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Central Banks Have Gone Rogue, Putting Us All At Risk

The largest single players (excluding institutions such as Blackrock and Vanguard which are composed of multiple investors) in global equity markets are now thought to be central banks themselves. An estimated 30 to 40 central banks are invested in the stock market, either directly or through their investment vehicles (sovereign wealth funds).

Central banks, which create fiat money out of thin air and for whom 'acquisition cost' is a meaningless term, are increasingly nationalizing the equity capital markets. Or at least they would be nationalizing equities, if they were actually "national" central banks. But the Swiss National Bank, the biggest single player in this game, is 48 percent privately owned, and most central banks have declared their independence from their governments. They march to the drums not of government but of private industry.
 link to www.truthdig.com

Sep 13, 2018
TD originals

Central Banks Have Gone Rogue, Putting Us All at Risk

Ellen Brown

Excluding institutions such as Blackrock and Vanguard, which are composed of multiple investors, the largest single players in global equity markets are now thought to be central banks themselves. An estimated 30 to 40 central banks are invested in the stock market, either directly or through their investment vehicles (sovereign wealth funds). According to David Haggith at Zero Hedge:

Central banks buying stocks are effectively nationalizing U.S. corporations just to maintain the illusion that their "recovery" plan is working. ... At first, their novel entry into the stock market was only intended to rescue imperiled corporations, such as General Motors during the first plunge into the Great Recession, but recently their efforts have shifted to propping up the entire stock market via major purchases of the most healthy companies on the market.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, which bailed out General Motors in a rescue operation in 2009, was prohibited from lending to individual companies under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, and it is legally barred from owning equities. It parks its reserves instead in bonds and other government-backed securities. But other countries have different rules, and central banks are now buying individual stocks as investments, with a preference for big tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Those are the stocks that dominate the market, and central banks are aggressively driving up their value. Markets, including the U.S. stock market, are thus literally being rigged by foreign central banks.

The result, as noted in a January 2017 article at Zero Hedge, is that central bankers, "who create fiat money out of thin air and for whom 'acquisition cost' is a meaningless term, are increasingly nationalizing the equity capital markets." Or at least they would be nationalizing equities, if they were actually "national" central banks. But the Swiss National Bank, the biggest single player in this game, is 48 percent privately owned, and most central banks have declared their independence from their governments. They march to the drums not of government but of private industry.

Marking the 10th anniversary of the 2008 collapse, former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and former Treasury secretaries Timothy Geithner and Henry Paulson wrote in a Sept. 7 New York Times op-ed that the Fed's tools needed to be broadened to allow it to fight the next anticipated economic crisis, including allowing it to prop up the stock market by buying individual stocks. To investors, propping up the stock market may seem like a good thing, but what happens when the central banks decide to sell? The Fed's massive $4-trillion economic support is now being taken away, and other central banks are expected to follow. Their U.S. and global holdings are so large that their withdrawal from the market could trigger another global recession. That means when and how the economy will collapse is now in the hands of central bankers.

Moving Goal Posts

The two most aggressive central bank players in the equity markets are the Swiss National Bank and the Bank of Japan. The goal of the Bank of Japan, which now owns 75 percent of Japanese exchange-traded funds, is evidently to stimulate growth and defy longstanding expectations of deflation. But the Swiss National Bank is acting more like a hedge fund, snatching up individual stocks because "that is where the money is."

About 20 percent of the SNB's reserves are in equities, and more than half of that is in U.S. equities. The SNB's goal is said to be to counteract the global demand for Swiss francs, which has been driving up the value of the national currency, making it hard for Swiss companies to compete in international trade. The SNB does this by buying up other currencies, and because it needs to put them somewhere, it's putting that money in stocks.

That is a reasonable explanation for the SNB's actions, but some critics suspect it has ulterior motives. Switzerland is home to the Bank for International Settlements, the "central bankers' bank" in Basel, where central bankers meet regularly behind closed doors. Dr. Carroll Quigley, a Georgetown history professor who claimed to be the historian of the international bankers, wrote of this institution in" Tragedy and Hope" in 1966:

[T]he powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent private meetings and conferences. The apex of the system was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world's central bank,s which were themselves private corporations.

The key to their success, said Quigley, was that they would control and manipulate the money system of a nation while letting it appear to be controlled by the government. The economic and political systems of nations would be controlled not by citizens but by bankers, for the benefit of bankers. The goal was to establish an independent (privately owned or controlled) central bank in every country. Today, that goal has largely been achieved.

In a paper presented at the 14th Rhodes Forum in Greece in October 2016, Dr. Richard Werner, director of international development at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, argued that central banks have managed to achieve total independence from government and total lack of accountability to the people, and that they are now in the process of consolidating their powers. They control markets by creating bubbles, busts and economic chaos. He pointed to the European Central Bank, which was modeled on the disastrous earlier German central bank, the Reichsbank. The Reichsbank created deflation, hyperinflation and the chaos that helped bring Adolf Hitler to power.

The problem with the Reichsbank, said Werner, was its excessive independence and its lack of accountability to German institutions and Parliament. The founders of post-war Germany changed the new central bank's status by significantly curtailing its independence. Werner wrote, "The Bundesbank was made accountable and subordinated to Parliament, as one would expect in a democracy. It became probably the world's most successful central bank."

But today's central banks, he said, are following the disastrous Reichsbank model, involving an unprecedented concentration of power without accountability. Central banks are not held responsible for their massive policy mistakes and reckless creation of boom-bust cycles, banking crises and large-scale unemployment. Youth unemployment now exceeds 50 percent in Spain and Greece. Many central banks remain in private hands, including not only the Swiss National Bank but the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Italian, Greek and South African central banks.

Banks and Central Banks Should Be Made Public Utilities

Werner's proposed solution to this dangerous situation is to bypass both the central banks and the big international banks and decentralize power by creating and supporting local not-for-profit public banks. Ultimately, he envisions a system of local public money issued by local authorities as receipts for services rendered to the local community. Legally, he noted, 97 percent of the money supply is already just private company credit, which can be created by any company, with or without a banking license. Governments should stop issuing government bonds, he said, and instead fund their public sector credit needs through domestic banks that create money on their books (as all banks have the power to do). These banks could offer more competitive rates than the bond markets and could stimulate the local economy with injections of new money. They could also put the big bond underwriting firms that feed on the national debt out of business.

Abolishing the central banks is one possibility, but if they were recaptured as public utilities, they could serve some useful purposes. A central bank dedicated to the service of the public could act as an unlimited source of liquidity for a system of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate "quantitative easing for the people," which could be used to fund infrastructure, low-interest loans to cities and states, and other public services.

The ability to nationalize companies by buying them with money created on the central bank's books could also be a useful public tool. The next time the mega-banks collapse, rather than bailing them out, they could be nationalized and their debts paid off with central bank-generated money.

There are other possibilities. Former assistant treasury secretary Paul Craig Roberts argues that we should also nationalize the media and the armaments industry. Researchers at the Democracy Collaborative have suggested nationalizing the large fossil fuel companies by simply purchasing them with Fed-generated funds. In a September 2018 policy paper titled "Taking Climate Action to the Next Level," the researchers wrote, "This action might represent our best chance to gain time and unlock a rapid but orderly energy transition, where wealth and benefits are no longer centralized in growth-oriented, undemocratic, and ethically dubious corporations, such as ExxonMobil and Chevron."

Critics will say this would result in hyperinflation, but an argument can be made that it wouldn't. That argument will have to wait for another article, but the point here is that massive central bank interventions that were thought to be impossible in the 20th century are now being implemented in the 21st, and they are being done by independent central banks controlled by an international banking cartel. It is time to curb central bank independence. If their powerful tools are going to be put to work, it should be in the service of the public and the economy.

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An oligopoly of giant banks 16.Sep.2018 05:36

Adam Tooze marc1seed@yahoo.com

 https://www.zeit.de/wirtschaft/2018-09/financial-crisis-lehman-brothers-crashed-adam-tooze-english/komplettansicht

The chance for structural reform was missed in 2008. Under current conditions, it is utopian to imagine a government conference à la Bretton Woods ordering the creation of a new global currency system. We will have to live with a dollar-based oligopoly of giant banks. What we must aim to do is tighten regulations, further raise capital requirements and bolster liquidity buffers to minimize the risk of a bank run. Furthermore, me must extend regulation to non-banks, such as the major asset managers. These are technical matters, but as the fate of Dodd-Frank shows, they cannot be separated from politics. And that is also true for Europe, where the issue of banking union has become trapped in quicksand. The endless bickering over technicalities is the opposite of what we need: namely a real and powerful banking supervision that does not shy away from fundamental questions and public debate.

Unfortunately, no one with political authority on either side of the Atlantic seems prepared to pose these questions, let alone to take action. After 2008, we know what that means. When things get serious, we are all on the hook.

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The Insanely Profitable Federal Reserve 16.Sep.2018 23:56

Joshua M. Brown

Fat Stacks

The Insanely Profitable Federal Reserve

On February 1, Janet Yellen will take over America's central bank, a cash cow that makes the Fortune 500 look like peanuts.

Joshua M. Brown
01.14.14 5:45 AM ET

The Federal Reserve is the most powerful and influential financial institution in the world and it is also one hell of a business.

The Fed, like Newt Gingrich, was hatched in secret one hundred years ago, on a small island off the coast of Georgia. It was created to bring order to a chaotic banking system in the wake of a string of financial crises around the turn of the century. What's gotten the mainstream media buzzing about the bank of late is the fact that, for the first time in it's century-long history, a woman will be running the show. As many have pointed out, incoming chairperson Janet Yellen may in fact become the most powerful woman in the world upon her ascension on February 1st.

The Fed is not quite a government entity but it is not quite a private corporation either; it is something of a hybrid between the two  link to www.frbsf.org and enjoys the dual benefit of that perception. Its role in the economy is to direct monetary policy (mainly by setting various interest rates), supervise the banking system (LOL), and maintain some semblance of stability in the economy by managing prices and employment to the extent it can.

It also makes a metric ass-ton of money in the process, kicking this cash back upstairs to the U.S. government that permits it to operate.

How profitable is the Federal Reserve?

Victoria McGrane's story  link to blogs.wsj.com at the Wall Street Journal tells us about the Fed's incredibly lucrative 2013 (emphasis mine):

The Federal Reserve sent about $77.7 billion in profits to the Treasury Department in 2013.

The Fed in a statement released Friday said it made an estimated $79.5 billion in net interest income, a total largely driven by the $90.4 billion in interest income it made on its portfolio of Treasurys, mortgage bonds and other securities.

Okay, that's a lot of money, topped only by the record $88 billion generated in 2012. And obviously these totals are elevated because of the institution's many stimulus programs, such as the various quantitative easings (QE1, QE2, QE3: The Search for Spock), Operation Twist, and whatnot.

McGrane tells us that the annual cost of running the 12 Federal Reserve Banks and funding the operations of the new CFPB regulatory body is around $5.7 billion. So, while the Fed is not necessarily a private "business" per se, it is an obscenely high-margin quasi-corporation, with around $80 billion in after-cost profits.

How does the Fed's profitability compare to America's other gigantic businesses?

For starters, the $90 billion or so in total interest income the central bank's portfolio paid out is equal to about one-third of all corporate dividends paid by U.S. companies in 2013 ($311.8 billion).

The Federal Reserve, after operational costs, is earning double the profits of Exxon Mobil ($44 billion) and Apple ($41 billion), and those two companies are doing a combined $600 billion in global revenues! The Fed is in a much better business than finding oil or making phones - instead it merely sits atop a $4 trillion portfolio of mostly risk-free bond investments and is the de facto ultimate decider of what the interest payments are going to be. Not bad work if you can get it.

If we just compare the profits of the Fed's net interest income after expenses to the rest of the banking sector, we see that it is equal to the profits of the ten largest financial institutions put together! The most recent annual profits of JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, American Express, Capital One Financial, US Bancorp, PNC and Bank of New York Melon total up to $78.3 billion, just shy of the Federal Reserve's vig.

According to outgoing chairman Ben Bernanke, the bank has sent more than $350 billion to the Treasury  link to blogs.wsj.com since 2009, which is equal to the total amount it had sent during the entire 18-year period before the financial crisis began. Not a bad flow of funds to find oneself in the middle of. It's good to be the Fed.


How America Can Free Itself From Wall Street 12.Oct.2018 23:19

Ellen Brown

Oct 02, 2018

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The New York Stock Exchange building looms large on Wall Street in New York City. (Max Pixel)
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Wall Street owns the country. That was the opening line of a fiery speech that populist leader Mary Ellen Lease delivered around 1890. Franklin Roosevelt said it again in a letter to Colonel House in 1933, and Sen. Dick Durbin was still saying it in 2009. "The banks—hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created—are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill," Durbin said in an interview. "And they frankly own the place."

Wall Street banks triggered a credit crisis in 2008-09 that wiped out over $19 trillion in household wealth, turned some 10 million families out of their homes and cost almost 9 million jobs in the U.S. alone. Yet the banks were bailed out without penalty, while defrauded home buyers were left without recourse or compensation. The banks made a killing on interest rate swaps with cities and states across the country, after a compliant and accommodating Federal Reserve dropped interest rates nearly to zero. Attempts to renegotiate these deals have failed.

In Los Angeles, the City Council was forced to reduce the city's budget by 19 percent following the banking crisis, slashing essential services, while Wall Street has not budged on the $4.9 million it claims annually from the city on its swaps. Wall Street banks are now collecting more from Los Angeles just in fees than it has available to fix its ailing roads.

Local governments have been in bondage to Wall Street ever since the 19th century despite multiple efforts to rein them in. Regulation has not worked. To break free, we need to divest our public funds from these banks and move them into our own publicly owned banks.

L.A. Takes It to the Voters

Some cities and states have already moved forward with feasibility studies and business plans for forming their own banks. But the city of Los Angeles faces a barrier to entry that other cities don't have. In 1913, the same year the Federal Reserve was formed to backstop the private banking industry, the city amended its charter to state that it had all the powers of a municipal corporation, "with the provision added that the city shall not engage in any purely commercial or industrial enterprise not now engaged in, except on the approval of the majority of electors voting thereon at an election."

Under this provision, voter approval would apparently not be necessary for a city-owned bank that limited itself to taking the city's deposits and refinancing municipal bonds as they came due, since that sort of bank would not be a "purely commercial or industrial enterprise" but would simply be a public utility that made more efficient use of public funds. But voter approval would evidently be required to allow the city to explore how public banks can benefit local economic development, rather than just finance public projects.

The L.A. City Council could have relied on this 1913 charter amendment to say no to the dynamic local movement led by millennial activists to divest from Wall Street and create a city-owned bank. But the City Council chose instead to jump that hurdle by putting the matter to the voters. In July 2018, it added Charter Amendment B to the November ballot. A "yes" vote will allow the creation of a city-owned bank that can partner with local banks to provide low-cost credit for the community, following the stellar precedent of the century-old Bank of North Dakota, currently the nation's only state-owned bank. By cutting out Wall Street middlemen, the Bank of North Dakota has been able to make below-market credit available to local businesses, farmers and students while still being more profitable than some of Wall Street's largest banks. Following that model would have a substantial upside for both the small business and the local banking communities in Los Angeles.

Rebutting the Opposition

On Sept. 20, the Los Angeles Times editorial board threw cold water on this effort, calling the amendment "half-baked" and "ill-conceived," and recommending a "no" vote.

Yet not only was the measure well-conceived, but L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson has shown visionary leadership in recognizing its revolutionary potential. He sees the need to declare our independence from Wall Street. He has said that the country looks to California to lead, and that Los Angeles needs to lead California. The people deserve it, and the millennials whose future is in the balance have demanded it.

The City Council recognizes that it's going to be an uphill battle. Charter Amendment B just asks voters, "Do you want us to proceed?" It is merely an invitation to begin a dialogue on creating a new kind of bank—one geared to serving the people rather than Wall Street.

Amendment B does not give the City Council a blank check to create whatever bank it likes. It just jumps the first of many legal hurdles to obtaining a bank charter. The California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) will have the last word, and it grants bank charters only to applicants that are properly capitalized, collateralized and protected against risk. Public banking experts have talked to the DBO at length and understand these requirements, and a detailed summary of a model business plan has been prepared, to be posted shortly.

The L.A. Times editorial board erroneously compares the new effort with the failed Los Angeles Community Development Bank, which was founded in 1992 and was insolvent a decade later. That institution was not a true bank and did not have to meet the DBO's stringent requirements for a bank charter. It was an unregulated, non-depository, nonprofit loan and equity fund, capitalized with funds that were basically a handout from the federal government to pacify the restless inner city after riots broke out in 1992—and its creation was actually supported by the L.A. Times.

The Times also erroneously cites a 2011 report by the Boston Federal Reserve contending that a Massachusetts state-owned bank would require $3.6 billion in capitalization. That prohibitive sum is regularly cited by critics bent on shutting down the debate without looking at the very questionable way in which it was derived. The Boston authors began with the $2 million used in 1919 to capitalize the Bank of North Dakota, multiplied that number up for inflation, multiplied it up again for the increase in GDP over a century and multiplied it up again for the larger population of Massachusetts. This dubious triple-counting is cited as serious research, although economic growth and population size have nothing to do with how capital requirements are determined.

Bank capital is simply the money that is invested in a bank to leverage loans. The capital needed is based on the size of the loan portfolio. At a 10 percent capital requirement, $100 million is sufficient to capitalize $1 billion in loans, which would be plenty for a startup bank designed to prove the model. That sum is already more than three times the loan portfolio of the California Infrastructure and Development Bank, which makes below-market loans on behalf of the state. As profits increase the bank's capital, more loans can be added. Bank capitalization is not an expenditure but an investment, which can come from existing pools of unused funds or from a bond issue to be repaid from the bank's own profits.

Deposits will be needed to balance a $1 billion loan portfolio, but Los Angeles easily has them—they are now sitting in Wall Street banks having no fiduciary obligation to reinvest them in Los Angeles. The city's latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows a government net position of over $8 billion in cash and investments (liquid assets), plus proprietary, fiduciary and other liquid funds. According to a 2014 study published by the Fix LA Coalition:

Together, the City of Los Angeles, its airport, seaport, utilities and pension funds control $106 billion that flows through financial institutions in the form of assets, payments and debt issuance. Wall Street profits from each of these flows of money not only through the multiple fees it charges, but also by lending or leveraging the city's deposited funds and by structuring deals in unnecessarily complex ways that generate significant commissions.

Despite having slashed spending in the wake of revenue losses from the Wall Street-engineered financial crisis, Los Angeles is still being crushed by Wall Street financial fees, to the tune of nearly $300 million—just in 2014. The savings in fees alone from cutting out Wall Street middlemen could thus be considerable, and substantially more could be saved in interest payments. These savings could then be applied to other city needs, including for affordable housing, transportation, schools and other infrastructure.

In 2017, Los Angeles paid $1.1 billion in interest to bondholders, constituting the wealthiest 5 percent of the population. Refinancing that debt at just 1 percent below its current rate could save up to 25 percent on the cost of infrastructure, half the cost of which is typically financing. Consider, for example, Proposition 68, a water bond passed by California voters last summer. Although it was billed as a $4 billion bond, the total outlay over 40 years at 4 percent will actually be $8 billion. Refinancing the bond at 3 percent (the below-market rate charged by the California Infrastructure and Development Bank) would save taxpayers nearly $2 billion on the overall cost of the bond.

Finding the Political Will

The numbers are there to support the case for a city-owned bank, but a critical ingredient in effecting revolutionary change is finding the political will. Being first in any innovation is always the hardest. Reasons can easily be found for saying no. What is visionary and revolutionary is to say, "Yes, we can do this."

As California goes, so goes the nation, and legislators around the country are watching to see how it goes in Los Angeles. Rather than criticism, council President Wesson deserves high praise for stepping forth in the face of predictable pushback and daunting legal hurdles to lead the country in breaking free from our centuries-old subjugation to Wall Street exploitation.