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Most Wall Street Banks Using Lehman Style Accounting Trickery Enabled by the Fed to Hide Their Risk

Most Wall Street Banks Using Lehman Style Accounting Trickery Enabled by the Fed to Hide Their Risk

Courtesy of  JESSE’S CAFÉ AMÉRICAIN

This analysis from the Wall Street Journal indicates that most of the big US Banks are engaging in the same kind of repo accounting at the end of the quarter that Lehman Brothers was doing to hide their financial instability until deteriorating credit conditions and liquidity problems made them precipitously collapse, as all ponzi schemes and financial frauds do when the truth becomes known.

The basic exercise is to hold big leverage and dodgy debt, but swap it off your books with the Fed at the end of each quarter for a short period of time when you have to report your holdings.

This could easily be corrected by requiring banks to report four week averages of their holdings for example, rather than a snapshot when they can hide their true risk profiles so easily, compliments of that protector of consumers and investors, the Fed.

This is nothing new to us. Many of us have noted this sort of accounting trickery and market manipulation at key events especially at end of quarter.

It is facilitated by the Federal Reserve, and FASB, and the agencies.

"Their Fraud doth rarely falter, and is subsidized, instead, 
for none dare call it bank fraud, if it’s sanctioned by the Fed."
(apologies to Ovid)

The US is Lehman Brothers on a scale writ large. And when it is exposed by some series of events, the implosion could be more sudden than any can imagine. But in the meantime the US is still the ‘superpower’ of the world’s financial system, through its currency, its banks, and its ratings agencies.

WSJ
Big Banks Mask Risk Levels
By KATE KELLY, TOM MCGINTY and DAN FITZPATRICK
April 9, 2010

Quarter-End Loan Figures Sit 42% Below Peak, Then Rise as New Period Progresses; SEC Review

Major banks have masked their risk levels in the past five quarters by temporarily lowering their debt just before reporting it to the public, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

A group of 18 banks—which includes Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc.—understated the debt levels used to fund securities trades by lowering them an average of 42% at the end of each of the past five quarterly periods, the data show. The banks, which publicly release debt data each quarter, then boosted the debt levels in the middle of successive quarters.

Excessive borrowing by banks was one of the major causes of the financial crisis, leading to catastrophic bank runs in 2008 at firms including Bear Stearns Cos. and Lehman Brothers. Since then, banks have become more sensitive about showing high levels of debt and risk, worried that their stocks and credit ratings could be punished.

That practice, while legal, can give investors a skewed impression of the level of risk that financial firms are taking the vast majority of the time.

You want your leverage to look better at quarter-end than it actually was during the quarter, to suggest that you’re taking less risk," says William Tanona, a former Goldman analyst who now heads U.S. financials research at Collins Stewart, a U.K. investment bank.

Though some banks privately confirm that they temporarily reduce their borrowings at quarter’s end, representatives at Goldman, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan and Citigroup declined to comment specifically on the New York Fed data. Some noted that their firm’s financial filings include language saying borrowing levels can fluctuate during the quarter.

"The efforts to manage the size of our balance sheet are appropriate and our policies are consistent with all applicable accounting and legal requirements," a Bank of America spokesman said.

The data highlight the banks’ levels of short-term financing in the repurchase, or "repo," market. Financial firms use cash from the loans to buy securities, then use the purchased securities as collateral for other loans, and buy more securities. The loans boost the firms’ trading power, or "leverage," allowing them to make big trades without putting up big money. This amplifies gains—and losses, which were disastrous in 2008.

According to the data, the banks’ outstanding net repo borrowings at the end of each of the past five quarters were on average 42% below their peak in net borrowings in the same quarters. Though the repo market represents just a slice of banks’ overall activities, it provides a window into the risks that financial institutions take to trade…

Read the rest here.

Here is an interactive visualization of the accounting deception.

 


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