"Everything Is Rigged, Vol. 9,173: This Time It's Currencies"
Traders at some of the world's biggest banks manipulated benchmark foreign-exchange rates used to set the value of trillions of dollars of investments, according to five dealers with knowledge of the practice... Employees have been front-running client orders and rigging WM/Reuters rates by pushing through trades before and during the 60-second windows when the benchmarks are set, said the current and former traders, who requested anonymity because the practice is controversial. Dealers colluded with counterparts to boost chances of moving the rates, said two of the people, who worked in the industry for a total of more than 20 years. The $4.7-trillion-a-day currency market, the biggest in the financial system, is one of the least regulated. The inherent conflict banks face between executing client orders and profiting from their own trades is exacerbated because most currency trading takes place away from exchanges.One after another, it's the same thing: Insiders rigging benchmark rates, shaving money from basically everyone on earth, systematically and over periods of many years. It's the ultimate taxation-without-representation story...
"Everything Is Rigged, Continued: European Commission Raids Oil Companies in Price-Fixing Probe": This sort of thing is why I state in my Basic Proposal that the FERC should have access to the PRISM database and analysis capabilities in order to fight price-fixing.
Europeans have long complained that retail gas prices have not seemed to match wholesale prices. In fact, complaints that wholesale prices at gas stations were noticeably slow to fall when wholesale prices fell prompted the U.K.-based Office of Fair Trading last year to conduct a cursory inquiry into possible anti-competitive behavior in the fuel markets. Early this year, they announced that they hadn't found enough evidence to warrant a full-blown investigation. But complaints persisted. The story is obviously hugely significant in its own right, just as the LIBOR story was. But both are even more unpleasant in conjunction with each other, and the other price-fixing scandals that have cropped up in the financial markets in the last year or two. We've had other price-fixing scandals involving gas in the U.K. and here in the U.S., just a few weeks ago, it came out that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) concluded that JPMorgan Chase used "manipulative schemes" to tinker with energy prices in Michigan and California. FERC last year also recommended a massive $470 million fine against Barclays for similar activity. (Barclays has vowed to fight the penalty.) Deutsche Bank, meanwhile, settled with FERC for $1.7 million after the commission alleged that the German bank was involved with manipulation in the California energy markets for several months during 2010.
"Everything Is Rigged: The Biggest Price-Fixing Scandal Yet"
...the name-brand too-big-to-fail banks have been manipulating global interest rates, in the process messing around with the prices of upward of $500 trillion (that's trillion, with a "t") worth of financial instruments. When that sprawling con burst into public view last year, it was easily the biggest financial scandal in history – MIT professor Andrew Lo even said it "dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets." Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world's largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps. Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It's about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget. It should surprise no one that among the players implicated in this scheme to fix the prices of interest-rate swaps are the same megabanks – including Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and the Royal Bank of Scotland – that serve on the Libor panel that sets global interest rates. In fact, in recent years many of these banks have already paid multimillion-dollar settlements for anti-competitive manipulation of one form or another (in addition to Libor, some were caught up in an anti-competitive scheme, detailed in Rolling Stone last year, to rig municipal-debt service auctions). Though the jumble of financial acronyms sounds like gibberish to the layperson, the fact that there may now be price-fixing scandals involving both Libor and ISDAfix suggests a single, giant mushrooming conspiracy of collusion and price-fixing hovering under the ostensibly competitive veneer of Wall Street culture.
Just so I'm not quoting Taibbi every single time, read Elizabeth Warren: LIBOR fraud exposes Wall Street's Rotten Core
In most markets, consumers could simply take their business elsewhere once they learned that the scales were rigged. But interest rates are different. Everyone who borrows money on a mortgage, credit card, student loan, car loan or small-business loan — basically, everyone — is affected by a crooked market on Libor. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, in 2008 more than half of all adjustable-rate mortgages were linked to Libor. Even those who didn’t borrow but saved for retirement or their children’s future got hit with interest rates that had been faked.
"LIBOR Price-Fixing Scam Has Cost At Least $110 Million -- In the State of Oregon Alone"
"Why Is Nobody Freaking Out about the LIBOR Banking Scandal"
The furor is over revelations that Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and other banks were monkeying with at least $10 trillion in loans (The Wall Street Journal is calculating that that LIBOR affects $800 trillion worth of contracts). The banks gamed LIBOR for two semi-overlapping reasons. As noted here last week, there were instances of Barclays traders badgering the LIBOR submitters to "push down" rates in order to fatten their immediate bottom lines, depending on what they were trading or holding that day. They also apparently rigged LIBOR downward in order to produce a general appearance of better health, essentially tweaking their credit scores a few ticks upward. Most intriguingly, or perhaps disturbingly, there were revelations last week that Bank of England deputy Governor Paul Tucker had a conversation with Diamond at the peak of the crisis in 2008. The conversation reportedly left Diamond, and subsequently his traders, with the impression that the bank had carte blanche to rig LIBOR downward in order to help allay spiraling public fears about the banks’ poor financial health.
"The Scam Wall Street Learned from the Mafia"
In the end, ...the bid rigging exposed in Carollo involved an entrenched system that affected major bond issues in every state in the nation. You find yourself thinking, America's biggest banks ripped off the entire country, virtually every day, for more than a decade! ... Instead of anything resembling real censure, a few young executives got spanked, while the offending banks got off with slap-on-the-wrist fines and were allowed to retain their pre-eminent positions in the municipal bond market. Last year, the two leading recipients of public bond business, clocking in with more than $35 billion in bond issues apiece, were Chase and Bank of America – who combined had just paid more than $365 million in fines for their role in the mass bid rigging.
Over the years, many in the public have become numb to news of financial corruption, partly because too many of these stories involve banker-on-banker crime. The notorious Abacus deal involving Goldman Sachs, for instance, involved a hedge-fund billionaire ripping off a couple of European banks – who cares? But the bid-rigging scandal laid bare in USA v. Carollo is a totally different animal. This is the world's biggest banks stealing money that would otherwise have gone toward textbooks and medicine and housing for ordinary Americans, and turning the cash into sports cars and bonuses for the already rich. It's the equivalent of robbing a charity or a church fund to pay for lap dances.
Who ultimately loses in these deals? Well, to take just one example, the New Jersey Health Care Facilities Finance Authority, the agency that issues bonds for the state's hospitals, had their interest rates rigged by the Carollo defendants on $17 million in bonds. Since then, more than a dozen New Jersey hospitals have closed, mostly in poor neighborhoods.
As Carollo showed us, in open court, this is what Wall Street learned from the Mafia: how to reach into the penny jars of dying hospitals and schools and transform their desperation and civic panic into fat year-end bonuses and the occasional "big lunch." Unlike the Mafia, though, they were smart enough to do their dirt without anyone noticing for a very long time, which is what defense counsel in this case were talking about when they argued that towns and cities "were not harmed" by the rigged bids. No harm, to them, means no visible harm, i.e., that what taxpayers didn't know couldn't hurt them. This is logical thinking, to the sociopath – like saying it's not infidelity if your wife never finds out. But we did find out, and the scale of betrayal unveiled in Carollo was epic. It was like finding out your husband didn't just cheat, but had a frequent-flier account with every brothel in North America for the past 10 years. At least now we know how bad it was. The trick is to find a way to make the cheaters pay.
...and let's not forget the article that really put this subject on the map, the infamous "Vampire Squid" metaphor: "The Great American Bubble Machine"
They achieve this using the same playbook over and over again. The formula is relatively simple: Goldman positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble, selling investments they know are crap. Then they hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society with the aid of a crippled and corrupt state that allows it to rewrite the rules in exchange for the relative pennies the bank throws at political patronage. Finally, when it all goes bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke and starving, they begin the entire process over again, riding in to rescue us all by lending us back our own money at interest, selling themselves as men above greed, just a bunch of really smart guys keeping the wheels greased. They've been pulling this same stunt over and over since the 1920s — and now they're preparing to do it again, creating what may be the biggest and most audacious bubble yet. If you want to understand how we got into this financial crisis, you have to first understand where all the money went — and in order to understand that, you need to understand what Goldman has already gotten away with. It is a history exactly five bubbles long — including last year's strange and seemingly inexplicable spike in the price of oil. There were a lot of losers in each of those bubbles, and in the bailout that followed. But Goldman wasn't one of them.