Andrew Ross Sorkin on Wall Street Paying to Get Regulators
Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 04:00
Andrew Ross Sorkin used his column today to complain about the AFL-CIO and others making an issue over Wall Street banks paying unearned deferred compensation to employees who take positions in government. He argues that the people leaving Wall Street for top level government positions are victims of a “populist shakedown.”
In the housing bubble years the Wall Street folks made themselves incredibly wealthy packaging and selling bad mortgage backed securities. When this practice threatened to put them all into bankruptcy, the Treasury and Fed stepped in with a bottomless pile of below market interest rate loans and loan guarantees to keep them afloat.
This was explicit policy as former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner makes very clear in his autobiography. He commented repeatedly that there would be “no more Lehmans,” and he ridiculed the “old testament” types who thought that somehow the banks should be made to pay for their incompetence and left to the mercy of the market.
The result is that the Wall Street banks are bigger and more powerful than ever. By contrast, more than 10 million homeowners are still underwater, the cohort of middle income baby boomers are hitting retirement with virtually nothing but their Social Security and Medicare to support them, and most of the workforce is likely to go a decade without seeing wage growth. And Geithner is now making a fortune at a private equity company and gives every indication in his book of thinking that he had done a great job.
This state of affairs would probably not exist if the Treasury had been full of people without Wall Street connections. If we had more academics, union officials, and people with business backgrounds other than finance, it is likely that all the solutions to the economic crisis created by Wall Street would not have involved saving Wall Street as a first priority.
Bankers Who Commit Fraud, Like Murderers, Are Supposed to Go to Jail
Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 09:45
Wow, some things are really hard for elite media types to understand. In his column in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen struggles with how we should punish bankers who commit crimes like manipulating foreign exchange rates (or Libor rates, or pass on fraudulent mortgages in mortgage backed securities, or don’t follow the law in foreclosing on homes etc.).
Cohen calmly tells readers that criminal prosecutions of public companies are not the answer.
Cohen’s understanding of economics is a bit weak (most of these people quickly found other jobs), but more importantly he is utterly clueless about the issue at hand.
Individuals are profiting by breaking the law. The point is make sure that these individuals pay a steep personal price. This is especially important for this sort of white collar crime because it is so difficult to detect and prosecute. For every case of price manipulation that gets exposed, there are almost certainly dozens that go undetected.
This means that when you get the goods on a perp, you go for the gold — or the jail cell. We want bankers to know that if they break the law to make themselves even richer than they would otherwise be, they will spend lots of time behind bars if they get caught. This would be a real deterrent, unlike the risk that their employer might face some sort of penalty.
Why is it so hard for elite types to understand putting bankers in jail?
The Wall Street Journal Still Refuses to Grasp Accounting Control Fraud via Appraisal Fraud
By William K. Black, New Economic Perspectives
December 2, 2014
Even moderately-sized lenders have vastly greater power to successfully extort appraisers than does any residential borrower. It may be true that “many” borrowers tried to “pressure” appraisers to increase the appraisal, but the overwhelming source of such pressure was from lenders and their agents and virtually all of the successful pressure came from lenders and their agents.
Then New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation confirmed that the largest mortgage lenders were leading the extortion of the appraisers to inflate appraised values.
These … findings allow us to understand a great deal about the appraisal fraud epidemic.
- Appraisal fraud was endemic
- Appraisal fraud was led by the controlling officers of lenders and their agents
- No honest lender would ever coerce, or permit, the inflation of the appraised value because the home’s true value provides a critical protection to the lender
- The lenders’ controlling officers were deliberately creating a “Gresham’s” dynamic in which bad ethics drives good ethics out of the appraisal profession
- Honest lenders’ controlling officers could easily block such a Gresham’s dynamic by creating desirable financial incentives and internal controls that will block inflated appraisals
- Appraisal fraud optimizes accounting control fraud by lenders (and loan purchasers)
We now have well documented experience with two epidemics of appraisal fraud – the savings and loan debacle and the current crisis plus the developing epidemic. It should be very hard to get appraisal fraud wrong given these painful experiences and the appraisers’ astounding petition that made it inescapably clear no later than the year 2000 that there was an epidemic of appraisal fraud led by the lenders’ controlling officers. Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal is up to the task of getting it horrendously wrong.
The WSJ’s title for its article on appraisal fraud makes obvious that it has learned nothing from two fraud epidemics in two crises a quarter-century apart. “Dodgy Home Appraisals are Making a Comeback: Industry Executives See Parallels With Pre-Crisis Valuations, Regulators are Wary.” Every aspect of the title is disingenuous. The bank “executives see parallels” because they have run the same appraisal fraud scheme twice only a few years apart. That is one of the immense social costs of failing to prosecute the banksters that led the fraud epidemics that drove the financial crisis. “Dodgy” is a misleading euphemism for “fraud.” The article uses the word “fraud” only once. Even then, it uses the word “fraud” only to describe civil investigations of appraisal fraud by Freddie Mac.
The WSJ’s key sources for the article – “Industry Executives” – are the “perps” leading the frauds. The WSJ article, however, never even considers the possibility that they are (again) leading the effort to extort appraisers to inflate the appraised value.
The obvious question, except to the WSJ, is why the banks’ controlling officers continue to design perverse compensation systems for loan officers. The loan officers don’t design their own compensation systems. Everyone saw in the most recent crisis that the compensation systems designed and implemented by the banks’ controlling officers were exceptionally criminogenic and had the inevitable effect of creating the three fraud epidemics that drove the financial crisis. We have known for over a century that if you pay loan officers on the basis of loan origination volume you will produce endemic fraud. No bank CEO can claim with a straight face to be “shocked, shocked” that when he creates perverse compensation incentives the result is endemic fraud.
The WSJ, however, tries to make it appear that the ever-so-honest managers are paragons of virtue who first create compensation systems that create overwhelming incentives that produce endemic loan origination fraud by loan officers – and then strive mightily to limit the resultant endemic fraud that they caused.
(It) claims that “banks” were hiring AMCs in an effort to try to prevent the bank’s corrupt loan officers from extorting appraisers to inflate appraisals. “Banks,” of course, are incapable of having any true intent. The article actually means to claim that the banks are run by honest CEOs who are making strident efforts to ensure that their corrupt loan officers do not extort appraisers to engage in appraisal fraud. Given that premise, the obvious question is the one I raised above – why do those same CEOs create the perverse incentives that corrupt the loan officers and create their overwhelming incentive to extort appraisers to commit appraisal fraud if the CEO is dedicated to preventing appraisal fraud? There is also an obvious way for bank CEOs to end promptly the coercion of appraisers by the bank’s corrupt loan officers – fire the corrupt loan officers and the appraisers who succumb to their extortion.
(T)he AMCs are now extorting appraisers to inflate appraisals. The article reports that “some” claim that the reason that the AMCs are extorting appraisers to inflate the appraisals is that the AMC’s are being extorted by the “lenders.” This should, of course, lead the author to explain what that word refers to. In context, it seems to admit the truth – that the extortion is led by the officers that control corporate policy, i.e., the bank CEOs. So much for the WSJ’s claim that the banks’ controlling officers are the good guys betrayed by the fraud mice.
The funniest line in the title is “Regulators are Wary.” The Clinton and Bush administration anti-regulators were the recipients of the appraisers’ petition. They took no meaningful action to block the Gresham’s dynamic and the resultant epidemic of appraisal fraud. The Obama administration anti-regulators and anti-prosecutors have not prosecuted or sanctioned any senior banker for his role in leading the epidemic of appraisal fraud. The anti-regulators are so far from “wary,” and have been for so many years, that picturing them as vigilant rather than oblivious is very funny. An extremely careful reader of the article would realize that the article does not report that the supposedly “wary” regulators actually did anything that would be effective in stopping endemic appraisal fraud.
No bank officer was sanctioned administratively by the regulators, sued by them, or prosecuted. No enforcement action is described as being taken by the OCC against any bank. The OCC is not described as adopting any rule. The OCC is not described as having made a single criminal referral. If this is what the WSJ thinks describes a “wary” regulator’s response to a fraud epidemic then they are delusional. I have explained in prior articles that the head of the OCC is an anti-regulator who has expressly refused to make ending control frauds led by bank CEOs a regulatory priority. Note that the OCC not only failed to use the word “fraud” to describe appraisal fraud, it also attributed the endemic appraisal fraud to preposterous explanations such as insufficient staff “training” and “oversight.”