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SEC, Fed Alerted By Merrill of Lehman Balance Sheet Games in March 2008

SEC, Fed Alerted By Merrill of Lehman Balance Sheet Games in March 2008

By Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism

At least 35 villagers die in Kazakhstan flood

So which theory is it: stunning bureaucratic incompetence, wishful thinking and denial (a better gloss on theory #1) or a cover up? Or a combination of the above?

No matter which theory or theories you subscribe to, the continuing revelations of how the SEC and perhaps more important, the New York Fed conducted themselves in the months before Lehman’s collapse paint an increasingly damning picture.

The Valukas report shows both regulators were monitoring Lehman on a day-to-day basis shortly after Bear’s failure. They recognized that it has a massive hole in its balance sheet, yet took an inertial course of action. They pressured a clearly in denial Fuld to raise capital (and Andrew Ross Sorkin’s accounts of those efforts make it clear they were likely to fail) and did not take steps towards any other remedy until the firm was on the brink of collapse (the effort to force a private sector bailout as part of a good bank/bad bank resolution).

One of the possible excuses for the failure to do more was that the officialdom did not recognize how badly impaired Lehman was until too late in the game to do much more than flail about. But that argument is undercut by a story in tonight’s Financial Times…  [Read more by Yves here.>>] 

From the Financial Times:

Former Merrill Lynch officials said they contacted regulators about the way Lehman measured its liquidity position for competitive reasons. The Merrill officials said they were coming under pressure from their trading partners and investors, who feared that Merrill was less liquid then Lehman…

In the account given by the Merrill officials, the SEC, the lead regulator, and the New York Federal Reserve were given warnings about Lehman’s balance sheet calculations as far back as March 2008.

Former and current Fed officials say even in the competitive world of Wall Street, it is un­usual for rival bankers to relay such concerns to the Fed.

The former Merrill officials said they contacted the regulators after Lehman released an estimate of its liquidity position in the first quarter of 2008. Lehman touted its results to its counterparties and its investors as proof that it was sounder than some of its rivals, including Merrill, these people said…

“We started getting calls from our counterparties and investors in our debt. Since we didn’t believe the Lehman numbers and thought their calculations were aggressive, we called the regulators,” says one former Merrill banker, now at another big bank…

Merrill officials said their calculations led them to believe that Lehman included what is known as regulatory capital in its calculation of excess liquidity. Executives at other banks say that is improper…

Mr Valukas said in his report that the banks interacting with Lehman may have suspected Lehman was incorrectly calculating its liquidity. In September 2008, days before it collapsed, Lehman maintained that it had about $50bn in readily accessible funds, though at the end it had nothing like that amount.


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