Bill Maher | Opening Monologue

Bill Maher  | Opening Monologue

TULLYCAST Abides…

The 20 Senators Who Voted For Wall Street Bailout But Against Auto Industry Rescue

THINK PROGRESS DEC 12, 2008

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Last night, the Senate failed to approve the auto rescue package, voting 52-35 in favor of proceeding on the bill — just eight short of the 60 votes that were needed. Over on the Wonk Room, Dan Weiss takes a look at the 20 senators who voted for the Wall Street bailout but voted against the auto rescue last night (as well as the 10 others who skipped the vote last night, but voted for the financial bailout):

New SEC Chief Mary Schapiro/Getty

Yes to TARP, No to auto Yes to TARP, Absent for auto
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN)
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
Sen. John Ensign (R-NV)
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Sen. Kay Hutchison (R-TX)
Sen. John Isakson (R-GA)
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Sen. John Thune (R-SD)
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR)
Sen.Ted Stevens (R-AK)
Sen. John Sununu (R-NH)

Biden was tending to transition duties, while Kerry was in Poznan, Poland, participating in U.N. climate change talks. Alexander was home recovering from surgery. Why did these other Senators feel auto workers weren’t as deserving as Wall Street? We’d like to know. If you see statements from them, please let us know by email or in the comments section.

UpdateSen. Jim Bunning (R-KY), a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher in his heyday, was scheduled to appear Sunday at a sports card show in Taylor, Michigan to sign autographs. “But Bunning was kicked off the schedule after he helped derail an auto-industry loan package in the Senate Thursday night.” (HT: TP commenter cali)

Small Banks Getting Short End of Tarp Bat

SEEKING ALPHA

William Patalon III

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Bank of American Corp. (BAC), which is getting $15 billion from the U.S. government as part of the Treasury Department’s $250 billion “recapitalization” effort, is doubling its stake in state-owned China Construction Bank Corp., and will hold a 20% stake worth $24 billion in China’s second-largest lender when that deal is finalized.

PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (PNC), which will get $7.7 billion from Treasury’s Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), is using that cash infusion to help finance its $5.2 billion buyout of embattled National City Corp. (NCC).

And U.S. Bancorp (USB), which received a $6.6 billion capital infusion from that same rescue package, has acquired two California lenders – Downey Savings & Loan Association, F.A., a subsidiary of Downey Financial Corp. (DSL), and PFF Bank & Trust, a subsidiary of PFF Bancorp Inc. (OTC: PFFB). U.S. Bank agreed to assume the first $1.6 billion in losses from the two, but says anything beyond that amount is subject to a loss-sharing deal it struck with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC).

While the Treasury Department’s investment of more than $250 billion in U.S. financial institutions has been billed as a strategy that will bolster the health of the banking system and also jump-start lending, buyout deals such as these three show that the recapitalization plan has actually had a much different result – one that’s left whipsawed U.S. investors and lawmakers alike feeling burned, an ongoing Money Morning investigation continues to show.

Those billions have touched off a banking-sector version of “Let’s Make a Deal,” in which the biggest U.S. banks are using government money to get even bigger. While that’s admittedly removing the smaller, weaker banks from the market – a possible benefit to consumers and taxpayers alike – this trend is also having a detrimental effect: It’s reducing the competition that’s benefited consumers and kept the explosion in banking fees from being far worse than it already is.

This all happens without any of the economic benefits that an actual increase in lending would have had. And it does nothing to address the billions worth of illiquid securities that remain on (or off) banks’ balance sheets – as the recent Citigroup Inc. (C) imbroglio demonstrates.

In fact, Treasury’s TARP program has even managed to create a potentially illegal tax loophole that grants banks a tax-break windfall of as much as $140 billion. Lawmakers are furious – but possibly powerless, afraid that a full-scale assault on the tax change could cause already-done deals to unravel, in turn causing investor confidence to do the same.

One could even argue that since this first bailout (the $700 billion TARP initiative) has fueled takeovers – and not lending – the government had no choice but to roll out the more-recent $800 billion stimulus plan that was aimed at helping consumers and small businesses – a move that may spur lending and spending, but that still adds more debt to the already-sagging federal government balance sheet.

At the end of the day, these buyout deals are bad ones no matter how you evaluate them, says R. Shah Gilani, a retired hedge fund manager and expert on the U.S. credit crisis who is the editor of the Trigger Event Strategist, which identifies trading opportunities emanating from such financial-crisis “aftershocks” as this buyout binge.

“Why in the name of capitalism are taxpayers being fleeced by banks that are being given our money to grow their businesses with the further backstop of more of our money having to be thrown to the FDIC when they fail?” Gilani asked. “Consolidation does not mean that bad loans and illiquid securities are somehow merged out of existence. It means that they are being acquired under the premise that a larger, more consolidated depositor base will better be able to bear the weight of those bad assets. What in heaven’s name prevents depositors from exiting when the merged banks continue to experience massive losses and write-downs? The answer to that question would be … nothing.”

Lining Up for Deal Money

In launching TARP, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. “Hank” Paulson Jr. said the government’s goal was to restore public confidence in the U.S. financial services sector – especially banks – so private investors would be willing to advance money to banks and banks, in turn, would be willing to lend.

“Our purpose is to increase the confidence of our banks, so that they will deploy, not hoard, the capital,” Paulson said.

Whatever Treasury’s actual intent, the reality is that banks are already sniffing out buyout targets, while snuffing out lending – and the TARP money is the reason for both.

Fueled by this taxpayer-supplied capital, the wave of consolidation deals is “absolutely” going to accelerate, says Louis Basenese, a mergers-and-acquisitions expert who is also the editor of The Takeover Trader newsletter. “When it comes to M&A, there’s always a pronounced ‘domino effect.’ Consolidation breeds more consolidation as industry leaders conclude they have to keep acquiring in order to remain competitive.”

Indeed, banking executives have been quite open about their expansionist plans during media interviews, or during conference calls related to quarterly earnings.

Take BB&T Corp. (BBT). During a conference call that dealt with the bank’s third-quarter results, Chief Executive Officer John A. Allison IV said the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based bank “will probably participate” in the government program. Allison didn’t say whether the federal money would induce BB&T to boost its lending. But he did say the bank would likely accept the money in order to finance its expansion plans, The Wall Street Journal said.

“We think that there are going to be some acquisition opportunities – either now or in the near future – and this is a relatively inexpensive way to raise capital [to pay the buyout bill],” Allison said during the conference call.

And BB&T is hardly alone. Zions Bancorporation (ZION), a Salt Lake City-based bank that’s been squeezed by some bad real-estate loans, recently said it would be getting $1.4 billion in federal money. CEO Harris H. Simmons said the infusion would enable Zions to boost “prudent” lending and keep paying its dividend – albeit at a reduced rate.

Sounds good, right? Not so fast. During a conference call about earnings, Zions Chief Financial Officer Doyle L. Arnold said any lending increase wouldn’t be dramatic. Besides, Arnold said, Zions will also use the money “to take advantage of what we would expect will be some acquisition opportunities, including some very low risk FDIC-assisted transactions in the next several quarters.”

Buyouts Already Accelerating

With all the liquidity the world’s governments and central banks have injected into the global financial system, the pace of worldwide deal making is already accelerating. Global deal volume for the year has already passed the $3 trillion level – only the fifth time that’s happened, although it took about three months longer for that to happen this year than it did a year ago.

At a time when the global financial crisis – and the accompanying drop-off in available deal capital (either equity or credit) – has caused about $150 billion in already-announced deals to be yanked off the table since Sept. 1, liquidity from the U.S. and U.K. governments has ignited record levels of financial-sector deal making.

According to Dealogic, government investments in financial institutions has reached $76 billion this year – eight times as much as in all of 2007, which was the previous record year. And that total doesn’t include the $250 billion in TARP money, or other deals that Paulson & Co. are helping engineer – JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s (JPM) buyouts of The Bear Stearns Cos. and Washington Mutual Inc. (WAMUQ), for instance.

If You Can’t Beat ‘em… Buy ‘em?

When it comes to identifying possible buyout targets, M&A experts such as Basenese say there are some very clear frontrunners.

“I’d put regional banks with solid footprints in the Southeast high on the list, and for two reasons,” Basenese said. “First, demographics point to stronger growth [in this region] as retirees migrate to warmer climates – and bring their assets along for the trip. Plus, the Southeast is largely un-penetrated by large national banks. An acquisition of a regional bank like SunTrust Banks Inc. (STI) would provide a distinct competitive advantage.

There’s a very good reason that smaller players may be next: Big banks and small banks have the easiest times – relatively speaking, of course – of raising capital. It’s toughest for the regional players. Big banks can tap into the global financial markets for cash, while the very small – and typically, highly local – banks can raise money from local investors.

The afore-mentioned stealthy shift in the U.S. Tax Code actually gives big U.S. banks a potential windfall of as much as $140 billion, says Gilani, the credit crisis expert and Trigger Event Strategist editor. What does this tax-change do? By acquiring a failed bank whose only real value is the losses on its books, the successful suitor would basically then be able to use the acquired bank’s losses to offset its own gains and thus avoid paying taxes.

“While everyone was panicking, the Treasury Department slipped through a ruling that allows banks who acquire other banks to fully write-off all the acquired bank’s bad debts,” Gilani says. “For 22 years, the law was such that if you were to buy a company that had losses, say, of $1 billion, you couldn’t just take that loss against your own $1 billion profit and tell Uncle Sam, ‘Gee, now my loss offsets my profit, so I don’t have any profit, and I don’t owe you any tax.’ It was a recipe for tax evasion that demanded an appropriate law that only allows limited write-offs over an extended period of years.”

Given these incentives, who will be doing the buying? Clearly, the biggest U.S.-based banks will be the main hunters. But The Takeover Trader’s Basenese says that even foreign banks will be on the prowl for cheap U.S. banking assets.

Basenese also believes that Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS) will be “big spenders.” Each will use TARP funds to help accelerate its transformation from an investment bank into a bank holding company. The changeover will require each company to build up a big base of deposits. And the best way to do that is to buy other banks, Basenese says.

“One thing [the wave of deals] does is to restore confidence in the sector,” Basenese said. “It will go a long way in convincing CEOs that it’s safe to use excess capital to fund acquisitions, and to grow, instead of using it to defend against a proverbial run on the bank.”

Not everyone agrees with that assessment. Investors who play the merger game correctly will do well. But the game itself won’t necessarily whip the industry into championship form, Gilani says.

“While consolidation, instead of outright collapses, in the banking industry may serve to relieve the FDIC of its burden to make good on failed banks, it in no way guarantees fewer failures,” he said. “In fact, it may only serve to guarantee, in some cases, even larger failures.”

The Douchebag Who Conned The World

Stephen Foley (From New York)

The Independant

cox-hiresCHRIS COX

Investors around the world are counting the spiralling cost of the biggest fraud in history, a $50bn scam that has ensnared billionaire businessmen and tiny charities alike and whose tentacles have stretched further and deeper than anyone imagined.

The fallout from the arrest of the Wall Street grandee Bernard Madoff was continuing to grow last night, as institution after institution detailed the extent of their possible losses, and the victims in the UK were headlined by HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is majority-owned by the British Government.

A charity set up by the Hollywood director Steven Spielberg was among those revealed to be among the victims, along with a foundation set up by Mort Zuckerman, one of the richest media and property magnates in the United States, dozens of Jewish organisations, sports team owners and a New Jersey senator.

But the biggest confessions were coming from Wall Street, from the City of London and from the headquarters of European banks and from banks around the world. They have poured billions of dollars into Mr Madoff’s too-good-to-be-true investment fund, which appeared to post double-digit annual returns come rain or shine.

RBS said that it could take a hit of £400m if American authorities find there is nothing left of the money Mr Madoff had pretended to be investing for many years. HSBC, Britain’s largest bank, said a “small number” of its clients had exposure totalling $1bn in Mr Madoff’s funds.

The Spanish bank Santander, which owns Abbey and the savings business of Bradford & Bingley in the UK, could be on the hook for $3.1bn. Japan’s Nomura said it has hundreds of millions of dollars at risk. City analysts said that even banks who invested only on behalf of clients could end up on the hook, because clients are almost certain to sue for bad advice.

Mr Madoff confessed last week that his business was “all one great big lie”. The investment returns were fake, and he had been paying old clients with money from new ones. In its conception, the scam is a classic. In its size, it is breathtaking, eclipsing anything seen before. He personally estimated the losses at $50bn, according to the FBI, and as investors owned up to their exposure yesterday that did not seem impossible. For 48 years, until Thursday morning, Mr Madoff was one of Wall Street’s best-respected investment managers, able to harvest money from a vast network of contacts and to trade on his name as a former chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange.

His arrest has further shaken confidence in the barely regulated hedge fund industry, which is already suffering some of the worst times in its short history. Mr Madoff – who is now on a $10m bail and under orders not to leave the New York area – was able to operate his fraud under the noses of regulators for many years.

Mort Zuckerman, the owner of the New York Daily News and one of the 200 richest Americans, said that one of the managers of his charitable trust had been so taken by Mr Madoff that he invested $9bn with him, including all the money from Mr Zuckerman’s trust. “These are astonishing numbers to be placed with one fund manager,” he said. “I think we have another break in whatever level confidence needs to exist in money markets.”

Nicola Horlick, the British fund manager known as Superwoman for juggling her high-flying City career with bringing up five children, turned her fire on US regulators. Her Bramdean Alternatives investment fund had put 9 per cent – about £10m – with Mr Madoff. She told BBC Radio: “This is the biggest financial scandal, probably in the history of the markets.”

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