Bank Of America Forces Depositors To Backstop Its $53 Trillion Derivative Book To Prevent A Few Clients From Departing The Bank

Tyler Durden's picture

Bank of America, which today reported a big bottom line loss net of one-time beneficial items, did something quite tricky and extremely devious last month: it shifted anywhere up to the total of $53 trillion of the total derivatives it held as of June 30 (as Zero Hedge previously reported) on its books at Q2 from the Holding Company, which was downgraded last by Moody's from A2 to Baa1 (the third-lowest investment grade rating) to its retail bank, which was downgraded to the far more palatable A2 (from Aa3). The reason for the transfer? Bank customers who were uneasy with the fact that suddenly the collateral backstoping the operating entity handling their counterparty risk was downgraded to just above junk, demanded that said counterparty risk be mitigated by the bank's $1 trillon in deposits. In other words, as Bloomberg first reported when it broke this story, anywhere up to the full $53 trillion (we don't know for sure how much so we assume the worst case) is now fully and effectively backstopped explicitly by the bank's $1,041 trillion (as of September 30) deposits. Pardon, we meant the people's deposits: the same deposits which caused the bank's website to be inoperative for several days in a row after it was rumored that there was an electronic run on the bank. Why? Just so Bank of America can appears whatever remaining clients it has so they decide not to take their business to another derivative counterparty. And who is exposed to this latest idiocy? Why you. But that's not all: the FDIC, which is the entity backstopping the deposits in a worst-case scenario, is not happy with this move for obvious reasons. Yet even it is hopeless to override the Fed, which as Bloomberg reports, "has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company." And so, once again, we see just how much more important to the Federal Reserve are interests of US taxpayers and savers, over those of the banks that effectively run the Fed.

Bloomberg reports:

Bank of America Corp. (BAC), hit by a credit downgrade last month, has moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

 

The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. disagree over the transfers, which are being requested by counterparties, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting, said the people. The bank doesn’t believe regulatory approval is needed, said people with knowledge of its position.

 

Jerry Dubrowski, a spokesman for Charlotte, North Carolina- based Bank of America, declined to comment on the transfers or the firm’s discussions with regulators. The company “continues to accommodate the needs of our clients through each of our multiple trading entities, including Bank of America NA,” he said in an e-mailed statement, referring to the company’s deposit-taking unit.

 

Barbara Hagenbaugh, a Fed spokeswoman, said she couldn’t discuss supervision of specific institutions. Greg Hernandez, an FDIC spokesman, declined to comment.

The catalyst: the Moody's downgrade of the bank to a rating far more indicative of BAC's insolvent (aka D) status:

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Bank of America’s long-term credit ratings Sept. 21, cutting both the holding company and the retail bank two notches apiece. The holding company fell to Baa1, the third-lowest investment-grade rank, from A2, while the retail bank declined to A2 from Aa3.

 

The Moody’s downgrade spurred some of Merrill’s partners to ask that contracts be moved to the retail unit, which has a higher credit rating, according to people familiar with the transactions. Transferring derivatives also can help the parent company minimize the collateral it must post on contracts and the potential costs to terminate trades after Moody’s decision, said a person familiar with the matter.

"All perfectly normal"

The moves by Bank of America are part of “the normal course of dealings that we’ve had with counterparties since Merrill Lynch and BofA came together,” Thompson said today.

Moving derivatives contracts between units of a bank holding company is limited under Section 23A of the Federal Reserve Act, which is designed to prevent a lender’s affiliates from benefiting from its federal subsidy and to protect the bank from excessive risk originating at the non-bank affiliate, said Saule T. Omarova, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.

With the Fed's blessing:

Moving derivatives contracts between units of a bank holding company is limited under Section 23A of the Federal Reserve Act, which is designed to prevent a lender’s affiliates from benefiting from its federal subsidy and to protect the bank from excessive risk originating at the non-bank affiliate, said Saule T. Omarova, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.

 

In 2009, the Fed granted Section 23A exemptions to the banking arms of Ally Financial Inc., HSBC Holdings Plc, Fifth Third Bancorp, ING Groep NV, General Electric Co., Northern Trust Corp., CIT Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., among others, according to letters posted on the Fed’s website.

 

The central bank terminated exemptions last year for retail-banking units of JPMorgan, Citigroup, Barclays Plc, Royal Bank of Scotland Plc and Deutsche Bank AG. The Fed also ended an exemption for Bank of America in March 2010 and in September of that year approved a new one.

 

Section 23A “is among the most important tools that U.S. bank regulators have to protect the safety and soundness of U.S. banks,” Scott Alvarez, the Fed’s general counsel, told Congress in March 2008.

In other words, while previously there had been a firewall between the bank's depository entity and the one that gambles, on either a flow or prop basis, with the abovementioned multi-trillion number, that firewall is now gone and all the money has been comminlged, explaining the FDIC's fear. And of course, in order to thank depositors for being explicit guarantors of the bank's derivative business, it is now forcing them to pay a $5/month fee.

Somehow we really doubt the 12/31 update will show a "total deposits" number over $1 trillion. Or anywhere remotely close.

Laslty, nobody should make the mistake that BofA is alone in this move: every other bank that has major derivative exposure and has a depository base has certainly been forced to do precisely the same by its bigger accounts, who have no desire of being exposed to surging counterparty risk and would much rather split it with America's depositors.