Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

When Will Henry Paulson Learn?


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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?