Monday, January 19, 2009

QUASI-Nationalization of the Banks/BAC and SEC Disclosure Rules: Sops for the Saps/

The quasi-nationalization of the world's banks received an additional boost from Great Britain over the weekend with its new 147 billion bailout for its  The U.K. government's ownership of Royal Bank of Scotland, the U.K.'s version of Citigroup, increased to 70%.  To obtain further aid, the U.K. banks will have to sign a binding letter agreement to lend the money, rather than hoard it which is the American preference. The European Commission warned that its member countries faced a deep and protracted recession. MarketWatch

More effort needs to be made overseas to stimulate demand and to restore confidence.  While there are thousands of anecdotal stories of bankers hoarding cash received from their respective governments, the critical part of any recovery now is to restore confidence so that consumers and business are comfortable spending money. 

In an article written by Dennis Berman in the WSJ, he correctly points out that Bank of America, at a minimum, had to disclose to its shareholders the fact that the Merrill losses were so bad that Lewis had sought government aid in mid December:  "By most any reasonable measure, if the Merrill losses were concrete enough to seek a government lifeline, they were concrete enough to report immediately to the company's owners, its shareholders."
To me that is an obvious point. The more interesting factual issue is how much Lewis knew before the shareholder vote on 12/5.  So, there will be some lawsuits, another 500 million dollar settlement with no depositions or discovery to resolve this issue of what did BAC know and when did they know it ( the immortal question asked by the TN Senator Howard Baker during the Watergate hearings).  It is hardly worth the effort to fill out the claim form in a class action settlement,  which I never bother to do, with a third or more going to the lawyers, and more to the claim administration and other expenses, with a couple of pennies thrown to the shareholder victims as sops for the saps. If we are lucky, and want to go through the hassle, then maybe you will receive a penny for every $1000 in losses caused by Ken's desire to acquire Merrill.  Nothing will change.  If you could go back, change history to have full disclosure before the shareholder vote, the lemmings that run mutual funds would probably have still have jumped off the cliff with Ken and his boys.  

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