Remember the force-placed insurance scandal, which first came to light back in 2010? Well, despite being addressed in Dodd-Frank, the problem is still there: loan servicers are buying massively overpriced home insurance on behalf of homeowners, and getting enormous kickbacks from the insurers — if they don’t own the insurers themselves. The victims, here, are usually the investors who own the mortgages in question — which means that the biggest victims of all are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
When JP Morgan’s London Whale blew up, one part of the collateral damage was the publication of a detailed Volcker Rule. The Whale was gambling JP Morgan’s money, and wasn’t doing so on behalf of clients — yet somehow his actions were Volcker-compliant. And when the blow-up revealed the absurdity of that particular loophole, the rule went back to the SEC for further refinement.
The theme of the day, today, is nostalgia for the simple banking systems of yore, where the Bailey Building & Loan was run by simple, honorable men who had no problems complying with Basel I or its predecessors. If you have a large chunk of time today, you can start with the 9,500-word cover story in the Atlantic by Jesse Eisinger and Frank Partnoy, and then for dessert follow it up with Yalman Onaran’s 2,600-word explanation, for Bloomberg, that bank regulation these days is really complicated.
Journalists are up in arms about the latest fine to hit Citigroup. In general, journalists tend to like it when banks get bashed for violating rules, but in this case the bashing hits home: Citi was fined $2 million, and two analysts were fired, because those analysts talked to the press — actually, emailed reporters — and got caught doing so. And reporters, of course, hate anything which makes it harder for them to talk to sources.
Is simplicity the new new thing? The front page of the new issue of Global Risk Regulator — the trade mag for central bankers around the world — features an excellent article by David Keefe about Sheila Bair, Andrew Haldane, and calls for a “return to simplicity”. Bair tells Keefe that “we’re drowning in complexity”:
Jesse Eisinger, today, joins Matt Levine in worrying about the effects of allowing hedge funds to advertise. The all-but-certain consequence is that while the handful of excellent hedge funds will remain highly secretive, a bunch of much less savory characters will start hitting the airwaves with gusto. As Jesse says, “Jacoby & Meyers advertises on television; Sullivan & Cromwell does not.”
The NYT has two excellent articles about the Standard Chartered affair today. Read this one first, about the law which may or may not have been broken; and then move on to this one, about the reaction to the case in London.
One of the problems with financial journalism is its rather kludgy attempts to appeal to a general audience. If something bad happens, for instance, it has to be presented as being bad for the little guy. This was a huge problem with the Libor scandal, since anybody with a mortgage or other loan tied to Libor ended up saving money as a result of it being marked too low.