“The Treasury Department is the executive agency responsible for promoting economic prosperity and ensuring the financial security of the United States.” - Mission Statement
The following story was first published here at GTM in July 2008 when no one heard of Tim Geithner. He’s now about to take control of the . It is important to understand some of his past history. This is a history beyond tax evasion and public lies, even though his weasel-like behavior is consistent. The point is, Tim Geithner knew a market crash was coming and kept silent. Perhaps it was to allow his connections in JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs to profit and gain power. If I personally knew such things I’d be dead or too compromised to publish this.
There is who knows:
Last September The Washington Post showed how Geithner will become Paulson 2.0:
The media is now beginning to blame President Obama for socializing the monetary system. This is a myopic diversion from the truth. The system was designed to fail before Obama had any power. The U.S. financial system was gutted when Phil Gramm, his wife, and Tim Geithner () removed safety measures built into the financial matrix. In a few short years they tore down what took decades to build. See story.
Regulations used to be in place to prevent exactly what has happened. Gramm re-wrote the law and UBS made a quick buck, along with Gramm as their chief lobbyist. Geithner’s job when he took office at the NY Fed was to supervise counterparty risk in the derivatives market. That was five years ago. This man had oversight of a market twice the size of the U.S. economy. Can he now be trusted with your retirement money?
Using Crisis to Monopolize Fed Control [July 2008]
One topic retail investors hardly read about is the over the counter derivatives market. Credit default swaps between banks and hedge funds is one of the prime drivers causing the Wild West scene in financials. There is a ton of paper floating through the system with unknown market value. The results of this practice can be read on the front page of any financial paper today.
There is a theory that the PPT is fighting for their life against naked short selling and similar tactics used in the OTC market. It must be infuriating for them to pump nearly a trillion dollars of liquidity into the market to see it driven lower.
Enforcing the law to ensure proper short selling isn’t the only way the PPT is attacking the market and hedge funds that drive it. The New York Fed is pushing forward on July 31, 2008 with the next leg of a master plan. They are working to completely reform global OTC derivatives markets into a single central counterparty (CCP). This will put market control in the hands of 17 banks. Two prime brokers in the US market are Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. Both are firms tightly linked to Washington.
Why OTC Paper Have Vast Unknown Values (See Chart!)
What is the Derivatives OTC Market?
“Credit derivatives have been perhaps the most important and successful financial innovation of the last decade.” (Acharya and Johnson)
Markets for credit derivatives have helped banks create synthetic liquidity in their otherwise illiquid loan portfolios. For example, Citigroup had distributed a large portion of its exposure to Enron through issuance of credit-linked notes at regular intervals (in the two-year period preceding default of Enron). The final effect of Enron’s collapse on the balance sheet of Citigroup was as a result small compared to the size of its loan exposures to Enron.
[This is a simple explanation of course. The real explanation is this market is so complex it’s beyond the comprehension of many insiders.]
Who Benefits? (from Gary Aguirre 2006)
Hedge funds execute up to 50% of the daily trading on the New York Stock Exchange. They also do 70% of the trading in the US distressed debt market, US exchange-traded fund market, and the convertible bond market.
Who also profits from hedge funds? The people they pay above market commissions to. Investment banks collected $15 billion either directly from hedge funds or because of them, producing $6 billion in profits.
Aguirre states, “For individual firms, hedge funds were critical to last year’s  performance. They produced one-quarter of Goldman Sachs’s profits, estimates Guy Moszkowski of Merrill Lynch, and only a slightly smaller slug of Morgan Stanley’s returns.”
Times Change But Tactics Do Not
There is a potentially a predatory form of trading by hedge funds in the credit derivatives market: “It was the hedge funds creating a credit event by forcing the bond price down and trying to get the rating agencies to downgrade the company to benefit themselves: they were scaring everyone into selling.” (Henry Snedel, December 5, 2002, in Deals and Deal Makers, Wall Street Journal)
J.P.Morgan was offering $209,000 to buy credit default protection on a $10 million loan to Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris tobacco unit and was offering to sell that same contract to anyone for $221,000 - a difference of 5 percent - according to Bloomberg data. On the same day, J.P.Morgan was offering to pay $9,000 to sellers of protection on $10 million of newspaper publisher Gannett Co.’s debt while charging $21,000 to anyone who wanted to buy the same protection, a difference of more than 100 percent. (Bloomberg Markets “Credit Swaps, High Risks Few Rules” June 6, 2003)
Fed Preps for a CCP (from the NY Times –> Feb. 2007!)
Timothy F. Geithner took the helm of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2003. High on Mr. Geithner’s to-do list is understanding and monitoring the $26 trillion credit derivatives market — twice the size of the United States economy — the fastest-growing financial market there is.
Even the heads of some of the world’s biggest banks seem overwhelmed by the size and complexity of credit derivatives. “It makes my head swim,” said Kenneth D. Lewis, the chief executive of Bank of America.
Mr. Geithner’s job, when he is not working on monetary policy, is to make sure they are prudently managing that risk.
When Mr. Geithner arrived at the New York Fed, E. Gerald Corrigan, a former Federal Reserve president himself, suggested that he look at the conclusions of the Counterparty Risk Management Group Report, the report compiled after Long-Term Capital. Mr. Corrigan thought it might be useful to look at those risks in the context of the rise of private money and the rapidly transforming credit markets.
In 2004, Mr. Geithner’s staff conducted an extensive review of counterparty risk. But rather than dump its conclusions on the industry, he chose to stay behind the scenes while encouraging Mr. Corrigan to reconvene the group. In January 2005, Mr. Corrigan brought together a group that included some of the most senior executives on Wall Street. Six months later, the group produced a report that made 47 recommendations on issues from the very technical to the philosophical.
Central to the report’s findings were shocking weaknesses in the way credit derivatives were being assigned and traded around without any sense of who owned what. The so-called “assignment issue” was simple: credit derivatives were negotiated by two parties, say JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs. But banks were “assigning” the contracts out to others — like hedge funds — without telling each other. It was a little bit like lending money to a friend who is really rich who in turn lends it to her deadbeat brother and fails to mention it.
“It violated the first and most sacred principle of banking: know your counterparty,” Mr. Corrigan said.
Standards were set, and backlogs came down sharply…The industry felt triumphant about being part of the solution. It was a classic “collective action” problem solved: the industry had set an abysmally low standard and no one would budge for fear of losing business, so someone had to move everyone.
Improving the processing of credit derivatives was only the first step. Soon after, he initiated a comprehensive examination of stress-testing, looking at how banks measure and test exposure to certain market players and market risks in different kinds of conditions, like the failure of one major firm.
When Long-Term Capital Management tottered on the brink of collapse in 1998, the credit markets in the United States were controlled by such a small number of institutions that the New York Fed had to make calls to 14 Wall Street banks to try to resolve the crisis. Today, the number of institutions would be vastly higher.
“The fact that the banks are stronger and risk is spread more broadly should make the system more stable,” Mr. Geithner said. “We can’t know that with certainty though. We’ll have a test of that when things next threaten to fall apart.” Regulators struggle to imagine what the shock could be, but do know that the reaction will be far different from crises of the past.
[Odd the Fed had no idea they would soon be swamped with debt obligations from mortgage backed securities after spending so much time on OTC market mechanics?]
What the Last CCP Meeting Determined (from Reuters)
Among the issues agreed upon were more automation and standardization of derivatives trade processing, and the development of a central counterparty, or clearing house, for credit default swaps, the Fed said. Central clearing houses, which backstop trades done by all participants, lower the risk that the failure of a single major market player can have a domino effect on markets and thus pose a systemic risk.
The proposals would cover a range of OTC markets, from equities, interest rates and foreign exchange to commodities. The 17 firms at Monday’s meeting represented more than 90 percent of credit derivatives trading.
Who Are Some of the US Banks?
[Two years after “problem solved” the Bank for International Settlements in March 2007 warned of the following Bear Stearns scenario.]
Glaring Weakness (BIS report)
The report concludes that, since 1998, the clearing and settlement infrastructure of OTC derivatives markets has been significantly strengthened. But further progress is needed in some areas:
• market participants should identify steps to mitigate the potential market impact of replacing contracts following the closeout of one or more major participants.
In addition, as the market infrastructure moves further in the direction of centralised processing of trades and post-trade events, several issues will assume greater importance:
• providers of essential post-trade services for OTC derivatives should provide open access to their services and should aim to achieve convenient and efficient connectivity with other systems
Markets for OTC derivatives are generally are less liquid than markets for exchange-traded derivatives, and traditional procedures for a CCP to handle a default may not be effective. When a participant defaults, the CCP terminates all of its contracts with the defaulting participant. The traditional procedures for handling a default, which are used by CCPs for most exchange-traded derivatives, call for the CCP to promptly enter the market and replace the contracts, so as to hedge against further losses on the open positions created by termination of the defaulter’s contracts. But if the markets for the contracts cleared by the CCP are illiquid, entering the market may induce adverse price movements, especially if the defaulting participant’s positions are large. Consequently, the application of traditional default procedures to illiquid OTC contracts may entail significant risk to the CCP.
Prime brokerage is a service offered by banks and broker-dealers to buy-side investors (typically hedge funds), and is built around financing funds’ positions and facilitating clearing and settlement of their trades. Traditionally, prime brokerage involved financing and securities lending services used by market participants taking long or short equity positions. Over time, the services extended to fixed income and foreign exchange markets. Most recently, a form of prime brokerage known as OTC derivatives prime brokerage has been developed and marketed almost exclusively to hedge funds.
Potential Fallout From a Fed Driven CCP (from RGE Monitor’s London Banker)
One such plan that strikes me as worrying is a master plan for reforming global OTC derivatives markets toward a single central counterparty (CCP). The planners are the big institutions that provide leadership to these markets – the New York Fed and its core constituency of top tier derivatives dealers. They have been meeting for some time, at least four occasions that have been disclosed, and are now rolling out their plan for centralized clearing of OTC derivatives.
One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that it is sensible for this small coterie to plan and execute a long term strategy that promotes their collective self-interest. It stands to reason that they would rather be more powerful than less powerful, more profitable than less profitable. It is not unreasonable to suggest that one means of preserving power and profits requires imposing “solutions” to each “crisis” that institutionalize their influence over markets they dominate.
Tim Geithner, president of the New York Fed, is the godfather of this plan. Geithner recently hosted a meeting for the chosen seventeen shareholders of the CCP at the New York Fed to push the plan into realization, setting a deadline for proposals of July 31st that leaves no scope for opposition or alternatives.
While I am happy to concede that there are real risks that are unaddressed in OTC derivatives markets, I am less happy to embrace a solution which would institutionalize huge power to manipulate these markets in the hands of banks which are themselves core dealers and prime brokers in these markets, accounting for 90 percent of trades.
If these seventeen banks, or a smaller subset of these banks, were to collaborate rather than compete, then they would be in a position to manipulate prices, manipulate credit, manipulate leverage, and manipulate margin calls for every traded commodity and every market counterparty. That would allow them to dictate who gains and who loses over time in these ill-transparent and under-regulated markets. If that manipulation were only exercised periodically and unpredictably, they would have very little risk of ever being challenged, investigated, prosecuted or sanctioned.
Think of the possibilities if such infrastructure were in unscrupulous hands. A target country would find their export commodities devalued until their resources were sold at bargain prices to the “right” multinational owners. A target counterparty would find their credit constrained at just the time when margins were raised or collateral devalued, making them a takeover patsy at a knockdown price and guaranteeing a swift profit to the lucky acquiror.
The Geithner CCP proposal strikes me as mandating a casino where the seventeen dealers at the seventeen tables own the casino, control credit, control the odds, control the deal and can determine who wins and loses. If your only choice is to go from one rigged dealer-owned table to another rigged dealer-owned table run under common management, that isn’t much of a choice.
by London Banker
Jul 11, 2008
Mon Jun 9, 2008 6:06pm EDT
New York Times
by Jenny Anderson
February 9, 2007
International Swaps and Derivatives Association, Inc.
April 15-17, 2008
Committee on Payment and
Bank for International Settlements
Viral V. Acharya and Timothy C. Johnson
Pass the Parcel-Credit Derivatives
January 18, 2003
Before the United States Senate Committee On The Judiciary
June 28, 2006