Again, let’s follow the bread crumbs:
This morning’s derivatives transfer announcement was initiated by a Moody’s downgrade of Merrill Lynch on Sept. 21. Merrill customers got jittery, perhaps rightly so.
Merrill Lynch can’t borrow from the Fed’s discount window. Nor is it backed by FDIC deposit insurance. But Bank of America’s commercial banking unit has both of those benefits.
Following a sketchy late-night deal on Sept. 14, 2007, covered in Andrew Sorkin’s book Too Big to Fail (now an HBO film), Bank of America owns Merrill outright.
Now with the transfer, derivative bets placed by formerly reckless Merrill traders are available for taxpayer bailout money... without all the nuisance of political debate in Congress.
Easy, peasy. Government bailouts by design. Love it.
How much money are taxpayers on the hook for? Well, we don’t know. What little we do know is courtesy of anonymous sources who leaked the news to Bloomberg.
Here are some figures:
- Derivatives held by Bank of America’s commercial banking arm before this shift: $53.2 trillion
- Total derivatives held by all units of Bank of America: $74.8 trillion
- Total deposits in Bank of America’s commercial banking arm backed by FDIC insurance: $1.04 trillion
- Amount of FDIC’s deposit insurance fund: $3.9 billion.
Recall that most of the big European banks are larded down with the sovereign debt of the nigh-insolvent PIIGS countries.
And recall thricely that U.S. banks happily wrote those policies, figuring the possibility of default was so remote it was like free money.