While the state’s budget impasse is holding up funds for everyone from college students to domestic violence victims, Illinois continues to pay banks millions of dollars every month for complex borrowing deals that other local governments have challenged in court, according to a new report.
The state is currently paying $6 million a month for 19 interest rate swaps, according to the report from ReFund America Project. The swaps were sold as a way to save money by protecting taxpayers from rising interest rates. Illinois has paid over $600 million for the deals and could pay $1.45 billion for them before they are ended.
“There’s no money going to emergency services, nothing going to rape counseling or homeless services,” said Nathan Ryan of Grassroots Collaborative, which endorsed the report. “But the checks are going out on time, in full, twice a month to these banks for these swaps.”
The report comes just as Chicago hits the pause button on buying out its remaining interest rate swaps. Many of them had termination penalties amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, triggered when the city’s credit rating dropped to junk status. According to ReFund America, the state could be on the hook for $124 million in penalties by the end of the year if (as expected) its credit rating continues to drop.
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office has said they are exploring options for negotiating settlements on the deals. The state and city should follow the lead of other local governments and take a more aggressive legal posture, said Saqib Bhatti, co-author of the report.
Last week Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration scaled back a multi-billion-dollar borrowing proposal before the City Council, eliminating a $200-million bond sale to buy out the last interest rate swap in its portfolio, after the Progressive Caucus questioned the maneuver and requested more information.
To date Chicago has paid or authorized $296 million in termination penalties, on top of a half-billion dollars in swap payments through 2015, according to ReFund America. The $200 million bond that was proposed and postponed would have financed a swap penalty of $106 million over 30 years.
The aldermen requested a copy of the law department’s review of the swaps, which concluded the city has no legal recourse. Ald. John Arena (45th Ward) said the aldermen are looking at the review and may “ask the legal department to go further,” including exploring the experiences of cities that have sued banks, alleging that the swap deals were fraudulent.
The law department’s review discusses one such case: An arbiter awarded an Alabama sewer utility, which charged that banks had misrepresented the terms of a swap deal. The memo argues that the case isn’t relevant to Chicago’s swaps. According to ReFund America, at least eight small local government bodies have successfully challenged swap deals in court, some winning full refunds, and Houston and Reno have legal claims that are in process. (The Chicago Tribune has reported on some of these cases.)
Two other cases involving big cities are of particular interest. In 2012 Baltimore filed a class action lawsuit against JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America, and others charging that their artificial manipulation of Libor – a benchmark interest rate that was used in many of Chicago’s swaps – robbed their clients of millions of dollars in returns on investments such as interest rate swaps. In 2013, Philadelphia filed a similar suit.
The banks being sued by Baltimore and Philadelphia include those that sold big swaps to Chicago and Illinois. The lawsuits are fallout from the still unfolding Libor-rigging scandal, in which some big banks are accused of misrepresenting interest rates to profit from trades. With a half-trillion worth of state and local interest rate swaps on the books in the United States before the financial crisis, the artificial lowering of Libor by banks in collusion with each other is estimated to have cost municipalities at least $6 billion.
Overall, it’s a striking illustration of the brutal efficiency of the big banks at extracting every possible ounce of profit. Through recklessness and fraud, they crashed the economy, costing millions of people their jobs and their homes. For this they were rewarded with a trillion-dollar government bailout. Then, as cities and states struggled with the fallout from the crisis, slashing services to their most needy residents, the banks picked their pockets to pull out an additional few billion, just because they could.
Maybe they can get away with it, but it certainly seems worthwhile putting up a fight to stop them.
TIME TO DISMANTEL THE LARGE BANKS AND LARGE COMPANIES THAT IS HOW THEY DELT WITH GREED IN THE OLD DAYS ………..THEY BROKE THEM UP. WE NEED TO GET BACK TO THAT…………………………….
Wont happen we have nothing else to rely on as we had in the OLD days–remember the madeinusa label? It is now a museum piece of “History”!
I won’t carry any water for the mega banks.. The whole ‘too big to fail’ thing is a travesty. But that’s not what we are talking about here. We are talking about a history of such poor financial management – stretching back for decades – that without these swaps, the interest rates needed to sell the bonds would have been even higher. So to avoid having to pay the price for past imprudence, the state signed up for these deals, and then continued in the imprudent practices that had lead to the past problems which then caused the rating agencies to downgrade Illinois bonds and TRIGGERED these defaults.
At some time, we really do need to point the finger at the CAUSE of the problem, rather than the result.
What you write sounds so good at first blush. Pragmatic, logical, and with the requisite “personal responsibility” and “financial mismanagement and risky decisions” canards making an appearance. I’m afraid, however, that you are very much carrying water for the aforementioned banks by pushing this false narrative.
I agree, TBTF is a travesty. And it’s not what we’re talking about. Unfortunately, a history of poor financial management isn’t either, and is certainly not the cause you’re looking for. It may be the case that there is a documented history of poor financial decision making by the city. Clearly, agreeing to enter into very complicated default swaps as a hedging tactic was both desperate and risky. The purpose of the swap, ostensibly, was to protect against a significant increase in the interest rate which would raise the city’s debt service to almost untenable monthly payments. If that were to occur, the swap would be enacted and lower premiums would be maintained. However, if interest rates continued going down, the swap worked in the other direction, forcing significantly higher payments with a variable interest rate.
So . . .
1. The swaps were not necessitated by prior financial mismanagement, nor were they a vehicle designed to lower the interest rate on a municipal bond payment.
2. The swaps were designed to hedge against future interest rate increases (which would negatively impact the amount needed to service the debt.
3. There have been no defaults, as the article noted, banks have been getting their payments twice monthly, even after the swap contracts were initiated by falling interest rates and the debt service ballooned exponentially.
4. Ratings agencies . . . triggered nothing.
And here’s the kicker that is so often glossed over: If there was a history of Chicago making poor financial decisions, of which this was just the last in a long line, the result could very well look exactly like the current situation and justifiably be pointed to as the root cause, as you suggest is sorely lacking in many cases. But instead, the major banks conspired to manipulate the LIBOR benchmark, which is used to determine almost every other interest rate worldwide.
The result is that the major banking institutions worldwide were involved in a racketeering conspiracy to manipulate the LIBOR rate for financial gain. Although you are likely correct that significant financial ineptitude almost guaranteed a poor outcome for Chicago, we’ll actually never know because the banks manipulated the system to produce the results they desired.
Truth is, the CAUSE of this problem was a racketeering conspiracy which fixed interest rates to continue to fall, triggering the swap agreement and fraudulently collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in additional debt service illegally.
Banks involved in significant fraudulent activity and suffering no consequence while continuing to benefit significantly is what we’re talking about here. Period.
From Reuters Feb 2015:
Chicago drew closer to a fiscal free fall on Friday with a rating downgrade from Moody’s Investors Service that could trigger the immediate termination of four interest-rate swap agreements, costing the city about $58 million and raising the prospect of more broken swaps contracts.
The downgrade to Baa2, just two steps above junk, and a warning the rating could fall further still, means the third-biggest U.S. city could face even higher costs in the future if banks choose to terminate other interest-rate hedges against fluctuations in interest rates. All told, Chicago holds swaps contracts covering $2.67 billion in debt, according to a disclosure late last year.
“This is an unfortunate wake-up call for anyone still asleep over the fiscal cliff facing the city of Chicago,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Chicago-based government finance watchdog, The Civic Federation.
Chicago’s finances are already sagging under an unfunded pension liability Moody’s has pegged at $32 billion and that is equal to eight times the city’s operating revenue. The city has a $300 million structural deficit in its $3.53 billion operating budget and is required by an Illinois law to boost the 2016 contribution to its police and fire pension funds by $550 million.
Cost-saving reforms for the city’s other two pension funds, which face insolvency in a matter of years, are being challenged in court by labor unions and retirees.
State funding due Chicago would drop by $210 million between July 1 and the end of 2016 under a plan proposed by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.
Given all the financial pressures, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, which affirmed the city’s A-plus rating, warned on Friday that Chicago’s credit ratings have room to sink.
Moody’s said Chicago’s rating could be cut if Illinois courts find pension reform laws enacted to shore up the state’s financially ailing pension system and for two of Chicago’s retirement systems are unconstitutional. A ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court on one of the laws could come as early as this spring.
S&P warned of a multi-notch downgrade if the city fails to come up with a sustainable plan this year to pay its escalating pension contributions.
In a report, Moody’s noted that the downgrade to Baa2 moves the city closer to termination of 11 more swaps deals. Termination on those contracts would potentially cost Chicago an additional $133 million, Moody’s noted.
Chicago has the financial resources at hand to cover the initial $58 million termination payments on the four swaps if the city is unable to renegotiate terms, Moody’s said.
“The city’s available liquidity is more than sufficient to cover these termination costs,” Moody’s stated.
If the rating falls below Baa3, Chicago could be forced to pay about $1.2 billion if banks that provide liquidity facilities like letters of credit for city debt demand immediate collateral, Moody’s said.
In an affidavit late last year, the city’s chief financial officer, Lois Scott, acknowledged that a single-step downgrade by either Moody’s or S&P could trigger about $50 million in immediate payments and expose the city to variations in interest rates.
A spokeswoman for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The downgrade and violation of terms on the swaps agreement likely will become an issue in Emanuel’s re-election campaign. The first-term mayor, a former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, failed on Tuesday to win a majority of votes in a primary election, and faces a runoff vote April 7 against a Cook County commissioner, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Moody’s based its one-notch downgrade affecting $8.3 billion of general obligation bonds to Baa2 with a negative outlook on the city’s growing costs related to its big unfunded pension liability.
Chicago is defending a 2014 Illinois law that boosted pension contributions by the city and its workers to two of its retirement funds and reduced benefits. In the affidavit and in testimony earlier this month in Cook County Circuit Court, Chicago CFO Scott quantified the city’s exposure to a variety of credit instruments as a result of further rating downgrades.
Under a three-notch downgrade, Chicago would default on about $2.8 billion of credit facilities, including letters of credit, that the city would likely not be able to replace, according to Scott. Moody’s analysts said most of Chicago’s $806 million of variable-rate GO bonds are tied to swaps.
The city, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in risk by terminating or renegotiating 18 interest rate swap or swaption contracts and those efforts are continuing, spokeswoman Libby Langsdorf said last month.
Shawn O’Leary, a senior research analyst at Nuveen Investments, said banks tend to renegotiate terms on swap agreements.
“I would be surprised if the parties demand termination payments,” he said.
Some Chicago debt is trading at worse levels than bonds sold by Illinois, which is paying the biggest yield penalty among states in the U.S. municipal bond market due to its own fiscal woes.
You are, I suppose, entitled to believe any conspiracy theory that you wish. The fact, however, is that the primary ‘conspirator’ setting US interest rates during the last 7 years has been the Federal Reserve and the triggering of the penalties on the swap contracts was directly attributable to rating agency downgrades of Chicago and Illinois which were themselves directly attributable to plzz-poor financial management. No amount of lipstick will make this pig look any better and no amount of blaming it on conspiracies will do any good. Until we admit how we got here the likelihood of getting out of this mess – or even just of not making it worse – is nonexistent.
Chicago didn’t get into this mess because the bank’s conspired against them or because the dog ate their homework, generations of Chicago politicians built this mess.
So . . . I clipped the important part. You’re correct, the FED sets interest rates that banks pay. Banks set rates that consumers pay. Chicago was a consumer of many complex financial products, including credit default swaps.
Also, just so we’re clear, the articles you reference are all from 2015 . . . well after the time period when the frauds were committed (although I’m sure they’re still going strong) and actually point to the results of credit default swaps being forced into poor positions and the buyout fees associated with those, as well as the resulting downgrades. My point is that those contracts should be voided due to fraud, but instead criminal banks pay fines and remain the beneficiary of their criminal activity.
And more importantly, there is no conspiracy here. All of this has been admitted to in open court records.
Investment Banking | Legal/Regulatory
Q. and A.: Understanding Libor
Michael J. de la Merced
July 10, 2012 10:38 pm
What is Libor?
Libor is the average interest rate at which banks can borrow from each other. London is mentioned in its name because the benchmark is set in that city.
Essentially, Libor is one of the main rates used to determine the borrowing costs for trillions of dollars in loans. Interest rates on some mortgages, student loans and credit card accounts go up or down when Libor moves. Often the rates are adjusted annually or quarterly, rather than every day.
How is Libor calculated?
For United States-dollar-denominated Libor, more than a dozen banks — including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Barclays, UBS of Switzerland and others — estimate how much interest they would pay to borrow money on a short-term basis from other institutions. While the process is still overseen by the British Bankers’ Association, the calculations are now performed by Thomson Reuters.
Thomson Reuters discards the four highest and four lowest submissions as outliers, and averages the remaining ones.
The data provider then publishes its calculations, generally around 11:30 a.m. London time, along with each bank’s submissions. On Tuesday, the three-month United States dollar Libor rate, one of the most common Libor metrics, stood at 0.4576 percent. During the financial crisis of 2008, that rate rose to nearly 5 percent. At the time, banks considered lending to each other much riskier, and thus wouldn’t lend unless they got a high interest rate in return.
Some conspiracy. Who admits to something you suppose I’m free to believe and pays huge fines when it’s unproven. I guess these guys do:
5 banks guilty of rate-rigging, pay more than $5B Kevin McCoy and
Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY 7:35 p.m. EDT May 20, 2015
Five major banks Wednesday agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges
and pay more than $5.5 billion in collective penalties to settle
charges their traders routinely manipulated the world’s foreign-exchange
market for their own profit.
The Department of Justice, the Federal Reserve and other U.S. and European authorities and regulators said corporate units of Citicorp(C), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), London-based Barclays(BCS) and Royal Bank of Scotland(RBS) acknowledged their traders rigged foreign exchange prices of U.S. dollars and euros from Dec. 2007 to Jan. 2013.
Outlining what she termed a “brazen display of collusion,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch
said investigators found that traders in the nearly unregulated,
$5.3-trillion-a-day foreign-exchange market colluded in
you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours forms of plotting.
$2.5 billion in criminal fines levied as part of the resolutions
represent the largest federal anti-trust penalties ever obtained by U.S.
authorities, she said.
“Starting as early as Dec 2007, currency
traders at several multinational banks formed a group dubbed ‘The
Cartel,’ ” Lynch said. “It is perhaps fitting that those traders chose
that name, as it aptly describes the brazenly illegal behavior they were
engaging in on a near-daily basis.”
Lynch said prices the market
sets for currencies “influence virtually every sector of every economy
in the world.” The traders actions “inflated the banks’ profits while
harming countless consumers, investors and institutions around the globe
— from pension funds to major corporations, and including the banks’
own customers,” she said.
Euro-U.S dollar traders at Citicorp, JPMorgan, Barclays
and RBS — self-described members of the cartel — used an exclusive
electronic chat room and coded language to manipulate benchmark exchange
rates of the two currencies in ways that benefited their own trading
positions, prosecutors said.
“By agreeing not to buy or sell at
certain times the traders protected each other’s trading positions by
withholding supply of or demand for currency and suppressing competition
in the FX market,” the Department of Justice said.
One chat room
exchange showed that a Barclays foreign exchange trader appeared to be
desperate to join The Cartel and reap the benefit of its trading
advantages in 2011.
After extensive discussion of whether or not
this trader “would add value” to the group, the group’s trading members
invited him to join for a “1 month trial,” but warned: “mess this up and
sleep with one eye open at night.”
of other exchanges cited a Barclays employee who said “if you aint
cheating, you aint trying,” as well as a Barclays foreign-exchange
trader who reportedly said, “[Y]es, the less competition the better.”
also acknowledged involvement in the rate-rigging. However, the Swiss
banking giant received conditional immunity from criminal prosecution
because it was the first to report foreign-exchange misconduct to DOJ
investigators. The bank said it provided “full cooperation” to federal
prosecutors and other authorities in Europe and around the world.
UBS agrees to pay $545M in manipulation probes
leniency came with a high price. Making good on threats to deal harshly
with banks accused as repeat offenders, federal investigators said the
bank violated terms of the 2012 non-prosecution agreement that had
settled UBS’ involvement in rigging the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor). The financial benchmark is used to set rates on trillions of dollars in mortgages, loans and credit cards.
a result, UBS agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud, pay a
$203 million fine and accept a three-year term of probation for Libor
rate manipulation by its traders. UBS also agreed to pay $342 million to
the Federal Reserve and make remedial changes to its foreign-exchange
No individual bank employees were hit with
criminal charges as part of the settlements, though several authorities
said investigations into foreign-exchange issues are continuing.
File photo taken in 2014 shows the Citigroup Center in New York City’s midtown Manhattan area. (Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY, AFP/Getty Images)
criminal settlements mark the latest result from a global crackdown on
systematic manipulation of financial benchmarks by bank traders.
all, the five banks have now paid nearly $9 billion in total criminal
and civil fines and penalties for rigging the foreign-exchange spot
market, Department of Justice officials said.
Bank officials took
responsibility for the illegal activity, terminating dozens of traders
as investigators around the world probed foreign exchange practices.
behavior that resulted in the settlements we announced today is an
embarrassment to our firm, and stands in stark contrast to Citi’s
values,” said Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat.
also announced that it has agreed to a separate $394 million
settlement of a private class-action lawsuit related to the
foreign-exchange activity. The settlement is subject to court approval.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon called the investigation findings “a great disappointment to us,” and said “we demand and expect better of our people.”
lesson here is that the conduct of a small group of employees, or of
even a single employee, can reflect badly on all of us, and have
significant ramifications for the entire firm,” said Dimon.
In Zurich, UBS Chairman Axel Weber and CEO Sergio Ermotti
said the Swiss bank has taken “appropriate disciplinary actions”
against a small number of employees involved in “unacceptable” behavior.
Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins
said he shared the frustration of shareholders and colleagues “that
some individuals have once more brought our company and industry into
“Dealing with these issues, including taking the
appropriate disciplinary action against the individuals involved, is a
necessary and important part of our plan to transform Barclays and
remains a key priority,” said Jenkins.
Eight additional Barclays employees who participated in the wrongdoing are being terminated, said Benjamin Lawsky, the superintendent of New York’s Department of Financial Services, the regulator that oversees the bank’s U.S. operations.
A Barclays sign outside one of the bank’s London branches is seen in this file photo taken n 2014. (Photo: Dan Kitwood, Getty Images)
called the trading activity a “heads I win, tails you lose” scheme. He
said his office is continuing to investigate whether electronic systems
used in Barclays’ foreign-exchange trading and foreign-exchange-related
products was responsible for additional manipulation of the
RBS Chief Executive Ross McEwan
said the serious misconduct found by investigators “has no place in the
bank I am building,” and represents “another stark reminder of how
badly this bank lost its way and how important it is for us to regain
Bank officials nonetheless predicted the settlements were
not expected to have a material impact on their financial operations.
Lynch said the banks are “working with their regulators” to obtain any
waivers might be required to continue normal operations.
Investors appeared to deliver a mixed appraisal of the resolutions.
Shares of Barclays, UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland all rose at least 1.9% Wednesday. But Citigroup and JPMorgan shares each fell 0.8%.
a former assistant attorney general and Treasury official, questioned
whether the criminal pleas and massive fines would produce meaningful
change in banks’ activities.
“Once again the actual perpetrators
and criminal architects of the fraud scheme will avoid criminal
liability,” said Gurulé, now a University of Notre Dame
law professor. “While the payment of these large fines may help to
reduce the federal deficit, such penalties will do little to change the
pervasive culture of corruption that currently exists in the banking
sector. Real change will only occur when corrupt bank officials are
indicted, convicted and sent to prison for their crimes.”
Contributing: Jane Onyanga-Omara
From Apr 29 2015 Bloomberg Business:
The Civic Federation has been a critic of the city’s use of variable-rate debt with interest rate swaps. Swaps are agreements to trade interest payments on variable rate debt that were designed to cut municipalities’ losses when interest rates rise. The instruments backfired as the Federal Reserve has kept rates near historic lows.
While Laurence Msall, president of the federation, praised the moves as positive for Chicago, he warned that the actions will come at a cost. The termination of swaps will have immediate impact in “the magnitude of hundreds of millions,” depending on what the city is able to negotiate with creditors, he said.
“This is going to require either additional new revenue or further cuts in the city’s operating budget in order to finance,” Msall told reporters after Emanuel’s address. He added that long-term, the steps will be less costly to the city and taxpayers.
Pensions are the biggest pressure on the city and led Moody’s Investors Service to cut the city’s credit rating to Baa2 in February, two steps above junk. The city faces the possibility of another downgrade depending on how the Illinois Supreme Court rules in the coming weeks on a pension-reform case.
The rating cut created the possibility of $58 million of swap-termination payments, and moved the city closer to $133 million of payments, said Moody’s, which kept the city on a watch list for more downgrades. In March, Emanuel’s office said it had an agreement to avoid paying $20 million of the payments and was working on a deal on the rest.
Chicago Sun Times:
After the Illinois Supreme Court on May 8 struck down a recently approved state pension cost-cutting law as unconstitutional, Moody’s Investor Service — one of the Wall Street bond-rating agencies — sounded an alarm, lowering several city and CPS bond ratings to “junk” status, making borrowing through the issuance of bonds more costly.
Though the Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t apply to city pension reforms — which also are being challenged in the courts — Moody’s declared that “the costs of servicing Chicago’s unfunded [pension] liabilities will grow” regardless, and that “the magnitude of the budget adjustments that will be required of the city are significant.”
On top of making it more costly for the city to borrow money, the downgrades could enable financial institutions to demand accelerated payments on a wide range of borrowing schemes that former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration engineered. Those deals with banks and other financial institutions depended on the city maintaining much better credit ratings from Wall Street agencies. The city could have to pay off the deals and fork over termination fees when ratings go below a certain ratings threshold.
With the city’s credit rating dropping steadily, Emanuel aides arranged in the past year for a lowering of the termination thresholds on many of the deals with financial institutions.
But the latest downgrade from Moody’s places the city below even the newly lowered termination triggers for almost all of the deals. The situation could require the city to pay nearly $2.2 billion, according to Moody’s and documents filed by the Emanuel administration.
Variable-rate bond sales that allowed the city to borrow heavily could require Chicago to pay more than $1.3 billion to bankers including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of New York and Bank of Montreal, the records show. The financial institutions also could demand nearly $590 million in payments on other loans.
That’s in addition to termination fees the city already has begun paying to end complex deals known as swaps, which were negotiated as part of the bond sales.
Emanuel administration officials said the city has spent about $106 million in recent weeks to end swaps initiated in 2003 and 2007 under Daley.
To begin whittling away at the more than $2 billion it still could owe under other deals, the city plans to refinance $800 million of its debt beginning later this week.
The downgrade from Moody’s means the reworked deals will come at a steeper price than if the city’s bond rating had remained higher, said Brian Battle, director of trading for Performance Trust Capital Partners, a Chicago firm that analyzes bonds for investors. Many institutional buyers cannot purchase bonds from a seller with a junk rating, shrinking the pool of potential investors and raising costs for the city, Battle said.
The B$CEOBANK$ write the rules and get away with criminality because in this ‘Global’ financial current situation, they keep the US afloat and a Power by the income they bring in for services– think how often cards are used worldwide in just one day, the monitoring of money and world financial activity is very good intel to have– domestic or abroad, they enhance US corporations by ease and diminishing competition, they control and distribute aid channels–you want to be included in their system, and finally they enforce the Petro$– without which the US would be powerless because we donot produce enough to offset our deficits– doubts, think Saddam and Gaddafi dead because they wanted else! What do youall not get about this? No ome cares about the us citizen, inconsequential, no healthcazre, die early amd get out of the way!!!
HC doesn’t think the system is corrupt and Bernie thinks it sucks and needs to end.
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