It's hard to know which aspect of today's world future historians will find most appalling. But the fact that during the greatest financial crime spree ever, not a single major Wall Street executive has gone to jail has to rank right up there.
Yes, the occasional insider trader and Ponzi scheme operator is prosecuted, but that kind of crime is just background noise in a major financial market. Someone is always doing such things and getting caught. But the systemic stuff, the selling of clearly-defective bonds to less-than-savvy municipal pension funds, the paying of rating agencies to slap "AAA" on those bonds without even looking at the underlying mortgages, the manipulation of markets in ways that would be impossible if regulators were not either paid-off or active participants -- these things were (and are) rampant, and that the perps are still rich and free testifies to the completeness with which Washington is now owned by the big banks.
And yet...this year some regulators (who may have missed the memo explaining how things work) have actually accused some big banks of doing something wrong - in public.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - JPMorgan Chase & Co agreed on Tuesday to pay $410 million to settle allegations of power market manipulation in California and the Midwest, the latest in a series of high-profile inquiries by U.S. federal energy regulators.
The settlement, announced by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), will allow Chief Executive Jamie Dimon to close the books on one of several costly run-ins with regulators over the past year. It came days after the bank said it was quitting the physical commodities business.
JPMorgan Ventures Energy Corp, the commodity trading unit that became one of the biggest U.S. electricity traders with the 2008 acquisition of Bear Stearns, agreed to pay a civil penalty of $285 million and disgorge $125 million for "manipulative bidding strategies" from September 2010 through November 2012.
It is the second largest penalty in FERC history, and comes as the once-quiet government regulator steps up its pursuit of market malfeasance after gaining expanded powers from Congress in 2005, part of efforts to crack down on market manipulation after Enron Corp's spectacular collapse.
The FERC deal did not cite specific traders or JPMorgan's commodities chief Blythe Masters for any wrongdoing. Masters spent billions of dollars over the past five years to build JPMorgan's oil, power, gas and metals business into the biggest on Wall Street.
JPMorgan had vowed in May to fight the FERC charges and disputed allegations that employees lied or acted inappropriately during the investigation. After a court battle over the disclosure over documents, the bank entered settlement discussions.
On Tuesday, FERC laid out Masters knowledge of the traders abusive bidding strategies, including spreadsheets given to her detailing a seven-year plan to churn up to $2 billion in profits from potentially loss-making power plants.
Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs' manipulation of the aluminum market has just come to light. Here's the clearest explanation we're likely to see:
There are maybe three possible explanations for this public shaming:
Whoever it is that moves the bribes from banks to the major political parties and regulators forgot to deliver the envelopes, and the political division of the empire decided to send the banking division a message. That's believable. In the Sopranos there was always intra-family intrigue with messages being sent back and forth by various means.
- The major players understand that the public is getting surly, so they've decided to sacrifice some businesses that the banks have milked for all they're worth and are willing to abandon. That's the most likely, when you consider that JP Morgan's "settlement" amounts to less than 2% of its annual profit and no one in the organization is going to jail for what was clearly fraud. Here's the key passage from the above article:
- Washington has decided to start policing the banks and insisting that they make their money more-or-less honestly....Nah, this doesn't even belong on the list.
"On Tuesday, FERC laid out JPMorgan's commodities chief Blythe Masters knowledge of the traders abusive bidding strategies, including spreadsheets given to her detailing a seven-year plan to churn up to $2 billion in profits from potentially loss-making power plants....The FERC deal did not cite specific traders or Blythe Masters for any wrongdoing."