(This guest post originally appeared at the author’s blog)
Why did the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY), whose Chairman was Stephen Friedman (a Goldman Sachs board member who resigned from the New York Fed earlier this year when it was revealed that he had made $5 million by purchasing shares in GS with the knowledge that AIG would be paying counterparties at par and that Goldman would be getting a $13 billion windfall — when no one else had this information) and whose President was none other than current Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, why did this New York Fed choose to pay AIG’s counterparties 100 cents on the dollar when AIG itself had been negotiating for steep haircuts with claimants, AND why did they then pressure AIG executives to keep quiet about the decision even discouraging AIG from disclosing the ‘par-payments’ to its shareholders in required SEC filings?
We’ll leave the decision itself (which was fraudulent, and borderline criminal, and the reasoning given – a complete joke), for another post and focus on the cover-up. For starters, it riled up Congressman Darrell Issa who fired off an angry letter last Friday to AIG management and the New York Fed, demanding the following from both:
All records and communications referring or relating to the FRBNY’s negotiations with AIG’s CDS counterparties, including but not limited to:
- Emails, phone logs and meeting notes of the following people: Timothy Geithner, Stephen Friedman, Tom Baxter, and Sarah Dahlgren;
- Term sheets, including drafts, relating to AIG’s payments to its CDS counterparties;
- Emails, phone logs and meeting notes referring or relating to public disclosure of AIG’s payments to its CDS counterparties including disclosure to the SEC.
Issa continues in his letter:
It is also disturbing that, at the time this secret deal was made, FRBNY Chairman Stephen Friedman, a member of the board of Goldman Sachs, purchased more than 50,000 shares of Goldman Sachs before knowledge of the FRBNY’s bailout of Goldman Sachs and other AIG counterparties became public knowledge. According to news reports, this transaction has earned Mr. Friedman over $5 million in profit.
Finally, according to one AIG executive quoted in news reports, the FRBNY may have attempted to manage public disclosure of its decision to pay AIG’s counterparties at par by pressuring the company not to file pertinent documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”):
They’d tell us that they don’t think that this or that should be disclosed. They’d say, “Don’t you think your counterparties will be concerned?” It was much more about protecting the Fed.
These allegations raise serious questions about the transparency, accountability and wisdom of the FRBNY’s actions. The American people have a right to know the full details behind the FRBNY’s decision to stop negotiations with AIG’s counterparties and pay them billions of dollars of taxpayer money.
To assist the Committee with its investigation of this matter, please provide all relevant information no later than close of business on Friday, November 13, 2009.
It’s not difficult to understand what happened, and it most certainly was not a coincidental result of independent decisions made during the heat of the crisis. We’ve actually known it was the Fed for a while. Ever since House testimony from AIG CEO Ed Liddy confirming that “The Fed made us do it.” The problem at the time was that we didn’t know which Fed?
Now we know: Geithner and Friedman interceded on behalf of Goldman and Wall Street (Merrill received $6.2 billion, Societe General – a whopping $16.5 billion) to deliver a stealth bailout, one that wouldn’t need Congressional approval, and even better wouldn’t require the counterparties to pay any of it back NOR would it require that they issue shares, warrants or any other instrument to AIG (taxpayers) in return for more than $32 billion in free money.
As example, Lehman counterparties got 11 cents. AIG creditors in bankruptcy court might have gotten 25 cents, if they were lucky given the state of the asset markets at the time. AIG itself was negotiating for 50 cents, but your friend and steward of your currency, Treasury Secretary Turbo-Tax, and his boss Stephen Friedman thought 100 would be the best number for everyone involved (except you), leading to a windfall for AIG counterparties of at least $16 billion. In real terms, anything over 25 cents was a gift and thus the real giveaway was somewhere in the range of $25 billion, notwithstanding the author’s calculations. And if that weren’t enough, then Geithner and Friedman succeeded in covering up their secret for 9 months, until Bloomberg through dogged effort and FOIA determination finally got the scoop. Read the following passage from Bloomberg carefully:
Part of a sentence in the document was crossed out. It contained a blank space that was intended to show the amount of the haircut the banks would take, according to people who saw the term sheet. After less than a week of private negotiations with the banks, the New York Fed instructed AIG to pay them par, or 100 cents on the dollar. The content of its deliberations has never been made public.
Edward Grebeck, CEO of Stamford, Connecticut-based debt consulting firm Tempus Advisors, says the most serious breach by the government was to keep the process of approving the bank payments secret. “It’s inexcusable,” says Grebeck, who teaches a course on CDSs at New York University. “Everybody should be privy to the negotiations that went on. We can’t have bailouts like this happening behind closed doors.”
The deliberations of the New York Fed are not made public. In this case, even the identities of the AIG counterparties weren’t disclosed until March 2009, when U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, head of the Senate Finance Committee, demanded they be made public. Bloomberg News has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking copies of the term sheets related to AIG’s counterparty payments, along with e-mails and the logs of phone calls and meetings among Geithner, Friedman and other New York Fed and AIG officials. The request is pending.
The Federal Reserve has been reluctant to publish information on its efforts to stabilise the financial system since the crisis began. The Fed has loaned more than $2 trillion, yet it refuses to name the recipients of the loans, or cite the amount they borrowed, saying that doing so may set off a run by depositors and unsettle shareholders.
Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, sued in November 2008 under the Freedom of Information Act for disclosure of details about 11 Fed lending programs. In August, Manhattan Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled in Bloomberg’s favour, saying the central bank had to provide details of the loans. The Fed has appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and the data remain secret while the appeal proceeds.
‘Cataclysmic Financial Crisis’
Information on the borrowers is “central to understanding and assessing the government’s response to the most cataclysmic financial crisis in America since the Great Depression,” attorneys for Bloomberg said in the Nov. 7 suit.
Questions about the New York Fed transactions may be answered by Neil Barofsky, inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. He is working on a report, which may be released next month, on whether AIG overpaid the banks. TARP is the vehicle through which the Treasury invested more than $200 billion in some 600 U.S. financial institutions.
William Poole, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, defends the New York Fed’s action. The financial system had suffered through months of crisis at the time, he says. The investment bank Bear Stearns Cos. had been swallowed by JPMorgan; mortgage packagers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had been taken over by the government; and the day before AIG was rescued, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. had filed for bankruptcy.
“I think the Federal Reserve was trying to stop the spread of fear in the market,” Poole says. “The market was having enough trouble dealing with Lehman. If you add, on top of that, AIG paying off some fraction of its liabilities, a system which is already substantially frozen would freeze rock-solid.”
Still, officials at AIG object to the secrecy that surrounded the transactions. One top AIG executive who asked not to be identified says he was pressured by New York Fed officials not to file documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that would divulge details. “They’d tell us that they don’t think that this or that should be disclosed,” the executive says. “They’d say, ‘Don’t you think your counterparties will be concerned?’ It was much more about protecting the Fed.”
Friedman’s role remains controversial. In December 2008, weeks after the payments to the banks were authorised in November, Friedman bought 37,300 shares of Goldman stock at $80.78 a share, according to SEC filings. On Jan. 22, he bought 15,300 more at $66.61. Both purchases took place before the payments to Goldman Sachs were publicly disclosed under pressure from Senator Dodd in March. On Oct. 26, Goldman Sachs stock closed at $179.37 a share, meaning Friedman had paper profits of $5.4 million.
Jerry Jordan, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, says Friedman should have resigned from the New York Fed as soon as it became clear that Goldman stood to benefit from its actions. “It’s an outrage,” Jordan says. “He needed to either resign from the Fed board or from Goldman and proceed to sell his stock.”
98,600 Goldman Shares
Friedman remains a member of Goldman’s board and held a total of 98,600 shares of the firm’s stock as of Jan. 22.
Vickrey says that one reason the New York Fed should have insisted on discounted payments for AIG’s CDSs is that the banks likely had hedges against their insured CDOs or had already written down their value. On March 20, Goldman Sachs CFO David Viniar said in a conference call with investors that Goldman was protected. “We limited our overall credit exposure to AIG through a combination of collateral and market hedges,” Viniar said. “There would have been no credit losses if AIG had failed.”
In any event, former St. Louis Fed President Poole says the entire process should have been public and transparent. “There should be a high bar against not disclosing,” Poole says. “The taxpayer has every right to understand in detail what happened.”
So even Fed voting member and counterparty-negotiation apologist, William Poole decries the secrecy. And he was likely not aware of the par-payment cover-up since Friedman and Geithner kept it all within the New York Fed family.
In any other time, a sitting Treasury Secretary who interceded on behalf of Wall Street to screw taxpayers out of tens of billions, would not be sitting long. But Democrats control both the House and Senate, so there are no investiagtions (Issa’s letter aside). Traditional media is content not to rock the boat for President Banks Obama lest they be shunned by their peers, and ultimately, 99% of TV and print journalists don’t understand the issues well enough to complain with any conviciton, especially against the merry backdrop of the Dow rising and their deflated 401ks beginning to show life.
It’s the exact same set of circumstances that allowed Paulson to cram TARP down our throats last fall; Congressional members and the journalists who cover them are too ill-informed about finance to have confidence in taking a critical position against the rampant fear-mongering that ultimately got the bill passed (see this Kanjorski clip).
They fall prey to fear and weakly submit to duplicitous hyperbole (Paulson threatening martial law and blood in the streets), when they should instead be consulting with the objective, critical voices who foresaw the crisis and were prepared with alternative solutions when it finally came (Stiglitz said instead of TARP, create new banks).
A pox on Congress, President Banks Obama, Bush, Paulson, Friedman, Bernanke and Geithner (plus Greenspan and Rubin). You may have gotten away with it for now, but I would wager there are a few million of us, roughly, who do understand everything that went down last Fall, and we’re not amused. We’re not just going to let this one pass, and we will not stop filling the vast interweb with the truth (and our distaste and vitriol for your wretched souls) day after day, week after week, all over message boards and finance blogs, until justice is served.
We can wait you out. I’ve seen traders hold a grudge against a stock for decades. How long do you think we can wait given the generational rape you have inflicted upon families?
For the guilty, your day will come.
And until then, good luck with your reputations.