5 even handed links about banking

Ok, firstly, in the interests of clarity, these individual links aren’t necessarily even handed when considered on their own singular merits. However, if you were to read through all the different viewpoints collected here you would find that this post, as a whole, is presenting opinions from both sides of the divide.

It is instructive, in my opinion, that considering the range of opinions here that not one writer is arguing for a retention of the status quo.

Banking

1. Rolling Stone – Everything is rigged: The biggest price fixing scandal ever

You are probably familiar with the Libor fixing scandal that has so far seen fines in the region of $1.5bn being levied against the world banking community. You may not be aware, however, that the class action suit filed against the banks by the funds, cities and institutional investors was dismissed recently using the argument that as the banks themselves were not competing over their Libor submissions (they were colluding), anti competition legislation could not be used to censure their activities.

So, colluding to fix the underlying rate which subsequently set the price of a large range of financial products was deemed to be non competitive behaviour, and hence out of scope for anti competitive regulations, because the daily act of submission of the Libor rates was supposed to be factual, and not competitive. As in, “yes we lied about our rates, in order to fix the prices of loads of products that we all competed for, but when we submitted our rates every day, well that act, that was never defined as competitive”  My words not theirs, but yes this was their defence, and it was a success.

Anyway the Libor affair is only the opening act of the piece. The main course is a scandal yet to really hit our screens. The latest arena of unbelievable larceny is another rate setting submission process relating to a benchmark called ISDAfix which sets the rates for interest rate swaps, a market currently worth in the region of 380 trillion dollars annually.

The Rolling Stone piece was written in April this year, the story is now starting to leach into the mainstream press being reported by the Daily Telegraph on the 2nd of August.

2. The Economist – Wall Street is back

This is a shorter article examining the difference between the European and American response to the 2008 banking crisis and what those changes mean in the longer term. With the crisis breaking in the US (remember the shock of Lehman’s) the European banks initially saw this as their chance to grab a foothold in the US investment banking markets.

It has not turned out that way. The US forced their banks to take the pain quickly and hence have returned to a serious footing more effectively than anticipated. For example Citigroup has already dealt with $143bn of loan losses, whereas no bank in Europe has set aside more than $30bn.

Nonetheless, the writer still asks whether this is a good thing or not, suggesting that an additional dose of competition in the US investment banking market might actually be a good thing.

3. New Economic Perspectives – “Let it be Done” An Alternative Narrative for Building what America Needs

I’m a 70’s child, so I missed all the brouhaha that must have accompanied the ditching of the gold standard. As a result I have never really asked myself any questions about the implications of a currency pegged to gold, or the alternative, the system we have today of pure fiat money. I’ve been familiar with the terms for sure, but now after reading this essay I realise that I had no true understanding at all.

The post posits a long but fascinating perspective that casts doubt on the likelihood that many people at all, including our policy makers, actually have a true understanding of the difference between the 2 systems. We initially get a solid, but succinct history of the journey to today’s money structures, followed by, for me at least, some truly brain bending implications of a fiat currency. I need to spend more time with these concepts before I’m comfortable telling you what I think but this is still a highly recommended read.

“…..if the government of the United States, for example, issues the fiat U.S. Dollars (prints them, or keystrokes them onto an electronic ledger), how do the citizens get hold of the Dollars so they have them to pay their taxes with? The answer is both obvious and startling: The sovereign government has to spend the Dollars after it issues them. And what does it spend the Dollars on? It buys things from the citizens—goods and services which the citizens willingly provide in exchange for the Dollars because they need the Dollars to pay their taxes with.”

4. The Rhodium Group – The EU Commission’s Latest Proposals for Troubled Banks

I keep my eye on the perspectives written here as I find they provide a great deal of the information missing from the public dialogue that is presented in the British press with regard to the banking regulations and landscape of the forthcoming European banking union.

Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, the author, tends to report from a position of an assumed and effective banking union being somewhat inevitable. This report lays out a couple of upcoming changes to the approach the EU will take to the issues of dealing with future banking failures. One is an inevitability as the EU constitution already has the power to mandate the rules for state aid to failing banks. These rules now create the reality that bank failures should be resolved by bail ins (Cyprus), as opposed to bail outs (Greece and Ireland).

5. Vice – Did Fabrice Tourre Really Create the Global Finance Crisis?

This story, written by Greg Palast, is particularly timely (probably not an accident) as the subject of the story has recently been found guilty as charged. Fabulous Fab, as he was known, was a junior player in the debacle that brought the financial world crashing down. At 29 he was a junior grunt, on loan to the Goldman client John Paulson, the man who originally put in place, along with Goldman itself, the deals that eventually caused the whole system to implode. No kidding, by the way, it was losses of nearly a billion dollars on this deal that pushed RBS over the edge.

This is the basic account of how Goldman and an investor named John Paulson secretly arranged to take both sides in a deal, netting themselves a vast profit ($3.5bn for Paulson, fees for Goldman).

Whilst promoting investment in a fund tied to the US mortgage market Paulson also secretly bet against the performance of said fund, cashing in as the market collapsed.

The kicker, and the reason why Palast wrote his article is that the only person held accountable to law for this, is the junior banker. The youngster on loan,  the one person involved, who clearly wasn’t an instigating force. You expect this kind of behaviour in a novel, not real life.

 

 

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