The Quest to Backstop Every Big Bank

 |  Includes: BAC, BK, C, GS, JPM, MS, STT, WFC
by: Tyler Durden

Over the past two weeks many banks issued press releases and opened up the PR spigot to indicate just how stable they all are now that a few have managed to pay down their TARP commitments. This, of course, is nothing but a complete farce, and simply yet another chapter in the "consumer confidence" game played by the administration and its financial underlings.

In order to see just how much the banking system depends on the continued unlimited wallet of taxpayers and Geithner's printing presses, and how much certain law firms continue to depend on the somewhat less limited wallet of Wall Street, I present an October 31, 2008 letter recently obtained by Zero Hedge (pdf file), in which Sullivan & Cromwell, Wall Street's #2 favorite law firm (or is that #1: I am sure Wachtell Lipton would have a few choice words with regard to that particular league table rating, although it may be hard pressed to match S&C's $241,975 in donations to the Democratic National Convention), goes to town to make sure that its well-deserving clients including Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE:BK) , Citigroup (NYSE:C), Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), State Street (NYSE:STT) and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) get to not only have the taxpayers' cake (in perpetuity), but eat more and more of it each day.

Before I get into the meat of the letter, it just has to be a complete coincidence, that these are exactly the same 9 firms that a mere 2 weeks prior to this letter was sent out had a rather direct head to head with the President's Working Group, during which each one was apportioned $x billion in TARP after exactly zero due diligence, in order to plug the dike of complete financial collapse with almost a hundred billion fingers of taxpayer dollars. But, as they say, once you've had a taste of the free buffet, you only want more and more and more. True to form: the banks promptly showed up for another serving, and Sullivan & Cromwell was gladly there to charge taxpayers at the preferential rate of almost a thousand taxpayer dollars an hour, compliments of one H. Rodgin Cohen (more on him later).

Now, it is no secret that when it comes to taxpayer guarantees and subsidies, the TARP is and has always been mere window dressing: as a backstop tranche, it only has to do with equity values, which as any rational observer of the financial system (this list of course excludes the likes of Dick Bove) knows full well, are at best equal to zero if all the FAS 115, 157, Level 3, Mark To Magic and other accounting sleight of hand gimmicks were to be removed.

The math is simple: bank assets have to equal bank liabilities + equity. The liabilities are there (and growing), yet the assets shrink every single day backstopped by such solid collateral as emptying midtown office space CMBS, bankrupt hotel and Harlem multi apartment whole loans, and 2nd liens in Ukrainian and Argentinean bison farms. If equities were marked appropriately, shareholders would likely have to be paid to own a share of Citi or BofA.

Then again, caught in a massively engineered short squeeze over the past 3 months, financial stocks ended up bottlerocketing straight up, not on fundamentals, or even on charts, but merely on two large stock loan issuers (themselves participants in the list of nine mentioned above) making it not only impossible to short financial stocks, but forcing anyone currently short to cover. And while TARP manipulation serves at best to fool some outlying marginal retail investors into a false sense of calm, the TLGP is where the real action is. And as of May, there was a lot of action: $345 billion worth of.

One last background item worth pointing out is that recently the FDIC realized its Deposit Insurance Fund was on the verge of depletion, sucked dry by those very banks that seem to fall like dominoes every Friday (or lately Thursday, with the total YTD now passing an unprecedented run rate of over 100 for the year). Recall that the FDIC's primary responsibility is to make sure that come hell or high water, deposits are secured and insured. Well: surprise, they aren't, which is why in March Sheila Bair announced several emergency steps to restore the rapidly dwindling reserves of the FDIC, most notably having to do with charging incremental assessments to both depository institutions and bank holding companies (well that, and also tapping a huge line of credit directly with the Treasury in case Citi were to finally admit that it is nationalized in all but name).

Enter H. Rodgin Cohen and Sullivan & Cromwell, on behalf of the Ben's Big 9 Bailout Beneficiaries (BB9BB). The letter sent to the FDIC pretty much made it clear that banks want not only to gestate in the warm cocoon provided by taxpayers' dollar bill plastered abdomens, but to have immediate recourse to essentially unlimited FDIC funding at practically no cost to them for ever and ever.

Some of the key demands made by the BB9BB - S&C cartel include:

1. The FDIC guarantee should be an unconditional guarantee of timely payments of principal and interest when due backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

Goodness, we wouldn't want to have conditions when providing the entire American financial systems with a taxpayer-funded blank check, now would we. A blank check with even one footnote of small print is inappropriate when dealing with the instigators of the biggest financial catastrophe since the Depression. So no fine print please. Done and Done.

2. Because the FDIC's guarantee expires on June 30, 2012, there should be an acceleration provision to June 30, 2012 in the event of default for guaranteed debt that matures after that date.

Wouldn't want forced short-squeezors, pardon, investors, to somehow think that there is such a thing as risk in the banks' capital structures, now would we. In fact, this whole concept of risk, let's just do away with it entirely as the market trades merely on rolling buy-ins and follow on equity issuances. Done and Done.

3. If investors regard the guarantee as weak, they will look to institutions' underlying financial strength, thus lending to a tiered market where weaker institutions have insufficient access to liquidity.

What an abhorrent concept - judging a bank by its fundamental merits: the Horror, the Horror. How would the FDIC possibly allow a financial institution to be judged based on its "underlying financial strength"? Don't they realize that the BB9BB have made it all too clear that we now live in a communist regime where nobody can ever fail based on their own "merits" and that everyone will be bailed out in perpetuity? How shallow: H. Rodgin Cohen, please explain to them how the system works. Done and Done.

4. Institutions should have the flexibility to issue senior unsecured debt not guaranteed by the FDIC, regardless of the stated maturity.

Yes Goldman, we realize you want to pay record bonuses even as unemployment hits 11% without starting a mass revolutionary uprising. Duly noted and Done and Done.

5. The Banking Organizations (BB9BB) agree with the FDIC that participating entities should have some mechanism to opt in or out of guarantees on a per issuance basis but believe that this option should not be limited to debt with stated maturities after June 30, 2012. [T]he Banking Organizations believe that this limitation will not achieve the FDIC's stated objectives [of not raping the taxpayer? Of course, the BB9BB would like to interject here].

Hell, just make guarantees perpetual: it is not like the financial system will ever rebound. After all who are we fooling here? Well, aside from CNBC's primetime TV audience, wink, wink. Nonetheless, we advise readers to read the "cliff maturity" justification on or around June 30, 2012. This coincides nicely with the $1 trillion in CMBS that comes due about the same day. Should prove to be an amusing "day", "week", "month", "end of tenure" for whoever is president then. But who cares: that will occur at a time when the U.S. sovereign debt approaches something with a "quad" and ending in "rillion", and all the current BB9BB executives (long retired then) will have that 98th, 99th and 100th house in Cannes, Fiji and inside the crater of Mt. Etna. Done and Done.

6. We believe it would be appropriate to exclude public sector clients, banks and other financial institutions from because imposing a 75 basis point on deposit accounts for such institutions would eliminate the yield paid on these products and potentially encourage such institutions to move funds into higher yielding "unguaranteed" products, thus potentially reducing a participating entity's liquidity sources... Considering the current level of interest rates, the [BB9BB] believe that the 75 bp fee is too high with respect to the Federal Funds, and should be lowered. The high cost of insuring Federal Funds may lead institutions to other secured borrowing sources so that, in lieu of Federal Funds, financial institutions will, in order to mitigate their funding costs, increase their utilization of secured borrowings sources such as the Federal Reserve Discount Window, the Term Auction Facility and the FHLB advance program. Such an outcome would not achieve the FDIC's goal of improving short-term unsecured inter-bank funding markets [and, again, of not raping the U.S. taxpayer, which is so totally contrary to the lobbying effort contained herewith].

What irony: the BB9BB are demanding unlimited guaranteed and unguaranteed backstops and someone dares to ask them to pay for it. If this isn't the most unhinged and inequitable concept the BB9BB have ever heard, then nothing is. H. Rodgin Cohen will set it all straight, and make sure that not only can banks borrow Fed Funds but taxpayers will have to pay them a portion of how much they borrow and at what rate. In fact the bank that recently ended up "borrowing" 7% Fund Funds was actually a lender, and H. Rodgin Cohen made sure that instead of paying 7%, they received that amount of money. Done and Done.

7. Under 370.6(e) there is a 150 basis point penalty fee and enforcement mechanisms for debt that is represented as being "guaranteed by the FDIC" but which exceeds the guaranteed amount. In order to enhance investor confidence in the Debt Guarantee Program, the Banking Organizations propose that investors be expressly allowed to rely on the borrower's representation with respect to the availability of the guarantee for a particular debt issuance.

You see, FDIC, it is simply unfair for investors and depositors to have an objective and unbiased representation. Especially since the BB9BB have every intention of abusing the guarantee/non-guarantee barrier at every possible occasion. However, this whole 150 bps penalty, well, that's just too rich for S&C's billionaire clients' blood. Let's cut a deal: the BB9BB will represent the debt in any way they want, and in turn, the FDIC will not only turn a blind eye to any and all (guaranteed) abuses that occur as a result, but also will not charge any penalty or enforce any actions against this outright abuse? Done and Done.

This and much more is contained in the attached missive, which was undoubtedly scribbled in short-hand by the BB9BB on the bent over back of one H. Rodgin Cohen. I recommend readers familiarize themselves with just how the world's most effective lobby power works when its hegemonic status quo is even remotely threatened.

Which brings us to topic #2 for today, that of the mellifluously sounding H. Rodgin Cohen. Frequent readers may recall, that H. Rodgin Cohen, whose name rolls out like a haiku by a moderately drunk Basho, was supposed to become none other than Tim Geithner's right hand man, yet something odd happened on the greenback-bricked road which was supposed to guarantee H. Rodgin Cohen's unbridled immortality by having his portrait prominently featured on the $100 trillion bill. Just what was, as George Stephanopoulos noted, the "issue that arose in the final stages of the vetting process"?

While still on the topic of the haiku-esque H. Rodgin Cohen, many relevant questions were brought up, and few answered, in this craftfully worded post by Tom Blumer of NewsBustes. I recommend readers familiarize themselves with the persona that nearly became TurboTaxTim in waiting. In the meantime, Zero Hedge will continue to present any and all lobby papers by Sullivan & Cromwell on behalf of the BB9BB, just in case H. Rodgin Cohen has decided to bypass the post of Secretary of the Treasury and apply straight for that of Overlord and Viceroy of all of Western Capitalism. With the backing of such "clients" as Goldman Sachs, he is essentially guaranteed to "win" that particular popular (or not) election.

hat tip Richard