Paging Andrew Stuttaford! This seems bad to me:
Bank of America Corp. (BAC), hit by a credit downgrade last month, has moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.
The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. disagree over the transfers, which are being requested by counterparties, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting, said the people. The bank doesn’t believe regulatory approval is needed, said people with knowledge of its position.
Unless I’m reading this wrong, that looks like a more or less direct transfer of risk from B of A to the American public through the FDIC.
How much risk? Oh, dear:
Bank of America’s holding company — the parent of both the retail bank and the Merrill Lynch securities unit — held almost $75 trillion of derivatives at the end of June, according to data compiled by the OCC. About $53 trillion, or 71 percent, were within Bank of America NA, according to the data, which represent the notional values of the trades.
Of course the FDIC insures deposits, so we’d only be on the hook for that, not for the derivatives. What concerns me is that B of A apparently is operating under an exemption from regular rules:
As a general rule, as long as transactions involve high- quality assets and don’t exceed certain quantitative limitations, they should be allowed under the Federal Reserve Act, Omarova said.
In 2009, the Fed granted Section 23A exemptions to the banking arms of Ally Financial Inc., HSBC Holdings Plc, Fifth Third Bancorp, ING Groep NV, General Electric Co., Northern Trust Corp., CIT Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., among others, according to letters posted on the Fed’s website.
The central bank terminated exemptions last year for retail-banking units of JPMorgan, Citigroup, Barclays Plc, Royal Bank of Scotland Plc and Deutsche Bank AG. The Fed also ended an exemption for Bank of America in March 2010 and in September of that year approved a new one.
Am I missing something, or does this mean that the government is now at least partly backstopping B of A against these derivatives? Stuttaford? If I’m out of my tree on this one, let me know in the comments.