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“The Vampire Squid Strikes Again”- Matt Taibbi Takes On Blythe Masters And The Banker Commodity Cartel | Zero Hedge

“The Vampire Squid Strikes Again”- Matt Taibbi Takes On Blythe Masters And The Banker Commodity Cartel | Zero Hedge.

The story of how JPMorgan, Goldman and the rest of the Too Big To Fails and Prosecutes, cornered, monopolized and became a full-blown cartel – with the Fed’s explicit blessing – in the physical commodity market is nothing new to regular readers: to those new to this story, we suggest reading of our story from June 2011 (over two and a half years ago),  “Goldman, JP Morgan Have Now Become A Commodity Cartel As They Slowly Recreate De Beers’ Diamond Monopoly.” That, or Matt Taibbi’s latest article written in his usual florid and accessible style, in which he explains how the “Vampire Squid strikes again” courtesy of the “loophole that destroyed the world” to wit: “it would take half a generation – till now, basically – to understand the most explosive part of the bill, which additionally legalized new forms of monopoly, allowing banks to merge with heavy industry. A tiny provision in the bill also permitted commercial banks to delve into any activity that is “complementary to a financial activity and does not pose a substantial risk to the safety or soundness of depository institutions or the financial system generally.” Complementary to a financial activity. What the hell did that mean?… Fifteen years later, in fact, it now looks like Wall Street and its lawyers took the term to be a synonym for ruthless campaigns of world domination.

Some key excerpts:

Today, banks like Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs own oil tankers, run airports and control huge quantities of coal, natural gas, heating oil, electric power and precious metals. They likewise can now be found exerting direct control over the supply of a whole galaxy of raw materials crucial to world industry and to society in general, including everything from food products to metals like zinc, copper, tin, nickel and, most infamously thanks to a recent high-profile scandal, aluminum. And they’re doing it not just here but abroad as well: In Denmark, thousands took to the streets in protest in recent weeks, vampire-squid banners in hand, when news came out that Goldman Sachs was about to buy a 19 percent stake in Dong Energy, a national electric provider. The furor inspired mass resignations of ministers from the government’s ruling coalition, as the Danish public wondered how an American investment bank could possibly hold so much influence over the state energy grid.

The motive for the Kochs, or anyone else, to hoard a commodity like oil can be almost beautiful in its simplicity. Basically, a bank or a trading company wants to buy commodities cheap in the present and sell them for a premium as futures. This trade, sometimes called “arbitraging the contango,” works best if the cost of storing your oil or metals or whatever you’re dealing with is negligible – you make more money off the futures trade if you don’t have to pay rent while you wait to deliver.

 

So when financial firms suddenly start buying oil tankers or warehouses, they could be doing so to make bets pay off, as part of a speculative strategy – which is why the banks’ sudden acquisitions of metals-storage companies in 2010 is so noteworthy.

 

These were not minor projects. The firms put high-ranking executives in charge of these operations. Goldman’s acquisition of Metro was the project of Isabelle Ealet, the bank’s then-global commodities chief. (In a curious coincidence commented upon by several sources for this story, many of Goldman’s most senior officials, including CEO Lloyd Blankfein and president Gary Cohn, started their careers in Goldman’s commodities division.)

Then there are the political connections:

In 2010, a decade after the Rich pardon, Holder was attorney general, but under Barack Obama, and two Rich-created firms, along with two banks that have been major donors to the Democratic Party, all made moves to buy up metals warehouses. In near simultaneous fashion, Goldman, Chase, Glencore and Trafigura bought companies that control warehouses all over the world for the LME, or London Metals Exchange. The LME is a privately owned exchange for world metals trading. It’s the world’s primary hub for determining metals prices and also for trading metals-based futures, options, swaps and other instruments.

 

“If they were just interested in collecting rent for metals storage, they’d have bought all kinds of warehouses,” says Manal Mehta, the founder of Sunesis Capital, a hedge fund that has done extensive research on the banks’ forays into the commodities markets. “But they seemed to focus on these official LME facilities.”

 

The JPMorgan deal seemed to be in direct violation of an order sent to the bank by the Fed in 2005, which declared the bank was not authorized to “own, operate, or invest in facilities for the extraction, transportation, storage, or distribution of commodities.” The way the Fed later explained this to the Senate was that the purchase of Henry Bath was OK because it considered the acquisition of this commodities company kosher within the context of a larger sale that the Fed was cool with – “If the bulk of the acquisition is a permissible activity, they’re allowed to include a small amount of impermissible activities.”

 

What’s more, according to LME regulations, no warehouse company can also own metal or make trades on the exchange. While they may have been following the letter of the law, they were certainly violating the spirit: Goldman preposterously seems to have engaged in all three activities simultaneously, changing a hat every time it wanted to switch roles. It conducted its metal trades through its commodities subsidiary J. Aron, and then put Metro, its warehouse company, in charge of the storage, and according to industry experts, Goldman most likely owned some metal, though the company has remained vague on the subject.

 

If you’re wondering why the LME would permit a seemingly blatant violation of its own rules, a good place to start would be to look at who owned the LME at the time. Although it eventual­ly sold itself to a Hong Kong company in 2012, in 2010 the LME was owned by a consortium of banks and financial companies. The two largest shareholders? Goldman and JPMorgan Chase.

 

Humorously, another was Koch Metals (2.32 percent), a commodities concern that’s part of the Koch brothers’ empire. The Kochs have been caught up in their own commodity-manipulation schemes, including an episode in 2008, in which they rented out huge tankers and sed them to store excess oil offshore essentially as floating warehouses, taking cheap oil out of available supply and thereby helping to drive up energy prices. Additionally, some banks have been accused of similar oil-hoarding schemes.

And then there is of course Blythe, who is now looking for a new job precisely as a result of the cartel story:

Chase’s own head of commodities operations, Blythe Masters – an even more famed Wall Street figure, sometimes described as the inventor of the credit default swap – admitted that her company’s warehouse interests weren’t just a casual thing. “Just being able to trade financial commodities is a serious limitation because financial commodities represent only a tiny fraction of the reality of the real commodity exposure picture,” she said in 2010.

 

Loosely translated, Masters was saying that there was a limited amount of money to be made simply trading commodities in the traditional legal manner. The solution? “We need to be active in the underlying physical commodity markets,” she said, “in order to understand and make prices.”

 

We need to make prices. The head of Chase’s commodities division actually said this, out loud, and it speaks to both the general unlikelihood of God’s existence and the consistently low level of competence of America’s regulators that she was not immediately zapped between the eyebrows with a thunderbolt upon doing so. Instead, the government sat by and watched as a curious phenomenon developed at all of these new bank-owned warehouses, in the aluminum markets in particular.

Finally, the big picture:

[T]he potential for wide-scale manipulation and/or new financial disasters is only part of the nightmare that this new merger of banking and industry has created. The other, perhaps even darker problem involves the new existential dangers both to the environment and to the stability of the financial system. Long before Goldman and Chase started buying up metals warehouses, for instance, Morgan Stanley had already bought up a substantial empire of physical businesses – electricity plants in a number of states, a firm that trades in heating oil, jet fuels, fertilizers, asphalt, chemicals, pipelines and a global operator of oil tankers.

 

How long before one of these fully loaded monster ships capsizes, and Morgan Stanley becomes the next BP, not only killing a gazillion birds and sea mammals off some unlucky country’s shores but also taking the financial system down with them, as lawsuits plunge the company into bankruptcy with Lehman-style repercussions? Morgan Stanley’s CEO, James Gorman, even admitted how risky his firm’s new acquisitions were last year, when he reportedly told staff that a hypothetical oil spill was “a risk we just can’t take.”

 

The regulators are almost worse. Remember the 2008 collapse happened when government bodies like the Fed, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision – whose entire expertise supposedly revolves around monitoring the safety and soundness of financial companies – somehow missed that half of Wall Street was functionally bankrupt.

 

Now that many of those financial companies have been bailed out, those same regulators who couldn’t or wouldn’t smell smoke in a raging fire last time around are suddenly in charge of deciding if companies like Morgan Stanley are taking out enough insurance on their oil tankers, or if banks like Goldman Sachs are properly handling their uranium deposits.

 

“The Fed isn’t the most enthusiastic regulator in the best of times,” says Brown. “And now we’re asking them to take this on?”

Read the full story here (Rolling Stone link), or alternatively for those curious, here is a presentation highlighting all the key aspects of the aluminum price manipulation story by the big banks.

The Turning | KUNSTLER

The Turning | KUNSTLER.

In these northern climes, this turning into the year’s final quarter feels written in the blood, or at least into the legacy code of culture. The leaves skitter across the streets in an early twilight, chill winds daunt man and dog, the landscape buttons itself up for the long sleep, and human activity moves indoors — including the arduous festivities around the spooky solstice. We take the comfort that we can in all that. But a strange torpor of event attends this year’s turning. In the year’s final happenings, nothing seems to happen, and what little does happen seems not to matter. The world sits with frayed nerves and hears a distant noise, which is the cosmic screw of history turning.

The nation gets over everything without resolving anything — fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings, health care implosions, domestic spying outrages, taper talk jukes, banking turpitudes, the Syria bluster, the Iran nuke deal fake-out. It’s dangerous to live as though there was no such thing as consequence. Societies have a way of reaching a consensus about something without ever stating it outright. The American public has silently agreed to sit on its hands though one more Christmas and after that things shake loose.

What happens, for instance, in the limbo months of ObamaCare ahead, when people either won’t sign in for health insurance, or can’t because of the stupidity of the website design, and the failure of its work-arounds, and the number rises of people falling seriously ill without insurance, and the ludicrously extortionate hospital bills start rolling in and the machinery of bankruptcy and re-po turns the screws on tens of thousands of families — while the insurance company executives spend their 2013 bonus money on Beemers and McMansion additions? There must be some threshold for criticality there, some breaking point that prompts a swindled population to break out its fabled arsenals.  Say, somewhere in America a child tragically dies after being hit by a car and three unsuccessful surgeries to try to fix the damage, and thirty days after the funeral, the uninsured dad gets a bill for $416,000? I doubt a society can withstand many insults like that.

Above all, this big nation has failed to reckon the central quandary of our time: the fatal hypertrophy of finance. This ghastly engine of rackets and swindles is the enlarged heart of a dying body politic, and all we know how to do is feed it more monetary Cheez Doodles. This has been going on far longer than the doctors and the witch doctors thought possible, and there is a foolish hope among the credulous that the larger organism of the economy must therefore be immortal. But the reality-based minority stoically awaits the final congestive infarction.

Everything points to 2014 as the moment the pretending stops and things get real. Nobody believes anymore that the Federal Reserve can replace an economy of authentic transactions with promissory notes. There is only one final thing that can happen with the Fed, and that is losing all control over rising interest rates. Janet Yellen is being set up as one of the epic chumps of history, and proof of her academic fecklessness is the mere fact that she accepted the post as Fed chair. She will preside over a fabulous disappearance of wealth in America. The blame for it will be epic, too, but it will not represent any genuine understanding of what happened.

Much is being made of the loneliness of Barack Obama these days. He also occupies a rather tragic niche in history — or the arc of his story at least points that way these days. Right now, it is very hard to tell whether he has been a hostage or a fool. He could have moved to break up the big banks in January of 2009, and any time since then he could have sent a memo to the Department of Justice instructing the prosecutions of financial crime to begin in earnest (or replaced the Attorney General). Didn’t happen. Was he being blackmailed by the likes of Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, or did he just not know what was at stake?

The history of Barack Obama will be one long record of omissions to act, not just overt failures. He is the Bartleby the Scrivener of our politics. He “prefers not to….” Hence, the powerful lure of the charismatic figure who is sure to act. Adolf Hitler was very clear about his proposed program in the early 1920s, a decade before he came to power. He spelled it out unmistakably in his speeches and his political testament, Mein Kampf: do away with pain-in-the-ass democracy and destroy the Jews. He couldn’t have put it more plainly. The residual admiration for Hitler among the extreme right-wingers of today derives mainly from the simple fact that the man actually did what he said he would do. You can’t overstate the potential hunger for that sort of thing. The current climate of US politics being Weimar-on-steroids, I’m sure that an American corn-pone Hitler would have huge appeal for a beaten-down citizenry.

The means for such a coup of the zeitgeist are rather frightful now: drone aircraft, computer surveillance, militarized police, a puppet press. It makes thoughtful folks queasy. My bet, though, is that a fascist takeover of the US would end up being as inept and ineffectual as ObamaCare. It is one of the great hidden blessings of our time, actually, that anything organized on the massive scale is doomed to failure. But it is likewise the great mission of our time to prepare to get local and smaller, something we’re not really ready for and certainly not interested in. The intertwining of these dynamics will be the story in the year to come.

 

Bankers Warn Obama, Don’t Mess With The Debt Ceiling (Again) | Zero Hedge

Bankers Warn Obama, Don’t Mess With The Debt Ceiling (Again) | Zero Hedge. (FULL ARTICLE)

15 Bankers just paid a visit to the White House, listened to President Obama, and explained what a total disaster it would be if the US debt-ceiling is breached and Treasuries technically default. While the politicians exclaimed how bad a government shutdown would be, the banks have turned the panic dial to 11 as Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein noted, bankers are “in a position to really know early what the consequences are,” and it would be catastrophic. The irony that the firm which the government is trying to fine $20 billion for selling fraudulent debt and giving bad advice is now providing the same government with advice on its own bad debt, is not lost on us as Dimon was among the visitors but it is Blankfein’s warning, echoing Obama, that will get the headlines, “they shouldn’t use the threat of causing the U.S. to fail on its obligation to repay debt as a cudgel.”…..

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