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Fed Gave Banks Eye-Popping Emergency Loans, Without Telling Congress 629

Posted by timothy
from the please-don't-blame-this-on-a-free-market dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt: "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."
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Fed Gave Banks Eye-Popping Emergency Loans, Without Telling Congress

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  • by benwiggy (1262536) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:36PM (#38251338)
    $13 billion? Meh. Drop in the ocean. When we're all short of trillions, what's a few billion between friends?
    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:57PM (#38251546)

      You want bigger numbers?

      Look at the bond sales... Quantitative Easing...

      1. Treasury sells them.
      2. Someone buys them.
      3. Someone sells them on to the FED during POMO.
      4. Profit.

      Look, all filled in. No questions.

      Guess who someone is.

    • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:12PM (#38251664) Homepage

      It seems that the Fed is the only organization in America that would rather solve problems than score political points. From all accounds, they saved the economy from a liquidity crisis that would have shut down every business in America. I say, horray for the Fed!

      • by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:19PM (#38251744)

        True. However, the principle for a central bank, when there is a liquidity crisis is: lend freely, but at punitive rates, wipe-out boards and shareholders. You can do that, because the boards have no choice, it is either that or they end broke.

        By now, the FED should _own_ Wall st. and what a good occasion this would have been to put an end to the casino mentality over there. And the banks knew that, and they were desperately afraid it would happen -- so pulled every string they could to prevent it.

        Unfortunately, they succeeded. The good news is, this crisis was caused because of their culture, so it will happen again, and perhaps this time, the legislator will get it right. What a waste, though.

        • by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:51PM (#38252000)

          Just to put the actions of the FED into context.

          It's purpose is to protect the banking sector, particularly a few Too Big To Fail banks. They did exactly what they were supposed to do.

        • by Tom (822) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @06:21PM (#38252950) Homepage Journal

          True. However, the principle for a central bank, when there is a liquidity crisis is: lend freely, but at punitive rates, wipe-out boards and shareholders. You can do that, because the boards have no choice, it is either that or they end broke.

          Finally someone gets what's wrong with the scheme.

          By now, the FED should _own_ Wall st.

          No. They should stay out of the mudpit, it tends to get a little dirt on you. But they would have sent a very clear message to the banks that if you gamble and lose, you pay for your mistake, and dearly. Instead, the message that was sent is that someone else will pay for your mistake and you can go right on gambling.

      • by khallow (566160) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @04:33PM (#38252276)
        Reminds me of the saying about NASA: If failure is not an option, then success becomes very expensive.
    • Re:Is that all? (Score:5, Informative)

      by yincrash (854885) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:30PM (#38251830)
      It was actually $7.7 trillion. Half of the US GDP. $13 bill. is the profits reaped by a rough calculation given the data they got. $7.77 trillion is the total amount committed to rescuing the financial system. TARP was only $700 billion. GDP of the US is $14.58 trillion.
  • Capitalism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dyinobal (1427207) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:38PM (#38251348)
    Privatize the profits socialize the losses. Isn't capitalism great.
    • Re:Capitalism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BenJCarter (902199) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:40PM (#38251374)
      That isn't capitalism, it's Crony Capitalism. Our political class has become so corrupt they can't even see the problem.
      • Re:Capitalism (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:48PM (#38251460)

        It's called Corporatism. The word "capitalism" doesn't belong anywhere in describing the concept.

        • Re:Capitalism (Score:5, Interesting)

          by istartedi (132515) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:05PM (#38251616) Journal

          You sort of beat me to it, but I think the best word for what we have is simply cronyism. That gets you down to one -ism that describes it all. It applies mostly to corporations, but if you use the word cronymism it covers union corruption too. Anybody who opposes cronyism should be just as upset about the way bondholders were screwed in favor of unions during the GM bankruptcy as they are about the way banks are profiting.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by rhakka (224319)

          Doesn't have to be corporatism. Could be "richguyism" or, as it's commonly known, Plutocracy. However, it just so happens all that money is in corporations in our current economic structure.

          Oh, and it's an inevitable result of laissez faire policies when capitalism is allowed to run amok. money is power. letting it all accumulate in the hands of a few just hands the reigns of power over to them.

          • Re:Capitalism (Score:5, Insightful)

            by khallow (566160) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:33PM (#38251848)
            The other replier came up with a better name, "cronyism". A plutocracy can be corrupt, but that's not a necessary condition. Most publicly traded companies would be plutocracies, but not manifest cronyism.

            Oh, and it's an inevitable result of laissez faire policies when capitalism is allowed to run amok. money is power. letting it all accumulate in the hands of a few just hands the reigns of power over to them.

            Wrong. Lending banks $1.2 trillion is not in the least a laissez faire policy. How could you miss this obvious rebuttal? The laissez faire policy would be to let these businesses fail hard.

            More generally, I notice in this sort of situation, that the blame always goes to the same ideologies even though usually, there's usually no reason to. It's really tiresome.

        • It's interesting that some people used to say similar things about the Eastern Bloc, "They have stalinism; the word 'communism' doesn't belong anywhere near it!" The response to that statement would be that stalinist despotism leads inexorably from communism.

          I hope the equivalent statement isn't true for linking crony capitalism and pure capitalism; I don't think the claim can be dismissed out of hand. (Speaking as a libertarian leaning moderate.)

          • by Required Snark (1702878) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @05:20PM (#38252576)
            You raise a very interesting point. I have observed that the Russia (the former Soviet Union) and the USA have followed a similar course since the fall of the Eastern Bloc. Both systems have been taken over by corrupt and inefficient economic elites. The difference is that in Russia they admit what has happened, and explicitly refer to the "plutocrats" when talking about their economic situation. In the USA no one has admitted that our economy is run by a clique of incompetent self serving thieves that are enriching themselves at the expense of the US and world economy. Only with the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement has there been any public discourse about how intrinsically corrupt our economy has become.

            Here is an interesting post on Reddit from someone inside the hedge fund industry about how the game is really rigged. It's an insiders view of how a segment of the corrupt economic system runs.

            Furthermore, you have absolutely no chance in terms of access to the best services. Hedge funds have a direct line to investment bank's institutional brokerage teams - these are the guys that spend day and night sucking up to hedge funds, trying to get them the best deals at the cheapest rates. This means that while you're buying stocks and bonds, hedge funds are getting special rights, warrants, sweetheart deals, private placement deals, options, bigger discounts on bonds, and much better bulk commission rates and lower spreads on stocks. If you're paying 4.25$ for a 4.15$ stock, they are paying something like 4.16$. And they are eating alive your profits because when the stock goes up to $4.30, they can activate another warrant to purchase 20m shares at $4.25, diluting the value of your shares.

            Next, you lack information and exposure. You have no idea what is going on in the market besides what you see on the news - while hedge funds have analysts working around the clock and a bunch of service providers who give minute-by-minute analysis of their portfolio opportunities and weaknesses in all markets with exposures to nearly everything. Meaning, if there is an opportunity in the real estate market (i.e. legislation), it might take you weeks to get in - hedge funds will have gotten in the minute the legislation was passed. Furthermore, when IPOs come out for companies, hedge funds get top billing on the primary market shares - which means investment banks are selling directly to them. Once the secondary market becomes available, hedge funds are up 15-20% on these investments, sometimes within hours.

            Finally, you have no capital compared to these hedge funds. The people who invest in these hedge funds are not just the 1%, they are the 0.1%. These are the guys with 500million dollar bank accounts and the ability to do whatever the fuck they want. Hedge funds know this, and they invest without having to care about whether their clients can pay the rent or send their kids to college. All of that is irrelevant. Their sole purpose is to earn money, not to mitigate risk.

            http://www.reddit.com/r/occupywallstreet/comments/muqzv/wall_of_text_i_work_in_wall_street_and_work_in [reddit.com]

      • Re:Capitalism (Score:5, Insightful)

        by divisionbyzero (300681) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:59PM (#38251562)

        That isn't capitalism, it's Crony Capitalism. Our political class has become so corrupt they can't even see the problem.

        This isn't communism. It's Maoism. It's Stalinism. Get it? Theoretical ideals go out the window when they hit reality. Any ideology that denies reality is doomed to failure, not to mention embittering its adherents or resulting in significant cognitive dissonance and rationalization.

        • by tmosley (996283)
          Communism, Maoism, and Stalinism are all very similar. Corporatism couldn't be more different from capitalism. It's like trying to describe white by saying it is black, or describing one degree off left by saying it is right.
          • by dlenmn (145080)

            No, ideological communism is very different from Stalinism. Marx wasn't envisioning mass executions and people in gulags.

            Moreover, the question isn't how similar they are, it's whether one follows from the other. We've seen that trying communism usually leads to some type of despotism (Stalinism, Maoism, etc.) Does crony capitalism always follow from trying to do capitalism?

            • Re:Capitalism (Score:4, Insightful)

              by tmosley (996283) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:54PM (#38252012)
              No, they aren't. In communism, one takes from people according to their ability, and distributes according to their need. The only way to accomplish this is through violence. They were always the same, and that is why every attempt at implimentation is the same. It is simply impossible.

              But capitalism IS possible. We had it in the US from the end of Reconstruction until 1913, and had a shadow of it for much longer than that.

              Saying that corporatism follows capitalism is like saying that filth follows cleanliness, and taking that to mean that the best way to avoid becoming dirty is to never clean oneself. Just because some power hungry people conspire to gain power and money illegitimately under capitalism doesn't mean capitalism is evil. Those same people would conspire to gain power and money for themselves no matter WHAT system we lived under. The point is that REAL capitalism harnesses the exponential function of capital investment, and raises living standards for everyone in the system. The longer it is observed, the faster the the capital compounds, until you are able to do practically anything with practically nothing.
              • Re:Capitalism (Score:5, Insightful)

                by korean.ian (1264578) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @05:55PM (#38252782)

                But capitalism IS possible. We had it in the US from the end of Reconstruction until 1913, and had a shadow of it for much longer than that.
                 

                Jeez, what kind of wacky history books have you been reading?

                I guess Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, John Rockefeller, were just poor innocent capitalists who lobbied against the government to remove tariffs on steel, broke up their own trusts willingly, and didn't organize collective actions.

              • No, they aren't. In communism, one takes from people according to their ability, and distributes according to their need. The only way to accomplish this is through violence

                No, communism is possible. It just doesn't work at a state level. Most families would, I imagine, be communal in nature - the parents give according to their ability (their wages) and distribute according to the need (foods, clothes, education). Other organisations, like monasteries and communes, can function under the system as well.

                The key for all those examples, though, is that the people who participate in them do so voluntarily. Parent choose to marry, and have kids. When kids don't want to participat

      • Re:Capitalism (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mtrachtenberg (67780) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:12PM (#38251662) Homepage

        Point taken.

        Unfortunately, if you are an American over 18, you are part of the political class. That goes double if you've received a college education or learned enough about computers to be interested in Slashdot.

        Vote, please, but recognize that American democracy has been corrupted by unlimited money for campaign advertising.

        Further action is needed, and it will be an inconvenience. Fortunately for you and me, taking action requires far less effort and courage than that displayed by those in countries where protest is a life-threatening act. But it does require action.

        Work to re-create a level playing field in politics -- work to ensure that every candidate gets public funding if they agree to give up private funding, work to make the public's airwaves free for political advertisers, so that media companies are forced to share the air as a condition of licensing, and work to prevent unlimited expenditures and their corrupting effect on our political system.

        Slashdot libertarians might want to think a bit, and compare the statements of people like Ralph Nader over the past forty years with the statements made by those who have won office.

    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:44PM (#38251412)

      What you know, isn't capitalism. Hasn't been for quite a while.

      • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @04:46PM (#38252362)

        Capitalism isn't capitalism and will never be.

        Capitalism inevitably results in a few monopolies destroying capitalism. It's not a self sustaining economic structure.

        So we prop it up here and regulate it there to try and keep it under control and from over-merging and consolidating like the blog consuming our entire economy.

        Then the libertarians claim that capitalism needs to be free of oversight so they scale back the watch guard every decade or so and the beast grows. Then it steps on something we all treasure and the public pushes back to shorten its leash. And so on and so forth.

        If we had capitalism (which we never really have) then we would probably have a handful of mega-corporation that looks quite a bit like the government with a bunch of little niche organizations operating in their shadows.

        Capitalism without corporations would just shift the corporatism to a plutocracy where a few wealthy individuals control large portions of the economy. So really corporatism is just a short sighted complaint about our current form of capitalism.

        Functioning economies only really function when you use the useful parts and try and mitigate the problems through splicing in hybrid solutions. If raw capitalism results in massive income inequality and hardship for the majority then you splice in a little social security communism.

        Capitalism was the economic foundation of a successful post-industrial economy. The age of the cheap widget. We were able in the 30s to temper most of its ills through infused socialism. Europe took it a step further in many respects.

        But we're now leaving the hay day of capitalism and entering the information age. I don't think capitalism will function in this new era. I think within 100 years trying to fit capitalism to an information economy would be like trying to sell a spotify customer on the joys of FM radio.

        Expect the composition of our economic philosophy to change dramatically. What will harm us probably more than anything will be a nostalgic ideological insistence to use solutions for problems we no longer face.

        • by Colin Smith (2679)

          Capitalism inevitably results in a few monopolies destroying capitalism. It's not a self sustaining economic structure.

          So we prop it up here and regulate it there to try and keep it under control and from over-merging and consolidating like the blog consuming our entire economy.

          But this obviously doesn't work. Just look around. The regulators have been captured. They do nothing. The fundamental problems are not being addressed.

          The behaviour you mention is a fundamental feature of banking. Specifically fractional reserve banking. By creating and providing credit to organisations, they are enabled to grow.

          Libertarians tend to fall into one of two camps, both of which would limit the ability to create credit and therefore organisations to grow.

          1. Free Banking. Reduced regulation of b

    • Re:Capitalism (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tmosley (996283) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:20PM (#38251748)
      That's corporatism, not capitalism. The inability of the public to distinguish between the two will lead directly to the downfall of this once great nation, if it hasn't already.
      • Re:Capitalism (Score:5, Informative)

        by meta-monkey (321000) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @04:59PM (#38252452) Journal
        Indeed. I am a capitalist (I own two small businesses, that while things are way tougher today, are still in the black). I do not understand why other capitalists are mocking the OWS crowd. What those people are mostly protesting is corporatism, and that corporatism is hurting capitalists like me.

        For instance, if I need a loan to expand my business today, it's really, really hard to get, even with an 800+ credit score and good financials. Lending rates are way down. Banks aren't lending anybody money. Why? Prime is .25%. US Treasury bonds are 2%+ on a 5-year not. Banks are borrowing money from the Fed at .25%, and then lending it to back to the government at 2%+. They are literally conjuring profits out of thin air. And we can't get in on that action because we're not a huge bank. That ain't capitalism...that's corporatism, and it's hurting every small business in america.
  • How? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TitusC3v5 (608284) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:41PM (#38251382) Homepage
    How is it that these people saw no jail time for this nonsense? I'm as jaded as the next person when it comes to our country, but this is obscene.
  • by John3 (85454) <john3NO@SPAMcornells.com> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:46PM (#38251434) Homepage Journal

    Jon Stewart covered this topic quite well the other day [thedailyshow.com]. So essentially we (US Treasury) loaned the banks money at 0.01% and then they loaned us (US Treasury) the money back at a higher rate. WTF?

    • by Gr33nJ3ll0 (1367543) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:07PM (#38251634)
      How does Jon Stewart get away with this? You'd think that somebody would have silenced him by now.
    • by jfengel (409917) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:14PM (#38251682) Homepage Journal

      WTF is that the Fed wanted money pumped into the system, to compensate for all of the (virtual) money that was disappearing. They were afraid of a deflationary cycle, where too little money was chasing too many goods, causing prices to fall, fewer goods to be made, more workers fired, and even less money.

      But the Fed doesn't have branch offices, so they can't make loans to companies or individuals. Instead, they hired the major banks to do it. The gave the money to the banks, who loaned it out a higher rate. The higher rate compensates them for the risks of the losses they were taking: they still owed the money back to the Fed whether the loan was repaid or not. It also pays them for all of the infrastructure they have to maintain to make and service those loans: employees, computers, etc.

      None of that is figured into that estimate of "profit", which was based on the difference between the rates, without taking their costs into account. And it amounts to getting about 1% of the transaction cost.

      The fact that this was done without supervision by Congress is noteworthy, and needs to be investigated. Monetary policy needs to be coordinated, while the goal is to create some space between the Fed and the government to reduce the influence of politics, the government is still supposed to supervise the Fed.

      But as fiscal policy, this is reasonably orthodox. The banks were paid to do what the banks do: give loans so that the economy can expand. Getting somebody else to do the same job would have cost more. The numbers are proportional to what you'd expect of trying to manage a country with a $14 trillion GDP when it's in a crisis.

      • by John3 (85454) <john3NO@SPAMcornells.com> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:23PM (#38251774) Homepage Journal

        --soapbox--

        I'm speaking strictly from personal experience with my small business (hardware store employing 30 people) and what I hear from other small business owners both locally and in the hardware industry around the country, but the banks don't appear to be loaning anyone anything lately. Even with the Fed pumping money into the system they still aren't willing to loan it out to small businesses or individuals. Money is going to money, and that's doing nothing to help the businesses and individuals that are struggling.

        --end-soapbox--

        • --soapbox--

          I'm speaking strictly from personal experience with my small business (hardware store employing 30 people) and what I hear from other small business owners both locally and in the hardware industry around the country, but the banks don't appear to be loaning anyone anything lately. Even with the Fed pumping money into the system they still aren't willing to loan it out to small businesses or individuals. Money is going to money, and that's doing nothing to help the businesses and individuals that are struggling.

          --end-soapbox--

          You speak from personal experience; I read the same thing in the news.

          For 30 years the USA has been run as a cream-skimming operation for the far-less-than-1%. But the cream is running out, and the chickens are coming home to roost.

          (Pardon the mixed metaphors.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:51PM (#38251488)

    The real issue here isn't that the Fed made money available, but the disparity of interest rates between that at which the money was available to select parties and that which the open market would bear: that let the banks borrow massive quantities at virtually no interest, only to lend it back out at much higher interest rates. Pure arbitrage between the "emergency" funds' near-zero interest rate on a restricted market and the open market's willingness to pay interest. It's not even clear that the banks taking the loans were unhealthy--they may have just recognized the profitability of free temporary money that could be loaned out for more than it cost (arbitrage). The Fed basically just shoveled profit to the banks. This isn't to say that the Fed didn't get all its loaned money back -- that's irrelevant. They knew full well that they were creating an artificial market for a select group of players and in direct opposition to the preexisting open market, and that they were creating a textbook case of arbitrage that could only profit the participants with access to the fed funds.

    If someone doesn't go to jail for this, it'll be very hard not to listen to the anti-regulatory, anti-government fringe loonies. This is exactly what they've been squawking about for years. This is the kind of move that destroys the people's trust in the government's ability to regulate the markets: there's no way to see this except as blatant corruption and cronyism. That loss of trust, in the long run, is the most important fallout of this story. If this country is going to recover economically, there's going to have to be a sea change in ethics on both sides of the markets, both the money-making side and the regulatory side (and, yes, we still need both), and its going to have to be a credible change, not just a veneer, to restore confidence in the form of capitalism we claim we practice (and obviously no longer do).

  • by jelle (14827) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @02:57PM (#38251538) Homepage

    Well duh.

    If only I could become a bank to borrow at the FED counter...

  • by dnaumov (453672) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:19PM (#38251740)

    The Fed actually did no wrong, they did exactly what they were supposed to do, HOWEVER: the CEOs of the banks on the receiving end of the loans should absolutely be investigated for defrauding investors, because going out in public and telling the public that your balance sheet is solid and can weather the storm, while simultaneously they are in need of taking on multibillion loans from the Fed just to stay afloat is fraud, plain and simple. Too bad the SEC is in the same bed so nothing is likely to ever happen.

    • by stephanruby (542433) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @04:35PM (#38252302)

      I disagree. As a CEO, accepting huge below-price government loans with no strings attached is the correct response, not the incorrect one.

      Even a healthy bank should accept such loans, since it would make money on the price differential alone. And not accepting the money would only make sure that its competitors (healthy or not) who did accept the money, would have an unfair advantage against it when loaning out that money on the open Market.

      And the way our corporation by-laws are written, if such (an almost) free loan was offered by the government, and if the CEO had refused it on moral grounds, he would have been negligent to refuse it in the first place.

      And when that happens, as a shareholder that's the only time I can really sue the CEO personally. Normally, he would be protected from personal liability by the Corporation and if that didn't work, he would be protected from personal liability by his Board & Officer's insurance, but if he was found negligent in this way, all bets would be off, I could go after his house, his car, his personal property, basically anything that wasn't already protected by the law of the State his personal property was already located in.

  • by shentino (1139071) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @03:29PM (#38251824)

    In fact this is exactly the OPPOSITE of the free market.

    The emergency loans were uncapitalistic government interference that denied market forces the chance to punish these boys with failure like they deserved.

    Especially since those same banks wouldn't have hesitated to foreclose on their own debtors.

    • In fact this is exactly the OPPOSITE of the free market.

      The emergency loans were uncapitalistic government interference that denied market forces the chance to punish these boys with failure like they deserved.

      Especially since those same banks wouldn't have hesitated to foreclose on their own debtors.

      "free market" is just an appeal to magic to obfuscate what its proponents are really saying: "let us do whatever we want".

      No business actually wants competition to exist and drive prices down. They're in business to make big piles of money. But they can't appeal to the unwashed masses by saying "that mean ole gummit is making us behave", so they peddle a religious economic myth, and then use the mantras to jerk the voters' chains when they want something.

  • by tobiah (308208) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @05:03PM (#38252464)

    You know he'd shut that shit down. Clean up the Fed, slash military expenditures, get us out of the wars. I doubt anyone else would do it.
    http://youtu.be/HawiHvxloms [youtu.be]

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