Global financial markets are awash in hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of derivatives. By some estimates, the total amount exceeds one quadrillion. Derivatives played a central role in the 2008 credit crisis, as they had a brutal multiplying effect on the magnitude of the carnage. As a bad asset was written down, oftentimes there were derivative contracts written against it that resulted in total losses 10x greater than the initial write-down. But what exactly are derivatives? How do they work? And have we learned to treat these "weapons of mass financial destruction" (as Warren Buffet colorfully coined them) any more carefully in the aftermath of the global financial crisis? Not really, claims Janet Tavakoli, the danger behind derivatives doesn't lie in their existence, she stresses, but when abused, derivatives can create massive damages. So at the root of the "derivatives problem" is control fraud - the rampant unchecked criminal action by influential players on Wall Street.
What's $2 Billion for Ben Bernanke's Chosen Son?
My favorite football introductory book is an out-of-print book by Joe Namath, FOOTBALL for Young Players and Parents. You may enjoy my favorite lines as you get in the mood for the Super Bowl
A peek into the 60's manipulation and why the CFTC is a joke.
In April 2007, former New Jersey governor, 'honorable', Jon Corzine had an altercation with a Garden State Parkway guardrail. A year later, he addressed a bevy of reporters at the swanky Drumthwacket mansion and expressed appreciation for “family, friends, and the fragility of life.” During his recovery period, he advocated seatbelt safety, before returning to New Jersey's budget, extracting $500 million in austerity measures from farmers, educators, and environmentalists, and hiking tolls on New Jersey roadways. On the one-year anniversary of his accident, his chief-of-staff, Bradley I. Abelow declared, “Corzine has returned to his former self as a thorough and exacting boss.” (Italics mine.) Fast forward to the current MF Global flameout. Abelow shifted to Corzine’s Chief Operating Officer. And not only did Corzine ratchet up the ante on ways to really piss off farmers, but after several days of engaging in verbal dodge ball with Congress, this ‘thorough and exacting boss’ maintained his Forest Gump type cloak of secrecy regarding the stolen $1.2 billion of his customers’ segregated money. After days of political-reality TV, we knew nothing more about its evaporation. Corzine and his stewards, Abelow and Chief Financial Officer, Henri Steenkamp, executed a perfect chorus of ‘I don’t recalls’, ‘I didn’t intends’ and ‘the butler did its’.
The great sage Albert Einstein suggested that repeating something and expecting a different outcome is “insanity.” The NY Fed is repeating its reliance on primary dealers to be transparent and accurate and to do so voluntarily.
And so another exchange decides to follow in the CME's (clarified) footsteps, and lowers Initial Margins for all in order to facilitate the onboarding of just clients with orphan MF exposure. Probably more important is that the ICE demonstrates how this can be done in a way that does not generate speculation and confusion, and avoids follow up clarifications, due to the counterintuitive nature of increasing initial leverage in the aftermath of an exchange filing bankruptcy due to excess leverage. And as usual, the real question is what would happen in the counterfactual? Would the market really tumble and would liquidations truly be pervasive on Monday is the contract transfer price is not lowered? Is liquidity in the market (and hence leverage) really that low (high)?
The current situation may indeed be different from that presented by Long Term Capital Management, but it may be even more alarming, not less alarming. Due to the use of structured products and derivatives, hedge funds can take on hidden leverage above and beyond that which can be explained by polling prime brokers. Furthermore, illiquid structured products will experience a classic collateral crash when hedge funds try to liquidate these assets to meet margin calls or collateral "cures". Since 2000, assets invested in hedge funds have more than tripled to around $1,500bn. While on average leverage may appear manageable, some hedge funds - Amaranth to cite a recent example - employ high degrees of leverage. A potential source of a "great unwind" arises from a trigger event affecting highly leveraged hedge funds, and another potential source is systemic risk that effects a larger cohort of hedge funds.
Some believe the recent general commodities pullback was triggered by the series of CME margin hikes on silver within the past week, after the recent exponential run-up in silver prices. Whether or not that is true, holders of leveraged long commodities positions should have warily watched the action in the silver market. Some silver speculators may not have seen the margin hike as a constraint on lending, but it should have been a red flag for any speculator with a leveraged long position. Moreover, after silver markets closed, silver prices were getting “banged” lower in what looked like suspicious market manipulation.
David Sokol's attorney Barry Wm. Levine fires right back, and it is now popcorn time. "Mr. Buffett drafted the March 30th press release announcing Mr. Sokol’s resignation in cooperation with Mr. Charlie Munger and Mr. Ronald Olson both of whom are Berkshire Board Members. They know the law and they know the Berkshire policies. In that context, Mr. Buffett correctly declared Mr. Sokol’s conduct lawful and indeed was effusive of his praise of him. There is no new information or new fact which has become available to them since that press release was issued on March 30th...It is alarming that Mr. Buffett would be advised to so completely flip-flop and resort to transparent scapegoatism."
Janet Tavakoli shares a presentation she prepared for the Federal Housing Finance Agency Supervision Summit earlier today, in which she attempts to explain to politicians how banks made fraud into a "business model" and how the damage can be repaired. It may not be easy: as she says, MBS became a "widespread interconnected ponzi scheme" - "Securitization professionals at several financial institutions knowingly bundled fraud riddled loans into RMBS. New investors needed to pay-off old investors. To delay being busted, they escalated and sped up the fraud. This required more “complexity” and the involvement of more cronies. Many CDOs and virtually every CDO-Squared were more fraud to cover-up fraud." Of course, the same can be said about the global economy, as now everyone is aware that the global Keynesian system is nothing less than Madoff's scheme taken to the infinite degree. But nobody will ever go to jail for that. For any remaining questions on the motives, the schemes, the payoffs, and, most importantly, the players, both the protagonists and the bribed co-stars, the below presentation attempts to answer all. And, unfortunately, Ms. Tavakoli's suggestion for how to fix this, which is remarkable precisely the same one we have been espousing since our advent, will never happen as it means the end of the Ponzi and the elimination of trillions in generationally stolen middle-class wealth.
A financial insider makes a big claim ...
The inception of the mortgage fraud crisis has been extensively documented by pretty much all media outlets now. The question that everyone is grappling with is what happens next. Janet Tavakoli writes in with some suggestions, more at the thought experiment level, as to what the next steps in fraudclosure/fauxclosure may be.
Got any better ideas?
In the following interview with the WaPo's Ezra Klein, Janet Tavakoli shares some more information on why every bank is about to shut down all foreclosures, in what she calls the "biggest fraud in the history of capital markets." Not very surprisingly, we are, so far, spot on in our 29th September projected timeline at this point: "We predict that within a week, all banks will halt every foreclosure currently in process. Within a month, all foreclosures executed within the past 2-3 years will be retried, and millions of existing home sales will be put in jeopardy."