Bank Of America And Citi Found To Have Used Fraudulent Repo 105-Like Transactions "Due To Error"

The WSJ reports that, as broadly expected, Lehman is not alone in its illegal Repo 105 window-dressing scam: it turns out that Citigroup and Bank Of America also routinely used such shady practices for years. As Michael Rapoport reports, "Citigroup said the misclassified transactions-of $5.7 billion as of the end of 2009, and as much as $9.2 billion over the past three years-involved "a very limited number of our business units" that "used this type of transaction in very small amounts." So its all good - fraud may have been performed but it was just nickel and diming: after all it's not like Citigroup was robbing cemeteries or anything (and since guilt was neither admitted nor denied in that specific case, one can say Citi was never sleeping because it was robbing graveyards but only due to honest mistake). Sure enough, this disclosure come only after the SEC demanded clarification on Repo-105 comparable transactions at all major firms. And with such daily distractions as ten trillions point swings in the market, and crude oil filling up the world ocean, who really cares anymore that all US banks commit fraud on a daily basis. The punchline: "Bank of America and Citigroup say their misclassifications were due to errors--not an attempt to make themselves look less risky." Well, that surely justifies everything.

More from the WSJ:

Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and Citigroup Inc. (C) incorrectly hid from investors billions of dollars of their debt, similar to what Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. did to obscure its level of risk, company documents show.

In recent filings with regulators, the two big banks disclosed that over the past three years, they at times erroneously classified some short-term repurchase agreements, or "repos," as sales when they should have been classified as borrowings. Though the classifications involved billions of dollars, they represented relatively small amounts for the banks.

 A bankruptcy-court examiner said Lehman had been doing the same thing to make its balance sheet look better before it filed for bankruptcy in September 2008, using a strategy dubbed "Repo 105" that helped the Wall Street firm move $50 billion in assets off its balance sheet.

Bank of America and Citigroup say their misclassifications were due to errors--not an attempt to make themselves look less risky, which examiner Anton Valukas said was Lehman's motivation. The disclosures, made after federal securities regulators began asking financial firms about their repo accounting, were included in quarterly filings earlier this month but not highlighted.

The disclosures come amid a series of revelations about how banks obscure their risk-taking before reporting their finances to the public, a practice known in the financial world as "window dressing."

Federal securities rules bar financial firms from intentionally masking debt to deceive investors. There is no indication that Bank of America or Citigroup misclassified their repos intentionally or that the Securities and Exchange Commission will take any action against them. An SEC spokesman declined to comment.