by ilene - October 25th, 2010 1:53 pm
High fructose corn syrup, enriched bleached flour, and "natural flavor" is to bread like CDOS, subprime loans and reverse convertibles are to finance. – Ilene
Courtesy of James Kwak at Baseline Scenario
I just read Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, and what struck me was the parallels between the evolution of food and the evolution of finance since the 1970s. This will only confirm my critics’ belief that I see the same thing everywhere, but bear with me for a minute.
Pollan’s account, grossly simplified, goes something like this. The dominant ideology of food in the United States is nutritionism: the idea that food should be thought of in terms of its component nutrients. Food science is devoted to identifying the nutrients in food that make us healthy or unhealthy, and encouraging us to consume more of the former and less of the latter. This is good for nutritional “science,” since you can write papers about omega-3 fatty acids, while it’s very hard to write papers about broccoli.
It’s especially good for the food industry, because nutritionism justifies even more intensive processing of food. Instead of making bread out of flour, yeast, water, and salt, Sara Lee makes “Soft & Smooth Whole Grain White Bread” out of “enriched bleached flour” (seven ingredients), water, “whole grains” (three ingredients), high fructose corn syrup, whey, wheat gluten, yeast, cellulose, honey, calcium sulfate, vegetable oil, salt, butter, dough conditioners (up to seven ingredients), guar gum, calcium propionate, distilled vinegar, yeast nutrients (three ingredients), corn starch, natural flavor [?], betacarotene, vitamin D3, soy lecithin, and soy flour (pp. 151-52). They add a modest amount of whole grains so they can call it “whole grain” bread, and then they add the sweeteners and the dough conditioners to make it taste more like Wonder Bread. Because processed foods sell at higher margins, we have an enormous food industry pushing highly processed food at us, very cheaply (because it’s mainly made out of highly-subsidized corn and soy), which despite its health claims (or perhaps because of them) is almost certainly bad for us, and bad for the environment as well. This has been abetted by the government, albeit perhaps reluctantly, which now allows labels like this on corn oil (pp. 155-56):
“Very limited and preliminary scientific evidence suggests that eating about one tablespoon (16
by ilene - October 16th, 2010 6:00 pm
Courtesy of John Mauldin at Thoughts From The Frontline
Trouble, oh we got trouble, Right here in River City!
With a capital "T" That rhymes with "P"
And that stands for Pool, That stands for pool.
We’ve surely got trouble!
Right here in River City,
Right here! Gotta figger out a way
To keep the young ones moral after school!
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble…
- From The Music Man
(Quick last-minute note: I think this (and next week’s) is/will be one of the more important letters I have written in the last ten years. Take the time to read, and if you agree send it on to friends and responsible parties. And note to new readers: this letter goes to 1.5 million of my closest friends. It is free. Now, let’s jump in!)
There’s trouble, my friends, and it is does indeed involve pool(s), but not in the pool hall. The real monster is hidden in those pools of subprime debt that have not gone away. When I first began writing and speaking about the coming subprime disaster, it was in late 2007 and early 2008. The subject was being dismissed in most polite circles. "The subprime problem," testified Ben Bernanke, "will be contained."
My early take? It would be a disaster for investors. I admit I did not see in January that it would bring down Lehman and trigger the worst banking crisis in 80 years, less than 18 months later. But it was clear that it would not be "contained." We had no idea.
I also said that it was going to create a monster legal battle down the road that would take years to develop. Well, in the fullness of time, those years have come nigh upon us. Today we briefly look at the housing market, then the mortgage foreclosure debacle, and then we go into the real problem lurking in the background. It is The Subprime Debacle, Act 2. It is NOT the mortgage foreclosure issue, as serious as that is. I seriously doubt it will be contained, as well. Could the confluence of a bank credit crisis in the US and a sovereign debt banking crisis in Europe lead to another full-blown world banking crisis? The potential is there. This situation wants some serious attention.
by ilene - October 16th, 2010 2:22 am
With risky behavior by big finance again threatening economic stability, how can we get things right this time?
Courtesy of Ellen Brown
Originally published in YES! Magazine
Looming losses from the mortgage scandal dubbed “foreclosuregate” may qualify as the sort of systemic risk that, under the new financial reform bill, warrants the breakup of the too-big-to-fail banks. The Kanjorski amendment allows federal regulators to pre-emptively break up large financial institutions that—for any reason—pose a threat to U.S. financial or economic stability.
Although downplayed by most media accounts and popular financial analysts, crippling bank losses from foreclosure flaws appear to be imminent and unavoidable. The defects prompting the “RoboSigning Scandal” are not mere technicalities but are inherent to the securitization process. They cannot be cured. This deep-seated fraud is already explicitly outlined in publicly available lawsuits.
There is, however, no need to panic, no need for TARP II, and no need for legislation to further conceal the fraud and push the inevitable failure of the too-big-to-fail banks into the future.
Federal regulators now have the tools to take control and set things right. The Wall Street giants escaped the Volcker Rule, which would have limited their size, and the Brown-Kaufman amendment, which would have broken up the largest six banks outright; but the financial reform bill has us covered. The Kanjorski amendment—which slipped past lobbyists largely unnoticed—allows federal regulators to preemptively break up large financial institutions that pose a threat to U.S. financial or economic stability.
Rep. Grayson’s Call for a Moratorium
The new Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) probably didn’t expect to have its authority called on quite so soon, but Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) has just put the amendment to the test. On October 7, in a letter addressed to Timothy Geithner, Shiela Bair, Ben Bernanke, Mary Schapiro, John Walsh (Acting Comptroller of the Currency), Gary Gensler, Ed DeMarco, and Debbie Matz (National Credit Union Administration), he asked for an emergency task force on foreclosure fraud. He said:
The liability here for the major banks is potentially enormous, and can lead
by ilene - October 11th, 2010 8:18 pm
How big is the foreclosure mess? Big. Here’s WB7′s perspective.
THE MIDDLE GAME QUAGMIRE
After a bad opening, there is hope for the middle game. After a bad middle game, there is hope for the endgame. But once you are in the endgame, the moment of truth has arrived. – Edmar Mednis (Grandmaster)
I have one central thought of where this fraudclosure fiasco could lead, and this is why everyone should watch very carefully how the various players move their pieces in this subprime middle game.
Up until now, the banks have been making sweeping statements that this all reflects a "technical" glitch in foreclosure processes.
Well, having a posse of State AGs band together to commence a joint investigation is no longer a minor "technical" glitch. Allegations of masses of forged signatures, falsified or fabricated notarized documents, back dating etc., if true, collectively amount to an institutional pattern of criminal behavior. Having the Justice Department announce it is opening a preliminary investigation raises the stakes even higher.
Being forced to suspend all foreclosures has obvious "material" economic consequences to the CDO note holders.
But having title companies pull out of the residential real estate market because they no longer trust the veracity of bank provided documents presages claims by mortgagors who lost their properties as well as the subsequent purchasers of same. The only way to conclusively cure that kind of problem is to get waivers, and releases from the various claimants wherever they may be or pass retroactive curative laws or laws doing things like creating a bailout fund to indemnify those who are injured (yikes!). You cannot simply say this is immaterial, sprinkle in the word MERS and hope this will all go away.
The CDO note holders will have potential claims stemming from the interruption of non-performing loan processing. Think breaches of the trust servicing agreements and allegations of "gross negligence or willful misconduct", the latter being magical legal hurdle in these types of agreements. However, the much…
by ilene - August 26th, 2010 1:42 pm
Courtesy of MIKE WHITNEY, writing at CounterPunch
Don’t look now, but someone just pushed the housing market off a cliff. The National Association of Realtors announced on Tuesday that the sales of existing homes fell a staggering 27.2 per cent to a seasonally adjusted rate of 3.83 million units. This is the lowest number of sales since 1995. The reaction on Wall Street has been swift. Shares plunged in a wild sell-off that pushed stocks down more than 100 points in a matter of minutes. US Treasuries rallied on the news, sending bond yields lower as jittery investors sought safety from the ongoing avalanche of dismal economic data. The 10-year slid to 2.49 per cent while the 2 year note dipped to 0.46 per cent. Bond yields are a gauge of investor pessimism. At present, confidence in the management of the economy is at a nadir.
Analysts expected that housing sales would suffer after the Obama administration’s First-time Home-buyer credit expired in April, (deals had to close by the June 30 deadline) but they hadn’t expected a real estate holocaust ending in sales that are a paltry 25 per cent of their peak in 2005. The shocking drop in sales has added 2.5 months to the massive stockpile of unsold homes that is presently clogging the system and threatens to send prices into freefall. The pace of existing home sales is now slower than any time on record.
This latest housing smackdown will put more pressure on homeowners who are already in arrears or trying to decide whether its in their interest to make payments on a $300,000 mortgage for a house that is currently worth only $150,000. Expect foreclosures to rise sharply. 24 per cent of all mortgages already have negative equity. That’s 11.2 million loans. According to housing expert Charles Hugh Smith:
"Since there are about 47 million outstanding mortgages, and 24 million homes owned free and clear (no mortgage), then we can calculate that free-and-clear owners hold about a third of the $16.5 trillion in home equity — roughly $5.3 trillion. That leaves about $1.2 trillion in equity spread amongst the 47 million homes with mortgages…..
“Never before have American homeowners with mortgages held such a thin slice of equity, and never before have so many homeowners been at risk of negative equity. Predicting accurately how many homeowners end up underwater is…
Was Fabrice Tourre Cheating On His Girlfriend? Are CDOs Really Nothing More Than “Intellectual Masturbation”?
by ilene - April 25th, 2010 9:00 am
Was Fabrice Tourre Cheating On His Girlfriend? Are CDOs Really Nothing More Than "Intellectual Masturbation"?
Courtesy of Tyler Durden
Zero Hedge is currently going through the 100 or so pages of just released Goldman emails that disclose in excruciating detail the events from late 2006 to late 2007 occurring in Goldman’s mortgage trading business. We will have a lot more to say on this tomorrow, suffice to say that we were pleasantly surprised that C-BASS, which we uncovered recently may be implicated in the Goldman SEC fraud scandal, is again involved. We also feel bad for Harvard and MS Prop, and a little better for Hayman Capital. Stay tuned. In the meantime, we will take a brief detour into the financial yellow pages, as we focus on the curious case of Fabrice Tourre, who once again plays a prominent role in today’s email discovery.
The first thing that caught our attention is the original "Fab Fab" email, finally reproduced in its entirety. One tangent that may be relevant to gleaning some more insight into the character of the "fabulous" 27 year-old mortgage god, is that at the time he penned his email to girlfriend (#1), then Goldman co-worker, Marine Serres, he was likely also with girlfriend (#2) Fatiha Bouktouche, a Columbia University post Doc, to whom he may have been disclosing proprietary Goldman holdings and trades. Who knows to whom, when or how Fatiha may have leaked insider trades whispered to her by Fabrice, and who knows what CDO trades Marine was pitching to the retarded (and soon to be bankrupt) European banks gobbling up everything Goldman would sell them, structured and originated by her boyfriend.
We recreate the original email:
From: Fabrice Tourre
Sent: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 11:34 PM
To: Marine Serres
Subject: Fw: ft--friday
Darling you should take a look at this article… Very insightful…More and more leverage in the system, l’edifice entier riqsue de s’effondrer a tout moment…. Seul survivant potentiel, the fabulous Fab (as Mitch would kindly call me, even though there is nothing fabulous abt me, just kindness, altruism and deep love for some gorgeous and super smart French girl in London), standing in the middle of all these complex, highly levered exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all the implications of these monstruosities !!! Anyway, not feeling too guilty about
by ilene - April 24th, 2010 11:39 pm
(Quote by GS trader Fabrice Tourre.)
Ironically, "Frankenstein" was the name of the inventor not the monster, though we often associate that name with the creature. Frankenstein’s monster lacked identity. His lack of identity and abandonment by his maker fueled his vile behavior. According to Wikipedia:
Part of Frankenstein’s rejection of his creation is the fact that he does not give it a name, which gives it a lack of identity. Instead it is referred to by words such as "monster", "demon", "fiend", "wretch" and "it". When Frankenstein converses with the monster in Chapter 10, he addresses it as "vile insect", "abhorred monster", "fiend", "wretched devil" and "abhorred devil".
During a telling of Frankenstein, Shelley referred to the creature as "Adam". Shelley was referring to the first man in the Garden of Eden, as in her epigraph:
- Did I request thee, Maker from my clay
- To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee
- From darkness to promote me?
Here’s a collection of articles on the infamous GS subprime shorting routine. – Ilene
By Christine Harper
April 25 (Bloomberg) -- Fabrice Tourre, a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive director facing a fraud lawsuit in the sale of a mortgage-linked investment, said an index that facilitated derivatives trading in the market was “like Frankenstein.”
The so-called ABX index is “the type of thing which you invent telling yourself: ‘Well, what if we created a ‘thing,’
Goldman Email Describes ‘Frankenstein’ Derivatives; Tourre Brags about Selling Abacus to “widows and orphans”; SEC Confident; German Bank Drops Goldman
by ilene - April 24th, 2010 10:13 pm
Goldman Email Describes ‘Frankenstein’ Derivatives; Tourre Brags about Selling Abacus to "widows and orphans"; SEC Confident; German Bank Drops Goldman
Courtesy of Mish
Goldman Sachs claims it it dis not mislead clients. Its defense will not be very convincing in the face of revealing emails with "fabulous Fab" bragging about dumping Abacus bonds on widows and orphans.
Please consider Goldman’s Tourre E-Mail Describes ‘Frankenstein’ Derivatives
Fabrice Tourre, a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive director facing a fraud lawsuit in the sale of a mortgage-linked investment, said an index that facilitated derivatives trading in the market was “like Frankenstein.”
The so-called ABX index is “the type of thing which you invent telling yourself: ‘Well, what if we created a ‘thing,’ which has no purpose, which is absolutely conceptual and highly theoretical and which nobody knows how to price?’” Tourre said in a Jan. 29, 2007, e-mail released yesterday by Goldman Sachs. Watching the index fall is “a little like Frankenstein turning against his own inventor.”
In a March 7, 2007, e-mail Tourre describes the U.S. subprime mortgage market as “not too brilliant” and says that “according to Sparks,” an apparent reference to Daniel Sparks who ran Goldman Sachs’s mortgage business at the time, “that business is totally dead, and the poor little subprime borrowers will not last too long!!!”
A few months later, a June 13, 2007, e-mail shows Tourre claiming, “I’ve managed to sell a few Abacus bonds to widows and orphans that I ran into at the airport, apparently these Belgians adore synthetic ABS CDO2,” using short-hand for asset- backed collateralized debt obligations squared, or CDOs made up of tranches of CDOs containing asset-backed securities.
Goldman Sachs Readies Forceful Defense
The Washington Post is reporting Goldman Sachs readies forceful response against claims it misled clients
Goldman Sachs is preparing its most detailed defense yet to allegations that it misled clients in its mortgage securities business, arguing that the firm was unsure whether housing prices would rise or fall and did not take any action at odds with the interests of its clients.
Goldman prepared the 11-page document to serve as the basis for testimony that chief executive Lloyd Blankfein is scheduled to deliver Tuesday before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
The Goldman paper describes debates among top executives in 2006 and 2007 over whether the firm should make investment decisions
by ilene - April 18th, 2010 12:38 pm
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL. With all due respect, we can only wish those tea party activists who gathered this week were not so single-minded about just who’s responsible for their troubles, real and imagined. They’re up in arms, so to speak, against big government, especially the Obama administration.
But if they thought this through, they’d be joining forces with other grassroots Americans who will soon be demonstrating in Washington and elsewhere against high finance, taking on Wall Street and the country’s biggest banks.
The original Tea Party, remember, wasn’t directed just against the British redcoats. Colonial patriots also took aim at the East India Company. That was the joint-stock enterprise originally chartered by the first Queen Elizabeth. Over the years, the government granted them special rights and privileges, which the owners turned into a monopoly over trade, including tea.
It may seem a stretch from tea to credit default swaps, but the principle is the same: when enormous private wealth goes unchecked, regular folks get hurt – badly. That’s what happened in 2008 when the monied interests led us up the garden path to the great collapse.
Suppose the Tea Party folk had dropped by those Senate hearings this week looking into the failure of Washington Mutual. That’s the bank that went belly up during the meltdown in September 2008. It was the largest such failure in American history.
WaMu, as we were reminded this week, made sub-prime loans that its executives knew were rotten, then packaged them as mortgage securities, and pawned them off on unsuspecting investors.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: And that was your responsibility to make sure that the securities which went out to the investors were following notice to the investors of everything that they needed to know in order that the information be complete and truthful. That’s what your testimony was, under oath.
DAVID BECK: It’s a very real possibility that the loans that went out were better quality than Mr. Shaw laid out.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: And you don’t -
DAVID BECK: A very real possibility.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: And there’s a very good possibility that they were exactly the quality that he laid out, right? Is that right?
DAVID BECK: That’s right.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Okay. And you don’t know, and apparently you don’t care. And the trouble is, you should have cared.
by ilene - April 16th, 2010 12:33 pm
Courtesy of Zero Hedge
Washington, D.C., April 16, 2010 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Goldman, Sachs & Co. and one of its vice presidents for defrauding investors by misstating and omitting key facts about a financial product tied to subprime mortgages as the U.S. housing market was beginning to falter.
The SEC alleges that Goldman Sachs structured and marketed a synthetic collateralized debt obligation (CDO) that hinged on the performance of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). Goldman Sachs failed to disclose to investors vital information about the CDO, in particular the role that a major hedge fund played in the portfolio selection process and the fact that the hedge fund had taken a short position against the CDO.
"The product was new and complex but the deception and conflicts are old and simple," said Robert Khuzami, Director of the Division of Enforcement. "Goldman wrongly permitted a client that was betting against the mortgage market to heavily influence which mortgage securities to include in an investment portfolio, while telling other investors that the securities were selected by an independent, objective third party."
Kenneth Lench, Chief of the SEC’s Structured and New Products Unit, added, "The SEC continues to investigate the practices of investment banks and others involved in the securitization of complex financial products tied to the U.S. housing market as it was beginning to show signs of distress."
The SEC alleges that one of the world’s largest hedge funds, Paulson & Co., paid Goldman Sachs to structure a transaction in which Paulson & Co. could take short positions against mortgage securities chosen by Paulson & Co. based on a belief that the securities would experience credit events.
According to the SEC’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the marketing materials for the CDO known as ABACUS 2007-AC1 (ABACUS) all represented that the RMBS portfolio underlying the CDO was selected by ACA Management LLC (ACA), a third party with expertise in analyzing credit risk in RMBS. The SEC alleges that undisclosed in the marketing materials and unbeknownst to investors, the Paulson & Co. hedge fund, which was poised to benefit if the RMBS defaulted, played a significant role in selecting which RMBS should make up the portfolio.