I’m not sure if this is information we already knew from the Fed audit, or an additional set of data, or maybe just the specifics that came out of that Bloomberg FOIA request. At any rate, Bloomberg has presented it in a very direct manner with a very provocative title: “Wall Street Aristocracy Got $1.2 Trillion in Secret Fed Loans.” I think some activist snuck into the Bloomberg offices and wrote this report.
Citigroup Inc. (C) and Bank of America Corp. (BAC) were the reigning champions of finance in 2006 as home prices peaked, leading the 10 biggest U.S. banks and brokerage firms to their best year ever with $104 billion of profits.
By 2008, the housing market’s collapse forced those companies to take more than six times as much, $669 billion, in emergency loans from the U.S. Federal Reserve. The loans dwarfed the $160 billion in public bailouts the top 10 got from the U.S. Treasury, yet until now the full amounts have remained secret.
Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s unprecedented effort to keep the economy from plunging into depression included lending banks and other companies as much as $1.2 trillion of public money, about the same amount U.S. homeowners currently owe on 6.5 million delinquent and foreclosed mortgages. The largest borrower, Morgan Stanley (MS), got as much as $107.3 billion, while Citigroup took $99.5 billion and Bank of America $91.4 billion, according to a Bloomberg News compilation of data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, months of litigation and an act of Congress.
If anyone from the Federal Reserve gets asked about this, I suppose they would respond by saying that no taxpayer money was lost, so be glad that us masters of the universe saved the economy. First, the economy doesn’t feel saved to most people. And the continuation of zombie banks that should have been unwound is one reason. Second, this “ends justify the means” alibi is extremely pernicious. Lots of people, businesses and collectives could have used $1.2 trillion in no-interest loans in 2008 (the collateral for these loans was really next to nothing as well). Only the biggest banks in America and some select multinational corporations got them. Access to the Fed emergency lending programs was similar to access to Studio 54 in the late 70s; it was all about who you know. This is the classic portrait of a plutocracy. And it’s not only an inversion of the free market, if that still exists or ever existed in America, but it represents a kind of looting of public coffers.
I also hope that anyone foolish enough to still talk about how TARP worked takes a look at this emergency lending program, which dwarfs TARP in terms of the money involved. TARP was merely a way to get Congress on the hook for a program that the Fed was engaged in anyway. The other part of this is that it shows how the idea that Dodd-Frank ended too big to fail is such fiction. The Fed will simply ramp up these emergency lending programs again. As Kenneth Rogoff says in the piece, regulators are “not going to go far enough to prevent this from happening again.” That’s because they probably see no reason to.
Bloomberg has a neat visualization of the emergency lending, where you can see all the participants, including all the foreign banks and multinational corporations.
As Marcy Wheeler writes, this money could have been lent out to people. It went to the largest banks in the world, in the hopes that stabilizing the financial system would also stabilize the economy. That didn’t work.
I would be nice for Ben Bernanke to get asked about this when he makes his big speech at Jackson Hole. But don’t hold your breath.