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The Truth behind the Citigroup Bank “Nationalization”

“Global Research”  Excerpt — The clumsy way in which US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, himself not a banker but a Wall Street ‘investment banker’, whose experience has been in the quite different world of buying and selling stocks or bonds or underwriting and selling same, has handled the unfolding crisis has been worse than incompetent. It has made a grave situation into a globally alarming one.

‘Spitting into the wind’
A case in point is the secretive manner in which Paulson has used the $700 billion in taxpayer funds voted him by a labile Congress in September. Early on, Paulson put $125 billion in the nine largest banks, including $10 billion for his old firm, Goldman Sachs. However, if we compare the value of the equity share that $125 billion bought with the market price of those banks’ stock, US taxpayers have paid $125 billion for bank stock that a private investor could have bought for $62.5 billion, according to a detailed analysis from Ron W. Bloom, economist with the US United Steelworkers union, whose members as well as pension fund face devastating losses were GM to fail.

That means half of the public’s money was a gift to Paulson’s Wall Street cronies. Now, only weeks later, the Treasury is forced to intervene to de facto nationalize Citigroup. It won’t be the last.

Paulson demanded, and got from a labile US Congress, Democrat as well as Republican, sole discretion over how and where he can invest the $700 billion, to date with no effective oversight. It amounts to the Treasury Secretary in effect ‘spitting into the wind’ in terms of resolving the fundamental crisis.

It should be clear to any serious analyst by now that the September decision by Paulson to defer to rigid financial ideology and let the fourth largest US investment bank, Lehman Brothers fail, was the proximate trigger for the present global crisis. Lehman Bros.’ surprise collapse triggered the current global crisis of confidence. It was simply not clear to the rest of the banking world which US financial institution bank might be saved and which not, after the Government had earlier saved the far smaller Bear Stearns, while letting the larger, far more strategic Lehman Bros. fail.

Some Citigroup details
The most alarming aspect of the crisis is the fact that we are in an inter-regnum period when the next President has been elected but cannot act on the situation until after January 20, 2009 when he is sworn in.

Consider the details of the latest Citigroup government de facto nationalization (for ideological reasons Paulson and the Bush Administration hysterically avoid admitting they are in the process of nationalizing key banks). Citigroup has more than $2 trillion of assets, dwarfing companies such as American International Group Inc. that got some $150 billion in US taxpayer funds in the past two months. Ironically, only eight weeks before, the Government had designated Citigroup to take over the failing Wachovia Bank. Normally authorities have an ailing bank absorbed by a stronger one. In this instance the opposite seems to have been the case. Now it is clear that the Citigroup was in deeper trouble than Wachovia. In a matter of hours in the week before the US Government nationalization was announced, the stock value of Citibank plunged to $3.77 in New York, giving the company a market value of about $21 billion. The market value of Citigroup stock in December 2006 had been $247 billion. Two days before the bank nationalization the CEO, Vikram Pandit had announced a huge 52,000 job slashing plan. It did nothing to stop the slide.

The scale of the hidden losses of perhaps the twenty largest US banks is so enormous that if not before, the first Presidential decree of President Barack Obama will likely have to be declaration of a US ‘Bank Holiday’ and the full nationalization of the major banks, taking on the toxic assets and losses until the economy can again function with credit flowing to industry once more.

Citigroup and the government have identified a pool of about $306 billion in troubled assets. Citigroup will absorb the first $29 billion in losses. After that, remaining losses will be split between Citigroup and the government, with the bank absorbing 10% and the government absorbing 90%. The US Treasury Department will use its $700 billion TARP or Troubled Asset Recovery Program bailout fund, to assume up to $5 billion of losses. If necessary, the Government’s Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) will bear the next $10 billion of losses. Beyond that, the Federal Reserve will guarantee any additional losses. The measures are without precedent in US financial history. It’s by no means certain they will salvage the dollar system.

The situation is so intertwined, with six US major banks holding the vast bulk of worldwide financial derivatives exposure, that the failure of a single major US financial institution could result in losses to the OTC derivatives market of $300-$400 billion, a new IMF working paper finds. What’s more, since such a failure would likely cause cascading failures of other institutions. Total global financial system losses could exceed another $1,500 billion according to an IMF study by Singh and Segoviano.

Source: Global Research by F. William Engdahl / Information Clearing House 25.11.2008, full article here

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Get your Dollars Out Now!

ICH Excerpt– As Argentine citizens, we have a huge advantage over other peoples including US citizens when it comes to understanding and coping with this kind of crisis. I say this because in our own lifetimes we have suffered in Argentina all of what is now happening globally – albeit on a much smaller scale in our case. We’ve seen this movie… We’ve been there, and done that…

The events of the last two weeks have clearly revealed that the global financial, monetary and banking system imposed on the world by the power structures promoting “globalization” is fundamentally flawed, unviable and immoral in its effects upon the most all of Mankind. After allowing a small cabal of shady characters to illegitimately accumulate vast amounts of wealth and power over markets, corporations, industries, media, armed forces and entire nations, like the World Trade Center towers on 9/11, this entire System is now in free-fall, collapsing into itself in one massive implosion.

The 4 Pillars of the Extreme Capitalist Model – In short the key factors described above, in the long-term all function together in a coordinated, consistent and synchronized manner, which means that, even if in the short- and medium-terms there are spates of high profits where money is sloshed around big time, in the long-term the whole system just doesn’t add up. That’s when you have periodic meltdowns like today’s. Usually, they are explained away by well-paid economic gurus writing brainy explanations in The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times or New York Times, who tell us that this is all just part of “the economic cycle”. For the most part, they can isolate sections of those downturns and localize them, so that they only affect a couple of emerging markets…

Like Argentina in 2001, or Brasil in 1999, or Mexico in 1997. In short, these four pillars are:

1. Programmed Monetary Insufficiency – Artificially generated by an “independent” central bank, controlled by the local and global private banking institutions superstructure;

2. Private banking based on Fractional Reserves – As a system, this allows banks to create money out of thin air, charging interest for it – often at usury rates -, and generating huge profits for “investors” and creditors;

3. Debt – This is the key concept that “fuels” private and public economies replacing the far more economically sound concept of reinvesting company profits and promoting a savings culture. Those who benefit from the unnecessary creation of debt need to promote and instigate among the public at large in all countries, fericiously undisciplined consumerism and greed, which goes hand in hand with total rejection of the very concept of saving and preparing for a rainy day. (4)

4. Privatize Profits /Socialize Losses – As a channelling and transference scheme for the various stages of the recurrent “cycles”, so that when they reach the inexorable stage where collapse is nunavoidable, there is always a way of making the population at large pay the bill.

Source: Information Clearning House 3.10.2008, by Adrian Salbuchi economic analyst based in Argentina

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Chinese regulator says US lending was ‘ridiculous’

TIANJIN, China – U.S. lending standards before the global credit crisis were “ridiculous” and the world can learn from China’s more cautious system as it considers financial reforms, the top Chinese bank regulator said Saturday.

Beijing curbed mortgage lending in 2003 and 2006 to keep debt manageable amid a real estate boom, while American regulators responded to a similar situation by letting credit grow, said Liu Mingkang, chairman of the Chinese Banking Regulatory Commission.

“When U.S. regulators were reducing the down payment to zero, or they created so-called ‘reverse mortgages,’ we thought that was ridiculous,” Liu said at a World Economic Forum conference in the eastern Chinese city of Tianjin.

He said debt in the United States and elsewhere rose to “dangerous and indefensible” levels.

Liu’s comments were unusually pointed criticism of U.S. financial regulation for a Chinese official. They added to suggestions by countries that are under U.S. pressure to liberalize their financial markets that Washington’s model might not be ideal.

China has based its reforms on the U.S. system but has moved gradually. It has kept its financial markets isolated from global capital flows, prompting complaints by its trading partners.

As China made changes, “a lot of the time, we learned that what we had learned from our teacher the day before was wrong,” Liu said, referring to the U.S.

China’s state-owned banks have avoided the turmoil roiling Western markets. Chinese banks hold bonds from failed Wall Street house Lehman Brothers, but they are a tiny fraction of their vast assets.

Liu compared Washington’s proposed US$700 billion plan to revive credit markets to fast food and said the world needed to look at longer-term solutions.

“Fast food is convenient. This US$700 billion package must ease the concerns and build up confidence. But if you only take this, it doesn’t agree with your stomach. You should think about Chinese slow cooking and slow food,” he said.

Liu called for governments to create international standards and regulatory systems for globalized financial markets. He said Beijing has signed information-exchange agreements on financial regulation with 32 other countries since the turmoil began.

Liu pointed to China’s experience with real estate and the collapse of a stock market boom.

As stock prices in China soared, banks were ordered to make sure customers were not using loans or credit cards to finance speculation. As a result, Liu said banks have suffered no rise in loan defaults even though stock prices have plummeted 63 percent since the October 2007 peak.

“We Chinese can share our own experiences with all the market practitioners,” Liu said. “Maybe our experience cannot be applicable to developed markets fully. But still, I think it might be useful and helpful to those in emerging markets.”

Chinese and foreign businesspeople at the World Economic Forum, the Chinese leg of the forum based in Davos, Switzerland, said the credit crisis is likely to increase the influence of China and other emerging economies in the world financial system, though Wall Street will retain its leading role.

“I believe this kind of regional financial strength will play a bigger and more important role,” said Jiang Jianqing, chairman of state-owned Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the world’s biggest commercial lender by market capitalization.

“Right now the market is very unitary,” with U.S. bonds dominating global holdings, Jiang said. “This kind of a unitary, overcentralized market is something we need to change.”

Still, he said, Wall Street’s “dominance will continue.”

The European Union trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, defended the global capital markets structure, warning that drastic change might hurt prosperity.

“The capital market system, fundamentally, is not flawed,” Mandelson said. “We are not looking for some alternative, and I hope that people in the emerging markets, in China for example, are not looking for an alternative to properly functioning capital markets.”

The crisis is likely to reduce resistance in the West to investments by government funds as companies urgently seek capital, said Thomas Enders, CEO of the European aircraft producer Airbus Industrie.

Critics have questioned the possible political motives of state-run funds and an EU official warned last year they might face restrictions if they fail to disclose more information about their goals and tactics.

“I would dare to predict that, yes, one of the big changes we will see is greater acceptance of sovereign wealth funds,” Enders said.

Source: AP 26.09.2008 JOE McDONALD,AP Business Writer

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Mexico Bailout Mistakes May Provide Lessons for U.S. Lawmakers

Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) — U.S. legislators, under pressure to vote quickly on a $700 billion rescue fund for the U.S. financial system, may want to heed the missteps Mexico made more than a decade ago when its banks collapsed.

Mexico’s bailout, which the government said was needed to protect savings and homeowners, ended up costing taxpayers an estimated 20 percent of gross domestic product and slowed growth as credit dried up for consumers and small businesses instead of being re-activated. Many of the mistakes were rooted in a lack of oversight, said Bernardo Gonzalez-Arechiga, who served as a commissioner from 2002 to 2003 on the bailout agency, now known as the Bank Savings Protection Institute.

‘There’s a basic similarity, as it happened in Mexico, in the sense that the federal government is attempting to have an extremely broad capacity to conduct all types of activities with very weak oversight by Congress,” Gonzalez-Arechiga, a former head of Mexico’s derivative market, said in an interview.

Mexico is still paying on bonds it used to buy bad debt from banks that faced failure after the currency fell as much as 65 percent in December 1994 and Treasury-bill rates shot up to more than 80 percent. The government wasn’t able to ease the credit crunch, and the bailout also altered Mexico’s financial system, eventually putting the country’s four largest banks and 77 percent of all banks by assets in foreign hands.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke are asking Congress to approve $700 billion for the government to buy bad loans, improving banks’ balance sheets so they can continue loaning to consumers and businesses. The plan calls for eventually selling the assets to recover part or all of the money used in the rescue.

Grave Threats
Bernanke warned on Sept. 24 that the U.S. financial system faces “grave threats” if a rescue package isn’t approved.

The Treasury and Federal Reserve should seek an outside opinion on the breadth of the crisis to avoid having to come back to Congress for more funding, Gonzalez-Arechiga said. Mexico failed to grasp the magnitude of its financial crisis and was forced to introduce four debtor-relief programs that ended up treating different individuals unevenly, he said.

“Very often the politicians and government officials have an incentive to underestimate the extent of the problem,” he said.

According to a Mexican congressional auditor’s report, the bank bailout cost the government 1.25 trillion pesos ($99.7 billion) or 17 percent of the economy from 1995 through 2004. The government only recovered 43.6 billion pesos from the assets backing bad loans, the report said.

Pennies on the Dollar
The government issued Treasury notes to buy the bank loans at book value and then got pennies on the dollar with they resold them, said Rogelio Ramirez de la O, the founder and president of Ecanal, a Mexico City-based economic consulting firm.

Meanwhile, Mexican banks profited on the Treasury bills they received in exchange for bad loans, giving them a steady source of income and less incentive to provide loans to small businesses and consumers. Credit plummeted for more than a decade, delaying a recovery in wages and employment. The banks’ outstanding loans dropped by more than half to 1.08 trillion pesos at the end of 2004 from 2.22 trillion pesos a decade earlier.

“It was a great trade for the banks. For a while, the biggest asset in their balance sheets was government paper,” said Alonso Cervera, a senior economist with Credit Suisse in New York, who has covered Mexico since 1995. “They made a lot of money on these instruments.”

Don’t-Pay Culture

The U.S. also needs to safeguard against consumers and businesses adopting an attitude that they don’t need to meet their obligations because of the rescue, said Christopher Palmer, chief of global emerging markets for Gartmore Investment Management in London. Many Mexicans stopped paying on home, car and other loans after the government announced it was bailing out the banks, creating a phenomenon that Mexican bankers at the time labeled the “culture of not paying.”

“The lasting legacy of the Mexican crisis is that credit functions dried up because of this culture of not paying,” Palmer said. “That’s what Washington needs to be the most on the lookout for.”

The lack of capital in the Mexican financial system finally was resolved when foreign banks, such as Citigroup Inc., Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Banco Santander SA and HSBC Holdings PLC bought the country’s four largest banks.

“The main lesson is not to follow the Mexican example,” said Ramirez de la O, who advised former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador during the 2006 election campaign. “The Mexican rescue was much more wild and disorderly. It lent a lot to corruption because it was open-ended.”

Although Mexico’s tab exceeded original forecasts, the country did end up with tougher regulations that put the banks on more solid footing, Cervera said.  “The banks are now in very good shape,” Cervera said.

Source: Bloomberg 25.09.2008, Thomas Black in Monterrey, Mexico, at tblack@bloomberg.net.

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