Panama Papers Investigation Suspended

http://www.dw.com/en/panama-suspends-panama-papers-investigation/a-37261828
Source: Süddeutsche Zeitung via Deutsche Welle

Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the center of the Panama Papers investigation, argued that the documents were obtained illegally and, therefore, the investigation is constitutional. In Panama, the law firm was able to suspend the investigation with that argument, reports Deutsche Welle.

Let’s quickly go over the background. Some 2.6 Terabytes of the firm’s data were obtained and provided to International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which released a report and all of the documents to the world. The data included 11.5 million documents that contained how the firm helped the wealthy all around the world form shell corporations to hide wealth and avoid taxes in tax havens with complicated organizational structures to elude tax authorities. The fallout included ousting of national leaders and revelation of unlikely political connections.

This does not stop investigations in other nations of their subjects, but it does crimp some of the investigations because Panama is one of the major sources of those investigations because of its status as original jurisdiction.

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Ending sanctions on Russia might be good

Sanction are backed by legislation and one key element of it is that the President of the United State does not need to run the list of those being sanctioned by Congress. There is a question as to whether the President can end Sanctions against our enemies, which the Democrats might address by filing a lawsuit. However, while such a judgment has not been given, the President has the sole decider of the active sanctions list. 

Sanctions work on a political level because it works on an economic level, impacting people’s wallets. Which means, this is a tool which the President use to target individuals. It is one of the rare few such tools. It also differs in that many of the other tools targeting individuals positively affect the target, such tools as pardoning convicted criminals. 

Sanctions is also an interesting tool because it can be used as a law enforcement tool but without coupling it with any other tool. If the President sanctioned an individual without any other acts, it will stand as is. In that sense, it is powerful and versatile. 

So, to lift such a thing from our enemy and our allies’ enemy opens us up to the risk of financing interests against our own. While most would agree that there are no benefits worth that risk, but most don’t realize what those benefits might be. 

One benefit is simply the opening up of channels of transactions we can observe. If, for a brief time, we let the flood gates open to the money laundering and the financing of counter-American interests, we might discover new alliances we had not observed before. 

We cannot know how the such benefits will be worth the risk. And not knowing the value of those benefits is a risk in itself. 

So, how long are we willing to take those risks to find out what Russian money laundered has bought real estate in Manhattan, a very common practice?  

The Biggest National Security Risk of the Trump Presidency

President Trump has some very interesting priorities and preferences. Interesting, in this case, could be signs of risks in areas that this blog often does not venture into. This blog focuses on risks and potential risks of money laundering and terrorist financing. But this blog cannot ignore the fact that the incoming president introduces new risks in these areas that did not exist before. The primary risk is a switch in policy toward Russia.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/russian-hackers-penetrated-us-electricity-grid-through-a-utility-in-vermont/2016/12/30/8fc90cc4-ceec-11e6-b8a2-8c2a61b0436f_story.html?utm_term=.08a55b6a651d
U.S. officials say a Russian hacking operating penetrated a utility in Vermont. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

When Russia was our enemy, we were adamant about two things: defending ourselves from whatever the Kremlin would throw our way, and proving that Capitalism works better than Communism.

The latter we have stopped proving after the fall of the USSR in 1989. The result is that we no longer have Capitalism. Most of our wealthiest people are not productive people, they are people who know how to fix the economic rules in their favor or find ways to define other people’s economic output as capital gains. I won’t go into the economics here.

However, the former, the defense, now has new dimensions that we did not face in the cold war. The worry is that if President Trump decides to “side” with Russia against our current allies, we would be pulling down our defenses against a state that has been on the constant attack of our defenses and infrastructure. Terrorism is one thing that attacks us and our way of life. Russia has been another, with constant cyber warfare, land and people grab of allied nations, and, most recently, outright lying about its support for a terrorism financing state.

Let’s also note that if President Trump decides that the United States should take sides with Russia against our current allies, we are not ready to defend ourselves from our allies. This is setting aside the fact that Russia is not likely to give up its efforts to disrupt the US in fundamental ways since President Trump and his policies are not likely to last beyond his term(s) in office. This is an incredible opportunity for Russia.

Even with our defenses, there are signs that Russia is getting through, as Washington Post recently reported. Now, if we let them in, it will be worse that the Trojan Horse because we would not require them to hide themselves in anyway.

The other banking problem

Deutsche Bank is the most connected bank in the world. As such, it poses the greatest risk to a banking crisis. And right now, in the midst of good trading revenue being reported by banks this season, Deutsche Bank’s problem makes it difficult for banks to keep fueling the economy and reduce the impact of risk weighted assets.

And despite what people say about low unemployment rate, let’s remember that we have the lowest labor participation rate. Nearly 1 in 10 working age men are on disability. Women, less. The current gap between the working and the working population is more than twice what it used to be. 
Plus, we have been spending the past 8 years replacing higher paying jobs with lower paying jobs. Not only that, we have been replacing a lot of higher productivity jobs with lower productivity jobs. Another way to look at it, we have been taking a road construction worker from building roads and placing him at the fact food cash register, or nothing at all. Nothing is wrong with working as a cash register person, but feeding a few people simply isn’t as productive as creating a path for food to travel to that fast food restaurant and thousands of other ones. 

The saving grace on this is that corporations have more cash than ever, which has reduced the need to borrow. The US policy of letting corporations to pile up cash when we have a year’sworth of GDP in debt, $1.3 Trillion of which is student loans, seems ridiculous. At least that means there is more money to lend to smaller businesses. 

Now, back to the issue of risk: smaller businesses are riskier. This makes it difficult to manage risk. The result is back to where we started. That is part is the nasty cycle Deutsche Bank may worsen. 

Banks can thank Wells Fargo for the additional expense

Due to sales practices at Wells Fargo, banks across the industry are being examined. Banks are always being examined, of course, but additional examinations are being added. And, this is all being done in quick order. When the Wells Fargo CEO testified in front of Congress, it sent a single to the industry that this was likely to happen. It isn’t so much about what was said but that it was taking place that indicated to the industry. 

One thought on blockchain

I have been thinking a lot about blockchain this past month, especially in terms of anti-money laundering. Blockchain could make AML obsolete, in theory. Blockchain is the decentralized database system that allows for recordkeeping of transactions nearly impossible to fake. And because of it, it sort of creates a world that is zero sum. It isn’t completely zero sum, especially in the beginning because no sources of transaction have been recorded, but eventually so many transaction have been recorded that whatever currency is being tracked could be traced to its original source, in this case the first transaction on the database. 

Theory is always beautiful and clean. The reality is that this would require the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Bank to have their own blockchains and run their own transactions. And I don’t see any interest in that happening. 

Another thing that must happen in reality is that all US dollar transaction would need to have unique identifiers for every penny of that transaction. Why? Well, the nature of blockchain is that, the smallest common denominator will be the base currency. That means, every penny will be tracked as a unique object. 

Also, as a result of the penny becoming the de facto currency and the zero sum-ness of the blockchain, it would only makes sense to have their equivalent physical currency. As long as we have physical currency, and we have digital to physical convertibility at today’s rates – meaning, being able to go to the ATM and withdrawing funds without needing to match the funds to any physical bill – we will not benefit greatly from blockchain’s true potential. 

This is all from an AML perspective. There are a whole host of applications I did not address. 

What negative interest rates mean for you?

Short answer: nothing.

Janet Yellen, Chairman of the Federal Reserve said the Fed will not rule out negative interest rates.

Let’s first explain what happens normally when interest rates are positive. You know that when you borrow money from the bank, you pay back the debt you borrowed and interest. That interest payment is a result of a positive interest rate.

With this logic, one would think that when the interest rate is negative, when you borrow money, you will actually be paid an interest payment rather than paying it. But that’s not the case unless something else happens. But i can’t talk about the something else until I explain what does happen with a negative interest rate.

The Fed lends money to banks at a negative interest rate. Now the bank has a lot more money to lend and so they do. Why? Because they could earn a lot more money by lending rather than simply sitting on it. But the banks lend it at a positive interest rate. The difference between the bank received by borrowing money from the Fed and lending money to borrowers is their profit. That means that if you qualify for a loan, you will likely see a slightly lower interest rate but it will not be negative. This announce means little to most people, then.

In this sense, there is no difference between positive and negative interest rates.

In another sense, they are encouraging borrowers to effectively lend money to other borrowers for an easy return on the borrowed funds. As a matter of fact, because of the stringent lending standards, those who can afford to not borrow will borrow and create their own portfolio of loans. This is essentially expanding the shadow banking industry, rather than decreasing it, which was what the fed tried to do a couple of years ago.

This about face is a result of very low inflation rates in April, which indicates reduction of the economy might be eminent. April’s annualized inflation rate was 0.8%, which is almost non-existent.

The Fed only has two tools: interest rates and money supply. If they increase money supply, they will devalue the currency and make it cheaper for economies using other currencies to purchase US products and services. If they decrease interest rates, they will increase spending because it won’t be as enticing to save money when interest rates are so low.