badly banks played, and are still playing, the nation. The SEC’s Role According to the SEC’s own report card on “Enforcement Actions: Addressing Misconduct that led to or arose from the Financial Crisis”: the SEC has levied charges against 112 entities and individuals, of which 55 were CEOs, CFOs, and other Senior Corporate Officers. In terms of fines; the SEC ‘ordered or agreed to’ $1.4 billion of penalties, $460 million of disgorgement and prejudgment interest, and $355 million of “Additional Monetary Relief Obtained for Harmed Investors. That’s a grand total of $2.2 billion of fines. (The Department of Justice dismissed additional charges or punitive moves.) Goldman, Sachs received the largest fine, of $550 million, taking no responsibility (in SEC-speak, “neither confirming nor denying’ any wrongdoing) for packaging CDOs on behalf of one client, which supported their prevailing trading position, and pushing them on investors without disclosing that information, which would have materially changed pricing and attractiveness. (The DOJ found nothing else to charge Goldman with, apparently not considering misleading investors, fraud.) Obama-appointed SEC head, Mary Shapiro, originally settled with Bank of America for a friendly $34 million, until Judge Rakoff quintupled the fine to $150 million, for misleading shareholders during its Fed-approved, Treasury department pushed, acquisition of Merrill Lynch, regarding bonus compensation. (Merrill’s $3.6 billion of bonuses were paid before the year-end of 2008, while TARP and other subsidies were utilized). Still embroiled in ongoing lawsuits related to its Countrywide acquisition, Bank of America agreed to an additional $601.5 million in one non-SEC settlement, and $2.43 billion in another relating to those Merrill bonuses. Likewise, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $590 million for its fall-2008 acquisition of Wachovia’s foul loans and securities. These are small prices to pay to grow your asset and customer base. Citigroup agreed to pay $285 million to the SEC to settle charges of misleading investors and betting against them, in the sale of one (one!) $1 billion CDO. Judge Rakoff rejected the settlement, but Citigroup is appealing. So is its friend, the SEC. Outside of that, Citigroup agreed to an additional $590 million to settle a shareholder CDO lawsuit, denying wrongdoing. JPM Chase agreed to a $153.5 million SEC fine relating to one (one!) CDO. Outside of Washington, it agreed to a $100 million settlement for hiking credit card fees, and a $150 million settlement for a lawsuit filed by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists retirement fund and other investors, over losses from its purchase of JPM’s Sigma Finance Hedge Fund, when it used to be rated ‘AAA.’ There you have it. No one did anything wrong. The total of $2.2 billion in SEC fines, and about $4.4 billion in outside lawsuits is paltry. Consider that for the same period (since 2007), total Wall Street bonuses topped $679 billion , or nearly 309 times as much as the SEC fines, and 154 times as much as all the settlements. The SEC & Dodd Frank Dance The SEC embarked upon 90 actions, divided into 15 categories, related to the Dodd-Frank Act that amount to proposing or adopting rules with loopholes galore, and creating reports that summarize things we know. Some of the obvious categories, like asset backed related products or deriv