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Time to junk AIG


The federal government’s $180 billion effort to prop up American International Group has worked, averting an even bigger financial catastrophe. Now it’s time for the Obama administration to oversee the dismantling of the failed insurance giant with all due speed.

A report this week from the Government Accountability Office makes clear that AIG would crumble and likely reignite financial fears around the world without the government’s massive support.

And the report says it’s “unclear” whether AIG will ever pay back the $121 billion in government assistance that’s still coursing through its balance sheet.

The GAO report should provide the administration will all the ammunition it needs to get tough with AIG. The report’s conclusions should stiffen the spine of regulators in their dealings with Robert Benmosche, AIG’s new $9 million chief executive.

What did rating agencies know about AIG?


It’s time to start asking the big credit rating agencies just when they realized that American International Group might pose a systemic risk to the global financial system.

And what, if anything, did the rating agencies do to warn financial regulators of the global crisis that might ensue, if AIG’s debt ratings were suddenly slashed.

Why banks should welcome “living wills”

A year after Lehman Brothers collapsed, policymakers are still getting to grips with the key question raised by the Wall Street firm’s fall: how to ensure that the failure of a large bank does not jeopardise the entire financial system.

After much debate, politicians and central bankers are warming to the idea that banks should make preparations for their own failure. This plan — memorably dubbed a “living will” by Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England — would allow regulators to wind down even large, cross-border institutions without putting public money at risk.

Lehman tales

Over the past two days, we’ve been treated to two long stories in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal focusing on employees of Lehman Brothers, one year after the firm’s chaotic bankruptcy filing. Yawn.

Now, don’t get me wrong–both stories are well reported and well written.  I was glad to see that one of the people the Times did a mini-profile on was a former Lehman banker who packaged and sold rotting mortgages and is honest enough to admit he has “blood on my hands.”

from Rolfe Winkler:

A year after Lehman, the good news

Regular readers know how pessimistic I am about the economy. The "recovery" is little more than a government-financed credit bubble and it's back to risky business as usual for much of the banking sector.

But that doesn't mean there isn't good news to report.

For instance, less credit coursing through the economy means deflation, and deflation means stuff is cheaper.

Squeeze is on for investment banks


Peter Thal Larsen.jpgInvestment banks are facing a big squeeze. For an industry that was generating record revenues just months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, this may seem unlikely. But the revival looks set to be short-lived. Increased regulation and greater competition means the super-charged returns the industry generated for most of the past decade are likely to prove elusive.

Analysts at JPMorgan believe 2009 will prove to be the high point in the investment banks’ relentless upward march. They expect revenues in 2011 to be no higher than in 2006. More significantly, the industry’s return on equity will fall to 10.8 percent, far lower than what they have got used to.

Trash is king as Lehman shares surge


It’s either a sign of sheer boredom on Wall Street, or an early celebration of the one-year anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ demise, but shares of the fallen invesment bank were red hot today.

The stock rose some 200%. Take that AIG.

For some inexplicable reason, shares of the bankrupt investment bank, which trade on the loosely regulated over-the-counter Pink Sheets, changed hands some 73 million times on Friday. That’s a lot of trading in a stock that’s been worthless for nearly 12 months.

Bob Diamond in the red

Just how profitable is Barclays Capital?

At first glance, the answer would be: very.  According to Barclays’ results, Bob Diamond’s investment banking empire made a £1bn profit in the first six months of the year, double last year’s figure. That’s despite continuing hefty write-downs on toxic assets.

Indeed, as other parts of Barclays succumb to the economic downturn, Barcap, buoyed by last autumn’s acquisition of the North American operations of Lehman Brothers, more or less appears to be keeping the bank afloat.

Lehman D-Day

It’s taken awhile, but a deadline for filing claims in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy has finally been set and it’s Sept. 22.

A Sept. 15 deadline, the one-year anniversary of Lehman’s collapse, would have been more appropriate. But maybe that would have just been rubbing everyone’s face in it.

Investor protection, Singapore style

Who needs a whole new government agency to protect  consumers from irresponsible banks? Authorities in Singapore have taken a refreshingly straightforward approach in tackling banks deemed to have been less than scrupulous when selling structured notes dragged down by the failure of Lehman Brothers: they banned them.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore on Wednesday banned 10 banks from selling structured notes until they can prove that they have improved processes to highlight the risks involved. Banks including DBS and ABN Amro, now part of Britain’s Royal Bank of Scotland, are out of the business for at least six months. Hong Leong Finance receivd a two-year ban. (The full list is here.)