Hundreds of millions of times a day, thirsty Americans open a can of soda, beer or juice. And every time they do it, they pay a fraction of a penny more because of a shrewd maneuver by Goldman Sachs and other financial players that ultimately costs consumers billions of dollars.
SPIEGEL: Still, authorities in Spain and France have convicted a number of prominent tax evaders based on the data you gave them.
Falciani: That’s true, but so far not even 1 percent of the information I supplied has been analyzed, because the authorities are only interested in client names. But this information can also be used to expose the system banks have installed to make tax evasion and money laundering possible. For me, it has always been about calling attention to the banks’ behavior, after I failed to change it from inside.
SPIEGEL: The bank denies you ever pointed out problems from inside.
Falciani: I did, but to no avail. Most Swiss banks do have a whistleblower program, but they use it to punish those who avail themselves of it.
SPIEGEL: Did you also offer your information to German authorities?
Falciani: Three years ago, I offered my help and made direct contact through my lawyer.
Falciani: Nothing happened.
SPIEGEL: Why was that?
Falciani: I ask myself the same question. We’re talking about a total of 127,000 clients and over 300,000 accounts.
When Judge Kristen Booth Glen walked into her Manhattan Surrogate’s courtroom one day in 2007, she had no idea she was about to challenge the nation’s top banks on behalf of tens of thousands of disabled people.
Holman had been left an orphan nearly three years earlier after the eccentric millionaire who adopted him passed away. According to doctors, he had the communication skills of a toddler, unable to bathe, dress, or eat by himself.
But before Judge Glen would grant this seemingly perfunctory petition, she had a few questions for Platt.
“How often have you visited Mark Holman?” she asked the lawyer.
“Since his mother died, I have not visited him,” said Platt.
“And when you say you haven’t visited him since then, how often had you visited him prior to that?”
“I haven’t seen him since he was eight or nine,” responded the lawyer. “His mother used to bring him to our office with his brother, just to show him my face and so forth and so on, so I haven’t seen him probably since 1995 or 1996.”
It was around that time that Platt helped Mark’s mother, Marie Holman, draft her will and create trusts for him and his older brother. A decade later, when she was dying, Platt promised Marie he’d apply to become Mark’s guardian.
“And have you visited the institution which he currently resides in?” Glen asked.
“No, I intend to, but I have not as yet,” Platt said, sounding weary. “I don’t think even a visit has much significance anyway. He’s totally nonverbal—he’s never spoken a word. He’s potentially aggressive.”
This didn’t sit well with Judge Glen. When it came to signing away the rights of disabled people to guardians, she was perhaps the most cautious judge in New York. But what came next would floor her.
Platt informed her that Mark’s trust had reached nearly $3 million. But while his trustees—Platt and JP Morgan Chase—had collected thousands of dollars in commissions, they hadn’t spent a penny on Mark. Medicaid covered his basic care at the institution upstate, but neither the lawyer nor the bank had considered how his mammoth trust might further aid his quality of life.
If you are a working stiff and can squirrel away $250 to put in a Chase “savings account,” Chase will pay you 12.5 cents a year (.05% APY at a “standard rate”). Furthermore, if you don’t make any transactions, they will charge you $4 a month, meaning that you will be left with $202 at the end of a year, plus your 2.5 cents.
As Andrew Haldane, director of stability at the Bank of England, put it in a historical overview a few years ago, ‘there is one key difference between the situation today and that in the Middle Ages. Then, the biggest risk to the banks was from the sovereign. Today, perhaps the biggest risk to the sovereign comes from the banks. Causality has reversed.’ Yes, it has: and the sovereign at risk is us. The reason for that is that in the UK bank assets are 492 per cent of GDP. In plain English, our banks are five times bigger than our entire economy. (When the Icelandic and Cypriot banking systems collapsed the respective figures were 880 and 700 per cent.) We know from the events of 2008 and subsequently that the financial sector, indeed the whole world economy, is in an inherently unstable condition. Put the size together with the instability, and we are facing a danger that is no less real for not being on the front page this exact second. This has to be fixed, and it has to be fixed soon, and nothing about fixing it is easy.
In the UK, the government has spent magic money on QE to the tune of £375 billion, 23.8 per cent of our GDP. An amount equal to a quarter of our entire annual economic activity has therefore been willed into being in an attempt to stimulate the economy. If they’d just given the money directly to the public, perhaps in the form of time-limited, UK-only spending vouchers, it would have amounted to just under £6,000 for everyone, man, woman or child, in the country. Can anyone doubt that the stimulus effect of that would have been much bigger?
But you can’t trust little people with all that money, can you? Giving banks money is the only way out of our mess, right? The trouble with just giving people money is that they’ll go out and buy things with it, effectively wasting it on foolish nonsense like food, and housing.
The nation’s eight largest banks would have to meet tougher financial ratios than required under international standards as part of proposed rules designed to protect taxpayers from another financial crisis.
Under the plan, Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and four other U.S. bank holding companies designated as “systemically important financial institutions” would each have to hold capital equal to at least 5% of total assets.
In addition, their federally insured bank subsidiaries, such as Citibank and Chase bank, would have to hold capital equal to at least 6% of assets, according to the proposed rules.
Other U.S. banks and bank holding companies have to meet only a 3% leverage ratio under rules adopted by regulators as part of an international agreement known as Basel 3.
Michael Milken (of junk-bond infamy) once said:
“When I was on Wall Street, we rarely had more than 1:1 leverage, and the highest I recall in my career was 4:1. The idea of leveraging 30:1 or more, as many financial institutions did recently, is not a business.”
When the guy responsible for a market meltdown based largely on not being able to cover losses tells you your leverage is off, it might be a good idea to listen.
In 1965, the average CEO made 20 times the average worker. Now the ratio is 273 to 1, meaning the average CEO makes in a day what their workers make in a year.
Jeff Olson was found not guilty of vandalism today after writing anti-bank messages about Bank of America on public sidewalks in water-soluble chalk last year.
Olson was charged with 13 counts of vandalism and faced 15 years in jail, plus $13,000 in fines.
Olson had written the anti-bank messages in front of three Bank of America buildings in San Diego, California.
Darrell Freeman, Vice President of Bank of America’s Global Corporate Security, pushed San Diego authorities to prosecute Olson for writing messages such as: “No thanks, big banks” and “Shame on Bank of America.”
San Diego Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard was in communication with Bank of America, assuring the multinational corporation that Olson would be charged.
As reported by the San Diego Reader, Judge Howard Shore banned Olson’s lawyer from mentioning the “First Amendment.”
Despite that highly-questionable ruling, the jury still voted “not guilty” in Olson’s case, notesNBC San Diego.
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner had called the prosecution of Olson by San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith “a stupid case,” reported the Los Angeles Times.
Financial data company Markit, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) and 13 banks were charged with blocking two exchanges from entering the credit derivatives market in the last decade in breach of European Union (EU) antitrust rules.
The European Commission said the group, which included Goldman Sachs and UBS, shut out Deutsche Boerse and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange from the Credit default swaps (CDS) business between 2006 and 2009.
CDS are over-the-counter contracts that allow an investor to bet on whether a company or country will default on its bonds within a fixed period of time. Lack of transparency on such derivatives is a key target of regulators following the 2007-2009 crisis.
The case is one of several opened by the EU antitrust regulator into the financial services since the crisis. Banks and other companies involved could be fined up to 10% of their global turnover if found guilty of infringing EU rules.
French politicians have diluted President Francois Hollande’s plans to make politicians declare their wealth in a transparency drive. They have also backed harsh penalties for journalists who publish the information.
After the resignation of a budget minister over a secret Swiss bank account, Hollande’s government drafted a bill in April to force politicians to declare their assets and income to an independent authority.
However, members of the National Assembly, the lower house of France’s parliament, who worried about their privacy, including Hollande’s own Socialist Party, voted on Tuesday in favour of an amended version of the bill.
The new version would only provide the information to people who specifically requested it.
Besides, it would ban publication of the details: any reporter who publishes the information would be subject to a jail sentence of one year and could pay a fine of 45,000 euros ($58,000).
They are so worried about their privacy poor lambs. Off with their heads!
US banks needed bailouts. The German banks needed bailouts. European banks needed bailouts. Lawsuits funneled through the courts on two continents. We’re still living the consequences.
All of which is to say, the financial system is global. There are no such things as borders in the world of finance; it’s an integrated whole. A fellow sitting in an office in Hamburg or London is as likely to change our financial world as the guy sitting in a trading room on Wall Street.
That’s why it’s so baffling that the House of Representatives came down, this week, on the side of ignoring abuses of US-made derivatives – known as swaps – as soon as they’re wired overseas. These swaps were at the heart of the London Whale trading debacle, which lost $6bn for JP Morgan Chase. The bank was otherwise sound, and survived the stupid move easily. But not every bank is JP Morgan, and the next stupid swap deal could come at a cost to taxpayers if another bank needs a bailout or government support.
The House voted overwhelmingly to let the measure – labeled the London Whale Loophole Act by critics – pass. It’s one of several measures that the House has taken to weaken oversight of derivatives; the other two will come up for debate soon.
It will surprise no cynic that there is a financial connection between the members of Congress who approve these measures and the industry they are supposed to regulate.
An estimated 2.4 million customers quit the UK’s five biggest banks in 2012 as people “voted with their feet” in response to a string of scandals, according to latest figures.
The Move Your Money UK campaign and website, which issued the figures, said they showed a “mass movement” away from the big banking groups: Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland/NatWest, Barclays, HSBC and Santander.
Laura Willoughby, Move Your Money chief executive, said: “The constant slew of scandals last year has opened the floodgates, and people are beginning to realise they don’t have to put up with the arrogance of the big banks.”
She spent her days serving up Happy Meals, but when it came time to get paid, Natalie Gunshannon says a local McDonald’s franchisee gave her an unhappy deal.
The Shavertown McDonald’s forces workers to be paid only one way: with a payroll debit card that burdens workers with hefty fees to obtain their hard-earned cash, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of Ms. Gunshannon and other McDonald’s workers.
The J.P. Morgan Chase payroll card carries fees for nearly every type of transaction, according to the lawsuit, including a $1.50 charge for ATM withdrawals, $5 for over-the-counter cash withdrawals, $1 to check the balance, 75 cents per online bill payment and $10 per month if the card is left inactive for more than three months.
Bank lobbyists are not leaving it to lawmakers to draft legislation that softens financial regulations. Instead, the lobbyists are helping to write it themselves.
One bill that sailed through the House Financial Services Committee this month — over the objections of the Treasury Department — was essentially Citigroup’s, according to e-mails reviewed by The New York Times. The bill would exempt broad swathes of trades from new regulation.
The bank chief also delivered something of a pep talk.
“America has the widest, deepest and most transparent capital markets in the world,” he said. “Washington has been dealt a good hand.”
And the public has been dealt a good hand job.
Banks have paid less than half the $5.7 billion in cash owed to troubled homeowners under nearly 30 settlements brokered by the government since 2008, delaying help to the millions of victims of discrimination and shoddy lending that epitomized the housing crisis, according to a Washington Post analysis of government data.
But in order to determine how much each borrower was owed, the banks planned to review each foreclosure one by one. After 12 months, no homeowners had received a dime. But the eight consultants managing the process on behalf of the banks were paid nearly $2 billion.
Oh, are we getting ripped off. And now we’ve got the data to prove it. From 2009 to 2011, the richest 8 million families (the top 7%) on average saw their wealth rise from $1.7 million to $2.5 million each. Meanwhile the rest of us – the bottom 93% (that’s 111 million families) — suffered on average a decline of $6,000 each.
Do the math and you’ll discover that the top 7% gained a whopping $5.6 trillion in net worth (assets minus liabilities) while the rest of lost $669 billion. Their wealth went up by 28% while ours went down by 4 percent.
It’s as if the entire economic recovery is going into the pockets of the rich. And that’s no accident.
In theory, a seven figure annual pay packet should be more than enough to live on. In the UK, only the top 1% of income taxpayers earn anything more than £150k according to figures from the Office of National Statistics. In the US, the top 1% of people earn more than $370k according to the Internal Revenue Service. And yet, some bankers in the top bracket are having money troubles.
“It’s really not that unusual to find Wall Street bankers who are close to declaring themselves bankrupt,” said Gary Goldstein, co-founder of U.S. search firm Whitney Partners. “Some people are really struggling.”
Claims that bankers are having problems making ends meet won’t do much to ingratiate them to the public. At last week’s Barclays Annual General Meeting, Joan Woolard, a pensioner from the north of England berated Barclays for overpaying its bankers. Anyone who wanted more than £1m ($1.5m) a year was simply a “greedy b*stard,” said Woolard.
For some people working in financial services, however, £1m is simply what’s needed to cover the cost of living.
“You get a lot of people who have a very expensive lifestyle,” said Louise Cooper, a former Goldman Sachs salesperson and financial analyst at Cooper City. “They will always have a nanny, private schools for the children and they will have a very big expensive house. All of this has to be paid for out of taxable income,” she points out. “With a top tax rate of 45%, this means that you need to be earning nearly double what you’re spending.”
It would be one thing if Apple and other giant companies were borrowing in order to expand operations and create new jobs. But that’s not what’s going on. Apple, remember, is still sitting on $145 billion.
The reason big companies aren’t creating more jobs is consumers aren’t buying enough to justify the expansion. And government is cutting back on spending.
Big corporations are borrowing simply in order to push stock prices up and reward their investors.
It’s a sump pump with the Fed on one end buying up bonds to keep interest rates low, and shareholders on the other end raking in the returns.
Get it? Easy money from the Fed can’t get the economy out of first gear when the rest of government is in reverse.
Trickle-down economics is the first cousin of austerity economics. Austerity is nuts when so many millions are out of work. And as we’ve learned before, trickle-down is a fraud. Nothing ever trickles down.
More than two million emails that shed light on the biggest tax dodge in history – trillions of dollars hidden in offshore accounts – have been uncovered by the British newspaper The Guardian and the Washington, D.C.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Some $32 trillion has been hidden in small island banking hubs which host a bevy of trust funds, shell corporations and other tax havens, the Tax Justice Network estimates.
Let that sink in for a moment. The implications are stupefying. The real effects of this are far more subtle, and pernicious, but this makes for a fun thought exercise – even setting aside the fact that only some percentage of this huge sum would fairly be taken as tax revenue.
The “CIA World Factbook” estimates the nominal Gross World Product is $71.83 trillion as of 2012. If you shine a light on that $32 trillion, and put it back on the books, the entire planet’s total product jumps by more than 44%. Every country on Earth would get a $163.2 billion windfall. High-speed rail and space programs for everyone!
If all $32 trillion was added to government coffers, that would be enough to give every man, woman and child alive on Earth today a roughly $4,600 “stimulus” check.
Maybe we could all enjoy a two-week vacation in the British Virgin Islands. After all, it seems to be the destination of choice for monied types…
The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences, wrapped in a facade of academic rigor.
Conspiracy theorists of the world, believers in the hidden hands of the Rothschilds and the Masons and the Illuminati, we skeptics owe you an apology. You were right. The players may be a little different, but your basic premise is correct: The world is a rigged game. We found this out in recent months, when a series of related corruption stories spilled out of the financial sector, suggesting the world’s largest banks may be fixing the prices of, well, just about everything.
You may have heard of the Libor scandal, in which at least three – and perhaps as many as 16 – of the name-brand too-big-to-fail banks have been manipulating global interest rates, in the process messing around with the prices of upward of $500 trillion (that’s trillion, with a “t”) worth of financial instruments. When that sprawling con burst into public view last year, it was easily the biggest financial scandal in history – MIT professor Andrew Lo even said it “dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets.”
That was bad enough, but now Libor may have a twin brother. Word has leaked out that the London-based firm ICAP, the world’s largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by American authorities for behavior that sounds eerily reminiscent of the Libor mess. Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world’s largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps.
If you work for 50 years and receive the typical long-term return of 7 percent on your 401(k) plan and your fees are 2 percent, almost two-thirds of your account will go to Wall Street. This was the bombshell dropped by Frontline’s Martin Smith in this Tuesday evening’s PBS program, The Retirement Gamble.
This is not so much a gamble as a certainty: under a 2 percent 401(k) fee structure, almost two-thirds of your working life will go toward paying obscene compensation to Wall Street; a little over one-third will benefit your family – and that’s before paying taxes on withdrawals to Uncle Sam.
To put it another way – you work for Wall Street. You are their slave, their lackey and as long as their toadies dominate in Congress, nothing is going to change on the legislative front to stop the looting.
The alchemists of Wall Street are at it again.
The banks that created risky amalgams of mortgages and loans during the boom — the kind that went so wrong during the bust — are busily reviving the same types of investments that many thought were gone for good. Once more, arcane-sounding financial products like collateralized debt obligations are being minted on Wall Street.
You’d think they’d have learned their lesson from the prosecutions, the forced break-ups, the clawbacks, the re-regulation, and our simple, pitiless lassez-faire approach of simply letting the worst of them fail.
Senator Warren: I just want to take a look at the Independent Foreclosure Review Payment Agreement details. I think you’ve probably all seen this one page agreement that lists all of the things that the banks did wrong and then boxes for how many people fall into each category and how much money they’re going to be paid. Is that right? You’ve all seen this? [Panel indicates they have seen it.] And this was put out – who put this out? I think this is put out by the OCC and Federal Reserve. Is that right? As part of the settlement details. So I just want to ask you about this. It has some pretty amazing categories here. The first category is about service members who were protected by Federal law whose homes were unlawfully foreclosed. It’s got people who were current on their payments whose homes were foreclosed. It’s got people who were performing all of the requirements under a modification who lost their homes to foreclosure. And it tells how many people fall into each category and how much money the people in that category will receive. And, it ultimately resolves what will happen to 3,949,896 families. So the question I have is having resolved this nearly 4 million families, who put the people, the families, into each of these boxes. Is that what your firms did. Mr. Ryan?
Owen Ryan, Partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP: No, Senator, we did not.
Senator Warren: So who put them in.
Ryan: I’m not sure how that schedule is prepared. I saw it for the first time yesterday.
Senator Warren: Mr. Flanagan?
James Flanagan, Leader, U.S. Financial Services Practice, Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP: Same response. We were not involved in the accumulation of that information.
Senator Warren: Mr. Alt?
Konrad Alt, Managing Director, Promontory Financial Group: Senator, I’ve seen the schedule but I’m not familiar with the basis for its preparation.
Senator Warren: So let me understand this. You ran the independent reviews, right. That’s what you got paid to do. And yet, I presume, the only one left is the banks must have put them in these boxes and you made no independent review of their going into these boxes. You were not asked to do that? Mr. Alt.
Alt: No Senator, we were not asked to do that.
Senator Warren: Mr. Flanagan.
Flanagan: No we were not.
Senator Warren: Mr. Ryan.
Ryan: We were not Senator.
Senator Warren: So that leaves us with the banks that broke the law were then the banks that decided how many people lost their homes because of their lawbreaking. And, as a result, how many people would collect money in each of these categories. Is that right Mr. Alt?
Alt: Senator, I’m not familiar with the basis for the scheduling.
Senator Warren: So far as you know, there’s no independent review of the banks’ analysis…you looked at 100,000 cases and the banks have now put 4 million people into categories and resolved finally how much they will get from this review by the OCC and the Federal Reserve.
“Swarming,” writes Mal Spooner, a Canadian money manager and financial columnist, “is the term now applied to the crime where an unsuspecting innocent bystander is attacked by several culprits at once… Because swarming at street level involves violence, it is criminal. However in financial markets it is perfectly legal.”
Bank of America will pay $36.8 million to members of the military it improperly foreclosed on between 2006 and 2010, according to a settlement it reached with the federal government in 2011, the Justice Department announced this week.
Bank of America was already paying 142 military members under the original 2011 agreement, but a further review required by the settlement found 155 additional military homeowners who were subject to improper foreclosures, the Justice Department said.
Imagine other crimes punished like banking institutions:
“You are charged with the theft of one 1995 Honda Accord, how do you plead?” “I admit no wrongdoing.” “That’s fine. You are thus hereby fined $5.33 for your crime, I can only hope this will deter you from further violations of the law.”
Millions of internal records have leaked from Britain’s offshore financial industry, exposing for the first time the identities of thousands of holders of anonymous wealth from around the world, from presidents to plutocrats, the daughter of a notorious dictator and a British millionaire accused of concealing assets from his ex-wife.
The leak of 2m emails and other documents, mainly from the offshore haven of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), has the potential to cause a seismic shock worldwide to the booming offshore trade, with a former chief economist at McKinsey estimating that wealthy individuals may have as much as $32tn (£21tn) stashed in overseas havens.
In France, Jean-Jacques Augier, President François Hollande’s campaign co-treasurer and close friend, has been forced to publicly identify his Chinese business partner. It emerges as Hollande is mired in financial scandal because his former budget minister concealed a Swiss bank account for 20 years and repeatedly lied about it.
In Mongolia, the country’s former finance minister and deputy speaker of its parliament says he may have to resign from politics as a result of this investigation.
But the two can now be named for the first time because of their use of companies in offshore havens, particularly in the British Virgin Islands, where owners’ identities normally remain secret.
The names have been unearthed in a novel project by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists [ICIJ], in collaboration with the Guardian and other international media, who are jointly publishing their research results this week.
Newly released data on corporate profitability for 2012 show the continuation of historic levels of profitability despite excessive unemployment and stagnant wages for most workers. Specifically, the share of capital income (such as profits and interest, which are hereafter referred to as ‘profits’) in the corporate sector increased to 25.6 percent in 2012, the highest in any year since 1950-1951 and far higher than the 19.9 percent share prevailing over 1969-2007, the five business cycles preceding the financial crisis…
We now have an economy built to assure high corporate profitability even when it’s operating far below capacity and when most families and workers are faring poorly. This is further evidence that there is a remarkable disconnect between the fortunes of business and those best-off (high-income households) and the vast majority.
More of the same. Can’t make up my mind about the category.
FURY erupted yesterday as it emerged that rich Russians withdrew £2billion BEFORE a tax raid on bank savings in Cyprus was announced.
The revelation came as Eurozone ministers proposed a plan to protect investors with under 100,000 euros (£85,700).
But British troops on the Mediterranean island were left fearing they may still lose out as the UK Government watered down a guarantee to safeguard their cash.
An earlier scheme to grab 6.75 per cent of smaller savings would see an estimated 60,000 British ex-pats — with £1.7billion in Cypriot banks — potentially losing thousands.
The controversial one-off tax was announced on Saturday as part of a 10billion euro bailout.
But Russian oligarchs and big investors emptied accounts in the days beforehand, prompting claims they were tipped off by bank insiders. A source told The Sun: “It leaked out. Bankers warned their best clients. Government officials warned their friends and relatives.
“Billions disappeared from accounts in days, most from accounts held by Russians.”