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Guest post by Ellen Brown.
“Epic in scale, unprecedented in world history.” That is how William K. Black, professor of law and economics and former bank fraud investigator, describes the frauds in which JPMorgan Chase (JPM) has now been implicated. They involve more than a dozen felonies, including bid-rigging on municipal bond debt; colluding to rig interest rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars in mortgages, derivatives and other contracts; exposing investors to excessive risk; failing to disclose known risks, including those in the Bernie Madoff scandal; and engaging in multiple forms of mortgage fraud.
So why, asks Chicago Alderwoman Leslie Hairston, are we still doing business with them? She plans to introduce a city council ordinance deleting JPM from the city’s list of designated municipal depositories. As quoted in the January 14th Chicago Sun-Times:
The bank has violated the city code by making admissions of dishonesty and deceit in the way they dealt with their investors in the mortgage securities and Bernie Madoff Ponzi scandals. . . . We use this code against city contractors and all the small companies, why wouldn’t we use this against one of the largest banks in the world?
A similar move has been recommended for the City of Los Angeles by L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo. But in a January 19th editorial titled “There’s No Profit in L A. Bashing JPMorgan Chase,” the L.A. Times editorial board warned against pulling the city’s money out of JPM and other mega-banks – even though the city attorney is suing them for allegedly causing an epidemic of foreclosures in minority neighborhoods.
“L.A. relies on these banks,” says The Times, “for long-term financing to build bridges and restore lakes, and for short-term financing to pay the bills.” The editorial noted that a similar proposal brought in the fall of 2011 by then-Councilman Richard Alarcon, backed by Occupy L.A., was abandoned because it would have resulted in termination fees and higher interest payments by the city.
It seems we must bow to our oppressors because we have no viable alternative – or do we? What if there is an alternative that would not only save the city money but would be a safer place to deposit its funds than in Wall Street banks?
The Tiny State That Broke Free
There is a place where they don’t bow. Where they don’t park their assets on Wall Street and play the mega-bank game, and haven’t for almost 100 years. Where they escaped the 2008 banking crisis and have no government debt, the lowest foreclosure rate in the country, the lowest default rate on credit card debt, and the lowest unemployment rate. They also have the only publicly-owned bank.
The place is North Dakota, and their state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND) is a model for Los Angeles and other cities, counties, and states.
Like the BND, a public bank of the City of Los Angeles would not be a commercial bank and would not compete with commercial banks. In fact, it would partner with them – using its tax revenue deposits to create credit for lending programs through the magical everyday banking practice of leveraging capital.
The BND is a major money-maker for North Dakota, returning about $30 million annually in dividends to the treasury – not bad for a state with a population that is less than one-fifth that of the City of Los Angeles. Every year since the 2008 banking crisis, the BND has reported a return on investment of 17-26%.
Like the BND, a Bank of the City of Los Angeles would provide credit for city projects – to build bridges, restore lakes, and pay bills – and this credit would essentially be interest-free, since the city would own the bank and get the interest back. Eliminating interest has been shown to reduce the cost of public projects by 35% or more.
Consider what that could mean for Los Angeles. According to the current fiscal budget, the LAX Modernization project is budgeted at $4.11 billion. That’s the sticker price. But what will it cost when you add interest on revenue bonds and other funding sources? The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge earthquake retrofit boondoggle was slated to cost about $6 billion. Interest and bank fees added another $6 billion. Funding through a public bank could have saved taxpayers $6 billion, or 50%.
If Los Angeles owned its own bank, it could also avoid costly “rainy day funds,” which are held by various agencies as surplus taxes. If the city had a low-cost credit line with its own bank, these funds could be released into the general fund, generating massive amounts of new revenue for the city.
The potential for the City and County of Los Angeles can be seen by examining their respective Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs). According to the latest CAFRs (2012), the City of Los Angeles has “cash, pooled and other investments” of $11 billion beyond what is in its pension fund (page 85), and the County of Los Angeles has $22 billion (page 66). To put these sums in perspective, the austerity crisis declared by the State of California in 2012 was the result of a declared state budget deficit of only $16 billion.
The L.A. CAFR funds are currently drawing only minimal interest. With some modest changes in regulations, they could be returned to the general fund for use in the city’s budget, or deposited or invested in the city’s own bank, to be leveraged into credit for local purposes.
Beyond being a money-maker, a city-owned bank can minimize the risks of interest rate manipulation, excessive fees, and dishonest dealings.
Another risk that must now be added to the list is that of confiscation in the event of a “bail in.” Public funds are secured with collateral, but they take a back seat in bankruptcy to the “super priority” of Wall Street’s own derivative claims. A major derivatives fiasco of the sort seen in 2008 could wipe out even a mega-bank’s available collateral, leaving the city with empty coffers.
The city itself could be propelled into bankruptcy by speculative derivatives dealings with Wall Street banks. The dire results can be seen in Detroit, where the emergency manager, operating on behalf of the city’s creditors, put it into bankruptcy to force payment on its debts. First in line were UBS and Bank of America, claiming speculative winnings on their interest-rate swaps, which the emergency manager paid immediately before filing for bankruptcy. Critics say the swaps were improperly entered into and were what propelled the city into bankruptcy. Their propriety is now being investigated by the bankruptcy judge.
Not Too Big to Abandon
Mega-banks might be too big to fail. According to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, they might even be too big to prosecute. But they are not too big to abandon as depositories for government funds.
There may indeed be no profit in bashing JPMorgan Chase, but there would be profit in pulling deposits out and putting them in Los Angeles’ own public bank. Other major cities currently exploring that possibility include San Franciscoand Philadelphia.
If North Dakota can bypass Wall Street with its own bank and declare its financial independence, so can the City of Los Angeles. And so can the County. And so can the State of California.
Ellen Brown is an attorney, chairman of the Public Banking Institute, and author of 12 books includingThe Public Bank Solution. She is currently running for California state treasurer on the Green Party ticket.
We have some great news for those Americans who are still in the labor force (so that excludes about 92 million working age US citizens) and still have a (full-time) job: you are now working longer than ever! In fact, as JPM’s Michael Cembalest observes using Conference Board data, the average manufacturing workweek is now just shy of 42 hours – the longest in over 60 years. And there are those who say Americans are lazy…
Of course, with labor productivity stuck in limbo this is to be expected: corporations, desperate to extract every last ounce of efficiency from their workers, are making them work hard, not smart, in order to boost bottom lines, and activist investors’ P&Ls.
One tangent: even as companies are putting more people into the same amount of office space, reducing square footage per worker, the point at which more space will have to be added, or where the lack of slack becomes unbearable, is a long way away: as the chart below shows, while there was over 330 square feet per worker in 2011 when the average workweek was a little over 40 hours, it is currently roughly 20 square feet higher over 350. So yes: the slack if being absorbed. Very… Very… Slowly. In fact at this rate, courtesy of the tens of millions of Americans who no longer have any chance of reentering the work force, all those betting on wage inflation as a result of slack absorption may have to wait another 5, 10 maybe 15 years before the existing labor capacity is hit and office space and new workers have to be added.
Until then, Americans have much longer workweeks to look forward to and not to mention, flat or declining wages to go along with it: after all in the New Normal, corporations – especially those who directly and indirectly control the Fed – have all the leverage.
Bernanke’s Legacy: A Record $1.3 Trillion In Excess Deposits Over Loans At The “Big 4” Banks | Zero Hedge
The history books on Bernanke’s legacy have not even been started, and while the euphoria over the Fed’s balance sheet expansion to a ridiculous $4 trillion or about 25% of the US GDP has been well-telegraphed and manifests itself in a record high stock market and a matching record disparity between the haves and the have nots, there is never such a thing as a free lunch… or else the Fed should be crucified for not monetizing all debt since its inception over 100 years ago – just think of all the foregone “wealth effect.” Sarcasm aside, one thing that can be quantified and that few are talking about is the unprecedented, and record, amount of “deposits” held at US commercial banks over loans.
Naturally, these are not deposits in the conventional sense, but merely the balance sheet liability manifestation of the Fed’s excess reserves parked at banks. And as our readers know well by now (hereand here) it is these “excess deposits” that the Banks have used to run up risk in various permutations, most notably as the JPM CIO demonstrated, by attempting to corner various markets and other still unknown pathways, using the Fed’s excess liquidity as a source of initial and maintenance margin on synthetic positions.
So how does the record mismatch between deposits and loans look like? Well, for the Big 4 US banks, JPM, Wells, BofA and Citi it looks as follows.
What the above chart simply shows is the breakdown in the Excess Deposit over Loan series, which is shown in the chart below, which tracks the historical change in commercial bank loans and deposits. What is immediately obvious is that while loans and deposits moved hand in hand for most of history, starting with the collapse of Lehman loan creation has been virtually non-existent (total loans are now at levels seen at the time of Lehman’s collapse) while deposits have risen to just about $10 trillion. It is here that the Fed’s excess reserves have gone – the delta between the two is almost precisely the total amount of reserves injected by the Fed since the Lehman crisis.
As for the location of the remainder of the Fed-created excess reserves? Why it is held by none other than foreign banks operating in the US.
So what does all of this mean? In a nutshell, with the Fed now tapering QE and deposit formation slowing, banks will have no choice but to issue loans to offset the lack of outside money injection by the Fed. In other words, while bank “deposits” have already experienced the benefit of “future inflation”, and have manifested it in the stock market, it is now the turn of the matching asset to catch up. Which also means that while “deposit” growth (i.e., parked reserves) in the future will slow to a trickle, banks will have no choice but to flood the country with $2.5 trillion in loans, or a third of the currently outstanding loans, just to catch up to the head start provided by the Fed!
It is this loan creation that will jump start inside money and the flow through to the economy, resulting in the long-overdue growth. It is also this loan creation that means banks will no longer speculate as prop traders with the excess liquidity but go back to their roots as lenders. Most importantly, once banks launch this wholesale lending effort, it is then and only then that the true pernicious inflation from what the Fed has done in the past 5 years will finally rear its ugly head.
Finally, it is then that Bernanke’s legendary statement that he can “contain inflation in 15 minutes” will truly be tested. Which perhaps explains why he can’t wait to be as far away from the Marriner Eccles building as possible when the long-overdue reaction to his actions finally hits. Which is smart: now it is all Yellen responsibility.
Much has been said about the key aspect of the Ponzi scheme behind America’s welfare state (if not enough where it matters as the three living Fed Chairmen currently joke around during the Fed’s shindig on the central bank’s 100th anniversary), namely that all those who have paid in money to entitlements, are entitled to benefit from entitlement distributions in the future. On paper this is absolutely correct, and in an efficient market, without capital allocation distortions this would work (ignoring that a Ponzi scheme, is, by definition, a Ponzi scheme and is reliant on ever greater inflows of money and participants or, as some may call them, suckers). More importantly, this is also fair. Sadly, as recent experiments within the Obama administration and elsewhere, most notably France, when the entire developed world has hit “peak debt” levels, the fairness doctrine no longer works, especially if and when it is enforced upon a destitute population.
Since we don’t live in a paper world, one should be able to quantify the disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots” when it comes to entitlements. This is precisely what Larry Kotlikoff did in August 2013 in “How the millennial generation will pay the price of Washington’s paralysis.” The results, charted, show what JPM’s Michael Cembalest has dubbed, accurately, “generational theft”, or the difference between how much excess some Americans will have received in government benefits (the older ones), compared to how great the funding deficit is for others – mostly young Americans, those who are about to graduated from college with record amounts of student loans (on average) and those yet unborn.
After you graduate, the US will be in the thick of the “generational theft” issue; here’s a heads-up on what this is all about. Generational accounting is an estimate of who benefits from and who pays for government programs. As shown in the first chart, the average person in the generation that turned 65 this year received $327 thousand dollars more in lifetime government benefits than they paid in Federal taxes. On the other hand, children born in the future (e.g., yours) will have a lifetime deficit on this basis of -$421 thousand dollars. If it sounds unfair, it is.
It seems that these days few things are fair. Which is perhaps why the rulers are desperate to do everything in their power to “enforce” their idea of fairness on everyone.
A letter sent to a ZH reader yesterday by JPMorgan Chase, specifically its Business Banking division, reveals something disturbing. For whatever reason, JPM has decided that after November 17, 2013, it will halt the use of international wire transfers (saying it would “cancel any international wire transfers, including recurring ones”), but more importantly, limits the cash activity in associated business accounts to only $50,000 per statement cycle. “Cash activity is the combined total of cash deposits made at branches, night drops and ATMs and cash withdrawals made at branches and ATMs.”
Why? “These changes will help us more effectively manage the risks involved with these types of transactions.” So… JPM is now engaged in the risk-management of ATM withdrawals?
Reading between the lines, this sounds perilously close to capital controls to us.
While we have no way of knowing just how pervasive this novel proactive at Chase bank is and what extent of customers is affected, what is also left unsaid is what the Business Customer is supposed to do with the excess cash: we assume investing it all in stocks, and JPM especially, is permitted? But more importantly, how long before the $50,000 limit becomes $20,000, then $10,000, then $5,000 and so on, until Business Customers are advised that the bank will conduct an excess cash flow sweep every month and invest the proceeds in a mutual fund of the customer’s choosing?
Full redacted letter below:
- Toward Free Exchange Rather Than Capital Controls (economicsone.com)
- Easing troubles in the long run (thehindu.com)
- Capital controls to be lifted by January: Anastasiades (cyprus-mail.com)
- Capital controls to be lifted in the first months of 2014, Cyprus FinMin says (famagusta-gazette.com)
- Capital controls to be lifted except cross-border transfers (UPDATED) (cyprus-mail.com)
- Cyprus Capital Controls Could ‘End in Months’ (blogs.wsj.com)
- 5 Years Later: Winners & Losers of the Financial Crisis (fool.com)
- RBI chief says policy not to resort to capital controls – Reuters India (in.reuters.com)