Audit Notes: Nobody’s Guilty In SEC Deals, Swipe Fees, Euromess

The New York Times makes a good catch on the disparities in a Justice Department settlement with Wachovia and an SEC settlement with the same bank.

Justice and the SEC teamed up to ding Wachovia for bid-rigging the municipal bond market—taking money from taxpayers making it more expensive for cities and states to borrow money. Here’s Edward Wyatt:

The settlements are curious because they seem diametrically opposed. In the Justice Department settlement, Wachovia said it “admits, acknowledges and accepts responsibility for” manipulating the bidding process in the sale of derivatives on tax-exempt bonds to institutional investors like cities, hospitals and pension plans over a six-year period ending in 2004.

But in fashioning a settlement with the S.E.C. for the same actions, based on the same facts, Wachovia agreed to settle the charges “without admitting or denying the allegations.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that banks have raised debit fees on small purchases to make up for some revenue lost when the Fed capped them. This is hurting places like coffee shops and Redbox, where people make lots of tiny purchases with their cards.

But the framing here is that it’s the government’s fault, rather than, say, the fault of banks gouging retailers to try to rebuild yesteryear’s duopoly-aided profit margins.

Just two months after one of the most controversial parts of the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law was enacted, some merchants and consumers are starting to pay the price.

Just where, outside the banking industry and certain Republican politicians, was this law controversial?

Also unmentioned here: That retailers and their consumers are surely saving much more money from the rule than they’re losing.

Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum’s piece on the “euromess” is a good, semi-wonkish place to start if you need to brush up on what caused it:

Capital inflows produce a capital account surplus, and the flip side of a capital account surplus is a current account deficit. This is an accounting identity, not a matter of morality or recklessness. And current account deficits always produce either matching government debt (i.e., budget deficits) or matching private debt (i.e., low private savings). This is also an accounting identity, not a matter of morality or recklessness.

So all the current account deficit countries inevitably got one or the other or both. In the event, Ireland and Spain got a property bubble; Greece and Portugal ran up sizeable budget deficits. We know from painful experience that capital flows like this are unsustainable in the long run, but they can go on for quite a while until something happens to scare everyone into calling a halt and producing a sudden crisis. The 2008 financial crisis was “something.”

And this from The New York Times’s story on today’s European deal puts what it means this way:

Twenty years after the Maastricht Treaty, which was designed not just to integrate Europe but to contain the might of a united Germany, Berlin had effectively united Europe under its control, with Britain all but shut out.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,