Category Archives: Financial System

Congressional Republicans and Democrats Guilty of Crony Capitalism

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke with committee chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL) on Capitol Hill March 2, 2011. Bernanke reportedly defended the Federal Reserves monetary policy against criticism from Republicans.

Hypocrisy at its best. For us commoners, it is illegal to trade stocks and bonds if we have access to non-public information about a company. Remember Martha Stewart. She was sent to federal prison for this exact crime. But did you know it is not illegal for everyone. The members of the U.S. Congress are exempt from this law.  

Steve Kroft reports members of Congress and their aides have regular access to powerful political intelligence, and many have made well-timed stock market trades in the very industries they regulate. For now, the practice is perfectly legal, but some say it’s time for the law to change.  

Peter Schweizer’s new book, Throw Them All Out, delves into the details of how both parties are enriching themselves with inside information that the public is not privy to. Many members of Congress are shown to have made suspiciously timed trades including John Kerry, Dick Durbin, and Jim Moran. But it is a Republican from Alabama, Spencer Bachus, who tops them all.  

Henry Blodget of Daily Ticker recently reported on this.     

Rep. Bachus made more than 40 trades in his personal account in the summer and fall of 2008, in the early months of the financial crisis. 

The fact that Bachus personally traded while getting private government briefings is bad enough. The fact that he was the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee at the time is simply outrageous. 

In one case, the day after getting a private briefing on the collapsing economy and financial system from Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson, Rep. Bachus effectively shorted the market (by buying options that would rise if the market tanked.) 

A few days later, after the market tanked, Bachus sold his position and nearly doubled his money. 

If a corporate executive or Wall Street trader did this–cashed in personally after getting private, non-public information from his work–Rep. Bachus and every other member of Congress would be up in arms about corruption and insider trading. 

And they would be right. 

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New Republican Study — Millionaires Receiving Billions In Taxpayer Support

People who are protesting against the wealth inequality and a tax code that grossly favors the 1% now have a new ally, Tom Coburn, Republican Senator from Oklahoma. He has released what he describes as the “first-ever compilation of federal aid for the richest.”  

Let me be the first to say how very surprised I am by this study. Mr. Coburn is known to be a bedrock conservative who has strongly supported the no new taxes mantra, and when someone with his background starts to shine a light into the inequalities in our government I firmly believe he can do more to further the Occupy Wall Street cause than any encampment ever could. 

The study reveals some startling findings. For example, in 2009, $21 million in unemployment insurance was collected by people who earned more than a million dollars. Also, the U.S. Treasury pays out more than $30 billion a yearto people who make more than a million a year. Mr. Coburn says what the study “reveals is sheer Washington stupidity with government policies pampering the wealthy costing taxpayers billions of dollars every year.”   

In a letter that accompanied the study, Mr. Coburn wrote, “The income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans has risen dramatically over the last decade. Yet, the federal government lavishes these millionaires with billions of dollars in giveaways and tax breaks,” as noted in the recent Congressional Budget Officestudy that examined the growing income gap over the last 30 years.  

“From tax write-offs for gambling losses, vacation homes, and luxury yachts to subsidies for their ranches and estates, the government is subsidizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Multimillionaires are even receiving government checks for not working. This welfare for the well-off — costing billions of dollars a year — is being paid for with the taxes of the less fortunate.” 

“The government’s social safety net, which has long existed to catch those who are down and help them get back up, is now being used as a hammock by some millionaires, some who are paying less taxes than average middle class families.” 

The following list was compiled by Mr. Coburn showing federal money handed out to millionaires over several years: 

  • $18.15 million in child care tax credits 
  • $74 million in unemployment checks 
  • $89 million for preservation of ranches and estates 
  • $316 million in farm subsidies  
  • $608 million in business entertainment deductions 
  • $9 billion in retirement checks 
  • $21 billion in gambling losses 
  • $28 billion in mortgage breaks for mansions, vacation homes and yachts 

These are powerful findings and they are coming out at a crucial time during which we are debating cutting such vital programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Education, etc.

Republicans — A Party of Ebenezer Scrooges

In Bill Maher’s latest list of rules he compares the Republicans to Ebenezer Scrooge. In my opinion, it is not much of a stretch. If you have been keeping track of the political debates and stump speeches by the GOP presidential candidates, their views and ideas are so radical they are almost laughable. 

Here are some of their ideas for privatizing Social Security and Medicare….I guess they think we have forgotten all about that whole Wall-Street-created financial collapse thing in 2008. 

MITT ROMNEY: He pushed for the creation of Social Security personal accounts three separate times. In his 2010 book No Apology, he stated “individual retirement accounts would encourage more Americans to invest in the private sector that powers our economy.” Great idea…..we would be bankrupt after the 2008 financial crisis.

MICHELE BACHMANN: : Last year Bachmann said young workers “need to have some options in their life, so that going forward they can have ownership for their own Social Security, their own retirement, something they can pass on to the beneficiary of their choice.”

RON PAUL: During one of the presidential debates, he stated, “What I would like to do is to allow all the young people to get out of Social Security and go on their own!”

RICK SANTORUM: He launched his 2012 presidential campaign by declaring that he supports the President George W. Bush’s style of privatization accounts.

HERMAN CAIN: During the Tea Party debate, he stated “I support a personal retirement system option in order to phase [out] the current system. We know that this works.”

NEWT GINGRICH: He supported the House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to create personal accounts.  

If that isn’t enough to scare you, the candidates have called for ending student loans, turning Medicare into a voucher program, repealing the “burdensome” regulations passed for Wall Street and the oil and gas industry, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and completely doing away with government entities such as the Department of Education and the EPA.

It should be noted that all of these proposals have received HUGE applause from the crowds. After listening to these guys, it makes you wonder are there any rational Republicans out there.

The video is below…enjoy!!

Republicans Plan For Reforming Corporate Tax Code — More Tax Breaks

Republicans have made big news this week. First, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp (R-MI) released his plan on reforming the corporate tax code. The plan calls for cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent and implementing a “territorial system” that would exempt U.S. corporations from paying taxes on money they earn overseas.

Speaker Boehner also mentioned a territorial system while speaking at the Economic Club of New York saying “Republicans are looking seriously at a territorial tax code.” Pat Garofalo’s wrote:  

Currently, U.S. corporations pay to the Treasury the difference between the tax rate of the country in which they earn money and the U.S. rate. (So money earned in a country where the rate is 25 percent would require a corporation to pay 10 percent — the difference between 35 percent and 25 percent — to the U.S.) However, corporations are allowed to defer paying their U.S. share of taxes until the bring the money back to the U.S., giving them every incentive to shift and keep money (and jobs) offshore. 

I must admit I had no idea what a territorial tax code is. It would exempt U.S. corporations from paying taxes on money they earn overseas. Citizens for Tax Justice reported on this: 

Under a territorial system, the offshore profits of a U.S. corporation would be exempt from U.S. taxes. A recent report from Citizens for Tax Justice explained that this would cause serious problems.   

First, corporations would have a greater incentive to engage in profit-shifting, meaning practices used to disguise U.S. profits as foreign profits. A common example is the manipulation of transfer pricing to shift corporate profits into tax havens (countries that do not tax, or that barely tax, certain types of profits).   

Second, corporations would have a greater incentive to shift actual operations — and jobs — to other countries.  

Our current system already encourages these practices because U.S. corporations are allowed to “defer” their U.S. taxes on their offshore profits. But the incentives would be even greater under a territorial system, in which corporations would NEVER pay U.S. taxes on their offshore profits.  

Other countries that have adopted territorial tax systems are experiencing these problems, and the European Union is considering adoption of a different system to allocate profits among EU member states.  

As CTJ’s report explains, the best alternative would be for Congress to repeal the rule allowing U.S. corporations to “defer” their U.S. taxes on offshore profits. Corporations could continue to get a credit for any taxes paid to a foreign government (just as they do now) which prevents any profits from being taxed more than once.   

Repatriation of corporate profits earned overseas  

Mr. Boehner also spoke on Monday about the possibility of a tax holiday that would allow corporations to bring the profits they earned overseas back to the U.S. without being taxed. During the Bush Administration in 2004, Congress did this and CTJ reported that there were several studies on the results of the 2004 repatriation and they showed the repatriated profits went to shareholders and not to job-creation, despite the promises made by corporate lobbyists. 

Speaker Boehner, during the same speech on Monday, also “demanded that ‘trillions’ be cut from public services — a goal that would be impossible without sharply cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. 

In summary, the Republicans GREAT idea on reforming the corporate tax policy will end up lowering even further corporate taxation and incentivizing corporations to shift their operations overseas. At the same time they want to gut the services like Medicare, Pell Grants, Education funding…basically anything that helps the working class. 

These guys really do live in a bubble.

CBO Findings Show Extent Of Wealth Inequality

I have been reading the non-partison CBO (Congressional Budget Office) study showing the trends in wealth distribution since 1979. After I read it, I thought to myself how could there be any question as to why the protesters of Occupy Wall Street took to the streets.

Since the Reagan Administration implemented the trickle-down-economics policies, giving large tax breaks to the wealthy in the belief that with more money in their pockets it will result in job growth, the income gap has reached a level that rivals 1928, a year before the Wall Street crash that marked the beginning of the Great Depression.

CBO findings  

Sources of Income — For Middle Class is Wages/Salaries. For Wealthy is Capital Gains 

Two factors accounted for the changing distribution of market income. One was an increase in the concentration of each source of market income, which consists of labor income (such as cash wages and salaries and employer-paid health insurance premiums), business income, capital gains, capital income, and other income. All of those sources of market income were less evenly distributed in 2007 than they were in 1979.  

The other factor was a shift in the composition of market income. Labor income has been more evenly distributed than capital and business income, and both capital income and business income have been more evenly distributed than capital gains. Between 1979 and 2007, the share of income coming from capital gains and business income increased, while the share coming from labor income and capital income decreased.  

More concentrated sources of income (such as business income and capital gains) grew faster than less concentrated sources (such as labor income). 

Between 1979 and 2007:  

    • For the 1 percent of the population with the highest income, average real after-tax household income grew by 275 percent.  
    • For others in the 20 percent of the population with the highest income, average real after-tax household income grew by 65 percent. 
    • For the 60 percent of the population in the middle of the income scale, the growth in average real after-tax household income was just under 40 percent. 
    • For the 20 percent of the population with the lowest income, the growth in average real after-tax household income was about 18 percent.  

Growth in Real After-Tax Income from 1979 to 2007

The share of income going to higher-income households rose, while the share going to lower-income households fell. 

The top fifth of the population saw a 10-percentage-point increase in their share of after-tax income.  

Most of that growth went to the top 1 percent of the population.  

All other groups saw their shares decline by 2 to 3 percentage points. 

Shares of Market Income, 1979 and 2007

40% of World’s Wealth Controlled by ‘super-entity’ of 147 companies

An article recently published by Daniel Tencer, a contributor for Huffington Post Canada, writes about a study that focuses on who controls the wealth in the world, not the United States, but the world. It focuses in on how a very few in our world actually control 40 percent of the weatlh (entire study can be found here).  

Top Control-Holders Ranking  

This is the first time a ranking of economic actors by global control is presented. Notice that many actors belong to the financial sector (NACE codes starting with 65,66,67) and many of the names are well-known global players. The interest of this ranking is not that it exposes unsuspected powerful players. Instead, it shows that many of the top actors belong to the core. 

This means that they do not carry out their business in isolation but, on the contrary, they are tied together in an extremely entangled web of control. This finding is extremely important since there was no prior economic theory or empirical evidence regarding whether and how top players are connected. Finally, it should be noted that governments and natural persons are only featured further down in the list. 

Daniel Tencer’s article: 

A Swiss study appears to have uncovered what anti-capitalist activists have been claiming for years — that the global economy is controlled by a small group of deeply interconnected entities.

The researchers say that while there’s nothing wrong, in and of itself, with the concentration of capital in the hands of a small number of companies, when those companies become too interconnected, they can cause chain reactions that can harm the economy. 

“If one [company] suffers distress,” study co-author James Glattfelder said, “this propagates [itself].”   

That fits with recent experience; the financial crisis of 2008 began as a problem of excessive liabilities at a handful of companies. But these companies had financial links to the rest of the industry, and their insolvency threatened to take down the entire financial system. 

According to the study, which will be published shortly in the scientific journal PLoS Onethere is a core group of 1,318 multinational companies that sit at the centre of global commerce. They own a majority of shares in 60 per cent of the world’s large businesses and manufacturers.  

Within that group, the researchers identified a “super-entity” of 147 companies that control 40 per cent of the wealth within the multinational commerce network. According to the researchers, each of the 147 companies is owned by other companies within the “super-entity,” essentially creating a self-contained network of wealth.  

The researchers say their work is evidence the world may need global anti-trust regulations — rules designed to keep companies from becoming too large in their sector, or from developing de facto agreements to cooperate with competitors.  

Here is a list of the top five corporations (study findings can be found here).  

1. Barclays 

 The 321-year-old British bank Barclays plc has been a mover and shaker in the world of finance since before anyone had conjured up the word “capitalism.” In the 1990s, the bank’s prominence in the UK made it a target of “Mardis Gras Bomber” Edgar Pearce. In 2008, Barclays bought the investment banking and trading divisions of Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street financial firm whose bankruptcy triggered the financial crisis.  

2. Capital Group Company   

Founded by self-made financier Jonathan Bell Lovelace in 1931, Capital Group Companies today manages more than $1 trillion of assets with a surprisingly small staff, around 7,500 people. The Los Angeles-based investment management firm likes to keep a low profile, and counts Fidelity Investments among its largest competitors.  

3. Fidelity Investments  

Fidelity Investments is primarily a brokerage and mutual fund manager. The company has seen significant job reductions, with its staff falling from 47,000 in 2007 to 38,000 in 2009 — a sign that even companies near the centre of global power aren’t immune from downsizing.  

4. AXA Insurance  

Paris-based AXA manages more than $1.1 trillion of other people’s money, has $730 billion in assets and employs more than 100,000 people around the world. AXA CEO Henri de Castries is shown here in 2008.  

5. State Street Corporation   

This 209-year-old, Boston-based company ranks in fifth place on Vitali et al’s Network of Global Corporate Control. The company manages more than $2 trillion in assets, has assets itself of around $160 billion, and employs just short of 30,000 people.

Could Another Bail-Out For Bank of America Be On The Way

Bank of America is in the news yet again and of course not for a good reason. They are again trying to position itself for another bailout, and it is going under the radar of mainstrem media. A recent article came out in Bloomberg (available here) titled BofA Said to Split Regulators Over Moving Merrill Derivatives to Bank Unit

William K. Black of ThinkProgress describes this article:   

The thrust of their story is that Bank of America’s holding company, BAC, has directed the transfer of a large number of troubled financial derivatives from its Merrill Lynch subsidiary to the federally insured bank Bank of America (BofA). The story reports that the Federal Reserve supported the transfer and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) opposed it. Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism has  writtenan appropriately blistering attack on this outrageous action, which puts the public at substantially increased risk of loss.  

Bloomberg reports:  

Bank of America Corp. (BAC), hit by a credit downgrade last month, has moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation… 

Bank of America’s holding company — the parent of both the retail bank and the Merrill Lynch securities unit — held almost $75 trillion of derivatives at the end of June, according to data compiled by the OCC. About $53 trillion, or 71 percent, were within Bank of America NA, according to the data, which represent the notional values of the trades. 

That compares with JPMorgan’s deposit-taking entity, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, which contained 99 percent of the New York-based firm’s $79 trillion of notional derivatives, the OCC data show. 

If you recall, derivatives played a huge part in bringing down the financial system in 2008, and it was determined at that time that some derivatives should absolutely be eliminated. 

Remember the credit default swaps (per Naked Capitalism): 

They have virtually no legitimate economic uses (no one was complaining about the illiquidity of corporate bonds prior to the introduction of CDS; this was not a perceived need among investors). They are an inherently defective product, since there is no way to margin adequately for “jump to default” risk and have the product be viable economically. CDS are systematically underpriced insurance, with insurers guaranteed to go bust periodically, as AIG and the monolines demonstrated.