Financial News ArticlesExcerpts of Key Financial News Articles in Media
[Alayne] Fleischmann is the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion ... to keep the public from hearing. In 2006, as a deal manager at the gigantic bank, Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as "massive criminal securities fraud." This past year she watched as Holder's Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was cash for secrecy. The idea that Holder had cracked down on Chase was ... fiction. The settlement, says Kelleher, "was ... crafted to bypass the court system. The DOJ and JP-Morgan were trying to avoid disclosure of their dirty deeds." Chase emerged with barely a scratch. The settlement put you, me and every other American taxpayer on the hook. Chase was allowed to treat some $7 billion of the settlement as a tax write-off. The bank's share price soared six percent on news of the settlement. Chase actually made money from the deal. What's more, to defray the cost of this and other fines, Chase last year laid off 7,500 lower-level employees. But no one made out better than [Chase CEO Jamie] Dimon. The board awarded [him] a 74 percent raise. The people who stole all those billions are still in place. And the bank is more untouchable than ever. Mary Jo White and Andrew Ceresny, who represented Chase for some of this case, have since been named to the two top jobs at the SEC.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: “We should start praying. I wouldn’t be surprised if half of these loans went down” — that’s what a trader at Citigroup wrote in an e-mail in 2007, after reviewing thousands of mortgages bought and sold by the bank. Today, the Justice Department cited those very words as it announced a $7 billion settlement with the bank. The government said Citi committed egregious misconduct in the lead-up to the financial crisis. Of the $7 billion, Citigroup will pay $4 billion to the Justice Department. More than $2.5 billion is set aside for what’s described as consumer relief. Tony West is associate attorney general. And he was the government’s lead negotiator in this case. Lay out for us, what was this egregious conduct and how many people at Citigroup were engaged in it? TONY WEST: Citibank packaged securities, packaged loans, mortgage loans into these securities, which they sold to investors. What they didn’t tell investors was what the actual quality of those loans were. And so you had these mortgage bond deals that had quality that was far less than what Citi was representing to investors that they were. JUDY WOODRUFF: And how many people knew about this, and did the knowledge go all the way to the top? TONY WEST: We know from the evidence that bankers were warned that the quality of the loans that they were packaging into these securities wasn’t what they were telling investors they were, but they ignored those warning signs. They ignored that due diligence. Certainly enough ... bankers knew that we felt that we could demand a very high, in fact, an historically high, penalty from Citibank.
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In fall 2009, Secretary Timothy Geithner invited people working on TARP oversight to a meeting. After we had listened to the secretary go on and on about his department’s cheery projections for recovery, I finally interrupted with a question about a new topic. Why, I asked, had Treasury’s response to the flood of foreclosures been so small? The Congressional Oversight Panel had been sharply critical of Treasury’s foreclosure plan. We thought that the program was poorly designed and poorly managed and provided little permanent help, and we worried that it would reach too few people to make any real difference. The secretary ... quickly launched into a general discussion of his approach to dealing with foreclosures, rehashing the plan that the Congressional Oversight Panel had already reviewed. Next, he explained why Treasury’s efforts were perfectly adequate. Then he hit his key point: The banks could manage only so many foreclosures at a time, and Treasury wanted to slow down the pace so the banks wouldn’t be overwhelmed. And this was where the new foreclosure program came in: It was just big enough to “foam the runway” for them. There it was: The Treasury foreclosure program was intended to foam the runway to protect against a crash landing by the banks. Millions of people were getting tossed out on the street, but the secretary of the Treasury believed the government’s most important job was to provide a soft landing for the tender fannies of the banks.
Note: Adapted from A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren. For more on the government's collusion with the big banks before, during and after the 2008 financial crisis brought about by fraudulent mortgage sales, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
A Canadian who works on Wall Street is emerging in some quarters as a hero for revealing the inner workings of high frequency traders who critics have accused of rigging the stock market and taking investors for billions. Brad Katsuyama now runs IEX – the Investors Exchange – a new Wall Street trading platform he founded. But it was in his former capacity as the head trader in New York for RBC Capital Markets that he caught the attention of popular financial writer Michael Lewis. Katsuyama gets star billing in Lewis’s new book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. Katsuyama told Lewis that he had uncovered the methods high frequency traders use to get what he considers to be an unfair advantage over other investors. Katsuyama noticed that when he would send a large stock order to the market, it would only be partially filled, and then he would have to pay a higher price for the rest of the order. When he investigated, he found that his orders travelled along fibre-optic lines and hit the closest exchange first, where high frequency traders would use their speed advantage to buy the shares he wanted and then sell them to him at a slightly higher price – all in milliseconds. "They are able to identify your desire to buy shares in Microsoft and buy them in front of you and sell them back to you at a higher price," Lewis told 60 Minutes. “The United States stock market, the most iconic market in global capitalism, is rigged.” The main thrust of Lewis’s new book is that high-frequency traders use their speed advantage in predatory ways that end up cheating market participants small and large.
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In the last two weeks, the New York attorney general and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission in Washington have both launched investigations into high-frequency computerized stock trading that now controls more than half the market. The probes were announced just ahead of a much anticipated book on the subject by best-selling author Michael Lewis called Flash Boys. In it, Lewis argues that the stock market is now rigged to benefit a group of insiders that have made tens of billions of dollars exploiting computerized trading. The story is told through an unlikely cast of characters who figured out what was going on and have devised a plan to correct it. It could have a huge impact on Wall Street. Tonight, Michael Lewis talks about it for the first time. Steve Kroft: What's the headline here? Michael Lewis: Stock market's rigged. The United States stock market, the most iconic market in global capitalism is rigged. Steve Kroft: By whom? Michael Lewis: By a combination of these stock exchanges, the big Wall Street banks and high-frequency traders. Steve Kroft: Who are the victims? Michael Lewis: Everybody who has an investment in the stock market. If it wasn't complicated, it wouldn't be allowed to happen. The complexity disguises what is happening. If it's so complicated you can't understand it, then you can't question it. Steve Kroft: And this is all being done by computers? Michael Lewis: All being done by computers. It's too fast to be done by humans. Humans have been completely removed from the marketplace. The insiders are able to move faster than you.
Note: For an amazing story of greed and manipulation exposed on Wall Street, see the New York Times article on Flash Boys at this link.
It's 1999, the tail end of the Clinton years. Most observers on the Hill thought the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 – also known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act – was just the latest and boldest in a long line of deregulatory handouts to Wall Street that had begun in the Reagan years. Wall Street had spent much of that era arguing that America's banks needed to become bigger and badder, in order to compete globally with the German and Japanese-style financial giants. Bank lobbyists were pushing a new law designed to wipe out 60-plus years of bedrock financial regulation. The key was repealing – or "modifying," as bill proponents put it – the famed Glass-Steagall Act separating bankers and broker. Now, commercial banks would be allowed to merge with investment banks and insurance companies, creating financial megafirms potentially far more powerful than had ever existed in America. The [bill] additionally legalized new forms of monopoly, allowing banks to merge with heavy industry. A tiny provision in the bill also permitted commercial banks to delve into any activity that is "complementary to a financial activity and does not pose a substantial risk to the safety or soundness of depository institutions or the financial system generally." Today, banks like Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs own oil tankers, run airports and control huge quantities of coal, natural gas, heating oil, electric power and precious metals. They likewise can now be found exerting direct control over the supply of a whole galaxy of raw materials crucial to world industry and to society in general, including everything from food products to metals like zinc, copper, tin, nickel and ... aluminum.
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Pope Francis's crusade against corruption has made him a target for Italy's all-powerful mafia clans, a leading anti-mob prosecutor has warned. Nicola Gratteri, who has battled Calabria's shadowy 'Ndrangheta mafia, said [that] Francis's attempt to bring transparency to the Vatican was making the white collar mobsters who do business with corrupt prelates "nervous and agitated". He told the Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano: "Pope Francis is dismantling centres of economic power in the Vatican. If the bosses could trip him up they wouldn't hesitate. I don't know if organised criminals are in a position to do something, but they are certainly thinking about it. They could be dangerous." Francis, who has called for "a poor church", has backed reform at the Vatican's bank, which has been suspected for years of being a channel for the laundering of mob profits. This week police impounded a luxury hotel on Rome's Janiculum hill – formerly a monastery – which the 'Ndrangheta allegedly purchased from a religious order. "The mafia that invests, that launders money, that therefore has the real power, is the mafia which has got rich for years from its connivance with the church," said Gratteri. "Priests continuously visit the houses of bosses for coffee, which gives the bosses strength and popular legitimacy," he said. A bishop in Locri in Calabria had excommunicated mobsters after they damaged fruit trees owned by the church, he said. "But before that episode, the bosses had killed thousands of people" without being sanctioned, he added.
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[Banks] have rigged LIBOR, an interest rate used to peg contracts worth trillions. Its equivalent in the world of derivatives, ISDAfix, has also come under question. Commodities prices from crude oil to platinum have been the subject of allegations and inquiries. Now prices in global currency markets, where turnover is $5 trillion a day, are being scrutinised by authorities, who suspect bankers have tampered with those too. Switzerland’s financial watchdog announced on October 4th that it was investigating a slew of banks it thinks have manipulated currencies. Britain and the European Union also have probes under way. Concerns reportedly centre around abnormal movements ahead of a widely-used daily snapshot of exchange rates, known as the 4pm “London fix”. It represents the average of prices agreed during 60 seconds’ trading, and is used as a reference rate to execute a much larger set of currency deals. Bankers, who are big participants in the market, have huge incentives to nudge the price of a given currency pairing ahead of the fix. With billions of dollars changing hands, a difference of a fraction of a cent can add a tidy sum to the bonus pool. If proven, the charge would amount to banks fleecing their clients. Banks know the big trades they are about to execute on others’ behalf, and are often themselves the counterparty. By moving the markets ahead of the fix, they could alter the rate to their profit and their clients’ loss. One suspected method is “banging the close”: submitting a quick succession of orders just as the benchmark is set, to distort its value.
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Six former Bank of America Corp. employees have alleged that the bank deliberately denied eligible home owners loan modifications and lied to them about the status of their mortgage payments and documents. The bank allegedly used these tactics to shepherd homeowners into foreclosure, as well as in-house loan modifications. Both yielded the bank more profits than the government-sponsored Home Affordable Modification Program, according to documents recently filed as part of a lawsuit in Massachusetts federal court. The former employees, who worked at Bank of America centers throughout the United States, said the bank rewarded customer service representatives who foreclosed on homes with cash bonuses and gift cards to retail stores such as Target Corp and Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. At the same time, the bank punished those who did not make the numbers or objected to its tactics with discipline, including firing. About twice a month, the bank cleaned out its HAMP backlog in an operation called "blitz," where it declined thousands of loan modification requests just because the documents were more than 60 months old, the court documents say. The testimony from the former employees also alleges the bank falsified information it gave the government, saying it had given out HAMP loan modifications when it had not. Borrowers filed the civil case against Bank of America in 2010 and are now seeking class certification.
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[In 2012,] financial speculator Goldman Sachs, the archetypal villain of the global economic meltdown, bailed out by US taxpayers to the tune of $5.5bn ... made an estimated $400m from speculating on food. The World Bank estimated in 2010 that 44 million people were pushed into poverty because of high food prices, and that speculation is one of the main causes. Since Goldman led the drive to deregulate commodity markets in the 1990s ... they've been at the vanguard of creating and promoting complex commodity instruments, from which they've raked in huge profits. Wallace Turbeville, a former vice president and the inventor of commodity index funds, has been outing the company's methods. He says that in his time at Goldman, investment increased from $3bn in 2003 to $260bn in 2008, and commodity prices rose dramatically during the same period, increasing from 2006 to 2008 by an average of 71%. In 1996, speculators held 12% of the positions on the Chicago wheat market, with most of the market being made up of the legitimate users of food – from farmers to producers. But the legitimate hedging element of commodity markets has virtually disappeared in the intervening years. By 2011, pure speculators made up a staggering 61% of the market. Of course, Goldman Sachs isn't the only player, but it is certainly the largest. For several years, it was hotly debated whether speculation in food commodities drives up prices. But the evidence now firmly says it does, and that there's little correlation between rising prices and actual supply and demand. There are now well over 100 studies which agree.
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PBS' Frontline program on [January 22] broadcast a new one-hour report on one of the greatest and most shameful failings of the Obama administration: the lack of even a single arrest or prosecution of any senior Wall Street banker for the systemic fraud that precipitated the 2008 financial crisis: a crisis from which millions of people around the world are still suffering. What this program particularly demonstrated was that the Obama justice department, in particular the Chief of its Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, never even tried to hold the high-level criminals accountable. What Obama justice officials did instead is exactly what they did in the face of high-level Bush era crimes of torture and warrantless eavesdropping: namely, acted to protect the most powerful factions in the society in the face of overwhelming evidence of serious criminality. Worst of all, Obama justice officials both shielded and feted these Wall Street oligarchs ... as they simultaneously prosecuted and imprisoned powerless Americans for far more trivial transgressions. As Harvard law professor Larry Lessig put it two weeks ago when expressing anger over the DOJ's persecution of Aaron Swartz: "we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House." As [documented in the] 2011 book on America's two-tiered justice system, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful, the evidence that felonies were committed by Wall Street is overwhelming.
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It is a dark day for the rule of law. Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system. They also have not charged any top HSBC banker in the case, though it boggles the mind that a bank could launder money as HSBC did without anyone in a position of authority making culpable decisions. Clearly, the government has bought into the notion that too big to fail is too big to jail. When prosecutors choose not to prosecute to the full extent of the law in a case as egregious as this, the law itself is diminished. The deterrence that comes from the threat of criminal prosecution is weakened, if not lost. In the HSBC case, prosecutors may want the public to focus on the $1.92 billion settlement. But even large financial settlements are small compared with the size of international major banks. More important, once criminal sanctions are considered off limits, penalties and forfeitures become just another cost of doing business, a risk factor to consider on the road to profits. If banks operating at the center of the global economy cannot be held fully accountable, the solution is to reduce their size by breaking them up and restricting their activities — not shield them and their leaders from prosecution for illegal activities.
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A German man committed to a high-security psychiatric hospital after being accused of fabricating a story of money-laundering activities at a major bank is to have his case reviewed after evidence has emerged proving the validity of his claims. Gustl Mollath, 56, was submitted to the secure unit of a psychiatric hospital seven years ago after court experts diagnosed him with paranoid personality disorder following his claims that staff at the Hypo Vereinsbank (HVB) – including his wife, then an assets consultant at HVB – had been illegally smuggling large sums of money into Switzerland. Mollath was tried in 2006 after his ex-wife accused him of causing her physical harm. He denied the charges, claiming she was trying to sully his name in the light of the evidence he allegedly had against her. He was admitted to the clinic, where he has remained against his will ever since. But recent evidence brought to the attention of state prosecutors shows that money-laundering activities were indeed practiced over several years by members of staff at the Munich-based bank, the sixth-largest private financial institute in Germany. A number of employees, including Mollath's wife, were subsequently sacked following the bank's investigation. The "Mollath affair", as it has been dubbed by the German media, has taken on such political dimensions that it now threatens to bring down the government of Bavaria.
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Britain’s biggest bank is at the centre of a major ... investigation after it opened offshore accounts in Jersey for serious criminals living in this country. Tax authorities have obtained details of every British client of HSBC in Jersey after a whistleblower secretly provided a detailed list of names, addresses and account balances earlier this week. Among those identified on the list are Daniel Bayes, a drug dealer who is now in Venezuela; Michael Lee, who was convicted of possessing more than 300 weapons at his house in Devon; three bankers facing major fraud allegations and a man once dubbed London’s “number two computer crook”. The disclosures raise serious questions about HSBC’s procedures in Jersey, with the bank already preparing to pay fines of around $1.5 billion in America for breaking money laundering rules. The bank is legally obliged to report to the authorities any suspicions about the source of money deposited in its accounts. The list identifies 4,388 people holding Ł699 million in offshore current accounts and they are also likely to have billions of pounds more in investment schemes. Several celebrities and other well-known figures are understood to be identified in the client data. The HSBC Jersey client list is understood to be heavily dominated by senior figures in the City. Dozens of bankers are understood to have deposited six-figure sums offshore with some institutions said to have “clusters” of employees taking advantage of the accounts. Doctors, mining and oil executives and oil workers are also heavily represented in the list.
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Few countries blew up more spectacularly than Iceland in the 2008 financial crisis. The local stock market plunged 90 percent; unemployment rose ninefold; inflation shot to more than 18 percent; the country’s biggest banks all failed. Since then, Iceland has turned in a pretty impressive performance. It has repaid International Monetary Fund rescue loans ahead of schedule. Growth this year will be about 2.5 percent, better than most developed economies. Unemployment has fallen by half. Iceland’s approach was the polar opposite of the U.S. and Europe, which rescued their banks and did little to aid indebted homeowners. Nothing distinguishes Iceland as much as its aid to consumers. To homeowners with negative equity, the country offered write-offs that would wipe out debt above 110 percent of the property value. The government also provided means-tested subsidies to reduce mortgage-interest expenses: Those with lower earnings, less home equity and children were granted the most generous support. In June 2010, the nation’s Supreme Court gave debtors another break: Bank loans that were indexed to foreign currencies were declared illegal. Because the Icelandic krona plunged 80 percent during the crisis, the cost of repaying foreign debt more than doubled. The ruling let consumers repay the banks as if the loans were in krona. These policies helped consumers erase debt equal to 13 percent of Iceland’s $14 billion economy. Now, consumers have money to spend on other things.
Note: For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on the collusion of most major governments with the financial sector whose profiteering contributed to the global economic crisis, click here.
When the Justice Department recently closed its criminal investigation of Goldman Sachs, it became all but certain that no major American banks or their top executives would ever face criminal charges for their role in the financial crisis. Justice officials and even President Obama have defended the lack of prosecutions, saying that even though greed and other moral lapses were evident in the run-up to the crisis, the conduct was not necessarily illegal. But that characterization of the financial industry's actions has always defied common sense - and all the more so now that a fuller picture is emerging of the range of banks' reckless and lawless activities, including interest-rate rigging, money laundering, securities fraud and excessive speculation. The financial crisis, fomented over years by big banks and presided over by executives, involved reckless lending, heedless securitizations, exorbitant paydays and illusory profits, all of which led to government bailouts and economic calamity. Is it plausible that none of that broke the law and that none of the people in positions of power and authority knew what was going on? The statute of limitations, generally five years for securities fraud and most other federal offenses, is running out, precluding the possibility of bringing many new suits dating from the bubble years. The result is a public perception that the big banks and their leaders will never have to answer fully for the crisis. The shameless pursuit of Wall Street campaign donations by both political parties strengthens this perception, and further undermines confidence in the rule of law.
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"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies." - Thomas Jefferson, 1816. When Thomas Jefferson spoke those words, banks were local and very small compared with the financial behemoths of today. Banks are more dangerous now than in Jefferson's time, and they are totally out of control. During the Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt referred to banks as the "money changers in the temple of our civilization," and little has been done since. It is well past the time that people on Wall Street live by the rule of law - not just pay fines - and some executives go to jail for their conduct. In 2008, the much-publicized Troubled Assets Relief Program bailed out banks and Wall Street to the tune of $700 billion with taxpayer money. While the banks were bailed out of the trouble they caused, they continued to pay out enormous executive bonuses with taxpayers' money in multimillion-dollar year-end gifts. JPMorgan received $25 billion from the government in 2008 and gave out nearly $9 billion in bonus money that year. When the derivative-driven housing market collapsed in 2008, Citigroup and Bank of America, the major banks in that market, and eight other top Wall Street firms got $1.2 trillion in then-secret loans of taxpayer money from the Federal Reserve. The Fed even went to court in an attempt to hide the identities of those banks from the public. Regulating the banks and bringing the rule of law to Wall Street banks is necessary now. Sending a few Wall Street banksters to jail would stop some of the abuse as well.
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Money laundering. Price fixing. Bid rigging. Securities fraud. Talking about the mob? No, unfortunately. Wall Street. These days, the business sections of newspapers read like rap sheets. GE Capital, JPMorgan Chase, UBS, Wells Fargo and Bank of America tied to a bid-rigging scheme to bilk cities and towns out of interest earnings. ING Direct, HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank facing charges of money laundering. Barclays caught manipulating a key interest rate, costing savers and investors dearly, with a raft of other big banks also under investigation. Not to speak of the unprecedented wrongdoing that precipitated the financial crisis of 2008. Yet, it's clear that the unrepentant and the unreformed are still all too present within our banking system. A June survey of 500 senior financial services executives in the United States and Britain turned up stunning results. Some 24 percent said that they believed that financial services professionals may need to engage in illegal or unethical conduct to succeed, 26 percent said that they had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace, and 16 percent said they would engage in insider trading if they could get away with it. That too much of Wall Street remains unchanged is not surprising. Simply stated, the banks and their leaders have paid no real economic, legal or political price for their wrongdoing and thus have not felt compelled to change.
Note: The author of this article, Phil Angelides, is a former state treasurer of California and the chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on the corrupt relationship between government and the financial sector, click here.
Who's buying our democracy? Wall Street financiers, the Koch brothers, and casino magnates Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn, among others. And they're doing much of it in secret. It's a perfect storm - the combination of three waves that are about to drown government as we know it. The first is the greatest concentration of wealth in America in more than a century. The 400 richest Americans are richer than the bottom 150 million Americans put together. The trend started 30 years ago, and it's related to globalization and technological changes that have stymied wage growth for most people, "trickle-down economics," ... tax cuts and the steady decline in the bargaining power of organized labor. The second is the wave of unlimited political contributions, courtesy of ... one of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 ruling that held that corporations are people under the First Amendment, [meaning] that virtually any billionaire can contribute as much to a political campaign as he wants. The third is complete secrecy about who's contributing how much to whom. Political fronts posing as charitable, nonprofit "social welfare" organizations ... don't have to disclose their donors. As a result, outfits like the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS are taking in hundreds of millions from corporations that don't even tell their own shareholders what political payments they're making. Separately, any one of these three would be bad enough. Put the three together, and our democracy is being sold down the drain.
Note: The author of this article, Robert Reich, is a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley and former U.S. secretary of labor, and author of the newly released Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong With Our Economy and Our Democracy, and How to Fix It.
Former Citigroup Chairman & CEO Sanford I. Weill, the man who invented the financial supermarket, called for the breakup of big banks in an interview on CNBC Wednesday. “What we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking, have banks be deposit takers, have banks make commercial loans and real estate loans, have banks do something that’s not going to risk the taxpayer dollars, that’s not too big to fail,” Weill told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” He added: “If they want to hedge what they’re doing with their investments, let them do it in a way that’s going to be mark-to-market so they’re never going to be hit.” He essentially called for the return of the Glass–Steagall Act, which imposed banking reforms that split banks from other financial institutions such as insurance companies. He said banks should be split off entirely from investment banks, and they should operate with a leverage ratio of 12 times to 15 times of what they have on their balance sheets. Banks should also be completely transparent, Weill said, with everything on balance sheet. “There should be no such thing as off balance sheet,” he said.
Note: For deeply revealing and reliable major media reports on corruption and criminality in the operations and regulation of the financial sector, click here.
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