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Geithner of Oz

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Earlier today I wrote that Sheila Bair is one of the few financial regulators who gets it. And by getting it, I mean not sucking up to the banks and the big money interests on Wall Street. You know, the guys (and most of them are guys), who got us into this financial mess. Tim Geithner, on the other hand, is a regulator who just doesn’t get it.

It’s not that the Treasury secretary isn’t smart–he is. And it’s not that he’s not up to job–he is. It’s that Geithner is too much of a politician and his views have been molded by people who work on Wall Street.

So, that’s why we have Geithner telling The Wall Street Journal today that Wall Street isn’t reverting back to its old ways–even though everything indicates that’s exactly what is going on. In Geithner’s world, things are getting better and the banks are becoming better citizens:

I don’t think the financial system is reverting to past practice, and we won’t let that happen. The big banks are running with much less leverage now, much more conservative liquidity cushions. There has been a significant shrinking of their balance sheets, getting rid of bad assets and cleaning up. And the weakest parts of the system don’t exist anymore.

Citi’s dirty pool of assets

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Hard as it may be to believe, shares of beleaguered Citigroup are on fire.

The stock of the de facto U.S. government-owned bank is up some 300 percent after it cratered at around $1 back in early March.

The over-caffeinated stock maven Jim Cramer keeps calling Citi a “buy, buy, buy” on his nightly CNBC television show. Even the more sober-minded writers at Barron’s are pounding the table a bit, predicting Citi shares could double in price in three years.”

Trust still matters

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Trust is one of those touchy-feely words that gets thrown around a lot, but whose true value isn’t felt until it’s lost.

The Congressional Oversight Panel’s latest report on the troubled assets still embedded in bank balance sheets reminds us that one of the first casualties of the credit crisis, trust, is still up for grabs.

Toxic bonuses, Credit Suisse’s one hit wonder

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Credit SuisseAt the height of the financial crisis, Credit Suisse came up with a clever idea to offload dodgy assets without having to sell them at knock-down prices. It stuffed $5 billion of them into a bonus pool for its bankers.

The Swiss bank’s scheme — which includes leveraged loans and commercial mortgage backed securities — exposed 2,000 senior Credit Suisse bankers to the value of those toxic assets. They were given 70-80 percent of their equity compensation in the form of so-called “partner asset facility” (PAF) units linked to the performance of the assets. The rest of the bonus was in the form of share units.

Sir Win FTW at Lloyd’s Banking Group

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It’s good to hear that Win Bischoff has a list of priorities in his new role as chairman of Lloyds Banking Group <LLOY.L>. Reviewing the position of chief executive Eric Daniels is apparently not at the top of it.

So what should he be doing when he formally takes the chair on Sept. 15?
 
The first thing is to accelerate the integration of HBOS into Lloyds. The group needs to stop dribbling out restructuring announcements (a few job losses here, a few there) and come clean about what it needs to do to secure the synergies that were promised from this ill-starred transaction.

The Citi dump

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City landfills aren’t pretty places. Much the same can be said for Citi Holdings, the newly formed dumping ground for Citigroup’s most ailing and malodorous assets.

Earlier this year, the de facto government-owned bank created Citi Holdings as a repository for assets that it either planned on selling or would simply have a hard time giving away. In truth, Citi Holdings really isn’t a distinct company. It’s merely part of a PR strategy to get investors to focus on the businesses that are going well at Citi and which are housed in a so-called good bank called Citicorp.

A Tale of Two Citi’s

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Here’s a summer quiz: Identify the following two US banks:

1. This institution has been profitable throughout the credit crisis. Last year, it reported net income of $6bn on revenues of $60bn, despite taking big hits in its consumer operations in North and South America in the fourth quarter. At the end of the first quarter the bank had total assets of $958 billion, supported by a healthy deposit base of $660 billion.

2. The second institution lost a massive $36 billion last year. Even net revenues were negative to the tune of almost $7 billion. This bank had a $662 billion balance sheet at the end of the first quarter, but deposits of just $88 billion.

The shuffle Citi needs

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Citi CEO Vikram Pandit keeps moving around the deck chairs, but the one chair he still won’t move is his own.

The latest management shuffle at Citi seems more designed to appease the federal government–the bank’s largest shareholder–than anything else. Moving people in and out of jobs gives the appearance that Pandit is really shaking Citi up. (Here’s a report from Reuters on the latest management shuffling).

The PPIP let down

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Details on the government’s PPIP program – the one designed to suck out the venomous assets still coursing through bank balance sheets – is out and the amount of money dedicated to the task looks underwhelming.

From the joint statement issued by Treasury, the Fed and the FDIC.

Under this program, Treasury will invest up to $30 billion of equity and debt in PPIFs established with private sector fund managers and private investors for the purpose of purchasing legacy securities.

When the tough gets going, securitize!

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The FT has a report that banks are looking to slice and dice risky assets on their balance sheet so they can unload some of the capital-gobbling securities to investors. The banks argue that this type of securitization is different than those CDOs that helped suck the financial system into a sinkhole since it doesn’t rely on leverage and it’s more transparent.

The appeal for the banks is obvious. From the FT:

BarCap’s structures involve the pooling of assets from several clients into a secured financial product that can be sold on to other investors and rated by a credit rating agency, potentially reducing the capital allocated against the assets by between 10 per cent and 50 per cent.

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