While I cannot predict what WikiLeaks will leak about some major banks, I have a hunch that one of the revelations might be from a special New Constructs report provided to the Senate Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance, and Investment in late October 2009.
In that report, we revealed that regulators – if they were paying attention – would have seen that many Wall Street firms were engaging in alarming levels of credit derivatives (aka credit default swaps or CDS) activity. For example, the notional value of Bank of America’s (BAC) credit derivatives contracts at the end of 2007 was over $3 trillion and 5328% greater than the $57 billion at the end of 2001. For American International Group (AIG,) the notional value of its credit derivatives contracts at the end of 2007 was $562 billion and 447% greater than the $126 million at the end of 2001. It is a wonder that Bank of America was able to survive the financial crisis without the same level of bailout/takeover by the US government experienced by AIG given that BAC’s credit derivative exposure was so much greater. Perhaps, WikiLeaks will offer some insight into how that happened?
The growth in exposure to credit derivatives was so high that anyone paying attention would have noticed. So, either the regulators knew and chose to do nothing about it (i.e. Bernie Madoff) or they simply were not paying attention (i.e. Enron, WorldComm etc).
The point is not that regulators missed or ignored clear and obvious early warning signals of the impending financial fallout that occurred years later. The point is that they seem to miss these signals quite often.
None of this surprises me given my experience working with the SEC, Senate Banking Committee, FDIC, Senator Corker, and the Congressional Oversight Panel. My presentations to them focused how to improve the integrity of the capital markets most efficiently by immediately filling holes in the corporate financial reporting system. I highlighted several major breaches of financial disclosures that had gone undetected and remain uncorrected by the SEC. For example, over the last 5 years we found 10 companies whose income statements do not add up correctly and 20 companies in the last 11 years whose balance sheets do not balance. For more examples, see the Corporate Financial Disclosure Transgressions report I submitted to the SEC and the Senate Banking Committee. What you read in that report will surprise you.
In my humble opinion, our regulatory framework (before and after overhaul) is woefully ill-equipped to find, track and address the financial machinations constantly invented on Wall Street and in corporate America.
As I stated in Private Sector to the Rescue, “Given that our ability to trust political leaders is low, we must rely more than ever on private enterprise to lead our society.”
Investors can speak louder than all politicians and regulators combined with how they allocate their research spending and how they make their investment decisions. In other words, you must decode Wall Street Propaganda and make sure you know the financial ins-and-outs of the stocks you buy and sell. There is no short-cut to success or the hard work required to analyze Financial Statements and the Financial Footnotes to determine the true economic earnings of companies. But the benefits can save your…
In short, there is no substitute for “doing the diligence.” Watch your back when investing in this market because no one else is watching it for you.