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The $3 Trillion Fraud: Why is the Fed so opposed to being audited, and what does it have to hide?

Commercial banks, by law, have to hold a certain percentage of their deposits as cash at the Federal Reserve. From January 1959 until August 2008, the total of these reserves held by the commercial banks at the Fed grew from $11.1 billion to $46.2 billion. At no time during this almost 50-year period did the total bank reserves held at the Fed exceed the minimum required by law by more than $2 billion.

But since August 2008, these bank reserves held at the Fed have exploded to more than $1.2 trillion (as of March 2010), even though only $65.6 billion was required to be deposited by law.

This increase in excess reserves resulted directly from the Fed's policy of dramatically increasing the quantity (and lowering the quality threshold) of assets it bought in the marketplace. During the past 20 months, the Fed has tripled the size of its balance sheet by acquiring more than $1.5 trillion of new assets, more than $1 trillion of which are mortgage-backed securities.

What is going on here? Why would commercial banks hold $1 trillion more than they legally had to in reserves at the Fed, earning only 0.25 percent interest per year, and why would the Fed buy more than $1 trillion of mortgage securities of undisclosed quality in the marketplace?

If you recall, back in 2008, Hank Paulson, our treasury secretary at the time, convinced Congress over a weekend that he needed $700 billion of TARP funds to get the toxic assets off our commercial banks' books. Amazingly, within weeks of being given the funds by Congress, Paulson decided not to proceed with the purchase of toxic assets from the banks, instead giving away hundreds of billions of dollars to the commercial and investment banks and funding a series of bailouts — giving money to Chrysler, General Motors and AIG (some of which immediately found its way back to the commercial and investment banking community).

At the time, nobody explained what happened to the toxic assets on the banks' books whose purchase was the original stated purpose of TARP. We now know that the financial crisis was not caused solely by a liquidity crunch or an irrational loss of confidence, but rather by the fact that the marketplace realized that the commercial banks held more than a trillion dollars of very poor-quality assets, mostly mortgage securities such as collateralized debt obligations, or CDO’s, and that these bad assets were sizable enough to bankrupt even our biggest banks. How bad? Even the AAA tranche of the typical CDO is facing a mortgage default rate of approximately 93 percent today.

I believe the reason Paulson didn’t pursue his original toxic-asset purchasing plan is because such a purchase would have created a market price for these assets, and then all of the banks would have had to mark their poor-quality assets to this low market price. This would have resulted in the bankruptcy of almost all the major commercial and investment banks, because their leverage was so high that they couldn't withstand such a hit to their equity.


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