The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) held 19 days of hearings interviewing 700 witnesses and just released a 576-page book of its findings that concludes the crisis was avoidable. Barry Ritholtz discusses the findings on his blog at www.ritholtz.com:
• Alan Greenspan’s malfeasance — his refusal to perform his regulatory duties because he did not believe in them — allowed the credit bubble to expand, driving housing prices to dangerously unsustainable levels; Greenspan’s advocacy for financial deregulation was a “pivotal failure to stem the flow of toxic mortgages” and “the prime example” of government negligence;
• Ben S. Bernanke failed to foresee the crisis;
• The Bush administration’s “inconsistent response” — saving Bear, but allowing Lehman to crater — “added to the uncertainty and panic in the financial markets.”
• Bush Treasury secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. wrongly predicted in 2007 that subprime meltdown would be contained.
• The Clinton White House, including then Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, made a crucial error in “shielding over-the-counter derivatives from regulation [CFMA]. This was “a key turning point in the march toward the financial crisis.”
• Then NY Fed President, now Treasury secretary Timothy F. Geithner failed to “clamp down on excesses by Citigroup in the lead-up to the crisis;” Further, a month before Lehman’s collapse, Geithner was still in the dark about Lehman’s derivative exposure;
• Low interest rates brought about by the Fed after the 2001 recession “created increased risks” but were not chiefly to blame, according to the FCIC;
• The financial sector spent $2.7 billion on lobbying from 1999 to 2008, while individuals and committees affiliated with the industry made more than $1 billion in campaign contributions. The impact of which an incestuous relationship between bankers and regulators, Congress and bankers, and classic regulatory capture by the industry.
• The credit-rating agencies “cogs in the wheel of financial destruction.”
• The Securities and Exchange Commission allowed the 5 biggest banks to ramp up their leverage, hold insufficient capital, and engage in risky practices.
• Leverage at the nation’s five largest investment banks was wildly excessive: They kept only $1 in capital to cover losses for about every $40 in assets;
• The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency along with the Office of Thrift Supervision, “federally pre-empted” (blocked) state regulators from reining in lending abuses;
• The report documents “questionable practices by mortgage lenders and careless betting by banks;”
• The report portrays the “bumbling incompetence among corporate chieftains” as to the risk and operations of their own firms:
- Citigroup executives admitting that they paid little attention to the risks associated with mortgage securities.
- AIG executives were blind to its $79 billion exposure to credit default swaps;
- Merrill Lynch top managers were surprised when mortgage investments suddenly resulted in billions of dollars in losses;
• Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “contributed to the crisis but were not a primary cause.”