On November 27, Bloomberg reported Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion Undisclosed to Congress
The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing.
The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.
Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse.
A fresh narrative of the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 emerges from 29,000 pages of Fed documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and central bank records of more than 21,000 transactions. While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger.
The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.
Citigroup, Bank of America, RBS, Wells Fargo Top Recipients
The Bloomberg article has a nice interactive graphic that details how much each bank profited.
Citigroup made $1.8 Billion, Bank of America made $1.5 billion, Royal Bank of Scotland made $1.2 Billion, and Wells Fargo made $878 million. Those are the top four.
SEC Stands by Does Nothing
Yesterday, Gretchen Morgenson at the New York Times commented on the Bloomberg report in Secrets of the Bailout, Now Told
A FRESH account emerged last week about the magnitude of financial aid that the Federal Reserve bestowed on big banks during the 2008-09 credit crisis. The report came from Bloomberg News, which had to mount a lengthy legal fight to wrest documents from the Fed that detailed its rescue efforts.
It is dispiriting, of course, that we are still learning about the billions provided to various financial firms during the crisis. Another sad element to this mess is that getting the truth requires the legal firepower of an organization as rich as Bloomberg.
During the first three months of 2009, for example, when Citigroup’s Fed borrowing apparently peaked, Vikram Pandit, its chief executive, hailed the company’s performance. Calling that first quarter the best over all since 2007, Mr. Pandit said the results showed “the strength of Citi’s franchise.”
Citi’s earnings release didn’t detail its large Fed borrowings; neither did its filing for the first quarter of 2009 with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Other banks kept silent on these activities or mentioned them in passing with few specifics.
These disclosure lapses are disturbing to Lynn E. Turner, a former chief accountant at the S.E.C. Since 1989, he said, commission rules have required public companies to disclose details about material federal assistance they receive. The rules grew out of the savings and loan crisis, during which hundreds of banks failed and others received government help.
Given these rules, Mr. Turner said: “I would have expected some discussion in the management discussion and analysis of how this has had a positive impact on these banks’ operating results. The borrowings had to have an impact on their liquidity and earnings, but I don’t ever recall anybody saying ‘we borrowed a bunch of money from the Fed at zero percent interest.’ ”
“These banks and the Fed have never believed in transparency,” Mr. Turner said. “I actually think their thought process is sorely flawed. If the banks knew this stuff was going to be made public they’d behave differently. Instead of runs on the bank you’d have bankers doing things intelligently to avoid getting into trouble.”
What an idea!
Yes indeed. What an idea. Unfortunately there are two sets of rules, one set for big financial players and another set for everyone else.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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