Have been on deadline this week, but wanted to post a few interesting links:
• I hope everyone saw ex-Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chief Sheila Bair’s editorial in the Washington Post, entitled, "Fix Income Inequality with $10 million Loans for Everyone!" The piece might have set a world record for public bitter sarcasm by a former top regulatory official.
In it, Bair points out that since we’ve been giving zero-interest loans to all of the big banks, why don’t we do the same thing for actual people, to solve the income inequality program? If the Fed handed out $10 million to every person, and then got each of those people to invest, say, in foreign debt, we could all be back on our feet in no time:
Under my plan, each American household could borrow $10 million from the Fed at zero interest. The more conservative among us can take that money and buy 10-year Treasury bonds. At the current 2 percent annual interest rate, we can pocket a nice $200,000 a year to live on. The more adventuresome can buy 10-year Greek debt at 21 percent, for an annual income of $2.1 million. Or if Greece is a little too risky for you, go with Portugal, at about 12 percent, or $1.2 million dollars a year. (No sense in getting greedy.)
Every time I watch a Republican debate, and hear these supposedly anti-welfare crowds booing the idea of stiffer regulation of Wall Street, I wonder how many audience members know that Bair's plan is more or less exactly the revenue model for all of America’s biggest banks. You go to the Fed, get a buttload of free money, lend it out at interest (perversely enough, including loans right back to the U.S. government), then pocket the profit.
Considering that we now know that the Fed gave out something like $16 trillion in secret emergency loans to big banks on top of the bailouts we actually knew about, you might ask yourself: How are these guys in financial trouble? How can they not be making mountains of money, risk-free? But they are in financial trouble:
• We’re about to see yet another big blow to all of the usual suspects – Goldman, Citi, Bank of America, and especially Morgan Stanley, all of whom face potential downgrades by Moody’s in the near future.
We’ve known this was coming for some time, but the news this week is that the giant money-managing firm BlackRock is talking about moving its business elsewhere. Laurence Fink, BlackRock’s CEO, told the New York Times: "If Moody’s does indeed downgrade these institutions, we may have a need to move some business around to higher-rated institutions."
It’s one thing when Zero Hedge, William Black, myself, or some rogue Fed officers in Dallas decide to point fingers at the big banks. But when big money players stop trading with those firms, that’s when the death spirals begin.
Morgan Stanley in particular should be sweating. They’re apparently going to be downgraded three notches, where they’ll be joining Citi and Bank of America at a level just above junk. But no worries: Bank CFO Ruth Porat announced that a three-level downgrade was "manageable" and that only losers rely totally on agencies like Moody’s to judge creditworthiness. "A lot of clients are doing their own credit work," she said.
• Meanwhile, Bank of America reported its first-quarter results yesterday. Despite that massive ongoing support from the Fed, it earned just $653 million in the first quarter, but astonishingly the results were hailed by most of the financial media as good news. Its home-turf paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, crowed that BOA "Posts Higher Profits As Trading Results Rebound." Bloomberg, meanwhile, summed up results this way: "Bank of America Beats Analyst Estimates As Trading Jumps."
But the New York Times noted that BOA’s first-quarter profit of $653 million was down from $2 billion a year ago, and paled compared to results of more successful banks like Chase and Wells Fargo.
Zero Hedge, meanwhile, posted an amusing commentary on BOA’s results, pointing out that the bank quietly reclassified nearly two billion dollars’ worth of real estate loans. This is from BOA’s report:
During 1Q12, the bank regulatory agencies jointly issued interagency supervisory guidance on nonaccrual policies for junior-lien consumer real estate loans. In accordance with this new guidance, beginning in 1Q12, we classify junior-lien home equity loans as nonperforming when the first-lien loan becomes 90 days past due even if the junior-lien loan is performing. As a result of this change, we reclassified $1.85B of performing home equity loans to nonperforming.
In other words, Bank of America described nearly two billion dollars of crap on their books as performing loans, until the government this year forced them to admit it was crap.
ZH and others also noted that BOA wildly underestimated its exposure to litigation, but that’s nothing new. Anyway, despite the inconsistencies in its report, and despite the fact that it’s about to be downgraded – again – Bank of America’s shares are up again, pushing $9 today.
• Speaking of BOA, you can help the bank improve its website....