Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Free Loans to Banks = Free Holiday Bonuses

Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist, advised attendees at the Republican Governors Association that if they give their employees an income boost during the holiday season, they should never refer to it as a bonus. "If you give out a bonus at a time of financial hardship, you're going to make people angry. Call it pay for performance."

And the CEOs of the big banks and corporations are also paying historically low capital gains taxes on their executive compensation packages that are paid as stock options. They are paying less as a percentage of their personal income than most middle-class taxpayers. So these supposed "job creators" with $7.7 trillion in free money from the Fed has not only been paying themselves big bonuses with your money, but they are also dodging taxes too.

The 25 top U.S. companies paid more to their chief executives in 2010 than they did to the federal government in taxes, according to a study done by the Institute for Policy Studies. The Bush tax cuts in 2003 that lowered capital gains taxed for bankers and corporate CEOs with stock-options and hedge-fund mangers didn't do a thing to create jobs, they just enabled the top 1% to further enrich themselves. (Read How the 1% bilks the 99% with capital gains and "performance pay".)

And the big banks contribute money to those who regulate them. Isn't that like a restaurant owner bribing the health inspector?

Dylan Ratigan Amendment

"No person, corporation or business entity of any type, domestic or foreign, shall be allowed to contribute money, directly or indirectly, to any candidate for Federal office or to contribute money on behalf of or opposed to any type of campaign for Federal office. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, campaign contributions to candidates for Federal office shall not constitute speech of any kind as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution or any amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Congress shall set forth a federal holiday for the purposes of voting for candidates for Federal office."
Excerpted and edited from this week's issue of TooMuch - The typical CEO should be able to survive the holidays quite nicely. Predicted bonus cuts for 2011 (compared to 2008, 2009, and 2010) will still leave average high-powered bond traders with $1.8 million for their daily labors in 2011. The average U.S. worker would have to labor 43 years — an adult lifetime at $41,860 a year — to take home that same $1.8 million.

In other words, by any real-world yardstick, Wall Street’s finest are doing just fine. And they owe their good fortune, blockbuster new research makes clear, to the generosity of Uncle Sam’s one and only central bank, the Federal Reserve.

During the financial meltdown, a new analysis of 29,000 pages of previously secret documents shows, central bankers at the Fed shoveled out an incredible $7.77 trillion in dirt-cheap loans to the nation’s financial institutions.

This massive wave of low-cost loans, note the Bloomberg news analysts who broke the story last week, amounted to a bailout over ten times larger than the $700 billion funneled to banks via the Treasury Department’s controversial Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

Bloomberg reporters had to win a court case to access the stunning new bailout data. How stunning? The $7.77 trillion the Fed committed to the nation’s financial industry, observes Bloomberg, equaled “more than half the value of everything produced” in the entire United States during the key crisis year.

To put the bailout in more homespun terms: The Fed provided banks the equivalent of over $25,000 per American.

The nation’s six biggest banks — J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanleygrabbed $460 billion of the secret loans. Morgan Stanley took in $10 billion in publicly visible TARP bailout dollars and $107 billion from the hidden Fed loan program.

All the TARP dollars came with modest strings on executive pay. To end run the strings, big banks rushed to pay back their TARP bailout and then loudly proclaimed themselves healthy and stable enough to resume business as usual.

Meanwhile, at that same moment, these “healthy” banks were taking advantage of the secret Fed loans to register billions in new profits — with no executive pay strings attached.

The Fed loans came with interest rates as low as 0.01 percent. The banks lent out these loan dollars at much higher rates and made, Bloomberg estimates, at least $13 billion on these transactions. That $13 billion, notes economist Dean Baker, essentially rates as a pure “gift” from taxpayers.

But the Fed's total giving to America's biggest banks has run much higher than that $13 billion. By backstopping big banks so energetically, former U.S. senator Ted Kaufman from Delaware points out, the Fed has served notice that the federal government would never let the big banks fail — and that notification continues to translate into favorable borrowing rates for the big banks.

The big banks, for their part, have pooh-poohed all the hubbub about the enormous subsidies they’ve received. They’ve argued that no one should be bent out of joint, since the banks have paid their loans back.

The big banks, counters financial analyst Steve Randy Waldman, have definitely not paid back the lucrative freedom from downside risk that the Fed and Treasury Department have so graciously provided them.

In financial markets, Waldman explains, “risk-bearing” has always been “the ultimate commodity.” The Fed and Treasury underwrote this risk-bearing — for big banks — at next to nothing. Middle class Americans, by contrast, have to pay for their own risk-bearing. They pay, for instance, their fire insurance bills year in and year out, without ever expecting that the Fed is going to foot the bill.

Massive federal bailout subsidies, adds analyst Les Leopold, have had another spin-off benefit. They've “allowed banks to step up their lobbying efforts.” These lobbying efforts, in turn, have saved the banks countless billions more. (See my post: Lobbyists on K St. paid like CEOs on Wall St.)

One example: Bank political pressure has forged a federal housing crisis policy that protects banks from the “downside” of the crash of the housing market.

But the generosity of top federal officials to America’s banks has gone still further. We learned last week, notes Reuters analyst Felix Salmon, that Treasury secretary Hank Paulson was “giving inside information to his old Wall Street buddies” right as the financial crisis was unfolding, insider info that helped Goldman Sachs-connected hedge fund managers score millions in easy profits. (Also read: Tax breaks for billionaires: Loopholes for hedge fund managers costs billions in tax revenue)

The bottom line of all this generosity? The total assets of America’s top six banks jumped from $6.8 trillion in September 2006 to $9.5 trillion in September 2011. The trading arms of big banks and other independent firms, the Washington Post reports, have generated over $83 billion in profit over the last two and a half years, $6 billion more than they generated over the previous eight.

Returns this massive, in turn, translated last year into the biggest bank compensation haul in history. Wall Street salaries in New York averaged $361,330 in 2010, five times the city's average private-sector pay.

And average Americans? Their economic status continues to slide. A new Rutgers University study out last week documents that just 7% of those Americans “who lost jobs after the financial crisis have returned to or exceeded their previous financial position.” Two million construction workers have lost jobs since the housing collapse began. The industry has hired back only 47,000.

That housing collapse keeps collapsing. Over a quarter of American mortgages, 28%, have now sunk “underwater,” up from 23% last year. Where I live in Las Vegas, 80% are underwater.

Some context for these numbers: The $107 billion in Fed loans that one bank alone, Morgan Stanley, pocketed in September 2008 would have been enough, notes Bloomberg, “to pay off one-tenth of the country’s delinquent mortgages.

So what ought to be done? For starters, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer urged last week, Congress ought to require banks to use the profits they made investing their almost interest-free money from the Fed “to write down the value of mortgages of those who are underwater.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb — a New York University risk engineer, best-selling author, and a hedge fund investor — has a longer-term solution. He wants the feds to start regulating Wall Street pay. No one at a company that would require a taxpayer-financed bailout if it failed, says Taleb, should “get a bonus, ever.”

“Consider that we trust military and homeland security personnel with our lives, yet we don’t give them lavish bonuses,” he explains. “They get promotions and the honor of a job well done if they succeed, and the severe disincentive of shame if they fail.” (Of course, CEOs of defense contractors get HUGE salaries and bonuses, and they also don't pay their fair share of taxes)

For bankers, Taleb adds, the opposite holds. They get “a bonus if they make short-term profits and a bailout if they go bust.”

Reforms like these still seem, at our current political moment, sheer fantasy. New research from the Center for Responsive Politics helps us understand one reason. Nineteen current members of Congress last year held personal investments in Wall Street’s most notorious bank, Goldman Sachs. These investments averaged well over three-quarters of a million dollars.

Nine of these 18 investors just happened to sit on the congressional committees that oversee the financial industry. Two of the 18 not on one of these committees just happened to be the two most powerful leaders, House SpeakerJohn Boehner(R-Ohio) and House Majority LeaderEric Cantor(R-Va.). Goldman Sachs contributed heavily to Boehner and Cantor.

Eliot Spitzer: "Congress ought to require banks to use the profits they made investing their almost interest-free money from the Fed to write down the value of mortgages of those who are underwater."

Raise Tax Revenues Without Raising Tax Rates

Instead of raising taxes, we could actually lower the tax rates to bring in more tax revenues.

First and foremost, just start taxing capital gains as regular income (because after all, it IS personal income for CEOs with stock options, investors with dividends, and hedge fund mangers with trades). 70% of all capital gains taxes are paid by the top 1%, which are at an historically low rate of only 15%.

Then we could actually lower corporate taxes to 25% (the same as China), but eliminate ALL loopholes so ALL businesses (large and small) pay an "effective tax rate" of 25%. Allow corporations to repatriate their overseas earnings at 25% also, so long as they reinvest in their domestic workforce and facilities.

Then eliminate ALL subsides for any business showing a profit (like Exxon and Boeing). And also eliminate all subsidies for individuals like Michele Bachmann too (who fosters children for profit).

The top marginal rates for all individuals in all tax brackets (for personal income: 10%, 15%, 25%, and 35%) could all stay the same.

The corporate rate and the capital gains rate is ass-backwards (35% and 15% respectively). It gives corporations the incentive to pocket more profits than to reinvest. If corporate taxes were lower than caption gains (25% corporate and 35% for incomes over $379,000), companies would chose to pay the lower corporate tax rate (and maybe produce and hire more).

Bonuses into the pockets of the CEOs doesn't create jobs, money in the consumer's pockets creates jobs.

My related posts:

1 comment:

  1. UPDATE: Fed Lashes Out at ‘Errors’ in Reporting: “We have met with the Fed numerous times on this issue and not once has the Fed ever told us our reporting on this issue is inaccurate. We stand by our reporting.”