Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Can I be a bank too?

Seriously, you couldn't make this stuff up. American Express is now a bank, from Bloomberg:

American Express Wins Federal Reserve Approval to Become Bank
American Express Co. won Federal Reserve approval to become a commercial bank, gaining access to funds as credit losses build and sales of asset-backed bonds plummet.

The Fed waived a 30-day waiting period on the application ``in light of the unusual and exigent circumstances affecting the financial markets,'' according to a statement released yesterday in Washington. Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and his colleagues unanimously voted for the action.

I was going to have a rant about how ridiculous this is but Yves Smith did a great job of that over at Naked Capitalism.

Seriously, Amex becoming a bank? This is patently ludicrous. Amex poses no systemic risk, so they don't have a case for needing access to the Fed window. They once owned a bank in connection with their wealth management business, but that is a thing of the past.

The process has now become ludicrous. Amex gets to become a bank to help with its credit card business, which in case you have not been paying attention, has been cutting credit lines to existing customers en masse (I have heard of a case with eight figure net worth, infrequent user, impeccable credit score, who nevertheless had his credit line cut by 50%).

And since no credit card bonds were sold last month, the purpose of this exercise is so that Amex can borrow against its credit card receivables at the Fed window at preferred rates. I am not making this up.

Willem Buiter once said that US regs permitted the Fed to lend against any collateral, including a dead dog. We are getting perilously close to that.

America needs to get its consumption down, but apparently the powers that be are going to use any trick possible to try to keep the American shop-a-holic habit going.