Monday, July 20, 2009

They're Back!!! (With a Vengence)

Our favorite charities are back in business, but this time not asking for handouts - just taking the money from us. CitiBank/CitiFinancial/CitiGroup (well, you get the idea), Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Smith Barney (whatever the full name is now), and a cast of other "BANKS", reported huge profits for the 2nd quarter or 2009. That must mean that the financial crisis that threatened life on the planet is now past! Well, yes and no or maybe, but we are not at all certain yet.

It is true that there were record earnings at some of these banks and they all did great, but it is where that got there profits that is disturbing, more so than the fact that after pleading for a bailout, they are ready to give out huge bonuses again. Little of the profits came from "banking" as consumers and small to mid-size businesses understand the term. Bank of America and CitiXxx had huge one-time profits from the sale of assets and from "investment banking". Ah ha you say - "banking is how they made money"! Not so quick grasshopper.

"Investment banking" is to "banking" (as most of us understand the word) as Burger King(R) is to a cooking a barbecued hamburger in your back yard. Char-broiled but to a different scale. Buying and selling securities, selling short, trading in commodities, dealing in derivatives, buying other businesses - and selling its assets at a profit, is what investment banking is. Making loans to small and mid-size business, or to people (unclean) is what it IS NOT.

Keep in mind that Goldman Sachs was one of the top firms that put mortgage loans into packages (securitization) and sold them at huge profits. When the value of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) began to crash Goldman "sold short. They "gambled" that the price would go down FAST and that they would fill the order to sell MBSs at the lower price. They made a small fortune while the rest of us lost millions in our 401Ks, IRAs, and had all credit stopped.

So, almost none of the money received from the government and from other financial incentives given during the crisis, went to new home mortgages, was used to modify existing mortgages to stop foreclosures, was used to keep the "mom-and pop shops" in business, or was loaned to small and mid-size firms to help them through the cycle so they would not have to lay-off 50% of their staffs, creating a nearly 10% unemployment rate. The rate of job losses is slowing, but still increasing in numbers.

The promised home loan modification process is not yet functioning. Mortgage modifications are more difficult to get than they were a month ago. Businesses keep laying-off workers because they have no business because other companies have had to minimize operations and they have reduced staff which has caused more foreclosures which has killed the building trades which has caused bankruptcies which has prevented many companies from being paid which has...

There are those economists and financial types who say now - "see, the free-market system is working". They were many of the same experts who cried foul at the bailout of AIG and Bank of America and Citi. The "free-market system" needed some help because of the lack of regulation in the late '90s and through 2007 that led to the crash from which we are trying to recover.

We have reached the point that we now know you cannot put CheezeWiz(R) back into the can.

Author's Copyright by Richard I. Isacoff, Esq., July 2009

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