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Trusting banks

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International   |   June 28, 2012 at 9:23 AM   |   Comments

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With delicious timing and opportunistic understatement, researchers at the polling firm Gallup said confidence in banks among U.S. adults had fallen to a new low.

Underneath that headline, British bank Barclays reportedly settled accusations that it has been manipulating a benchmark interest rate index with a payment of $453 million -- half a billion -- and that four of the bank's top executives had "voluntarily" given up their bonus pay for the year due to the scandal. The bank's top executive, Bob Diamond, was paid about $23 million in total compensation in 2011 in a fee structure in which 9/10ths of an executive's compensation generally falls into the category of bonuses.

There are plenty of people who have difficulty parting with $23. Bob Diamond "voluntarily" gives up the lion's share of $23 million and the bank gives up almost half a billion and nobody is charged with a crime.

In the next news cycle, The Wall Street Journal reports that the investigation into manipulation of Libor -- London inter-bank offered rate -- includes several global banks, including Citigroup, Bank of America, HSBC Holdings, JPMorgan Chase, Lloyds Banking Group and others.

None of these banks have been charged with a crime. Swiss bank UBS, however, has been granted immunity by regulators in Switzerland -- and who gets granted immunity except for someone who is guilty?

If Barclays is any example -- and it certainly is -- no one will be charged with a crime even if every bank is found to be up to their hocks in malfeasance. A few years back, Federal Judge Jed Rakoff tossed out a Securities and Exchange Commission settlement with Bank of America that involved a fine of $33 million over the bank's failure to disclose what it knew about Merrill Lynch when it was purchased by the bank during the financial meltdown.

Long story short, Rakoff forced the bank and the regulator to settle for $150 million, but he did not get one of his stipulations when he rejected the first settlement, which was that regulators actually name who was guilty of what.

At the time, the judge also said the $150 million was too little.

Gallup said of its recent poll that only 21 percent of adults surveyed indicated "yes" when asked if they trusted banks "a great deal" or "quite a lot."

Seriously, is anyone surprised that The New York Times reported the day after the bank poll was published that trading losses at JPMorgan Chase that occurred within about six weeks in April, amounted to about $9 billion, rather than $2 billion the bank originally reported.

In this case, another "diamond," which is to say JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, has already testified in Washington about the debacle and while he said the bad bets were an undeniable blunder, he certainly never mentioned that the $2 billion estimate on losses was laughingly small.

"Essentially, JPMorgan has been operating a hedge fund with federal insured deposits within a bank," Boston University finance professor and former federal bank examiner Mark Williams told the Times.

Back to Gallup's understatement, which concerned the record low level of confidence in banks. "This is not a surprise after five years that have included a recession, a financial crisis, and an economic slowdown with no real recovery in sight," Gallup said.

In international markets Thursday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 1.65 percent, while the Shanghai composite index in China dropped 0.95 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong gave up 0.79 percent, while the Sensex in India added 0.14 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia was flat, up 0.04 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain slipped 1.05 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany dropped 1.35 percent. The CAC 40 in France gave up 0.45 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 600 slid 0.68 percent.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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