“Rückkauf von Ramschpapieren”

Buyback of junk paper. How Spiegel headlined the U.S.’s Federal Housing Finance Authority’s 23 Aug 2014 announcement that Goldman Sachs will buy back overrated mortgage-backed paper it sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac between 2005 and 2007. Goldman will pay $3.15 billion which is $1.2 billion more than the investments are worth today.

When the U.S.’s speculation in debt caused the global financial crisis in 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had to be bailed out by US taxpayers for $187 billion.

$1.2 billion is apparently the biggest fine Goldman Sachs has ever paid in its >140-year history, according to the Wall Street Times.

As part of this deal, Goldman will not have to admit any wrongdoing. It can pay this fine from its reserves.

The F.H.F.A. filed a lawsuit against 18 financial institutions in 2011 for selling Fannie and Freddie $196 billion in mortgage-backed securities with inaccurate risk evaluations.

The U.S.’s Securities and Exchange Commission has meanwhile also fined banks hundreds of millions for selling Fannie and Freddie hundreds of billions in bad mortgage-backed securities.

(RICK ow! f   fonn   ROMSH pop ear en.)


The “autocomplete trap.”

Goldman Sachs is suing Google to force deletion of an email containing confidential customer information that Goldman’s contractor’s employee accidentally sent to a gmail account. Goldman also wants to know who has had access to the information in the email.

(Ow! toe fair FOAL shtenned ee goongs FALL ah.)


ISDAfix benchmark reference.

The International Swaps and Derivatives Association, Inc., website at ISDA.org said the ISDAfix is “the leading benchmark for annual swap rates for swap transactions worldwide.” Bloomberg* BusinessWeek.com’s April 2013 article called ISDAfix “a benchmark in the $379 trillion market for interest rate swaps, which corporations and governments use to fine-tune their borrowing costs.” Süddeutsche Zeitung’s August 2013 estimate was that a $450 trillion market was affected by this benchmark. A Reuters.com* Jan. 2014 market estimate was even higher: “The organization’s ISDAfix benchmark is an important reference point underlying contracts in the $630 trillion derivatives market, and ICAP collects data for the U.S. dollar-denominated part of it.”

The data used to set the US$ section of the ISDAfix benchmark were provided by thirteen banks to the New Jersey office of a U.K. broker or “intermediary trader” known as ICAP. U.K. financial data company Thomson Reuters* calculated the benchmark prices from ICAP’s banks’ data for the US$ section and from data it collected directly from banks for the other currencies. ICAP published its ISDAfix benchmark prices on a Reuters page every morning at 11 a.m. and updated them throughout the day based on reported transactions. ICAP’s data entry was not automated.

The S.Z. said Germany’s BaFin finance regulator started investigating ISDAfix fixing after Bloomberg reported that the U.S.A.’s Commodity Futures Trading Commission financial regulator was investigating perhaps fifteen banks and about a dozen current and former ICAP traders for possible pricing collusion.

Background from Bloomberg BusinessWeek.com:

“In their simplest form, swaps are used by investors to exchange a fixed interest rate for a floating one, or vice versa. They also come in profoundly more complicated flavors, and altogether they constitute more than half of the $639 trillion global derivatives market. ISDAfix, used by traders to settle contracts and value positions, is commonly found in hybrid securities known as structured notes that are popular with wealthy investors. While they affect everything from pension annuities to commercial real estate investments, ISDAfix rates are esoteric even by the standards of structured finance. …

“…Banks could earn millions by persuading ICAP brokers to delay their manual entry of data. Publishing stale prices can boost profits for banks dramatically. On a $500 million swap that matures in 20 years, for example, a delay that prevents the instrument from moving one basis point (0.01 percent) equals $1 million in profit for the dealer. […Also, ICAP’s] brokers match dealers by phone, then enter transactions into the 19901 screen by hand. The firm is paid commissions based on the size of the trades it matches.”

FT.com described a 2010 FT.com article saying that “prices capable of influencing Isdafix through the rate-setting process sometimes appeared to move in ways beneficial to a handful of banks.”

The ICAP brokerage was also hired to execute many ISDAfix-related trades for reasons that could have included exerting extra influence on ICAP-mediated benchmarks, said an online article from Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal*.

A 25 Sep 2013 Bloomberg.com article seemed to indicate that brokers were particularly able to game off-market trading price benchmarks, particularly in slow economic times when those relying on brokers’ reported pricing data had fewer sales of their own to glean comparable pricing data from. “To promote market integrity, it is critical that benchmark interest rates be anchored in observable transactions,” said C.F.T.C. chair Gary Gensler in 2013.

Update on 26 Sep 2013: ICAP was fined £55 million “for control failures that allowed employees to engage in Libor rigging” said an online Financial Times article. After admitting L.I.B.O.R. control failures, which the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority also called a poor compliance culture, the huge brokerage firm argued against reducing its ISDAfix role, saying that would give undue influence to the banks submitting ISDAfix pricing data. ICAP, the world’s largest broker for interbank transactions, couldn’t have been gaming the ISDAfix benchmark’s timing because people would have noticed, ICAP said.

Update on 26 Jan 2014: It was announced that ICAP was to be removed from its middleman role in ISDAfix, which was to be restructured so that banks would submit US$ pricing data to Thomson Reuters directly, said Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ.com. Thomson Reuters has been collecting the non-US$ ISDAfix data directly from banks for years, said Reuters.com, but the US$ data from ICAP for >15 years: “[ICAP] had been providing ‘snapshots’ using transaction-based information from its BrokerTec platform in addition to information from recent deals, the second source said, but the process would now return purely to a poll of participating banks.” Apparently the snapshots involved removing some outliers and averaging the data. ICAP said, “We appreciate ISDA’s interest in having a consistent polling process across each of the relevant currencies and fixings.”

ISDA said moving ISDAfix pricing data for all currencies to Reuters is a first step toward their goal of defining the benchmark based on actual trades (“live prices from trading venues” said FT.com), not just data submitted by banks. The new system will also be automated: “The second stage will be the move to an automated, market-based ISDAfix rate setting process, which is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2014,” said an ISDA spokesperson. ISDA said they will create a code of conduct and oversight committee for the benchmark.

ICAP’s C.E.O. Michael Spencer helped create the ISDAfix benchmark fifteen years ago. Reporting on the ISDAfix benchmark described ISDA as the benchmark’s “overseer” and as a lobbying group.

Update on 09 Mar 2014: Thomson Reuters has been granted U.K. regulatory approval to create a benchmark services subsidiary to handle the ~160 benchmarks the company helps calculate, including L.I.B.O.R. International benchmark regulations are about to be tightened this summer, according to a letter sent last summer by the International Organization of Securities Commissions (“a global body of central banks. They include oversight of third parties and policies for managing conflicts of interest” –FT.com) warning companies they had one year before new stricter rules. “Administrators of financial market benchmarks have to prove by the July deadline that they have improved systems for monitoring submitted figures,” said FT.com.

* The U.K.’s Reuters press agency was reporting on financial news related to the ISDAfix and it belongs to Thomson Reuters (since the Canadian Thomson Corp. bought Reuters in 2008). The parent company of Bloomberg News “competes with ICAP in some businesses, including foreign-exchange and swaps trading, and with Thomson Reuters in providing financial news and data” according to their disclaimer in an ISDAfix article. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. owns the Wall Street Journal and owned Dow Jones from 2007 to 2010, when it sold it to the C.M.E., Chicago Mercantile Exchange/Chicago Board of Trade group.

(EESS dah feex   ref ah R-R-RENTS veaht.)

Gehaltszulage, Taschengeld, Spesen

“Extra salary,”

“pocket money,”

and the German word that, depending on how loosely your company defines it, may mean money for expenses, room and board, sundries, fees, entertainment. “Ausser Spesen nichts gewesen” (ow! sah   SHPAY zen   nix    geh VEY zen) means a sales trip occurred in which few positive results were achieved apart from enjoying the per diem for expenses.

After the E.U. capped bankers’ bonuses at 1x to 2x annual salary, London banks have started renaming their lagniappes in ways that don’t easily translate into German. Last fall some of the bonus lolly was being paid as “top up” money, and now they’re being called “allowances.”

NYTimes.com said new nomenclature may also include “role-based pay” and “reviewable salary.”

Gray areas are being found, NYTimes.com said, between fixed pay and variable pay. The new bonuses can include giving employees variable pay at fixed, regular time intervals, not having it count toward a pension, resetting it every year like a salary, changing it in response to environmental factors like a bonus.

Renaming bonuses may make it harder to “claw” them back after risk management mistakes, as well as impede efforts to encourage employees to take a longer-term view by e.g. requiring bonuses to be paid out in installments over several years.

(G’HALT soo log en,   TOSH en geld,   SHPAY zen.)

Beseeltes Lächeln und im Sorgen um Amerika gekräuseltes Stirn

A ZDF heute journal reporter’s description of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s unique look: his beatifically uplifted smile, his forehead wrinkled with concern about America.

(Beh ZALE dess   LAY chh hell n   oont   im   ZOR-R-RG en   oom   om AIR eek ah   geh CROY zell dess   STEER n.)


Price of copper.

After lobbying by firms claiming reducing copper supply would not drive up copper prices, in December 2012 exiting U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary L. Schapiro gave the banks Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and BlackRock the S.E.C.’s approval to buy up 80% of the copper available on the market and hold it in warehouses as backing for new copper-based investment funds. The NYTimes.com article went on to say copper is used in so many manufacturing applications that it is sometimes tracked as an indicator for the economy as a whole.

(COOP fur prize.)


In 2011 a Goldman Sachs study apparently stated that market speculation had indeed helped drive up the price of oil for consumers. In 2012 U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commissioner Bart Chilton said, “Using the Goldman Sachs research figure, and multiplying 10 cents times 233.9 million, would mean that theoretically there’s a ‘speculative premium’ of as much as $23.39 a barrel in the price of NYMEX crude oil.” Mr. Chilton has also said that the commodities business is a possible loophole for banks in the U.S.’s new frequently-postponed “Volcker rule” intended to reseparate banking from investment gambling.

Potential oil bottleneck points persist in privately held and/or operated oil infrastructure. Oil traders now own oil refineries. Pipelines are included in the infrastructure large banks have somehow acquired part ownership of. U.S. bank Morgan Stanley invested in the “global oil tanker operator” Heidmar in addition to “fuel chain supply manager” TransMontaigne. An F.A.Z. article described how the world’s three largest oil trading firms, Switzerland-based Gunvor, Vitol and Glencore—”prescient” commodity markets pioneer Marc Rich’s old firm—work today, supposedly on the basis of fast-computer-based price arbitrage rather than speculation. Moving into production, Glencore is now invested in oil wells, coal mines and metals mines, after its late-2012 fusion with Swiss competitor Xstrata.

Apparently a landmark 2003 U.S. Federal Reserve decision allowed U.S. investment banks to start “trading oil cargoes.” In July 2013 the Fed announced it was “reviewing” that decision. Though Fed deregulation may have unleashed the Wall Street side of recent international commodities speculation problems, the Fed probably cannot fix it now without simultaneous coordinated reforms from other regulators around the world.

(ILL prize.)


Spot market, where financial instruments or commodities are sold for immediate delivery, unlike the futures market where they are sold for delivery at a later date. Wikipedia said a spot market can be an organized market, an exchange or over-the-counter (O.T.C.).

Regarding the spot market price of aluminum: Goldman Sachs was accused of bottlenecking aluminum at Goldman’s Metro International aluminum warehouses outside Detroit, increasing customers’ delivery wait times since purchasing M.I. in 2010 from six weeks to sixteen months by first lowering prices to attract a stockpile (“50,000 tons in 2008” to “~1.5 million currently”) and then, actually, trucking a minimum daily regulatory-defined shipment amount of 3000 tons back and forth among the 27 warehouses. There were also accusations of understaffing, reduced shifts and prioritizing putting aluminum into storage over taking it out. The shuttle-shuffled delays raised a premium added to the price of all aluminum, driving up the spot market price “according to an arcane formula” even for metals bought directly from mines or refineries to bypass these warehouses. While delaying delivery the warehouses also continued charging rent on the stored metal. Perfectly legal according to current international regulations, apparently set by the London Metal Exchange.

The London Metal Exchange might need more disentanglement from the entities it is supposed to regulate. According to the NYTimes.com article, it still receives 1% of the rents collected by the ~700 warehouses it regulates around the world. Until 2012 it was owned by its member regulees, including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Barclays and Citigroup. Many of its metals warehousing regulations were written by a board populated by executives from banks, trading companies and storage companies. In July 2012 the L.M.E. was sold to Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, part-owned by the Hong Kong government, for ~$2 billion. A NYTimes.com description of the 2012 sale said it “will allow the Asian company to control the world’s largest futures trading exchange for metals like aluminum, copper and zinc, as emerging market demand for commodities remains strong.” In 2012 Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing was supposedly hoping to get an exemption from Chinese laws preventing foreign companies from owning these sorts of metals warehouses in China.

The U.S.’s Federal Reserve Board could, said NYTimes.com, quit extending exemptions that allow banks like Goldman Sachs to invest in nonfinancial enterprises. Though the Fed’s stated conditions in allowing banks to diversify into commodities investment were “only if there was no risk to the banking system” and if the deals “could ‘reasonably be expected to produce benefits to the public, such as greater convenience, increased competition, or gains in efficiency, that outweigh possible adverse effects, such as undue concentration of resources, decreased or unfair competition, conflicts of interests, or unsound banking practices,'” yet many people would say its deregulation achieves the opposite effects, that big “diversified” banks’ risk management still appears to endanger U.S. and world economies and now banks’ having bought up important infrastructure might be presenting them with irresistable temptations such as artificial bottlenecking or even information advantages not all traders always refrain from using.

Update on 25 Jul 2013: The U.S. Senate’s banking committee has criticized that the Federal Reserve is not communicating well with them. However, wrote the F.A.Z., the U.S. Congress could pass its own banking reregulation rules without waiting for the Federal Reserve.

It’s unclear whether shadow trades are involved here, but it’s also unclear why everyone hasn’t gone broke if this is how they’re doing business:

“Industry analysts and company insiders say that the vast majority of the aluminum being moved around Metro’s warehouses is owned not by manufacturers or wholesalers, but by banks, hedge funds and traders. They buy caches of aluminum in financing deals. Once those deals end and their metal makes it through the queue, the owners can choose to renew them, a process known as rewarranting.”

If Goldman is indeed paying aluminum owners, fellow speculators, to rewarrant their metal and leave it in the warehouses piling up rent owed to Goldman, that might indicate some creative profits or at least useful losses are being made.

Aluminum is economically important enough that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has been giving aluminum refineries, notoriously high-volume electricity consumers, various electricity rebates that must be paid for by individual consumers or “ratepayers” in their home electricity bills because, Germany’s government said, the preservation of the aluminium supply was that significant for their economy as a whole.

(SHPOTT mocked.)

“Nicht mit Ruhm bekleckert”

“Didn’t dribble glory on themselves,” in predicting the 2008 global financial troubles—from Thomas Thiel’s review of social scientist and publicist Werner Rügemer‘s 2012 book about the world’s three major financial ratings agencies.

In his book, Rügemer discussed the “curious financing model” in which clients pay for the grades they receive. Managerially, Rügemer said, many of the same people are members of the boards of the big three ratings agencies, the companies that own the ratings agencies, and the ratings agencies’ clients. Thiel:

“The deeper Rügemer goes into the ownership relationships, the more there unfolds a conglomerate of hedge funds, banks and companies that is worrying in how functionally interwoven it is. Market leader Standard & Poor’s for example belongs to the media house McGraw Hill, which mainly belongs to large investment funds such as BlackRock and Vanguard. These funds own many companies that are regularly/standardly/by default evaluated by the ratings agencies. In addition, many of the same funds are the shareholders behind Moody’s and S&P, such as the investment giant Capital Group. Seated on the supervisory boards (Aufsichtsrat) of the agencies there are companies like Coca-Cola or the pharma company Eli Lilly, plus banks and insurance companies such as Allianz, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.”

McGraw Hill owns another agency that is very important for setting world oil prices: Platts. Der Spiegel said Platts is the world’s largest energy information service. On Tuesday, 14 May 2013, the EU raided Platts’ London offices and offices of three big European oil companies, Shell (Holland), Statoil (Norway) and BP (UK), seeking information about price fixing allegedly achieved by slight distortions of data going into Platts. If said international oil price distortion occurred, it may have started in 2002.

Background info from the Wall Street Journal: the international “physical-oil market” is worth $2.5 trillion. “Index-publishing firms like Platts derive their prices from self-reported transaction data from participants in deals.”

(Nicked   mitt   ROOM   bah KLECK aht.)

Geschäftsführung und Aufsicht in einer Hand

“Management and management oversight in one hand.” Combining monitoring and management roles into one job held by one manager supposed to check themselves.

There can be overlap in groups as well. Apparently the board of directors running a German company and the supervisory board (Aufsichtsrat) that monitors the board of directors may not contain the same people, but this exclusion does not apply in the USA where, writes the F.A.Z., e.g. when the supervisory board approves the compensation of the management board, people who happen to be in both groups will at best merely abstain from voting.

(Geh SHEFTS foor oong   oond   OW! f sichht   in   eye ner   Hond.)

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