FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Will Henry Paulson Learn?

by PETER MORICI

Once again, we have good news and bad from Wall Street.

Henry Paulson has announced Citigroup and three other banks will begin issuing covered bond in an effort to rejuvenate commercial bank mortgage lending and the housing market.

Concurrently, Merrill Lynch announced it is taking yet another big write down on its subprime securities, selling paper with a face value of $30.6 billion to private equity firm Lone Star for $6.7 billion. It will dilute its common stock 38 percent through the sale of additional shares to make up the losses.

Paulson’s covered bonds would be backed by specific mortgages held by the banks. In essence, these would be large certificates of deposit. Though not necessarily insured, the bonds would be back by specific assets on the banks books, and the banks would to take steps to ensure these mortgages were good—not the junk Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and others have been hoisting on investors.

Whether the bond market accepts these securities—essentially whether insurance companies, pension funds and other fixed income investors take the plunge—comes down to trust in the banks. Recent events at Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and others indicate that such trust will require a bold leap of faith.

The basic problem at the big banks is compensation schemes that encourage bank executives to make risky bets that allow them to profit when things go well and to push the losses on bond and stockholders when things go sour. Upon taking over Merrill Lynch, John Thain increased executive bonuses, but established a risk management scheme. That hasn’t worked.

At Citigroup, CEO Vikram Pandit is selling off assets to cover losses, but he has not given back the $165 million he took from shareholders in his sale of the Old Lane hedge fund to his employer. The bank subsequently took more than $200 million in losses, yet the Citigroup bonus machine continues to payout to its executives.

USB is under investigation for fraud in the sale of auction rate securities.

It seems hard to find a major bank without some a record of sharp practices.

Mr. Paulson is trying to sell trust in the banks with his new covered bonds. It’s tough to sell trust in a Wall Street bank these days, because there is not much to trust.

An insurance company that buys Paulson’s covered bonds will likely be all right, but it is taking an imprudent risk. That should tell you something about the competence of its management, and it would be signal to dump its stock.

Paulson’s scheme to reopen the bond market to banks for mortgage lending will only work, if the commercial banks clean up the management practices that caused the subprime crisis, and massive losses imposed on shareholders and bond customers.

The federal government is imposing new a regulator on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which will have authority to regulate executive compensation. The Federal Reserve has loaned hundreds of billions to Wall Street banks and securities companies without any real commitments for management reform. The asymmetry is puzzling.

Mr. Paulson will only get the mortgage market, housing crisis and economy turned around when he resolves the confidence gap on Wall Street. That requires systemic reform in the business practices and compensation structures. What’s good Fannie and Freddie would be good for Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and the others.

PETER MORICI is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Business and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.

 

 

 

PETER MORICI is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and the former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
William R. Polk
What Must be Done in the Time of Trump
Howard Lisnoff
Enough of Russia! There’s an Epidemic of Despair in the US
Ralph Nader
Crash of Trumpcare Opens Door to Full Medicare for All
Carol Polsgrove
Gorsuch and the Power of the Executive: Behind the Congressional Stage, a Legal Drama Unfolds
Michael J. Sainato
Fox News Should Finally Dump Bill O’Reilly
Kenneth Surin
Former NC Governor Pat McCory’s Job Search Not Going Well
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail