FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Shadow Banking Makes a Comeback

by MIKE WHITNEY

Credit conditions are improving for speculators and bubblemakers, but they continue to worsen for households, consumers and small businesses. An article in the Wall Street Journal confirms that the Fed’s efforts to revive the so-called shadow banking system is showing signs of progress. Financial intermediaries have been taking advantage of low rates and easy terms to fund corporate bonds, stocks and mortgage-backed securities. Thus, the reflating of high-risk financial assets has resumed, thanks to the Fed’s crisis-engendering monetary policy and extraordinary rescue operations.

Here’s an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal:

“A new quarterly survey of lending by the Federal Reserve found that hedge funds and private-equity funds are getting better terms from lenders and that big banks have loosened lending standards generally in recent months. The survey, called the Senior Credit Officer Opinion Survey, focuses on wholesale credit markets, which the Fed said functioned better over the past quarter.” (“Survey shows credit flows more freely”, Sudeep Reddy, Wall Street Journal)

In contrast, bank lending and consumer loans continue to shrink at a rate of nearly 5 per cent per year. According to economist John Makin, there was a “sharp drop in credit growth, to a negative 9.7 per cent annual rate over the three months ending in May.” Bottom line; the real economy is being strangled while unregulated shadow banks are re-leveraging their portfolios and skimming profits.  Here’s more from the WSJ:

“Two-thirds of dealers said hedge funds in particular pushed harder for better rates and looser nonprice terms, and they said some of the funds got better deals as a result….(while) The funding market for key consumer loans remained under stress, with a quarter of dealers reporting that liquidity and functioning in the market had deteriorated in recent months.”  (“Survey shows credit flows more freely”, Sudeep Reddy, Wall Street Journal)

As the policymaking arm of the nation’s biggest banks, the Fed’s job is to enhance the profit-generating activities of its constituents. That’s why Fed chair Ben Bernanke has worked tirelessly to restore the crisis-prone shadow banking system. As inequality grows and the depression deepens for working people, securitization and derivatives offer a viable way to increase earnings and drive up shares for financial institutions. The banks continue to post record profits even while the underlying economy is gripped by stagnation.

Central bank monetary policy is largely responsible for the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Low interest rates and an unwillingness to reign in over-leveraged banks and non-banks triggered a run on the shadow system that left many depository institutions insolvent. Eventually, the Fed was able to stop the bleeding by providing trillions of dollars in emergency relief and by issuing blanket government guarantees on complex bonds and securities that are currently worth roughly half of their original value. The Fed is now reconstructing this same system without any meaningful changes. The upward transfer of wealth continues as before.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s  own report confirms that securitization and massive leveraging contributes to systemic instability. Here’s an excerpt from the FRBNY’s “The Shadow Banking System: Implications for Financial Regulation”:

“The current financial crisis has highlighted the growing importance of the “shadow banking system,” which grew out of the securitization of assets and the integration of banking with capital market developments. This trend has been most pronounced in the United States, but it has had a profound influence on the global financial system…..Securitization was intended as a way to transfer credit risk to those better able to absorb losses, but instead it increased the fragility of the entire financial system by allowing banks and other intermediaries to “leverage up” by buying one another’s securities.” (“The Shadow Banking System: Implications for Financial Regulation”, Tobias Adrian and Hyun Song Shin, Federal Reserve Bank of New York)

The former President of FRBNY, William Dudley, made similar comments in a recent speech. He said, “This crisis was caused by the rapid growth of the so-called shadow banking system over the past few decades and its remarkable collapse over the past two years.”

The system can be fixed by imposing capital and liquidity requirements on shadow banks and by maintaining strict underwriting standards on loans. Regulators need additional powers to check up on institutions which presently operate outside their purview. Any institution that poses a risk to the rest of the system must be regulated by the state. Unfortunately, the Fed opposes such changes because they threaten the profit-margins of its constituents. The Fed is paving the way for another catastrophe.

Securitization creates strong incentives for fraud. Prior to the Lehman Bros. default, structured securities, like bundled loans, were in great demand because investors were looking for Triple-A bonds with higher yields than US Treasuries and CDs. Bogus ratings convinced investors that mortgage-backed securities, asset-backed securities, and collateralized debt obligations were “risk free” when, in fact, many of the loans were made to applicants who had no ability to repay their debts. As foreclosures soared, financial intermediaries demanded more collateral for the short-term loans which provided funding for the banks. That pushed asset prices down and slowed liquidity to a trickle. When the wholesale credit markets crashed, panicky investors ran for the exits.  The meltdown in subprime was the spark that set the shadow system ablaze.

Even so, Bernanke has fought all attempts to strengthen regulations, raise capital requirements, or tighten lending standards. Thus, the pieces of the shadow system have been reassembled with no fundamental change. Now it appears that the Fed’s bubblemaking efforts are starting to pay off. Here’s a clip from an article in the Wall Street Journal which clarifies the point:

“Even as lenders struggle to pull themselves out of the credit crisis, signs of a new and potentially dangerous infatuation with risky borrowers are emerging. From credit cards to auto loans to mortgages, the hunger for new business as the crisis ebbs is causing some financial institutions to weaken lending standards and woo borrowers who mightn’t be able to pay…..

“Credit-card issuers mailed 84.8 million offers of plastic to U.S. subprime borrowers in the first six months of this year…Fannie Mae, seized by the U.S. government in 2008 to avert the mortgage company’s failure, launched an initiative in January that allows some first-time home buyers to get a loan with a down payment of as little as $1,000….The thawing securitization market for auto loans is helping AmeriCredit increase its loan staff and dealer network…Kathleen Day, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending, said the consumer group is “seeing banks re-enter the subprime market at a steady clip and make loans to borrowers who don’t have the ability to repay.

“There is no doubt that the credit supply still is tight….But some lenders are starting to take more chances on consumer loans. Many financial institutions that survived the credit crisis and resulting recession are desperate for earnings growth.” (“Signs of Risky Lending Emerge” Ruth Simon, Wall Street Journal)

Financial system instability is no accident. It’s Central Bank policy.  As financial institutions discover they can no longer count on organic growth in the real economy to increase profits, (because consumers are too strapped to spend freely)  they will rely more heavily on dodgy accounting, bogus ratings, opaque debt-instruments, high-frequency trading and lax lending standards. This is the shadowy regime that Bernanke is trying so hard to rebuild. The Fed is laying the groundwork for another disaster.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com

WORDS THAT STICK

?

 

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism:  Transcending the Masters tools
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Chuck Collins
Wall Street Hopes You’ve Forgotten the Crash Already
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Robert Koehler
Costa Rica’s Peace Journey
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
February 23, 2017
Dave Brotherton
Trump, Moral Panics and Resistance
Jonathan Cook
One State: Trump Has Reminded Palestinians What It Was Always About
Bill Quigley
Ten Examples of Direct Resistance to Stop Government Raids
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigot Boy Business: Trump Exposes His Ignorance and Intolerance, Again
John W. Whitehead
The Illusion of Freedom: the Police State Is Alive and Well
Ralph Nader
Restricting People’s Use of Their Courts
David Macaray
Women As Labor Union Organizers
Kathy Kelly
Friendship in Defiance of War
Doug Weir
Why Did the US Use Depleted Uranium Weapons in Syria?
Steve Horn
Former GOP Congressional Staffer Follows Revolving Door, Now Latest Keystone XL Lobbyist
Binoy Kampmark
From Rights to Repentance: Norma McCorvey and Roe v Wade
Thomas Knapp
The Target of the “Border Adjustment Tax” is You
Chris Zinda
Open Letter to Neoliberal Environmentalists
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail