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Unlike coins and paper bills, which cannot be written down or given a “haircut,” says Napier, deposits are now “just part of commercial banks’ capital structure.” That means they can be “bailed in” or confiscated to save the megabanks from derivative bets gone wrong.

New G20 Rules: Cyprus-style Bail-ins to Take Deposits AND Pensions

by Ellen Brown

On the weekend of November 16th, the G20 leaders whisked into Brisbane, posed for their photo ops, approved some proposals, made a show of roundly disapproving of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and whisked out again. It was all so fast, they may not have known what they were endorsing when they rubber-stamped the Financial Stability Board’s “Adequacy of Loss-Absorbing Capacity of Global Systemically Important Banks in Resolution,” which completely changes the rules of banking.

Russell Napier, writing in ZeroHedge, called it “the day money died.” In any case, it may have been the day deposits died as money. Unlike coins and paper bills, which cannot be written down or given a “haircut,” says Napier, deposits are now “just part of commercial banks’ capital structure.” That means they can be “bailed in” or confiscated to save the megabanks from derivative bets gone wrong.

Rather than reining in the massive and risky derivatives casino, the new rulesprioritize the payment of banks’ derivatives obligations to each other, ahead of everyone else. That includes not only depositors, public and private, but the pension funds that are the target market for the latest bail-in play, called “bail-inable” bonds.

“Bail in” has been sold as avoiding future government bailouts and eliminating too big to fail (TBTF). But it actually institutionalizes TBTF, since the big banks are kept in business by expropriating the funds of their creditors.

It is a neat solution for bankers and politicians, who don’t want to have to deal with another messy banking crisis and are happy to see it disposed of by statute. But a bail-in could have worse consequences than a bailout for the public. If your taxes go up, you will probably still be able to pay the bills. If your bank account or pension gets wiped out, you could wind up in the street or sharing food with your pets.

In theory, US deposits under $250,000 are protected by federal deposit insurance; but deposit insurance funds in both the US and Europe are woefully underfunded, particularly when derivative claims are factored in. The problem is graphically illustrated in this chart from a March 2013 ZeroHedge post:


Deposits vs Reserves vs Derivs_0 #2

More on that after a look at the new bail-in provisions and the powershift they represent.

Bail-in in Plain English

The Financial Stability Board (FSB) that now regulates banking globally began as a group of G7 finance ministers and central bank governors organized in a merely advisory capacity after the Asian crisis of the late 1990s. Although not official, its mandates effectively acquired the force of law after the 2008 crisis, when the G20 leaders were brought together to endorse its rules. This ritual now happens annually, with the G20 leaders rubberstamping rules aimed at maintaining the stability of the private banking system, usually at public expense.

According to an International Monetary Fund paper titled “From Bail-out to Bail-in: Mandatory Debt Restructuring of Systemic Financial Institutions”:

[B]ail-in . . . is a statutory power of a resolution authority (as opposed to contractual arrangements, such as contingent capital requirements) to restructure the liabilities of a distressed financial institution by writing down its unsecured debt and/or converting it to equity. The statutory bail-in power is intended to achieve a prompt recapitalization and restructuring of the distressed institution.

The language is a bit obscure, but here are some points to note:

  • What was formerly called a “bankruptcy” is now a “resolution proceeding.” The bank’s insolvency is “resolved” by the neat trick of turning its liabilities into capital. Insolvent TBTF banks are to be “promptly recapitalized” with their “unsecured debt” so that they can go on with business as usual.
  • “Unsecured debt” includes deposits, the largest class of unsecured debt of any bank. The insolvent bank is to be made solvent by turning our money into their equity – bank stock that could become worthless on the market or be tied up for years in resolution proceedings.
  • The power is statutory. Cyprus-style confiscations are to become the law.
  • Rather than having their assets sold off and closing their doors, as happens to lesser bankrupt businesses in a capitalist economy, “zombie” banks are to be kept alive and open for business at all costs – and the costs are again to be to borne by us.

The Latest Twist: Putting Pensions at Risk with “Bail-Inable” Bonds

First they came for our tax dollars. When governments declared “no more bailouts,” they came for our deposits. When there was a public outcry against that, the FSB came up with a “buffer” of securities to be sacrificed before deposits in a bankruptcy. In the latest rendition of its bail-in scheme, TBTF banks are required to keep a buffer equal to 16-20% of their risk-weighted assets in the form of equity or bonds convertible to equity in the event of insolvency.

Called “contingent capital bonds”, “bail-inable bonds” or “bail-in bonds,” these securities say in the fine print that the bondholders agree contractually (rather than being forced statutorily) that if certain conditions occur (notably the bank’s insolvency), the lender’s money will be turned into bank capital.

However, even 20% of risk-weighted assets may not be enough to prop up a megabank in a major derivatives collapse. And we the people are still the target market for these bonds, this time through our pension funds.

In a policy brief from the Peterson Institute for International Economics titled “Why Bail-In Securities Are Fool’s Gold”, Avinash Persaud warns, “A key danger is that taxpayers would be saved by pushing pensioners under the bus.”

It wouldn’t be the first time. As Matt Taibbi noted in a September 2013  article titled “Looting the Pension Funds,” “public pension funds were some of the most frequently targeted suckers upon whom Wall Street dumped its fraud-riddled mortgage-backed securities in the pre-crash years.”

Wall Street-based pension fund managers, although losing enormous sums in the last crisis, will not necessarily act more prudently going into the next one. All the pension funds are struggling with commitments made when returns were good, and getting those high returns now generally means taking on risk.

Other than the pension funds and insurance companies that are long-term bondholders, it is not clear what market there will be for bail-in bonds. Currently, most holders of contingent capital bonds are investors focused on short-term gains, who are liable to bolt at the first sign of a crisis. Investors who held similar bonds in 2008 took heavy losses. In a Reuters sampling of potential investors, many said they would not take that risk again. And banks and “shadow” banks are specifically excluded as buyers of bail-in bonds, due to the “fear of contagion”: if they hold each other’s bonds, they could all go down together.

Whether the pension funds go down is apparently not of concern.

Propping Up the Derivatives Casino: Don’t Count on the FDIC

Kept inviolate and untouched in all this are the banks’ liabilities on their derivative bets, which represent by far the largest exposure of TBTF banks.According to the New York Times:

American banks have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books, and they earn some of their biggest profits from trading in them.

These biggest of profits could turn into their biggest losses when the derivatives bubble collapses.

Both the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005 and the Dodd Frank Act provide special protections for derivative counterparties, giving them the legal right to demand collateral to cover losses in the event of insolvency. They get first dibs, even before the secured deposits of state and local governments; and that first bite could consume the whole apple, as illustrated in the above chart.

The chart also illustrates the inadequacy of the FDIC insurance fund to protect depositors. In a May 2013 article in USA Today titled “Can FDIC Handle the Failure of a Megabank?”, Darrell Delamaide wrote:

[T]he biggest failure the FDIC has handled was Washington Mutual in 2008. And while that was plenty big with $307 billion in assets, it was a small fry compared with the $2.5 trillion in assets today at JPMorgan Chase, the $2.2 trillion at Bank of America or the $1.9 trillion at Citigroup.

. . . There was no possibility that the FDIC could take on the rescue of a Citigroup or Bank of America when the full-fledged financial crisis broke in the fall of that year and threatened the solvency of even the biggest banks.

That was, in fact, the reason the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve had to step in to bail out the banks: the FDIC wasn’t up to the task. The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act was supposed to ensure that this never happened again. But as Delamaide writes, there are “numerous skeptics that the FDIC or any regulator can actually manage this, especially in the heat of a crisis when many banks are threatened at once.”

All this fancy footwork is to prevent a run on the TBTF banks, in order to keep their derivatives casino going with our money. Warren Buffett called derivatives “weapons of financial mass destruction,” and many commentators warn that they are a time bomb waiting to explode. When that happens, our deposits, our pensions, and our public investment funds will all be subject to confiscation in a “bail in.” Perhaps it is time to pull our money out of Wall Street and set up our own banks – banks that will serve the people because they are owned by the people.

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Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. Her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 200+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com.

From Austerity to Prosperity:

Why I Am Running for California Treasurer

 

Ellen Brown

http://EllenBrown.com

January 15, 2014

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Governor Jerry Brown and his staff are exchanging high-fives over balancing California’s budget, but the people on whose backs it was balanced are not rejoicing. The state’s high-wire act has been called “the ultimate in austerity budgets.”

Welfare payments, health care for the poor, and benefits for the elderly and disabled have been slashed. State workers have been downsized. School districts in need of cash have been reduced to borrowing through “capital appreciation bonds” bearing 300% interest. In one notorious case, the Santa Ana school district actually borrowed at 1,000% interest. And the governor acknowledges that California still faces a “wall of debt” amounting to $28 billion. Some analysts put it much higher than that.

At the end of the 20th century, California was ranked the sixth largest economy in the world. By 2012, it had slipped to number twelve. It is coming back up, in part because European countries are falling further into recession; but California’s poverty rate remains the highest in the country. More than eight million Californians struggle to meet their daily needs, and one in four children lives in poverty. Income inequality is higher in the nation’s most populous state than in almost any other.

California cannot solve its budget problems by slashing services that have already been cut to the bone or raising sales taxes that hurt the poor far more than the rich. We are fighting over a pie that remains too small. The pie itself needs to be expanded – and it can be.

How? By reclaiming that portion that is now siphoned off in interest and bank fees.  When tallied up at every stage of production, interest has been calculated to claim one-third of everything we buy.

How can that money be recaptured?  By owning the bank.

The approach was pioneered in North Dakota, the only state to escape the 2008 banking crisis. North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, the lowest foreclosure rate, the lowest default rate on credit card debt, and no state debt at all. It is also the only state to own its own bank.

In the fall of 2011, a bill for a feasibility study for a state-owned bank passed both houses of the California legislature. The Public Banking Institute, which I founded and chair, was instrumental in helping to get the bill as far as it got.  But it died when Jerry Brown vetoed it.  His rationale was that we already have a banking committee, and that the matter could be explored in-house. Needless to say, however, we have heard no more about it since.

I am therefore running for California State Treasurer on a state bank platform, along with Laura Wells, who is running for Controller. We are throwing our bonnets in the ring for the opportunity to show the Governor or his successor that a state-owned bank can be our ticket to returning California to the abundance it once enjoyed.

I was a recipient of that abundance myself. I got my undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley in the 1960s, when tuition was free; and my law degree at UCLA Law School in the 1970s, when tuition was $700 a year.  Today it is $13,000 and $45,000 annually, respectively, for in-state students.  In the 1960s, the governor of California was Jerry Brown’s father Pat Brown, a New Deal visionary who believed that investment in education, infrastructure and local business was an investment in the future.  Our goal is to revive that optimistic vision in 2014.

We are running on the endorsement of the Green Party – along with Luis Rodriguez for governor and David Curtis for secretary of state – because Green Party candidates take no corporate money. Candidates who take corporate money – and that means nearly all conventional candidates – are beholden to large corporate interests and cannot properly represent the interests of the disenfranchised 99%.

The North Dakota Model:

Banking that Supports Rather Than Exploits the Local Economy

California’s revenues are currently parked in those very largest of corporations, Wall Street banks. These out-of-state banks use our giant asset pool for their own speculative purposes, and the funds are at risk of confiscation in the event of a “bail-in.”

In North Dakota, by contrast, all of the state’s revenues are deposited by law in the state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND). The BND is set up as a DBA of the state (“North Dakota doing business as the Bank of North Dakota”), which means all of the state’s capital is technically the bank’s capital. The bank uses its copious capital and deposit pool to generate credit for local purposes.

The BND is a major money-maker for the state, returning a sizable dividend annually to the treasury. Every year since the 2008 banking crisis, it has reported a return on investment of between 17 percent and 26 percent. The BND also provides what is essentially interest-free credit for state projects, since the state owns the bank and gets the interest back. The BND partners with local banks rather than competing with them, strengthening their capital and deposit bases and allowing them to keep loans on their books rather than having to sell them off to investors. This practice allowed North Dakota to avoid the subprime crisis that destroyed the housing market in other states.

Consider the awesome potential for California, with its massive capital and deposit bases. California has over $200 billion stashed in a variety of funds identified in its 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), including $58 billion managed by the Treasurer in a Pooled Money Investment Account currently earning a meager 0.264% annually. It also has over $400 billion in its pension funds (CalPERS and CalSTRS).

 

California’s population of 37 million is more than 50 times that of North Dakota. In 2010, the BND had about $4,500 in deposits and $4,200 in loans per capita.  Multiplying 37 million by $4,200, a State Bank of California could, in theory, generate $155.4 billion in credit for the state; and this credit would effectively be interest-free free, since the state would own the bank.

 

What could California do with $155 billion in interest-free credit? One possibility would be to refinance its ominous “wall of debt” at 0%. A debt that is interest-free can be rolled over indefinitely without cost to the taxpayers.

 

Another possibility would be to fund public projects interest-free. Eliminating interest has been shown to reduce the cost of public projects by 35% or more.

Take, for example, the San Francisco Bay Bridge earthquake retrofitting boondoggle, which was originally slated to cost about $6 billion. Interest and bank fees wound up adding another $6 billion to the overall cost to taxpayers. Funding through its own bank could have saved the state $6 billion or 50% on this project.

Then there is the state’s bullet train fiasco, which has been beset with delays, cost overruns, and funding issues. As with the Bay Bridge, costs are projected to double as a result of compounding interest on long-term bonds, imposing huge hidden costs on the next generation of taxpayers. By funding the bullet train through a state-owned bank, its costs, too, could be reduced by 50%.

The Challenge of a “Jungle Primary”

As voters become increasingly disillusioned with big-corporate-money candidates, the third party option is gaining traction. According to a recent Gallup poll, in 2013 42% of Americans identified themselves as political independents, significantly outpacing Democrats at 31% and Republicans at 25%.

The growing threat posed by independent and third-party candidates may explain why it is getting harder and harder to run as one. In California we now have Proposition 14, the Top Two primary, sometimes called the “Louisiana primary” or “jungle primary.” It might better be named the Incumbents’ Benevolent Protection Act.

Proposition 14 requires statewide and congressional California candidates, regardless of party preference, to participate in a nonpartisan blanket primary, with only the top two candidates advancing to the general election.  Incumbents and heavily-funded candidates have historically reaped the benefits of this arrangement. Third party candidates are liable to get knocked out in the first round in June, eliminating them from the November elections.

But the new system does have the advantage that anyone can vote for any candidate in the June primary; so if we can mobilize voters, we have a shot.

There is, however, another new hurdle imposed by Proposition 14. In place of the 150 signatures-in-lieu-of-filing-fee needed earlier, we now need 10,000 signatures – either that or $2,800. But we’re hoping to turn that requirement, too, to advantage, by using it to build the people power and energy necessary to take the June 3, 2014 primary.  If you would like to sign a petition or donate, click here.

There is another way to balance a state budget, one that leads to prosperity rather than austerity. California can stimulate its economy and the job market, restore low-cost higher education, build 21st-century infrastructure, preserve the environment, and relieve the state’s debt burden, by establishing a bank that is owned by the people and returns its profits to the people.

__________________

Ellen Brown is an attorney, president of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the bestselling Web of Debt. In The Public Bank Solution, her latest book, she explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 200+ credit blog articles are at EllenBrown.com. She is currently running for California State Treasurer on the Green Party ticket.

Ellen Brown submitted this.

It’s a musical.

[Ellen Brown continues her series on economics.]

BANKS PROFIT FROM NEAR-ZERO INTEREST RATES:
ANOTHER REASON FOR STATES TO OWN THEIR OWN BANKS

Ellen Brown, June 4, 2010

While individuals, businesses and governments suffer from a credit crisis created on Wall Street, the banks responsible for the crisis are tapping into nearly-interest-free credit lines and using the money to speculate or to make commercial loans at much higher rates. By forming their own banks, states too can tap into very low interest rates, and can buffer themselves from another Lehman-style credit collapse.

Keeping interest rates low is considered the first line of defense for central banks bent on easing the credit crisis and getting banks to lend again. The Federal Reserve’s target for the federal funds rate — the overnight interest rate that banks charge each other – has been kept at a rock-bottom 0% to 0.25% ever since December 2008. A growing number of economists now think it could stay there well into 2011 or even 2012, prompted by fears that a spreading debt crisis in Europe could hurt a budding U.S. recovery.
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[While this article does not deal with film, it does advance Ellen Brown’s previous article, and it’s just good, solid information that people need to see. -JG]

The Mysterious CAFRs:
How Stagnant Pools of Government Money Could Help Save the Economy

Ellen Brown
www.webofdebt.com/articles
May 21, 2010

For over a decade, accountant Walter Burien has been trying to rouse the public over what he contends is a massive conspiracy and cover-up, involving trillions of dollars squirreled away in funds maintained at every level of government. His numbers may be disputed, but these funds definitely exist, as evidenced by the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) required of every government agency. If they don’t represent a concerted government conspiracy, what are they for? And how can they be harnessed more efficiently to help allay the financial crises of state and local governments?

The Elusive CAFR Money

Burien is a former commodity trading adviser who has spent many years peering into government books. He notes that the government is composed of 54,000 different state, county, and local government entities, including school districts, public authorities, and the like; and that these entities all keep their financial assets in liquid investment funds, bond financing accounts and corporate stock portfolios. The only income that must be reported in government budgets is that from taxes, fines and fees; but the investments of government entities can be found in official annual reports (CAFRs), which must be filed with the federal government by local, county and state governments. These annual reports show that virtually every U.S. city, county, and state has vast amounts of money stashed away in surplus funds. Burien maintains that these slush funds have been kept concealed from taxpayers, even as taxes are being raised and citizens are being told to expect fewer government services.

It is hard to envision how all the municipal governments hording their excess money in separate funds could be complicit in a massive government conspiracy, but if that is not what is going on, why such an inefficient use of public monies?
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Will Hollywood Go the Way of Enron?
Derivatives Come to the Movies

By ELLEN BROWN

As if attacks from paparazzi and star-crazed fans weren’t enough, Hollywood stars may soon have a literal price put on their heads by investors in the Cantor Exchange, a real-money trading platform where people can bet on the gross profits of upcoming movies. Sales of The Dark Knight skyrocketed after Heath Ledger died unexpectedly, and so did sales after the deaths of Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. Will greed-driven investors now be laying in wait for the stars of movies they have bet on?
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