Posted by Karl Denninger
From the paper:
Lehman employed off-balance sheet devices, known within Lehman as “Repo 105” and “Repo 108” transactions, to temporarily remove securities inventory from its balance sheet, usually for a period of seven to ten days, and to create a materially misleading picture of the firm’s financial condition in late 2007 and 2008.2847
Oh yeah, that’s legal? It’s not supposed to be!
Lehman regularly increased its use of Repo 105 transactions in the days prior to reporting periods to reduce its publicly reported net leverage and balance sheet.2850 Lehman’s periodic reports did not disclose the cash borrowing from the Repo 105 transaction – i.e., although Lehman had in effect borrowed tens of billions of dollars in these transactions, Lehman did not disclose the known obligation to repay the debt.2851 Lehman used the cash from the Repo 105 transaction to pay down other liabilities, thereby reducing both the total liabilities and the total assets reported on its balance sheet and lowering its leverage ratios.
Isn’t that special?
It gets better, as you might expect.
The Examiner concludes that colorable claims of breach of fiduciary duty exist against Richard Fuld, Chris O’Meara, Erin Callan, and Ian Lowitt, and that a colorable claim of professional malpractice exists against
Arthur AndersonErnst & Young.2915 (strikethrough mine, not in the original)
It is stated that Government Regulators (FRBNY and The SEC) had “no knowledge” of these practices. Perhaps true. But this calls into question why we’re hearing of this just now, and whether other firms have or are at present doing the same sort of thing.
There also appears to be a colorable claim that Lehman Management was fully-aware of what was going on:
Although interview statements given to the Examiner were inconsistent at times, no reasonable dispute exists that each of Lehman’s Chief Financial Officers from late 2007 to September 2008 possessed some knowledge of and/or involvement with multiple aspects of Lehman’s Repo 105 program, including the existence of firm-wide Repo 105 limits, the volume of Repo 105 activity Lehman engaged in at quarter?end, and Lehman’s efforts to manage its balance sheet using Repo 105 transactions.
Well that’s special.
But we’re just getting warmed up.
Remember, The Feral Reserve is supposed to by the “uber-regulator” and the “safety and soundness” manager for the financial system.
For example, when
the Examiner questioned Lehman executives and other witnesses about Lehman’s financial health and reporting, a recurrent theme in their responses was that Lehman gave full and complete financial information to Government agencies, and that the Government never raised significant objections or directed that Lehman take any corrective action.
True? Let’s see what the Examiner had to say:
Although various Government agencies had information that raised serious questions about Lehman’s reported liquidity and about the sufficiency of its capital and liquidity to withstand stress scenarios, the agencies generally limited their activities to collecting data and monitoring.
Oh. They looked but didn’t act. I see.
Indeed, they looked pretty closely….
After March 2008 when the SEC and FRBNY began onsite daily monitoring of Lehman, the SEC deferred to the FRBNY to devise more rigorous stress?testing scenarios to test Lehman’s ability to withstand a run or potential run on the bank.5753 The FRBNY developed two new stress scenarios: “Bear Stearns” and “Bear Stearns Light.”5754 Lehman failed both tests.5755 The FRBNY then developed a new set of assumptions for an additional round of stress tests, which Lehman also failed.5756 However, Lehman ran stress tests of its own, modeled on similar assumptions, and passed.5757 It does not appear that any agency required any action of Lehman in response to the results of the stress testing.
So let’s see what we got here. They ran two sets of stress tests and the firm failed both. Not satisfied with the results they then designed a third set, which the firm also failed (we can reasonably presume the third had less stringent requirements than the other two!)
Instead of applying any of these three, FRBNY, which was run by one MR. TIMOTHY GEITHNER, NOW OUR TREASURY SECRETARY WHO REPORTED TO ONE BEN BERNANKE, instead took Lehman’s word that all was ok and did nothing.
Wait a minute. In the spring of 2009 we were told that all the big banks ran “Stress Tests” of Geithner’s design. But Treasury didn’t actually run them and didn’t actually get and process the data – they told the banks to do so.
Uh, that’s exactly what Lehman did, right? And Lehman passed its own “internally computed” stress test but failed all three of the externally-computed ones.
Do you still accept that all these other banks are solvent? What about the facts we do know – such as the inconvenient fact that between them the “big banks” have something like $150 billion of Home Equity lines behind an underwater and delinquent first mortgage, which is, by the way, worth zero yet being carried at or near full value……
Nor did it end there.
The SEC inspection revealed significant problems at Lehman. The SEC found that Lehman’s Price Valuation Group was understaffed; and it found that Lehman’s asset pricing function was overly “process driven.”5761 But the SEC did not release its findings or formally present them to Lehman prior to Lehman’s demise.
So The SEC knew, and they too did nothing.
It’s worse. While Geithner is implicated as being “concerned” about Lehman in the paper, the most-troubling part the narrative is here:
The challenge for the Government, and for troubled firms like Lehman, was to reduce risk exposure, and the act of reducing risk by selling assets could result in “collateral damage” by demonstrating weakness and exposing “air” in the marks.5823
Uh, that’s an apparent admission that FRBNY and Tim Geithner specifically knew that the marks that these banks were taking on their assets was materially and intentionally false.
Where have we seen this of late? Oh yeah – in all those banks that have failed of late, with 25-40% discounts to their claimed balance sheet values when the marks are actually reduced to losses to the deposit fund by the FDIC!
So let’s see here. We now have:
Geithner, and presumably everyone under him, knew the marks on these assets were fictions months before Lehman failed, yet they intentionally concealed this fact from the market and took no action (nor did the SEC) to disclose this intentional misdirection.
The misdirection and false claims in this regard are almost certainly continuing today, as evidenced by the FDIC seizures literally on an every-week basis.
How about Bernanke? While he maintains (as did Geithner) that primary responsibility lay with the SEC, he also said:
Our concern was about the financial system, and we knew the implications for the greater financial system would be catastrophic, and it was.”
What does all this say about the stability of things now?
Yeah, I know, everyone’s “too big to fail.”
But what if the truth is that they’re “too big to bail“, for instance, if one of the “big four” was to get in trouble today due to a recognition in the marketplace that not only is this what blew up Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, but that the same chicanery with “asset values” is continuing even today, and as such one cannot be reasonably certain that liquidity provided today will be repaid tomorrow?
Why is it that if the implications would be catastrophic (and they were), both the SEC and FRBNY knew that Lehman had insufficient liquidity long before the collapse (and they did) neither the SEC, The Federal Reserve or FRBNY did a damn thing to blow the whistle on this crap and put a stop to it?
This report sets out a damning case against the pseudo-government and government actors, who it is alleged were well-aware of critical weaknesses in Lehman’s risk controls and liquidity months before it collapsed, yet none of them did a damn thing about it until days before the bankruptcy filing.
Why should any of the clown-car riders who clearly knew that this situation existed for literal months before it blew up, yet did nothing, still retain their jobs and, in Geithner’s case, obtain a promotion? These people are unqualified for supervisory positions involving anything more complicated than handing out towels in the men’s room.
The key question facing the nation this evening is not, however, the past. It is the future. We have over 100 literal instances in which banks have been seized by the FDIC since Lehman blew up in which their balance sheet “asset values” have been shown by the FDIC’s own DIF loss projections to be abject fictions, yet none of these institutions have been flagged to investors or the public, no indictments or civil complaints have been brought by the SEC or Department of Justice, and they have remained operating for months with these bogus values exhibited for bank examiners and regulators to see.
IF – and I stress IF – these fictions are also present in our large banking institutions, and there is NO REASON TO BELIEVE THEY ARE NOT, it is simply a matter of time before one or more of them detonates in a similar if not identical fashion. Since these firms are all much larger than Lehman and neither the FDIC or Treasury has a spare $500 billion laying around for the potential payout to depositors that might be necessary in such an instance, we cannot reasonably assume that the risk of financial Armageddon has in fact passed until we know for a fact that all fictional balance sheets are excised and all off-sheet exposures accounted for.