Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Theo Francis and Ben Levisohn, Business Week, August 5, 2009
"In recent months such big banks as Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (C), and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) have rolled out newfangled corporate credit lines tied to complicated and volatile derivatives. Others, including Wells Fargo (WFC) and Fifth Third (FITB), are offering payday-loan programs aimed at cash-strapped consumers. Still others are marketing new, potentially risky 'structured notes' to small investors....
"Some of Wall Street's latest innovations give reason for pause. Consider a trend in business loans. Lenders typically tie corporate credit lines to short-term interest rates. But now Citi, JPMorgan Chase, and BofA, among others, are linking credit lines both to short-term rates and credit default swaps (CDSs), the volatile and complicated derivatives that are supposed to act as "insurance" by paying off the owners if a company defaults on its debt. JPMorgan, BofA, and Citi declined to comment.
"In these new arrangements, when the price of the CDS rises—generally a sign the market thinks the company's health is deteriorating—the cost of the loan increases, too. The result: The weaker the company, the higher the interest rates it must pay, which hurts the company further.
"The lenders stress that the new products give them extra protection against default. But for companies, the opposite may be true. Managers now must deal with two layers of volatility—both short-term interest rates and credit default swaps, whose prices can spike for reasons outside their control."
Ian Katz and Jesse Westbrook, Bloomberg News, March 30, 2009
"Four days after U.S. lawmakers berated Financial Accounting Standards Board Chairman Robert Herz and threatened to take rulemaking out of his hands, FASB proposed an overhaul of fair-value accounting that may improve profits at banks such as Citigroup Inc. by more than 20 percent.
The changes proposed on March 16 to fair-value, also known as mark-to-market accounting, would allow companies to use 'significant judgment' in valuing assets and reduce the amount of writedowns they must take on so-called impaired investments, including mortgage-backed securities. A final vote on the resolutions, which would apply to first-quarter financial statements, is scheduled for April 2....
“What disturbs me most about the FASB action is they appear to be bowing to outrageous threats from members of Congress who are beholden to corporate supporters,” said [former SEC Chairman Arthur] Levitt, now a senior adviser at buyout firm Carlyle Group....
"Conrad Hewitt, a former chief accountant at the SEC who stepped down in January, said representatives from the ABA, American International Group Inc., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac all lobbied him over the past two years to suspend the fair- value rule. Executives 'would come to me in the afternoon with the argument, "You've got to suspend it,"' Hewitt said in a March 25 interview. The SEC, which oversees FASB, would reject their demands, and “the next morning their lobbyists would go to Congress,” he said.
Update on April 2: Government Gives in to Pressure and Eases Mark to Market Rules, Bloomberg News
Michael Isikoff and Dina Fine Maron, Newsweek, March 21, 2009
"A NEWSWEEK review of recent filings with the Federal Election Commission found that the political action committees of five big TARP recipients doled out $85,300 to members in the first two months of this year—with most of the cash going to those who serves on committees who oversee the TARP program. Among them: Bank of America (which got $15 billion in bailout money) sent out $24,500 in the first two months of 2009, including $1,500 to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and another $15,000 to members of the House and Senate banking panels. Citigroup ($25 billion) dished out $29,620, including $2,500 to House GOPWhip Eric Cantor, who also got $10,000 from UBS which, while not a TARP recipient, got $5 billion in bailout funds as an AIG 'counterparty.' 'This certainly appears to be a case of TARP funds being recycled into campaign contributions,' says Brett Kappel, a D.C. lawyer who tracks donations. (A spokesman for Cantor did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Hoyer said it's his 'policy to accept legal contributions.')"
Erik Schatzker, Bloomberg News, March 19, 2009
"Citigroup Inc. plans to spend about $10 million on new offices for Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit and his lieutenants, after the U.S. government injected $45 billion of cash into the bank.
"Affidavits filed with New York’s Department of Buildings show Citigroup expects to pay at least $3.2 million for basic construction such as wall removal, plumbing and fire safety. By the time architect’s fees and expenses such as furniture are added, the tally for the offices at the bank’s Park Avenue headquarters will be at least three times as high, according to a person familiar with the project who declined to be identified because he’s not authorized to comment. Citigroup said the project will help it save money over time....
"Plans and instructions for the bank’s contractors, on file with the city, specify the installation of at least one Sub-Zero Inc. refrigerator and icemaker in the renovated space, along with “premium grade” millwork and Madico Inc. “Safety Shield 800” blast-proof window film."
Aaron Lucchetti, Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2009
"Building the biggest brokerage firm on Wall Street is proving costly to Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Inc., which are planning to pay brokers about $3 billion to keep them from being poached away from the joint venture, people familiar with the matter said.
"While the terms aren't expected to be announced until later this month, the issue could grow politically sensitive, because the U.S. government holds stakes in Citigroup and Morgan Stanley as part of its bailout of the financial system. Morgan Stanley is paying Citigroup $2.7 billion to take control of the joint venture, which was announced last month and will combine its brokerage operation with Citigroup's Smith Barney unit....
"The pay packages, ranging from 50% to about 260% of a broker's annual production, are rubbing some the wrong way, especially at a time when financial-services firms have taken government money and many of the brokers' clients are suffering losses. Depending on the size of the individual broker's business, the payments can exceed $10 million."
Eric Lipton, New York Times, February 10, 2009
"Senior executives at Citigroup’s Alternative Investment division ran up hundreds of millions of dollars in losses last year on their esoteric collection of investments, including real estate funds and private highway construction projects, even as they collected seven-figure salaries and bonuses. Now the Obama administration has turned to that Citigroup division — twice — for high-level advisers.
"Jacob J. Lew, who served until late last year as the chief financial officer of Citigroup Alternative Investments, has been named deputy secretary of state, the department’s No. 2 position. Michael Froman, another former chief financial officer at the Citigroup division, has joined the White House staff as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs....
"'You sort of have to wonder why it is so smart to put them in charge now, if they helped create the mess that we are in,' said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. 'They wouldn’t strike me as the natural choice.'"
Starting Public-Sector Jobs With Parting Gifts in Hand, Washington Post, February 9, 2009