We continue to believe the Obama administration’s approach to the banking crisis has been warped by its personal relationships with Wall Street. Former regulator William Black, who has been a vocal critic of the current approach, goes further, calling the bank stress tests “a complete sham” and the cover-up of the insolvency of massive financial institutions “felony securities fraud.”
William Black was the deputy director of the government agency that insured S&P deposits in the 1980s. He helped identify the Keating Five, a group of senators who tried to prevent the closure of Charles Keating’s S&L. He’s now a professor at the University of Missouri. Barrons’ interviewed him last week:
ON GEITHNER’s BANK PLAN
It is worse than a lie. Geithner has appropriated the language of his critics and of the forthright to support dishonesty. That is what’s so appalling — numbering himself among those who convey tough medicine when he is really pandering to the interests of a select group of banks who are on a first-name basis with Washington politicians.
The current law mandates prompt corrective action, which means speedy resolution of insolvencies. He is flouting the law, in naked violation, in order to pursue the kind of favoritism that the law was designed to prevent. He has introduced the concept of capital insurance, essentially turning the U.S. taxpayer into the sucker who is going to pay for everything. He chose this path because he knew Congress would never authorise a bailout based on crony capitalism.
ON THE BIG PICTURE
With most of America’s biggest banks insolvent, you have, in essence, a multitrillion dollar cover-up by publicly traded entities, which amounts to felony securities fraud on a massive scale.
These firms will ultimately have to be forced into receivership, the management and boards stripped of office, title, and compensation. First there needs to be a clearing of the air — a Pecora-style fact-finding mission conducted without fear or favour. [Ferdinand Pecora was an assistant district attorney from New York who investigated Wall Street practices in the 1930s.] Then, we need to gear up to pursue criminal cases. Two years after the market collapsed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has one-fourth of the resources that the agency used during the savings-and-loan crisis. And the current crisis is 10 times as large.
WHY THE GOVERNMENT WON’T ACKNOWLEDGE REALITY
The government is reluctant to admit the depth of the problem, because to do so would force it to put some of America’s biggest financial institutions into receivership. The people running these banks are some of the most well-connected in Washington, with easy access to legislators. Prompt corrective action is what is needed, and mandated in the law. And that is precisely what isn’t happening.
The savings-and-loan crisis showed that, too often, the regulators became too close to the industry, and run interference for friends by hiding the problems.