Financial Reform with an Independent Consumer Protection Agency

March 6, 2010

By Padmini Arhant

The Wall Street bailout season commenced in 2008 and continued into 2009. Those corporations allied with the oligarchs not only survived but their CEO’s are thriving amid difficult economic times and some states experiencing a double-digit unemployment.

As stated earlier in numerous articles on the economy and the financial sector, the speculators’ reckless conduct together with greed led to the status quo. The sub-prime mortgage and credit card lending practices targeting the vulnerable population contributed to the housing market decline and the alarming bankruptcies.

In addition, the credit crunch has forced many small businesses to lay off employees and left the self-employed in a dire situation. The private sector have also been affected in the liquidity crisis triggering the 9.7 percent national unemployment rate and much higher when consolidated with the under employed statistics.

Evidently, a rigorous financial reform is necessary to revive the economy and avert future meltdown.

Although, an international consensus was reached during the G-20 meetings in 2009 at London and Pittsburgh to implement strong financial regulations, the domestic agenda in the United States is faltering due to the usual Senate gridlock and the lack of enthusiasm to push the issue forward.

However, the House of Congress is way ahead of Senate in passing legislations on many issues, reflecting the Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House of Representatives’ commitment.

On the other hand, the Senate majority leader Harry Reid has a tough battle convincing the opposition, sworn to filibuster the legislations on any reform.

The Republican Senators and the democrat opponents believe in the market economy free of regulations and refuse to acknowledge the economic adversity brought upon by deregulations in the recent decades.

Failure to act now would be catastrophic for the global financial market and the economy.

There is no guarantee that the U.S economy and the rest of the world would not be subject to a similar scenario in the future with the hedge fund managers and the investment banks such as the Goldman Sachs…

Having set a precedence in wild speculations, high-risk exposure and fast track profiteering at the expense of millions of borrowers, investors and national economies like P.I.G.S, an acronym for Portugal, Iceland/Ireland, Greece and Spain, all of whom are currently dealing with insolvency.

Finance sector being the cradle of the economy, the benign symptoms would prompt the government bailouts of the default institutions. Thus, history repeating itself with the exponentially rising national debt remaining the constant factor in the non-regulatory environment.

Another attention worthy issue in this context is the establishment of an Independent Consumer Protection Agency.

Agency’s function would be fairly common and that being,

Protecting the consumer rights as the borrowers,

Creating awareness on the industry’s unethical practices apart from,

Preventing the banks in the systemic abuse of customers through inflated finance charges and interest rates on personal loans, credit card etc.

Further, it could also provide arbitration service to the borrower and the lender on financial disputes, thereby mitigating legal expenses for both parties.

Not surprisingly, there is resistance to the Independent Consumer Protection Agency.

As witnessed in the health care bill, the lobbyists are relentlessly engaged in ensuring the demise of the financial reform and the consumer protection agency.

The White House being suggested to nominate the Treasury Department in handling the Consumer Protection Agency affairs as opposed to a non-partisan and an independent committee, poses a conflict of interest stemming from the Treasury Department’s liaison with the financial institutions.

Likewise, the Federal Reserve maintaining control over the Consumer Protection Agency against the banking sector is an unrealistic expectation based on the Federal Reserve’s performance in the sub-prime mortgage debacle and the executives’ close ties with the finance sector.

Therefore, the consumer protection agency ought to be independent and focused on safeguarding consumer interest.

Financial reform cannot be delayed or relinquished especially with the Wall Street’s compulsive disorder to indulge in short term gains by acquiring toxic assets only to be transformed into a burgeoning liability.

Alternatively, the watered down legislation could fulfill a formality and not serve the purpose.

Hence, the requirement for a meaningful financial reform is absolutely vital to rein in on predatory traditions.

Finally, the U.S. economic recovery could be expedited through a robust financial regulation that would instantaneously restore the investor and consumer confidence.

Thank you.

Padmini Arhant

Finance Sector and Economic Impact

August 31, 2009

By Padmini Arhant

When the Bush administration officially recognized the economic recession in late December 2007, the malignant cancer in the financial sector was widespread – originating from gross mismanagement, underhand dealings, some in breach of lenient SEC regulations… a scenario analogous to the health abuse by overindulging individuals submitting to a potentially terminal illness.

Upon diagnosis, the prognosis called for a radical treatment to prolong life. Hence, the former administration executed a series of financial bailouts commencing with Bear Stearns, AIG, including major and minor banks bailout to a tune of $700 billion TARP (Toxic Assets Relief Program) fund.

Incidentally, the former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson bound by vested interest and commitment to his alma mater Goldman Sachs let the comparable investment group Lehman Brothers submerge into insolvency.

Is cherry picking a coincidence or key Treasury representative fulfilling obligations to the dominant force Goldman Sachs in the finance industry?

Please refresh your thoughts after reviewing the blogpost ‘Bailout Debacle’ March 22, 2009 listed under Economy and Business category at

In this context, the cited article revealing facts behind the bailout is attention worthy.

According to – Thank you.

Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

Who is Henry Paulson?

By Tom Eley, 23 September 2008

“Henry Paulson rose through the ranks of Goldman Sachs, becoming a partner in 1982, co-head of investment banking in 1990, chief operating officer in 1994. In 1998, he forced out his co-chairman Jon Corzine “in what amounted to a coup,” according to New York Times economics correspondent Floyd Norris, and took over the post of CEO.

Goldman Sachs is perhaps the single best-connected Wall Street firm. Its executives routinely go in and out of top government posts. Corzine went on to become US senator from New Jersey and is now the state’s governor. Corzine’s predecessor, Stephen Friedman, served in the Bush administration as assistant to the president for economic policy and as chairman of the National Economic Council (NEC). Friedman’s predecessor as Goldman Sachs CEO, Robert Rubin, served as chairman of the NEC and later treasury secretary under Bill Clinton.

Since taking office, Paulson has overseen the destruction of three of Goldman Sachs’ rivals.

In March, Paulson helped arrange the fire sale of Bear Stearns to JPMorgan Chase. Then, a little more than a week ago, he allowed Lehman Brothers to collapse, while simultaneously organizing the absorption of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America.

This left only Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as major investment banks, both of which were converted on Sunday into bank holding companies, a move that effectively ended the existence of the investment bank as a distinct economic form.

These bailouts have been designed to prevent a chain reaction collapse of the world economy, but more importantly, they aimed to insulate and even reward the wealthy shareholders, like Paulson, primarily responsible for the financial collapse.

Paulson bears a considerable amount of personal responsibility for the crisis.

Paulson then handsomely benefited from the speculative boom. This wealth was based on financial manipulation and did nothing to create real value in the economy. On the contrary, the extraordinary enrichment of individuals like Paulson was the corollary to the dismantling of the real economy, the bankrupting of the government, and the impoverishment of masses the world over.

Paulson was compensated to the tune of $30 million in 2004 and took home $37 million in 2005. In his career at Goldman Sachs he built up a personal net worth of over $700 million, according to estimates.

True Perspective: By Padmini Arhant

The entire economic meltdown ceremoniously attributed to the financial sector’s wayward unruly conduct in the absence of limited or no regulation. Typically, it’s a free market voluntarily surrendering to a free fall after skyrocketing profits in the pockets of privileged few in the society.

Who did the private enterprise otherwise the market system’s oligarchs approach for salvation?

It was none other than the taxpayers of the economy represented by the government.

It’s poignant to underscore the convenience for private sectors to seek the taxpayer i.e. government’s assistance when they are drowning and fleetingly dismiss the same government as an incompetent, redundant agency during the buoyancy like in the health care battle.

The day is not far when the health care and insurance industry configured to the obscene profit driven settings mimic their counterpart finance industry imploring the taxpayers/consumers bailout.

When the wealth management industry succumbs to their own greed ladened follies, can the health care and insurance industry sustain the malpractice at the economy’s expense?

If there is any respect for the laws of nature or ethical consideration, the key economic components such as the finance, health industry and others would realize that universally every substance has a limited potential to thrive and exceed performance level at any given time. The mankind periodically experienced catastrophic blows in the form of severe economic recession to ‘Great Depression’ due to the prevailing markets inertia.

Still, the lesson is never learned by the delusional segment forging permanency on this planet; choose to remain confined to the improbable cause in wealth amassment.

Now directing focus on the finance sector, the ‘artful dodger’, a nickname of the Charles Dickens’ melancholy character ‘Oliver Twist’ when turned down for more porridge, despite the courteous magic word ‘please,’ was never discouraged to maneuver the situation in personal favor.

Unlike the character ‘Oliver Twist’ a victim of severe socio-economic disparity…parallel to the modern twenty first century reality, the finance sector is well armed with tactics adherence to the rule of law in appearance but decisively biting the hands that feeds them, i.e. the consumers and taxpayers.

What are the latest strategies by the finance industry to clean up the mess on their balance sheets?

The current trend in the finance sector is adapting to the new age attraction i.e. presentation and mass appeal even if it is lacking in substance. If anything achieved from the domino effects by the financial sector, it is the mastery of unsavory techniques to impress shareholders at the consumers’ peril.

During the bailouts, both the prior and the incumbent administrations were unequivocally guaranteed instant revival of the lending activity, a predominant factor in the liquidity crisis exacerbating the economy until date.

It’s been nearly twelve to eighteen months since the infamous massive bailouts with no relief to the average citizen, retailers or the small businesses, crucial for the economic recovery. The economy deprived of the consumer spending flow because of the financial institutions’ stringent policy to hoard the taxpayers’ funds received in the form of bailouts at zero percent or nominal interest rate. Instead the taxpayer bailout is unabashedly used for extravagant bonuses to the architects of the financial calamity.

Although, the Obama administration recently capped the finance charges and interest rates on credit card borrowings to ease the extraordinary burden on average citizens, the industry leapfrogged Congress with discretionary interest rates not limited to atrocious 29.9% APR and threatening to increase further on default payments.

Another proactive measure by the banks in an effort to window dressing the balance sheet was minimizing risk exposure related to credit card and consumer lending. The industry defiantly targets the vulnerable groups like students, homeowners and the lower to median income consumers with abrupt cancellation of accounts in good standing.

The irony is noteworthy. It’s considered perfectly normal if the finance industry absconded their responsibility to the American taxpayers/creditors not barring any accountability to the oversight committee regarding the bailout investments. However, the then taxpayers/creditors as consumers/borrowers now subject to scrutiny and unprecedented means by the same financial institutions holding the mantle to lending and borrowing.

While the myriad of finance industry borrowed taxpayer funds at zero or negligible interest rate, the sector in return either withholding financing in most cases or lending at an exorbitant rate to the consumers who are also the creditors.

In the housing market, the situation synchronizes with the other lending areas such as credit card, personal loans etc. The reason for the agonizing slump in the real estate across the nation squarely falls back on the commercial banks reluctant to unleash the cash flow to qualified first homebuyers and responsible mortgagees/homeowners unable to purchase or refinance their homes. The stranglehold on consumer borrowing precipitates the foreclosures notwithstanding the vertical decline in home sales and values.

Again, the White House initiatives to restrain foreclosures and assist primary residence owners through TARP fund allocation need evaluation as the financial institutions are focused on ‘business as usual’ and not measuring up to the rigorous standard that exists for average consumers while the bailed out financial industry borrowers exempt from it.

The status quo is inadequate and compromises the high value homes in the government pursuit to rescue the conforming loans, i.e. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac toxic assets. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is a private company backed by government funds.

Not surprisingly, the illicit practice permeated to the commercial real estate affecting the prospects in that segment.

Home equity, the major and sometimes the only asset for overwhelming majority being inaccessible along with the spiraling health care and insurance costs for families, the overall economic impact is enormous forcing many to bankruptcy accelerated by the escalating unemployment rate.

Did the bailout beneficiaries show any evidence to qualify for funding?

Supposedly not, then why should they be allowed to run the economy into muck and handsomely rewarded with taxpayer bailout for the colossal failure in financial history?

Where are the taxpayer funds invested and why are they not held accountable thus far?
Is the financial market granted constitutional immunity?

And if not,

What is holding the legislators from intervening on behalf of the electorate to probe the public affairs maintained as private matter by the industry?

Meanwhile, the investment group, Goldman Sachs implicated for alleged insider information to high value investors through trade specialists deserve proper investigation and due process. The SEC regulations must apply to all without exception in absolute transparency.

With the holiday season approaching, the consumer spending is vital to expedite the stagnant economic growth. As stated above, the positive development in housing and job market intertwined with the investment pace, only possible through private sector faithful participation in lending and reactivating the economy.

Unless and until the finance sector across the board, the commercial, investment and insurance industries get their act together and relinquish the ‘subprime’ syndrome, the sagging economy will continue and eventually consume the source, the financial groups.

The financial sector is obligatory to the taxpayers as creditors and borrowers particularly with respect to the disproportionate bailouts.

Finally, with no further procrastination on the financial markets audit, it’s imperative for the Congress appointed oversight to obtain legitimate explanation on investments and lending abstinence. Any dissatisfactory response and non-cooperation by the industry must be pursued with mandatory judicial protocol.

Thank you.

Padmini Arhant

Stock Market Stability

October 15, 2008

The Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke laid out the plans and policies currently adopted as interventional measures to stabilize the stock market.

The comprehensive proposals have the necessary means and strategies to protect the taxpayers’ interests as well as restore investor confidence.

It is important to recognize that the current overhauling of the financial infrastructure that was long overdue, is taking place in complete coordination with monetary authorities and political leadership worldwide.

Although, the necessary steps may not bring immediate recovery to the current crisis, the entire financial system has to collaborate and function both psychologically and physiologically to revive the economy and mobilize the equity and liquidity markets.

It is a consolidated effort and requires all parties concerned to come forward not only in their self-interest but also to ensure long term market security that would promote the economic growth and development.

The Retail industries are projecting sluggish sales around this time of the year due to anticipated reduced consumer spending triggered by high unemployment rate.

This in part is contributing to the lack of enthusiasm from the investors in their active participation in the market.

Again, the domino effect permeates due to resistance from the financial sectors withholding cash and confidence that could otherwise energize the market.

Please stand by for an elaborated version of these circumstances like unemployment and reduced consumer spending with the presentation of expert opinions and solutions to the current crises.

Thank you.

Padmini Arhant

Stock Market Performance

October 14, 2008

The Stock Market came roaring back on October 13, 2008 and was a major cause for celebration across the globe.

The collective and collaborative effort by the “Heads of Government” through G7 and G20 meetings, in coordination with the global monetary authorities like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund yielded the much-required morale boost in the financial markets. Their immediate action to respond to the crisis is praiseworthy.

Despite the consolidated action to jumpstart the markets, the stock market is struggling to sustain the momentum gained on the previous day. Obviously, the indication is that the measures in the past hours and days to guarantee the smooth functioning of the financial system is not adequate.

A selective opinion highlighting the reasons for the problems currently experienced in the credit markets –

Source – – Thank you.

Why Federal Reserve Policy is Failing

Monday, October 06, 2008

Commentary by Thomas I. Paley, Ph.D.

The Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury continue to fail in their attempts to stabilize the U.S. financial system. That is due to failure to grasp the nature of the problem, which concerns the parallel banking system. Rescue policy remains stuck in the past, focused on the traditional banking system while ignoring the parallel unregulated system that was permitted to develop over the past twenty-five years.

This parallel banking system financed vast amounts of real estate lending and consumer borrowing. The system (which included the likes of Thornburg Mortgage, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers) made loans but had no deposit base. Instead, it relied on roll-over funding obtained through money markets. Additionally, it operated with little capital and extremely high leverage ratios, which was critical to its tremendous profitability. Finally, loans were often securitized and traded among financial firms.

This business model has now proven extremely fragile. First, the model created a fundamental maturity mismatch, whereby loans were of a long term nature but funding was short-term. That left firms vulnerable to disruptions of money market funding, as has now occurred.

Second, securitization converted loans into financial instruments that could be priced according to market conditions. That was fine when prices were rising, but when they started falling firms had to take large mark-to-market losses. Given their low capital ratios, those losses quickly wiped out firms’ capital bases, thereby freezing roll-over funding.

In effect, the parallel banking business model completely lacked shock absorbers, and it has now imploded in a vicious cycle. Lack of roll-over financing has compelled asset sales, which has driven down prices. That has further eroded capital, triggering margin calls that have caused more asset sales and even lower prices, making financing impossible for even the best firms.

Though the parallel banking system engaged in riskier lending than the traditional banking system, those differences were a matter of degree. Traditional banks like Washington Mutual, Wachovia, and Citigroup have also all lost huge sums. However, the traditional banking system is more protected for two reasons.

First, traditional banks are significantly funded by customer deposits. Ironically, such deposits can be withdrawn on demand and are in principle even more insecure than short term roll-over funding. However, they stay in place because of federally provided deposit insurance.

Second, traditional banks are significantly shielded from mark-to-market accounting because they hold on to many of their loans. These loans are therefore priced by auditors on a mark-to-realization basis. However, if they were securitized their market value would be significantly lower owing to current disruptive market conditions.

The bottom line is that the banking system is in better shape not because of its virtues, but because of policy. Deposit funding is safe because of deposit insurance. Banks are spared mark-to market losses because of different accounting rules. And the Federal Reserve is providing banks with massive liquidity infusions through its discount window and its various emergency auction facilities.

Policy has therefore ring-fenced traditional banks. But in the meantime it has left the parallel system in the cold, leaving a gaping hole in the policy dyke.

This policy stance reflects the Fed’s continuing attachment to an antiquated view of the system whereby it takes responsibility for traditional banks and nothing else. Such a policy makes no sense and will fail. The Fed encouraged development of the parallel system, and that system undertakes many of the same activities as traditional banks. Meanwhile, failure of the parallel banking system will continue putting downward pressure on asset prices and lender confidence.

The Treasury’s proposed seven hundred billion dollar asset purchase program will help put a needed floor under asset prices. However, it does nothing to tackle the parallel banking system’s roll-over funding crisis that is crimping lending and pushing firms into bankruptcy. That is causing distress to spread far beyond the mortgage market, undermining the ability of any asset purchase program to put a floor under asset prices.

The urgent implication is the Fed (and other central banks) must extend its safety network to include the parallel banking system. Just as the traditional banking system needs liquidity assistance, so too does the parallel system. That assistance can be provided through such vehicles as the discount window and Federal Reserve auction facilities, and it should be allocated to qualified firms able to post appropriate collateral.

A credit based system is a chain, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The Federal Reserve’s antiquated view has it protecting links connected to the traditional banking system while neglecting everything else. That is a recipe for failure.

Dr. Thomas Palley is a widely published economist and was formerly Chief Economist at the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Analysis: Certainly, the emphasis is on the oversight with effective policies for the entire financial structure to alleviate stagnation in the liquidity markets. The investor confidence overall is marred with concerns and skepticism despite stunning performance on October 13, 2008.

The resistance from the free market system towards proposed measures is one of the factors for the current trend. However, the necessary action could eliminate many underlying problems surrounding the entire financial infrastructure, contributing to the volatility in the markets.

Meanwhile, the investors’ active participation to restore momentum and strengthening market gains across all sectors is important for the common good and benefit in the short and long run.

An optimistic approach to the crisis with an absolute integrity in the implementation of policies will assist the markets to rebound now and in the future.

Thank you.

Padmini Arhant