Ten Years after the Financial Crisis, Wall Street Bankers Clear the Air

by LV

Yesterday, at an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., said that “it’s going to be 25 years before banks are forgiven” for the bailouts our government doled out to the nation’s largest banks a decade ago during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  Unfortunately, Dimon’s acknowledgement of the lingering anger of Main Street Americans, who suffered the brunt of the Great Recession, was quickly eclipsed after an association of unapologetic Wall Street bankers issued the following satirical statement:

We, the bankers of these United States, want to assure all Americans that we are devoted, heart and soul, to the interests of this great nation.  Contrary to countless disparaging remarks by so-called pundits, there is absolutely no daylight between the interests of Wall Street and Main Street.  One of our leaders eloquently expressed this view when he said that we do God’s work.  We labor night and day to furnish the financial resources that are needed to build this country.  We proudly carry on the great banking tradition of our forebears such as John Pierpont Morgan and Andrew Mellon.  Without our munificence over the years, many important projects would not have been funded and, therefore, would not have been built.  As President Calvin Coolidge succinctly put it, “the business of America is business.”  It is Wall Street and the big banks that provide the lubricant in the form of capital that makes business work.

The past ten years have been difficult for all of us.  It is unfortunate that some misguided individuals have sought to fix the blame on us for all the troubles that beset our economy.  Our intentions have always been honorable.  Is it a crime for us to wet our beaks when we provide such a valuable service?  Are we not entitled to our modest salaries and bonuses?  Should not the taxpayers foot the bill when circumstances conspire against us through no fault of our own?

We had the foresight to ensure that our emissaries were appointed to key posts in the federal government.  Paulson, Geithner, Bernanke, and Yellen are excellent examples of our wisdom in this regard.  We convinced the current president, as we have convinced every president before him, that it is best to leave the financial affairs of our country to able professionals like ourselves.  They, in turn, saw fit to appoint our recommended candidates to key positions such as Chair of the Federal Reserve and Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.  A banker is nothing if not prudent in such matters.  We leave nothing to chance.  We are sure you would agree that our country has been well served under the auspices of our handpicked stewards.

We value our relationship with government officials as much as we value our relationship with Main Street America.  We understand that some uninformed individuals feel compelled to criticize us for all kinds of economic ills that have absolutely nothing to do with us.  We are inured to such criticism.  We also understand the proclivity of politicians to use us as convenient scapegoats.  This is simply populist rhetoric as far as we are concerned.  It is all right to let off steam as long as it does not interfere with our ability to make massive profits.  We are big boys and can take the verbal abuse.  What matters most to us is the bottom line.

Our handling of a record number of delinquencies and foreclosures in the housing sector during the last downturn was a model of cooperation and forbearance.  We reached out to the community in its time of need.  We adjusted the terms of mortgages in record numbers.  Yet, some ungrateful individuals vilified us for being heartless and not doing enough.  To add insult to injury, the courts took us to task over minor irregularities in mortgage documentation.  These technicalities prevented us from foreclosing and taking possession of property that rightfully belonged to us.  Many people in default on their mortgage obligations were allowed to live their homes for two years or longer.  In effect, deadbeats became squatters with the assistance of the justice system.  When we finally gained access to foreclosed homes, we found many of them stripped down to the floorboards.  Not only was this outrageous, it was also counterproductive because an economic recovery is not sustainable, or possible for that matter, until a huge backlog in housing inventory gets cleared.

For the record, we thought that the housing market was dangerously overheated well before the collapse in 2008.  Nonetheless, we were encouraged or pressured, if you will, by the government to approve as many mortgages as possible.  We dutifully complied.  In order to meet strong demand, we bundled the mortgages into packages, which we sold to investors who could not get enough of them.  We made sure those securities were rated triple A by our business partners.  We cannot help it if the housing market turned sour.  It was a good run while it lasted.  At least we had the good sense to protect ourselves by shorting the investments we sold to our customers.  There are always two sides to a trade.  We were just a little smarter as things turned out.  Because the optics were so bad, we decided to pay fines out of petty cash to settle with the government when they filed frivolous charges against us.  That is simply the cost of doing business.  Even though we were faultless, we decided to settle civil lawsuits because it was best for us to move on.  We let the government look tough, but we do not want it to become a habit.  Next time, we will not be so charitable.

Then there is financial regulation.  This misguided legislation almost spun out of control, but our lobbyists convinced elected officials to back off and water down the bill.  We believe that less government interference is best because regulation strangles innovation.  The banking industry is quite capable of policing itself, contrary to what others may believe.  We know we can reach out to various regulatory agencies to convince them that we are able to conduct business without the need for oppressive oversight.  One only has to look at the copious benefits that accrued to the banking industry after the onerous Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999 to know that less regulation is the way to go.  Unfortunately, there are certain individuals who are demanding the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall.  Rest assured that this is never going to happen, if Wall Street has anything to say about it.  Bank analysts who foolishly suggest that we increase our capital ratios obviously don’t understand why we are so rich.

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We have been accused of making excessive political contributions in order to influence elected officials to pass favorable legislation.  This is true and we make no apologies.  It is our protected constitutional right to spend our money as we see fit.  Our friends on the Supreme Court upheld this right, as we knew they would.  We will continue to be among the biggest political contributors because we know from experience that the money is well spent.  The dividends are enormous.  Our political donations deliver the greatest return on investment we can think of.  Donations are the gifts that keep giving.

We have opposed the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection because we consider it to be an obstacle to the free enterprise system we cherish.  It is counterproductive to have a government agency second-guess how we run our commercial banks and credit card programs.  It is an insult to have a government watchdog determine what is best for our customers when we pride ourselves in treating our customers as we would treat our own family.  It is foolish to nitpick fees we apply to credit cards and other financial services.  If the government unfairly prohibits one charge or another because it deems it predatory, we will simply shift the charges elsewhere.  Bank depositors learned how this works as we began to levy fees on checking accounts and other services, which were previously free of charge.  It is a zero sum game.  We are a business, not a charity.  We have to cover our costs and those costs include meeting our generous payrolls and paying handsome dividends to our shareholders.  We believe we have been successful in making the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection a toothless tiger.

There have been scathing attacks concerning our role as an esteemed advisor to the Federal Reserve.  These scurrilous attacks are groundless.  Since the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913, the government has understood the wisdom of having the largest banks in the country attend advisory committee meetings of the Federal Reserve Board.  How else would the Federal Reserve know the condition of the U.S. banking system?  What the public does not appreciate is how dependent the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury are on the banking industry.  A strong banking sector is a prerequisite for a strong America.  Government officials reach out to us all the time for information and guidance.  We provide pro bono assistance and somehow this is construed by troublemakers as being a conflict of interest.  If it were not for the timely notifications that we gave the New York Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury in 2008, they would not have been aware of the dire condition of our financial system.  Fortunately, we had our protégés in high places within the government who immediately understood and responded with alacrity to save the U.S. economy from an unimaginable catastrophe.  Together, we quickly formulated a plan to fortify the financial underpinnings of our country.  Although there were some casualties like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, at the end of the day, it all worked out.  We lived to see another day and so did America.

It is not our fault that the Fed and the U.S. Treasury overreacted and threw money at us in the form of bailouts and guarantees.  This was unnecessary and we advised them at the time that it would turn public opinion against us, if we accepted taxpayer funds.  We were as solvent then as we are today.  Instead of thanking us, public opinion turned against us, just as we predicted.  There was even talk of capping our salaries and eliminating our bonuses.  This vengeful attitude betrays a complete misunderstanding of the situation as it really was.  Not only should we have been praised for our quick response to a national emergency, we should have received record bonuses for our service to America.  It has become cliché to say our banks are too big to fail, but the truth of the matter is our banks are too well-managed to fail.  We consider it poor form and the height of ingratitude to have the media and the public carp about our salaries and bonuses, which are a small fraction of what we actually deserve.  Let us be clear.  We make no apologies for our success and the compensation we earn.

Much has been said about the way we conduct proprietary trading in our capital markets.  Some believe we have tilted the playing field in our favor through high frequency algorithmic trading.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  High frequency trading is not illegal, as some would have you believe.  Our partners at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, many of whom were our associates when they worked with us at our banks, oversee our trading practices and set the regulations that all market participants must follow.  The SEC has assured us that high frequency trading will remain an integral part of the stock market because of the liquidity it provides.  If we are manipulating markets like some critics claim, show us the proof.  High frequency trading is a major profit center for our business and we do not intend to abandon it.  On the contrary, we are actively expanding this lucrative business platform.  We are successful traders because we have the expertise and proprietary tools that give us an advantage.  Trading is a combat sport and we are very good at what we do.  Yes, it is possible to earn profits every single trading day because that is what you expect to do when you are successful.  It is not statistically impossible as some claim.  Actually, it is quite feasible when you are consistently good at what you do, as we have demonstrated quarter after quarter.

Ignorant rabble-rousers say we should be indicted and put in jail for crimes we have not committed.  Years of investigations have not yielded one shred of evidence of any wrongdoing on our part.  Our friends at the U.S. Department of Justice made sure that the wild accusations went nowhere.  That’s because our business ethics are beyond reproach.  It’s just the way we roll.

Fellow Americans, we hope we have cleared the air.  We are not crooks.

We stand ready to serve America as we have done since its inception.  We are a proud industry, envied by every nation on the planet.  Wall Street stands shoulder to shoulder with its brethren on Main Street.  What is good for Wall Street is good for America.  God bless Wall Street.  And God bless America.


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