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A ‘Flawed’ SEC Program [A Retrospective “April Fool’s Day” Analysis]

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SEC Failed to Rein in Investment Banks [April Fool’s Day – 2015]

By Ben Protess, ProPublica – October 1, 2008 5:01 pm EDT

Editor’s Note: This investigative report was first published ten years ago. And so, we ask you to consider – on this April Fool’s Day 2019 – how [if] things have changed since then?  

***

Flag MOney

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The Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC] last week abolished the special regulatory program that it applied to Wall Street’s largest investment banks. Known as the “consolidated supervised entities” program, it relaxed the minimum capital requirements for firms that submitted to the commission’s oversight, and thus, in the view of some experts, helped create the current global financial crisis.

But, the SEC’s decision to ax the program currently affects no one, since three of the five firms that voluntarily joined the program previously collapsed and the other two reorganized.

The Decision – 18 Months Ago

The decision came last Friday, one day after the commission’s inspector general released a report [1] (PDF) detailing the program’s failed oversight of Bear Stearns before the firm collapsed in March. The commission’s chairman, Christopher Cox, a longtime opponent of industry regulation, said in a statement [2] that the report “validates and echoes the concerns” he had about the program, which had been voluntary for the five Wall Street titans since 2004.

The report found that the SEC division that oversees trading and markets was “not fulfilling its obligations. “These reports are another indictment of failed leadership,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) who requested the inspector general’s investigation.

The SEC program, approved by the commission in 2004 under Cox’s predecessor, William Donaldson, allowed investment banks to increase their amount of leveraged debt. But, there was a tradeoff: Banks that participated allowed their broker-dealer operations and holding companies to be subject to SEC oversight. Previous to 2004, the SEC only had authority to oversee the banks’ broker dealers.

Longstanding SEC rules required the broker dealers to limit their debt-to-net-capital ratio and issue an early warning if they began to approach the limit. The limit was about 15-to-1, according to the inspector general report, meaning that for every $15 of debt, the banks were required to have $1 of equity.

But the 2004 “consolidated supervised entities” program revoked these limits. The new program also eliminated the requirement that firms keep a certain amount of capital as a cushion in case an asset defaults.

Bear Sterns

As a result, the oversight program created the conditions that helped cause the collapse of Bear Stearns. Bear had a gross debt ratio of about 33-to-1 prior to its demise, the inspector general found. The inspector general also found that Bear was fully compliant with the programs’ requirements when it collapsed, which raised “serious questions about whether the capital requirement amounts were adequate,” the report said.

The report quoted Lee Pickard, a former SEC official who helped write the original debt-limit requirements in 1975 and now argues the 2004 program is largely to blame for the current Wall Street crisis.

“The SEC gave up the very protections that caused these firms to go under,” Pickard said in an interview with ProPublica. “The SEC in 2004 thought it gained something in oversight, but in turn it gave up too much public protection. You don’t bargain in a way that causes you to give up serious protections.”

Pickard, now a senior partner at a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, estimated that prior to the 2004 program most firms never exceeded an 8-to-1 debt-to-net capital ratio.

The previous program “had an excellent track record in preserving the securities markets’ financial integrity and protecting customer assets,” Pickard wrote [3] in American Banker this August. The new program required “substantial SEC resources for complex oversight, which apparently are not always available.”

Asked if he believes the 2004 program was a direct cause of the current crisis, Pickard told ProPublica, “I’m afraid I do.”

The New York Times reported Saturday that the SEC created the program after “heavy lobbying” for the plan from the investment banks. The banks favored the SEC as their regulator, the Times reported, because that let them avoid regulation of their fast-growing European operations by the European Union, which has been threatening to impose its own rules since 2002.

SEC Spokesman

A SEC spokesman declined to comment for this article, referring inquires to Chairman Cox’s statement. In the statement, Cox admitted the program “was fundamentally flawed from the beginning.” But Cox, a former Republican congressman from California, offered mild support for the program as recently as July when he testified before the House Committee on Financial Services. The program, among other oversight efforts, Cox said, had “gone far to adapt the existing regulatory structure to today’s exigencies.” He added that legislative improvements were necessary as well, and has since told Congress that the program failed.

More Questions

So why did the commission not end the program sooner? Some say that the program’s flaws only recently became apparent. “As late as 2005, the program seemed to make a lot of sense,” said Charles Morris, a former banker who predicted the current financial crisis in his book written last year, The Trillion Dollar Meltdown [4]. The SEC “didn’t know it didn’t work until we had this stress.”

And leverage does not always spell trouble. In a strong economy, leverage can also be attractive because it can increase the profitability of banks through lending.

In his recent statement, Cox said the inspector general’s findings reflect a deeper problem: “the lack of specific legal authority for the SEC or any other agency to act as the regulator of these large investment bank holding companies.”

Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson has called for a refining of the regulatory structure to reflect the global and interconnected nature of today’s financial system. In any case, the program’s failure can be seen in the disappearance of the participating banks: Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

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Assessment

Merrill Lynch’s leverage ratio was possibly as high as 40-to-1 this year and Lehman Brothers faced a ratio of about 30-to-1, according to Bloomberg [5].

The Fed and Treasury Department forced Bear Stearns into a merger with JPMorgan Chase in March. And the last two months, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and sold their core U.S. business to British bank Barclays PLC, and Merrill Lynch was acquired by Bank of America. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, the two remaining large independent investment banks, changed their corporate structures to become bank holding companies, which are regulated by the Federal Reserve.

As these banks have folded or reorganized over the last several months, the Federal Reserve has largely assumed the SEC’s oversight responsibilities, though the commission will still have the power to regulate broker dealers.

Original Essay: http://www.propublica.org/article/flawed-sec-program-failed-to-rein-in-investment-banks-101

Conclusion

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“Sell Everything!”

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Rick Kahler MS CFP

[By Rick Kahler MS CFP]

“Sell Everything!”

That’s the advice to investors from RBS, a large investment bank based in Scotland, which issued the dire recommendation to its customers on January 8th, 2016.

The warning urged investors to sell everything except high-quality bonds, predicting the global economy was in for a “fairly cataclysmic year ahead …. similar to 2008.” They said this is a year to focus on the return of capital rather a return on capital.

Stunning

I was first stunned that a respectable investment bank would issue such a radical recommendation. Then I was amused at my own surprise. I had momentarily forgotten this is logical behavior for a company whose profits depend on its customers actively buying and selling. It is not legally required to look out for customers’ best interests and has no incentive to do so.

Clearly, the time-honored way of earning market returns over the long haul is to diversify among asset classes, rebalance religiously, and always stay in the markets. The research is overwhelming that shows those who attempt to time the markets have significantly lower returns over the long haul than those who don’t.

Example:

For example, according to a study by Dalbar, Inc., over the last twenty years the average underperformance of investors and advisors that timed the market was 7.12% a year.

What’s so bad about trying to minimize loses and selling out when things begin looking scary?

Nothing. Who wouldn’t want to exit markets just in time to watch them fall so low that you could sweep up bargains by buying back in? Therein lies the problem: not only do you need to get out on time (not too early and not too late), but you must then know when to get back in.

The Crystal Ball

The only way I know to do this is to own a crystal ball, which the economists at RBS apparently possess.

Here are a few of the things they say to expect:

  • Oil could fall as low as $16 a barrel.
  • The world has far too much debt to be able to grow well.
  • Advances in technology and automation will wipe out up to half of all jobs.
  • Global disinflation is turning to global deflation as China and the US sharply devalue their currencies.
  • Stocks could fall 10% to 20%.

Prediction

The last prediction was the one that grabbed my attention. Given the comparison of the coming year to 2008, I expected a forecast of a significantly greater drop in stocks, say 40% to 60%. Comparatively, their forecast of 10% to 20% seems almost rosy.

While RBS is particularly gloomy, bearish forecasts have also been issued by other investment brokerage firms, including JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale, and Macquarie.

Just for perspective, here’s a look as reported by The Spectator at previous predictions from Andrew Roberts, the RBS analyst who issued the recent dire warning. In June 2010, he warned,

“We cannot stress enough how strongly we believe that a cliff-edge may be around the corner, for the global banking system (particularly in Europe) and for the global economy. Think the unthinkable.” In July 2012, he said, “People talk about recovery, but to me we are in a much worse shape than the Great Depression.”

Incidentally, one thing Roberts did not predict was the meltdown of 2008.

***

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“Sell Everything?”

***

Assessment

The inaccuracy of earlier dire predictions should encourage physicians and all investors to stay the course.

As usual, chances are that those who diversify their investments among five or more asset classes and periodically rebalance their portfolios will come out on top. The odds greatly favor consumers who ignore doom-and-gloom warnings, especially from those whose companies may profit from investor panic.

Conclusion

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Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™         Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

***

Health 2.0 Financial Planning for Medical Executive-Post Members

A By-Product of Health 2.0?

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko FACFAS MBA CMP*

[Founder and CEO]

www.MedicalBusinessAdvisors.com

Dr David E Marcinko MBAA decade ago, Editor Gregory J. Kelley of Physician’s MONEY DIGEST and I reported that a 47 year old-doctor with $184,000 annual income would need about $5.5 million dollars for retirement at age 65. Then came the “flash-crash’ of 2007-08, the home mortgage fiasco and the Patient Protection and Accountable Care Act [PP-ACA] of 2010; etc.

No wonder that medical provider career panic is palpable. Much like the new medical home concept, the idea of holistic life planning was born.

Life Planning

Life planning has many detractors and defenders. Formally, life planning has been defined in the following way. 

Financial Life Planning is an approach to financial planning that places the history, transitions, goals, and principles of the client at the center of the planning process.  For the client, their life becomes the axis around which financial planning develops and evolves.

But, for physicians, life planning’s quasi-professional and informal approach to the largely isolated disciplines of medically focused financial planning, was still largely inadequate.

Why? 

Today’s personal financial and practice environment is incredibly more complex than it was in 2007-08, as economic stress from HMOs, Wall Street, liability fears, criminal scrutiny from government agencies, IT mischief from hackers, economic benchmarking from hospitals and the lost confidence of patients all converged to inspire a robust new financial planning 2.0 approach for medical professionals.

Example of a financial planning mistake 

Recall the tale of Dr. Debasis Kanjilal, a pediatrician from New York who put more than $500,000 into the dot.com company, InfoSpace, upon the advice of Merrill Lynch’s star but non fiduciary analyst Henry Bloget.

Is it any wonder that when the company crashed, the analyst was sued, and Merrill settled out of court? Other analysts, such as Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter and Jack Grubman from Salomon Smith Barney, were involved in similar fiascos.

Although sad, this story is a matter of public record. Hopefully, doctors now understand that the big brokerage houses that underwrite and recommend stocks may have credibility problems, and that physicians got burned with the adrenalin rush of “self-directed” investment portfolios.

Example of a medical practice management mistake 

Just reflect a moment on colleagues willing to securitize their medical practices a few years ago, and cash out to Wall Street for perceived riches that were not rightly deserved

Where are firms such as MedPartners, Phycor, FPA and Coastal now? A recent survey of the Cain Brothers Physician Practice Management Corporation Index of publicly traded PPMCs revealed a market capital loss of more than 95%, since inception. 

Another Approach?

This disruptive narrative shift was formally noted by the Institute of Medical Business Advisors Inc [iMBA, Inc] and introduced to the medical and financial services industry. This research and corpus of work resulted in hundreds of publications in the Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Library of Congress, along with related publications, a dozen textbooks and white papers

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nlmcatalog?term=marcinko

The iMBA approach to financial planning, as championed by the www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org professional charter designation, integrates the traditional concepts of fiduciary focused financial planning, with the increasing complex business concepts of medical practice management.

The former ideas are presented in our textbook on financial planning for doctors: Financial Planning for Physicians and Advisors

The later in our companion book: Business of Medical Practice [Edition 3.0]

A textbook for hospital CXOs and physician-executives: Hospitals & Healthcare Organizations

While most issues of risk management, liability and insurance are found in Risk Management and Insurance Strategies for Physicians and Advisors

And, for the perplexed, all definitions are codified in the dictionary glossary Health Dictionary Series

Health 2.0 Paradigm Shift

And so, the ME-P community now realizes that a more integrated approach is needed.  The traditional vision of medical practice management, personal physician financial planning and how they may look in the future are rapidly changing as the retail mentality of medicine is replaced with a wholesale philosophy.

Or, how views on maximizing current practice income might be more profitably sacrificed for the potential of greater wealth upon eventual practice sale and disposition.

Or, how Yale University economist Robert J Shiller warns in “The New Financial Order” [Risk in the 21st Century] that the risk for choosing the wrong healthcare profession or specialty might render physicians obsolete by technological changes, managed care systems or fiscally unsound demographics. 

Physician-Executive

My Assessment

Yet, the opportunity to re-vise the future at any age through personal re-engineering, exists for all of us, and allows a joint exploration of the medicine, business and the meaning and purpose of life.

To allow this deeper and more realistic approach, the advisor and the doctor must build relationships based on fiduciary trust, greater self-knowledge and true medical business and financial enhancement acumen.

Are you up to the task?

Conclusion

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Morgan Stanley Peddled Security Its Own Employee Called ‘Nuclear Holocaust’

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An Explosive Charge
By Jesse Eisinger Pro Publica
###
A new lawsuit suggests employees at Morgan Stanley understood the housing market was in trouble and exploited that knowledge to bet against securities and unload garbage investments on the unsuspecting.

The bank denies wrongdoing.

Bank

Link: Explosive Charge: Morgan Stanley Peddled Security Its Own Employee Called ‘Nuclear Holocaust’

Conclusion

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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

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