Guest Post: The Banker Bonus Diversion
Submitted by Deadhead
I am so tired of the absolute nonsensical and foolish approach in regards to Banker Bonuses taken by both the Obama administration as well as the bankers themselves. Here's what is really going on and what should should be going on if we lived in a world that was dependent on telling the truth, prudent financial management, reduction of systemic risk, and if a cure to our banking system malady is genuinely being sought.
If one accepts the postulation that the primary core of our banking system problem is the fact that many our our banks, including the group of 19 tagged as “Too Big to Fail”, have severe capital shortfalls, then one is forced to accept the fact that the solution to the problem requires a rebuilding of capital on the balance sheet. Gee, that's fairly complex, isn't it?
Here's the deal in a nutshell:
1. Banks have significant capital shortfalls that are being masked by FASB FAS 157 modifications that allow marking of assets to bank “models” versus a mark to market. Got a pile of CDOs or RMBS paper worth 30 cents on the dollar? No problem, mark it at 90 cents and watch the profits roll in. The egregious matter here is that both banks and U.S. Regulators continue to tout the high capital ratios of the group of 19 yet conveniently fail to mention that FASB 157 is the primary reason for this illusion. Do you guys think that these assets are going to magically run back up to par in the future? Do you guys think that a lot of this garbage is going to cash flow?
2. While on the subject of capital shortfalls, FASB FAS 166/167 provisions became effective November 2009 (after being postponed from November 2008, interestingly) for Q1 2010. ZH readers are aware that this requires that banks bring off balance sheet assets back on to the balance sheet and it is unlikely that this tsunami of garbage paper is worth anywhere near 100 cents on the dollar. With bank profits quite handsome for Q4, and capital accounts woefully inadequate, it would be prudent to allocate this profit to capital accounts to reserve for losses on this incoming pile of fecal matter, but, no, let's just kick the can down the road further. The FDIC has decided to give a pass to the banks for one and one half years to begin the process of allocating capital in regards these assets. Read it yourself: http://www.fdic.gov/news/news/press/2009/pr09230.html
3. With multiple billions of profit earned (engineered?) in Q4 2009, the bankers have decided to abandon prudent balance sheet management and put the vast majority of these profits in their pockets. This is the ultimate in piggishness as well as a dereliction of fiduciary responsibility to properly manage a balance sheet on the behalf of the bank's owners and bondholders. Then again, I'm not so sure that bank equity owners and bondholders are the smartest group in the world, as their investment rests on the good “graces” of the Obama administration regulatory ineptness and the Federal Reserve Bank, an organization with a track record that leaves much to be desired. Caveat Emptor.
4. U.S. Regulators have decided that they simply are not going to require the profits to be allocated to capital accounts for loan loss provisioning either. The citizenry of the USA have loaned and given (via Fed balance sheet purchases and who else knows what) the banks trillions of assistance because of these capital shortfalls and now that some money from profits is available for balance sheet reconstruction, our regulators have simply put their fingers in their ears and started yelling “La, La, La, La, I can't hear you”. This is a total and epic failure of the banking regulatory authorities in the U.S.
5. The Obama administration, now that the bankers are going to pocket the money, has decided to tax some of this money to fund stimulus version X.0, “X” being a number somewhere between the current number of stimulus items and the eventual Minsky moment. The point of the matter is that Obama's wall street endeared team (it's not political kids, it's the same group that ran the show under Bush, Clinton and many other Presidents) has, once again, failed in its responsibility to ensure proper bank capital standards and, once again, has left the door open for systemic risk. Helluva job, guys and gals!
Here's the simple answer folks.
The bankers should have taken every nickel of profit and allocated it to capital accounts to provision for loan losses: past, present, and future. The regulators should force every nickel on to the balance sheet irrespective of the menagerie of FASB FAS 157. The government should not be taking this needed capital from the banking system. If we follow this path for a few years, maybe we'll have a chance to avoid a complete zombification of our banking system.
I cannot believe after what we have been through since the lessons of Bear Stearns and Lehman that we are simply not fixing a not so complex matter.