Is Obama Fixing to Own Some Banks?

The other day, I suggested that Obama’s principles of government ownership sounded like they were designed for more than just GM.

There’s evidence to support that suggestion in this reasonably good David Sanger article on the GM bankruptcy.

In interviews in recent days, Mr. Obama’s economic team said it anticipated [political pressues regarding business decisions related to companies the government owns], and had moved to cut them off early.

It started right around the time of the bank stress tests,” said Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, in an interview on Monday. During one of the president’s daily economic briefings, Mr. Emanuel added, “he said that taking over companies like this is a big deal, and that no president has ever faced anything like this before. And he said he wanted to see some rules of the road about how the government should act” when it suddenly becomes the biggest shareholder in the market.

Mr. Obama clearly wanted protection: a set of principles he could hand to angry members of Congress, campaign contributors or executives to explain why he would not call Fritz Henderson, G.M.’s chief executive, to discuss whether an engine should be made in Saginaw or Shanghai.

The result was an interagency task force informally called “The Government as Shareholder,” headed by Diana Farrell, the deputy director of the National Economic Council and formerly the head of the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of McKinsey & Company.

It was Ms. Farrell’s report, delivered to the Oval Office fewer than 10 days ago, that laid out the principles that Mr. Obama described on Monday.

The White House insists the principles will apply equally to the government’s investment in the American International Group, the fallen insurer, or in Citigroup and other banks that the government has rescued. [my emphasis]

Sanger doesn’t seem to get the implication of Rahm’s comment. Rahm tells us these principles–principles the government will use with companies it owns–came up not during auto task force discussions, but during the bank stress tests.  That means the conversation about socialism how big a deal it is for the government to own companies came up in the context of owning banks, not owning car companies.

Sure, we already own an insurance company and Freddie and Fannie. Sure, maybe the reference to Citi is a very pointed reference. 

But it sure seems like these principles suggest we’re going to be owning a bank in the near future, to go along with GM and AIG.  Read more

Geithner to Banks: “Ix-Nay on the Solvency-Inay”

I suppose, if Wells Fargo boasted wildly in its earnings report that it not only made a profit, but passed its stress test with flying colors, and Bank of America and Citi remained silent about the results of their stress tests in their earnings report, then we all might conclude that Bank of America and Citi had fared rather poorly on their tests.

As opposed to all of us concluding that Bank of America and Citi failed their no-fail stress test based on the FDIC want ads and the way Geithner has been wandering around saying "Shhhhhhh!" all week.

Still. Isn’t it bad form for the Treasury Department to order financial institutions to hide data about their financial health on their earnings reports? (h/t Stephen)

The U.S. Treasury Department is asking banks not to mention the regulatory "stress tests" as part of their first-quarter earnings results, according to a source familiar with government discussions.

If I were a BoA or Citi stockholder, I’d be finalizing my suit against Geithner right now to avoid the rush.

They’re Not Tax Havens … They’re Secrecy Havens

Citing a GAO report I linked to in January, Joe Conason had a much noted article on "tax shelters" this week. He argues we should focus on finding all the unpaid taxes in the tax shelters these companies are using, rather than focusing on AIG’s measly bonuses.

In the article, Conason asks "what other reason" businesses would have for using the tax shelters, concluding that it must be the taxes.

According to the Government Accountability Office, nearly all of America’s top 100 corporations maintain subsidiaries in countries identified as tax havens. As the GAO notes, there could be reasons other than avoiding the IRS to set up branches in places such as Singapore, Luxembourg and Switzerland, where taxes are light or nonexistent and keeping clients’ illicit secrets is considered a matter of national pride.

But what reason other than evasion could there be for Goldman Sachs Group to set up three subsidiaries in Bermuda, five in Mauritius, and 15 in the Cayman Islands? Why did Countrywide Financial need two subsidiaries in Guernsey? Why did Wachovia need 18 subsidiaries in Bermuda, three in the British Virgin Islands, and 16 in the Caymans? Why did Lehman Brothers need 31 subsidiaries in the Caymans? What do Bank of America’s 59 subsidiaries in the Caymans actually do? Why does Citigroup need 427 separate subsidiaries in tax havens, including 12 in the Channel Islands, 21 in Jersey, 91 in Luxembourg, 19 in Bermuda and 90 in the Caymans? What exactly is going on at Morgan Stanley’s 19 subs in Jersey, 29 subs in Luxembourg, 14 subs in the Marshall Islands, and its amazing 158 subs in the Caymans? And speaking of AIG, why does it have 18 subs in tax-haven countries? (Don’t expect to find out from Fox News Channel or the New York Post, because News Corp. has its own constellation of strange subsidiaries, including 33 in the Caymans alone.)

I pointed out in my January post the other point of these tax havens:

What Levin didn’t say, of course, is that these tax havens allow them to avoid financial oversight, too.

And wrote another post giving a scary example of what those other reasons might include.

Masaccio pointed me to these two passages in AIG’s 10K, which sound like they may describe what Gober is talking about:

Various AIG profit centers, including DBG, AIU, AIG Reinsurance Advisors, Inc. and AIG Risk Finance, as well as certain Foreign Life subsidiaries, Read more

Citi and AIG Didn’t Still Don’t Get It

Fox Business News has an article describing what it got in response to a FOIA request for Treasury documents on the bailout. While most of the interesting details were redacted because of attorney-client privilege, the documents do reveal the extent to which Citi and AIG were as arrogant when Treasury was negotiating this stuff as they have been in recent weeks.

While the documents lack many specifics, the broad tone conveys a sense of urgency. For instance, though the details of what specifically held up an agreement with Citigroup at the end of last year are muddy, it’s clear from the documents it dealt with compensation. What’s also clear is that government officials were amazed that, even at the eleventh hour, Citi officials still didn’t seem to understand that they would have to make concessions.

“Unbelievable,” wrote Stephen Albrecht, the counselor to the general counsel at Treasury, summing up the situation.

There was also obvious tension between AIG and the government — at least from Treasury’s standpoint. For example, an outside counsel, Marshall Huebner, an attorney at Davis Polk representing the government, was trying to clarify a meeting time for a conference call on Nov. 9. But AIG “rudely never replied to last night’s timing question,” the lawyer wrote. Another lawyer that same day said “I agree and I note that some of them do not have a sense of timeline.”

AIG’s tone appeared to be casual, even cavalier. Anastasia Kelly, executive vice president and general counsel at AIG, responding on behalf of herself and Paula Reynolds, AIG’s chief restructuring officer, told Huebner later that day: “Paula and I love you (in the most appropriate way).”

The volume of emails that cover compensation issues shows that from the very beginning, Treasury wanted to clamp down on executive pay and bonuses for workers at AIG and Citigroup. But in the end, Treasury bent (one email shows officials saying they are “trying to leave open as much flexibility as possible”), a decision that ultimately seems to have led to last week’s controversy over bonuses paid to AIG executive. [my empahsis]

Meanwhile, Obama’s still trying to get the bankers to get it. 

Kansas' Lobbying Helps France Fly Citi to Its Tax Shelters

Update: Apparently, Obama has explained to these Citi leeches the wisdom of giving up their new jet, and they have acceded to his demand wisdom. Well, so far, new-and-improved TARP is better than the old version.

It’s not that I’m bitter that Congress took away GM’s and Chrysler’s (but not Cerberus’) jets (in fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Without the jets it’ll make it hard to do business with suppliers in locations–like northern Mexico–that aren’t really well served by commercial airlines).

It’s that this makes the US look like world class chumps.

You see, earlier this month, Barney Frank tried to take the corporate jets away from those on Wall Street who–like GM and Chrysler–are sucking on the government teat to survive. Only, Kansas Congressman Dennis Moore hassled Barney until he took that provision out of the new-and-improved TARP.

To make sure corporate America got the message, Mr. Frank dropped a provision into the latest bailout bill, H.R. 384, the TARP Reform and Accountability Act, requiring would-be recipients of taxpayer funds to dump their corporate fleets. The message: If you want taxpayer money, sell your jet and fly commercial.

That sure sounded tough. And it sure sent a message to the automakers. When they came back to Washington, they drove.

But last week, Rep. Frank quietly stripped the no-jet provision from the bill. Why?

In a word: Kansas.

Kansas is a hub of aircraft manufacturing, particularly the making of corporate jets. One of Frank’s fellow Democrat[ic–sic] congressmen, Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas, sent the powerful chairman a note that delicately suggested he re-think the tough talk.

"We have to be careful about Congress overreacting," Moore wrote in a statement.

What he told CNN he wrote to Chairman Frank was more diplomatic.

"It is clear that the auto executives were insensitive to American taxpayers when they flew in their private jets to request billions of dollars," wrote Moore. "But I have concerns that applying this well-intended provision may have unintended consequences of hurting the general aviation industry and its workers."

The congressman pointed out pointed out that 44,000 workers in Kansas work directly for the airplane manufacturing industry, and a lot of families depend on those paychecks. Last Tuesday, the "no-fly" language was dropped, and yet another get-tough message from Congress got a soft landing.

Late today, Chairman Frank sent a statement to CNN explaining his decision. Read more