Geithner’s New York Fed Took Trash Off Lehman’s Hands
The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy examiner’s report is the gift that just keeps on giving to critics of the administration, the bank bailout and the current efforts at financial market reform. Today, Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post reports that Tim Geithner, already under fire for encouraging Goldman Sachs not to disclose how much money it got from the government’s bailout of AIG, also tried to help out Lehman’s bottom line in ways that weren’t kosher. Writes Grim:
As Lehman Brothers careened toward bankruptcy in 2008, the New York Federal Reserve Bank came to its rescue, sopping up junk loans that the investment bank couldn’t sell in the market, according to a report from court-appointed examiner Anton R. Valukas.The New York Fed, under the direction of now-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, knowingly allowed itself to be used as a “warehouse” for junk loans, the report says, even though Fed guidelines say it can only accept investment grade bonds.
In other words, while Geithner was head of the New York Fed, despite rules that the Fed can’t buy financial instruments that companies can’t sell in the marketplace, it was doing just that in an effort to keep Lehman Brothers solvent. Those bonds, which likely remain less than investment-grade, might well still be on the books.
Grim additionally notes that Geithner, in his position as Treasury Secretary, officially opposes a public audit of the Fed which would, not coincidentally, make public any and all worthless assets the Fed current owns or controls and what it does with its money.
Although the Fed told The New York Times earlier this month that a third party verified the market value of the bonds Lehman used as collateral for loans from the Fed, they did not specify who the third party was. Of course, Lehman’s auditors at Ernst & Young are already implicated in helping Lehman cook their books and fake the value of their derivatives, so the Fed may well have allowed a third party to determine the valuation but, as with the Goldman-AIG valuation debacle, not done a particularly good job at making sure that third party was at all independent.
According to Grim, Lehman’s own internal documents reflected the fact that, third-party valuations or not, the securities they signed over as collateral to the Fed were far from investment-grade.
In other words, the baskets of assets were created for the specific purpose of selling to the Fed for far more than they were worth.Lehman knew it too: “No intention to market” was scrawled on one of the internal presentations about the assets. A separate bank, Citigroup, later characterized the assets as “bottom of the barrel” and “junk” when Lehman tried to push them their way, according to the report.
So at least one third party thought the investments were junk.
Part of the proposed financial reform regulation would require investors to trade derivatives of the kind Lehman sold to the Fed on the open market in order to allow all investors, including the Fed, to have more information and assign them a real market-based value. It is, of course, one of the many provisions that financial companies are fighting tooth and nail, to allow them to continue marketing financial products and services they know full well are junk.