Inner City
        Press' Bank Beat Reporter

  

     Welcome to Inner City Press’ Bank Beat.  We aim to scrutinize the industry, from high to low. Our other Reporters cover Community Reinvestment, the Federal Reserve, and other beats.   ICP has published a (double) book about the Bank Beat-relevant topic of predatory lending - click here for sample chapters, an interactive map, and ordering information. The Washington Post of March 15, 2004, calls Predatory Bender: America in the Aughts "the first novel about predatory lending;" the London Times of April 15, 2004, "A Novel Approach," said it "has a cast of colorful characters." See also, "City Lit: Roman a Klepto [Review of 'Predatory Bender']," by Matt Pacenza, City Limits, Sept.-Oct. 2004. The Pittsburgh City Paper says the 100-page afterword makes the "indispensable point that predatory lending is now being aggressively exported to the rest of the globe." Click here for that review; click here to Search This Site. Click here for Inner City Press' weekday news reports, from the United Nations and elsewhere, which include bank-related topics.

Click here for Inner City Press' weekday news reports, from the United Nations and elsewhere. Click here for a recent BBC piece on Inner City Press' reporting from the United Nations. New: Follow us on TWITTER   BloggingHeads.tv  Click for March 1, 2011 BloggingHeads.tv re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption by Inner City Press.  Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.

July 27, 2015

IMF Board to Meet on Ukraine July 31, No Answers on Africa, Madagascar, FfD

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 23 -- When the International Monetary Fund held a belated media briefing on July 23, before taking its summer break, nearly all the questions were about Greece; at least two Africa questions (from Inner City Press) were not answered, including:

On Madagascar, the IMF's Patrick Imam has said “certain preconditions for the... Extended Credit Facility (ECF) are not yet fully met.” What are those conditions, and what are the IMF's next steps on Madagascar?

What is the IMF's view of the Financing for Development agreement reached in Addis Ababa this month, in particular the non-inclusion of a mechanism to deal with inconsistent global corporate taxation?

  While leaving these and a Press request for an update on Nepal unanswered, the IMF went around and around on Greece and then Ukraine. On the latter, there is a July 31 board meeting tentatively set - before the Board's summer recess.

  On Greece, spokesperson Gerry Rice could not or would not confirm a Troika visit to Athens. He praise Delia Velculescu, being shifted by the IMF to Greece from Cyprus. In the capacity, she answered Inner City Press' questions a year ago, here.

 Apparently answers depend on what (country) you're asking about. A country like Nepal might merit answers for a few briefings, but then no updates (or follow through). We'll have more on this.

  Since the Nepal earthquake, Inner City Press has been asking the International Monetary Fund if it would move to relieve the country's debt burden. Inner City Press resubmitted the question for the IMF's embargoed June 25 briefing, and during it, IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice read out the question and answered it. Transcript here; video here from 47:50.

  Inner City Press' question: "On Nepal, in the run up to the June 25 International Conference of Nepal’s Reconstruction, and with the World Bank announcing $500 million, is the IMF intending to do anything beyond the $50 million (one year) and $124 million (overall) in its response in the last briefing? Through the IMF's Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust?"

  Rice said the IMF is represented at the conference in Katmandu -- contrary to some reports, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is NOT there -- and could be the request for the $50 M / $124 M to the Board in July. He emphasized this would be zero interest under the RCF but said Nepal is NOT eligible for the CCRT, GDP damage is not enough.

  Inner City Press would ask, should that threshold be lowered?

July 20, 2015

RBC - City National Gun Jumping Covered by LAT, After FFW Raised It, CBSI Contrasted

By Matthew R. Lee

NEW YORK, July 18 -- The largest bank merger recently proposed, that of Royal Bank of Canada and affluent-focused Los Angeles-based City National Bank, has since April been the subject of a Community Reinvestment Act challenge by Fair Finance Watch.

  Now the LA Times has reported on the "letter from the Fed [which] asks the banks to respond to questions raised in written comments by [FFW]. Spokesmen for the banks declined to comment.... Fair Finance Watch, a New York advocacy group for minorities, questioned a deal between the banks in a June 11 comment letter to the Fed."

  Inner City Press first put that Fed letter online, here; then Canada's National / Financial Post reported without credit it had "obtained" it.

  By contrast, in another pending proposal, CBSI - Oneida, the Syracuse Post-Standard disclosed that "Inner City Press forwarded the letter to news outlets. Some of the Fed's questions focus on whether Community could improperly control matters at Oneida in advance of the acquisition. Community is working on Fed's questions, said Hal Wentworth, Community's senior vice president for retail banking."

  One common theme is that non-control (and therefore antitrust) laws are being violated. One difference is that CBSI does comment to the media -- if only to blame the messenger -- while larger RBC and CNB do not. Arrogance?

 On CBSI's blaming the messenger, FFW has commented to the Fed that it will "will comment again when CBSI has provided a copy of its response to the FRS' questions of July 13. Beyond the CRA and impermissible “control” questions raised therein, we wish at this time to raise the issues that, in a public response to ICP's comments, CBSI's SVP for retail banking said the following, in a prepared statement no less:

'In a statement today, Hal Wentworth, Community's senior vice president for retail banking, said that Inner City Press is not a local group and pointed out that letter was the only one filed on the Oneida deal. "This activist does not do business with either Oneida or Community Bank."'

If it would be inappropriate for CBSI to comment on or disclose information about its customers, in this context the same applies to the above-quoted, which, separately, is reminiscent of human rights abusing countries emphasizing where the rights groups who study and report on them are based."

July 13, 2015

Here are some proposed mergers, large and mostly small, that we are looking at:

July 7, Virginia & West Virginia: Premier Financial Bancorp ($1.3 billion) announced a proposal to buy First National Bankshares Corporation

July 1, Texas: Post Oak Bancshares announced a plan of merger with SSB Bancshares;

June 30, Pennsylvania: Citizens Financial Services proposes to merge with The First National Bank of Fredericksburg;

June 29, Indiana (and Illinois and Ohio), First Merchants Corp. proposed to merge with Ameriana Bancorp;

June 26, Pennsylvania: Juniata Valley Financial Corp. proposes to merge with First National Bank of Port Allegany;

June 24, Ohio / Pennsylvania: Farmers National Banc says it'll buy Tri-State First Banc, Inc;

June 23, Washington state: Northwest Bancorporation proposes to buy  Fairfield Financial;

June 22, California: PBB Bancorp/Premier Business Bank propose to buy First Mountain Bank;

June 22, Arkansas / Missouri: Bear State Financial proposes to buy Metropolitan National Bank;

June 20, Florida: Home BancShares Inc says it proposes to buy Florida Business BancGroup;

June 17, Louisiana: Home Bank says it'll buy New Orleans-based Louisiana Bancorp...

July 6, 2015

Here is a merger ICP Fair Finance Watch has commented on, now projected closing pushed back:

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/bancorpsouth-announces-extension-of-merger-agreements-with-central-community-corporation-and-ouachita-bancshares-corp-300107249.html

June 29, 2015

 So rather than trying to explain to the Federal Reserve why it violated the law and began to collaborate with City National it hasn't been approved to acquire, Royal Bank of Canada on June 24 told the Fed it had managed to get another comment withdrawn. Well, not that of Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch. Lawless....

IMF Tells ICP Nepal Not Eligible for CCRT, Says Flexible with Jordan

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 25 -- Since the Nepal earthquake, Inner City Press has been asking the International Monetary Fund if it would move to relieve the country's debt burden. Inner City Press resubmitted the question for the IMF's embargoed June 25 briefing, and during it, IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice read out the question and answered it. Transcript here; video here from 47:50.

  Inner City Press' question: "On Nepal, in the run up to the June 25 International Conference of Nepal’s Reconstruction, and with the World Bank announcing $500 million, is the IMF intending to do anything beyond the $50 million (one year) and $124 million (overall) in its response in the last briefing? Through the IMF's Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust?"

  Rice said the IMF is represented at the conference in Katmandu -- contrary to some reports, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is NOT there -- and could be the request for the $50 M / $124 M to the Board in July. He emphasized this would be zero interest under the RCF but said Nepal is NOT eligible for the CCRT, GDP damage is not enough.

  Inner City Press would ask, should that threshold be lowered?

  On Jordan, Inner City Press asked: "On Jordan, having seen the IMF's announcement about the end of July, has there been any movement on the criticism by the head of UNHCR and others that the IMF and World Bank in treating Jordan (and Lebanon, etc) as “middle income” can't or don't do enough to provide support given the volume of refugees they have received?"

  Rice said, in essence, that the IMF has been flexible and has given fiscal space to deal with the refugee issues

June 22, 2015

Here's a sleazy deal: “First Republic Bank said Wednesday that it's buying Constellation Wealth Advisors for about $115 million to expand its wealth management services.”

June 15, 2015

So Community Bank System (CBSI) says it is extended anticipated closing date with Oneida Financial - but not why. Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch filed a challenge with the Federal Reserve - CBSI's record has not improved. We'll have more on this.

IMF Tells ICP Nepal Applies for RCF, $124 M, Ghana Eurobond Envisioned

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 11 -- Since the Nepal earthquake, Inner City Press has been asking the International Monetary Fund if it would move to relieve the country's debt burden. Inner City Press resubmitted the question for the IMF's embargoed June 11 briefing, and during it, IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice read out the question and answered it.

  Rice said that Nepal has now made a request to the IMF under the Rapid Credit Facility, and that the IMF will send a mission to the country coinciding with the donors' conference on June 25. He said Nepal could be eligible for $50 million annually, for a total of $124 million. We'll see.

   Rice also answer questions Inner City Press submitted on Ghana's Eurobond and about Jamaica. (He said these questions, “from the UN in New York,” remind of other things in the IMF briefing room other than Greece and Ukraine).

  On Ghana, Rice said that the Eurobond was “envisioned” in the recently agreed program. But what is the status of any talks about it? Inner City Press asked, “Ghana's Minister of Finance, Seth Terkper, says the government intends to issue a $1 billion 10-year Eurobond in 2015. What are the status of talks with the IMF in this regard?”

  On Jamaica, Inner City Press asked, “On Jamaica, please comment on criticism that the percentage of people in under the poverty line has grown alongside the IMF's program and that 'last year, Jamaica paid the IMF over $136 million more than it received.'”

   Rice acknowledged that in 2014-15 there was a negative flow out of the country to the IMF, of $163 million. But he said with the new program that has reversed, to in-flow into Jamaica of $127 million in 2015-16, projected to rise to $176 million in 2017-18. Rice acknowledge the rise in the poverty rate from 9.9% in 2007 to 20% in 2012, but said this had to do with the global financial crisis and is the reason for the IMF's program. We'll see.

June 8, 2015

Some of the proposed mergers we are looking at:

June 4, Connecticut: Liberty Bank in Middletown and Naugatuck Valley Financial Corporation announced an agreement for merger;

June 3, Mississippi: BankFirst Capital Corporation and Newton County Bancorporation, Inc. have entered into an Agreement of Merger. With the merger, BankFirst would have total assets in excess of $875 million and 18 total branches across 10 Mississippi counties;

May 29, Midwest into CA: Heartland Financial announced a merger agreement with Premier Valley Bank based in Fresno, California. After the merger, Heartland would serve 11 states (six Midwestern and five Western) from 95 banking locations with assets approximating $7 billion;

May 27, Texas: Green Bancorp (NASDAQ: GNBC) and Patriot Bancshares, Inc. announced they have entered into a definitive agreement and plan of merger valued at approximately $139 million 

May 27, NJ into FLAValley National Bancorp is proposing to buy  CNLBancshares Inc. in a $207 million deal. CNLBank subsidiary has $1.4 billion in assets, $833 million in loans and $1.1 billion in deposits, as well as 16 branches.

June 1, 2015

IMF Tells ICP "No Time Line" on Yemen or Burundi, Is Nepal "Qualified"?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 28, updated -- On the day Yemen talks were supposed to resume in Geneva, but were canceled by the UN, Inner City Press asked the International Monetary Fund for the status of its program.
  
  IMF spokesperson William Murray read out the question -- "on Yemen, given the cancellation or postponement of the talks that had been scheduled to begin today (May 28) in Geneva, what is the status of the IMF's program and any review of it?" -- then read out a response:

"I’ve got 2 separate questions from Matthew Lee, of Inner City Press. Matthew’s question on Yemen, given the cancellation of talks, what’s the status of the IMF’s program?

A: In the context of Yemen and the IMF, the sit is still under review and being closely monitored. We don’t have a time line yet established for any active resumption of discussions over completion of the review of the existing Yemen program. The program is still in place but we’re monitoring developments in Yemen. Come back to us as time goes on. "

 But in place with whom? Hadi in exile? The Houthis?

  Likewise on Burundi, Inner City Press asked Murray about the status of the IMF's "pre-election" program, now that the legislative elections have been briefly delayed, and questions loom over the presidential elections (the UN Security Council "penholder," France, told Inner City Press on May 27 that the conditions for elections are not met).

  Murray, citing the "current security situation," said

"Well, another situation under review, but let me give you our current view on Burundi. Of course the background is well known, current developments. We are following those developments closely, regarding the extended credit facility, that’s the facility that has been in place for some time. The program was recently approved and it’s fair to say that given current security, and political issues, the timing of our next discussion with the authorities is yet to be determined. We shall continue to monitor the situation in Burundi and if possible, will determine that at a later stage, when to set the time for a second review of the credit facility."

  On Nepal, on which Inner City Press asked the IMF again about any debt relief or use of new facilities, Murray said:

"Just to give you a quick status report on Nepal, we had a mission on the ground, they’ve done an initial assessment. It’s not final yet. They will be going back to Kathmandu to complete some analytics because there was another very very severe earthquake. There is a plan for a donors meeting in late June, June 25 I believe, a lot of that analysis which we’re also doing on the macro economic front with the World Bank and other multilateral institutions, that will all feed into the June 25 donors conference, at which point I would expect a very active strategy for Nepal to surface. Right off the top, we have a rapid credit facility that Nepal could certainly have access to, which is one option. In terms of debt relief, that is pending further analysis. As you know we’ve had some reforms in our credit facilities that have certain conditions attached to how a country can qualify for debt relief. It’s unclear at this juncture whether Nepal does or not, but certainly it’s under review."

 We'll have more on this.

May 25, 2015

A merger we're looking at and more - CBSI and Oneida Savings. There's a history here - and decay.

May 18, 2015

   So now in the Senate, a proposal to move the definition of Systemically Important Financial Institution from $50 billion up to... $500 billion.

May 11, 2015

  Merger announced in the last week which we are looking at:

May 8, Wisconsin: Baylake Corp. says it proposes to buy NEW Bancshares and its Union State Bank;


May 7, Illinois (and Arizona), Parkway Bancorp announced a proposal to acquire Park Bancorp, Inc. and Park Federal Savings Bank;

May 6, Arkansas into NC: Bank of the Ozarks of Little Rock said it proposes to purchase Bank of the Carolinas and Bank of the Carolinas for $64.7 million;

May 5, Florida: Achieva Credit Union said it has signed an agreement to acquire Calusa Bank - a rare case of a credit union trying to buy a bank. CRA?

May 4, Tennessee: Pinnacle Financial Partners announced a proposal to acquire Memphis-based Magna Bank.

May 4, 2015

 Chicken home to roost: Hudson City Bancorp said net income for the quarter fell to $5.9 million, or 1 cent a share, from $42.5 million, or 9 cents last year, missing analyst expectations by 1 cent. "The latest unexpected delay in the merger contributed to the first quarter's weak earnings," Denis J. Salamone, Hudson's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. He did not mention his bank's fair lending problems highlighted by Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch..

On Nepal, ICP Asks IMF If Any Debt Relief, New CCR Trust "Possible"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS / DC, April 30 -- At the International Monetary Fund's embargoed media briefing on April 30, Inner City Press asked, "In Nepal after the earthquake, will the IMF use the CCR Trust? What of the $54 million Nepal owes to the IMF, with $10 million due this year and $16 million in 2016? Any debt relief?"

IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice replied to Inner City Press that

"we’re assessing the situation, we’re seeing exactly what the needs are. We will be looking at all options and all instrumentalities, all instruments that are available to us to respond as effectively as possible to the situation facing the people of Nepal. There are a number of different instruments that could be used, as you know.

"There is the Rapid Credt Facility, for example, which is our zero interest rate facility, provides financing very quickly, limited conditionality aimed at low income countries facing urgent budget balance or payment needs, due to an external shock including natural disasters. So that’s one. That’s one option. And as I said, we’re looking at all options, including potential availability under the new CCR trust."

  This CCR was set in earlier this year, limited to disasters which  destroy more than a quarter of a nation's productive capacity, impact one third of its people or cause damage larger than the size of the country's economy. How the IMF will apply it to Nepal is not yet known.

April 27, 2015

  With Deutsche Bank belatedly fined for its LIBOR scam, even Forbes says it has a rotten heart - and that not even including its foreclosure on predatory loans...

April 20, 2015

 This week, Deutsche Bank under fire, and this from the IMF annual Spring meetings:

On Yemen, ICP Asks IMF of Impact, Ahmed Cites Delay, Hadi Gov Efforts

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS / DC, April 17 -- At the International Monetary Fund's annual meeting on April 17, Inner City Press asked, "On Yemen, given the fighting, airstrikes and uncertainly, any update on the IMF's first review? Any contacts with Hadi government or Houthis since March 26? What is the IMF's view of regional economic impacts?"

 The IMF's Masood Ahmed replied that the IMF's first review remains “on hold until political situation clarifiies and until we can then assess impact on economy.”

  He said “the impact of the  crisis and conflict in Yemen is first and formost humanitarian, the real cost is the human cost. The economy is contracting, oil production is 40% lower, public spending and review is 1/3 down, reserves are down 1/4 this year.”

   And so, Masood Ahmed of the IMF told Inner City Press, “so leads us to have our own small voice to call trying to find quickly a solution to ending the conflict in Yemen so the efforts the government was already trying to make last year to improve economic situation could be continued.”

  But what are the prospects of Hadi returning to power? Now the UN has removed Jamal Benomar as mediator, slated to be replaced by one chosen by Saudi Arabia. Is that sustainable?

Back on March 26 amid the ongoing airstrikes in Yemen, Inner City Press asked the IMF about the status of its program in the country.

   IMF Deputy Spokesperson William Murray said that the first review is postponed until things clarify.

   Back on January 22, Murray had answered Inner City Press that while events in Yemen were not helpful, the review was not until Spring. Now it is postponed indefinitely.

   On March 26, Inner City Press asked Murray if the IMF has had any contact with the Houthis. No, seemed to be the answer - certainly not in recent days, Murray specified.

   Murray declined a follow up question about the impact on oil markets. Now on April 17 Masood Ahmed has provided some figures.

 Also on April 17 Inner City Press asked the IMF, "on Vanuatu, it's said that even after Cyclone Pam the country is not eligible for the IMF's Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust. Is that true, and what could be done given that only two small-island states are eligible, despite high debts and storm risks?"

 The IMF's Hoe Ee Khor replied that "We have a mission in Vanuatu right now. We are in the process of trying to draw up the program. The amount we have access to is 22 million SDR. It's small relative to the size of the damages.” Video here.

  He said the IMF is working on the “macro economic framework” which may trigger more financing from Australia, New Zealand and other IFIs like the ADB and World Bank.

     There is a similar problem at the World Bank, with countries like Lebanon and Jordan and some in West Africa not eligible for financing needed to deal with refugees. And now more refugees are being created, for example from Yemen.

  And so it goes.
and

"Deutsche Bank AG’s Dubai branch was fined $8.4 million by the regulator of the emirate’s financial free zone for breaching its rules, including providing false information. The Dubai Financial Services Authority, or DFSA, said it fined the German bank for “serious contraventions” which include misleading the regulator and for failures in its internal governance and systems controls related to booking clients and anti-money-laundering processes. The $8.4 million amount is the largest fine the regulator has ever issued since it was founded in 2004. The Dubai fine comes at a time when Deutsche Bank is expected to pay close to $1.5 billion to settle with U.S. authorities for its alleged role of manipulating interbank lending rates, known as Libor."

April 13, 2015

A merger we have (timely) looked at is Cathay General - Asia Bank. What would be the benefit, of just closing branches? We'll have more on this.

April 6, 2015

On Ghana, IMF Tells ICP $918M Program Will Be Transparent - But Will It?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- Less than an hour after the International Monetary Fund announced that its Executive Board had approved a $918 million program for Ghana, IMF Mission Chief Joel Toujas-Bernate held a media conference call.

  Inner City Press asked Toujas-Bernate what role there will be for civil society in evaluating the program, about access to information and oversight of Ghana’s National Petroleum Company.

 Toujas-Bernate replied that "transparency in public finance" was, in fact, a focus "in particular to respond to need for better access to data on budget preparation and execution [to] broaden support for reform program of authorities."

  He said, "we have engaged during negotiations with civil society representatives and we signaled that transparency will be increased to all of Ghana's society." He said that Ghana has signed on to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). He said, "All program documents will be published soon."

  But why were at least some of the program documents made available during this process? If it wasn't transparent then, will it be in the future?

  Joy FM asked about the upcoming elections -- the IMF said it got commitments from the president himself -- and Bloomberg asked about the impact of interest rates in the US. And that was it.

March 30, 2015

A recent acquisition that escape or evaded all public comment for now was Popular's “emergency” acquisition of Doral Bank, including in New York. It just happened; no attempt was made to assess the community reinvestment implications or reach out to the public. We aim to have more on this.

March 23, 2015

Interesting merger proposal: Pac West trying to buy Square 1 in North Carolina. We'll have more on this.

March 16, 2015

IMF Says It Will Answer on Yemen After Stabilizes, As Talks of Calm in Bangladesh

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 12, updated -- At the International Monetary Fund's biweekly embargoed briefing on February 19,  Inner City Press asked IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice "in Yemen, the World Bank has suspended its programs due to the 'dangerous political and security situation.' What is the status of the IMF's programs, and its estimate of impacts of the Houthi / Hadi stand-off?"

  Rice read out the question then replied, We are monitoring the situation very closely and will be able to say more once it has stabilized just a bit.

  But what if it doesn't stabilize?

 On Bangladesh, by contrast, the IMF's Rodrigo Cubero on March 10 said " the resurgence of unrest in recent months is taking a toll on the economy..  upside risks from unrest-related supply disruptions... Should calm be restored and uncertainty abate, growth should strengthen to 6½ percent in FY16."

 Of this, Inner City Press submitted this question to the IMF:

On Bangladesh, Mr Cubero said “should calm be restored and uncertainty abate, growth should strengthen to 6½ percent in FY16.” Does the IMF believe that the government's crackdown  is the way to restore calm or another approach should be used?

Update: After the briefing, an IMF Spokesperson provided this to Inner City Press on Bangladeshh:

"Our most recent press release summarizes our views on the economy and the near-term outlook – we would not comment beyond that.”

Inner City Press has been told to expect a response to its question about Sri Lanka, but not for some reason to this one on Ghana:

On Ghana and the draft agreement, is there any procedure for civil society organizations to view it before it goes to the IMF Board?  Does the draft agreement contain any provisions on access to information?

 Neither question, nor four submitted a week ago for a briefing postpone by Washington snow, have been answered. Watch this site.

On Sri Lanka, IMF Tells ICP External Debt Cost's Issue for Creditors, Not It

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 12, updated -- At the International Monetary Fund's biweekly embargoed briefing on February 19,  Inner City Press asked IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice

"In Sri Lanka, the IMF Post-Program Monitoring mission led by IMF official Todd Schneider concluded there is no urgent need, while others say there's a need to retire or refinance high cost external debt and that 'the IMF last year warned the island was vulnerable to sudden external shocks due to high levels of foreign commercial borrowings.' What is the IMF's view of Sri Lanka's debt and the new government's position?"

  Not during the briefing -- then, Rice responded to Inner City Press question about Yemen -- but some hours afterwards, the following response arrived, attributable to IMF Spokesperson Gerry Rice:

“The staff’s view of Sri Lanka’s debt position has not changed since the Article IV consultation, which highlighted the high external debt burden and a rising cost for external financing as Sri Lanka shifts to middle-income status and bilateral concessional debt is replaced with borrowing on commercial terms. The accompanying debt sustainability analysis (DSA) assessed Sri Lanka’s public and publicly guaranteed debt as elevated, and subject to a number of risks, but sustainable over the medium-term.
 
“The recent mission’s statement was that there is no immediate balance of payments need, as Sri Lanka maintains central bank foreign exchange reserves in excess of three months of import cover, and the overall balance of payments is projected to improve with the recent decline in oil prices.  The appears to be  concerned about the high cost of some public external debt and is exploring options for reducing the interest burden and increasing fiscal space. This is an issue between Sri Lanka and its (bilateral) creditors.”

  Next, we'll turn to those creditors. Can you say, String of pearls? Watch this site.

After Sri Lanka's new government spoke of doing another local investigation into war crimes in 2009, and asking for a suspension of the UN Human Rights Council process, Inner City Press on February 13 went to Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera's meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

  No other media at the UN attended; only the UN's own in-house UN Photo and UN TV. But accompanying Mangala Samaraweera were outgoing Ambassador Palitha Kohona and others. Video here.

  Ban Ki-moon, before Inner City Press was whisked out of the meeting, told Mangala Samaraweera he had met him after the tsunami - that is, when Ban was a South Korean diplomat.

March 9, 2015

In banking, the big get bigger: where are the regulators?

How the 10 biggest banks got even bigger

'14 asset 14dep 13 ass 13 dep

JPMorgan Chase $2,573 $1,363 $2,416 $1,288

Bank of America $2,105 $1,119 $2,102 $1,119

Citigroup $1,833 $897 $1,881 $968

Wells Fargo $1,687 $1,168 $1,527 $1,079

U.S. Bancorp $403 $283 $364 $262

BNY Mellon $385 $266 $374 $261

PNC $345 $232 $320 $221

Capital One $309 $206 $297 $205

HSBC $290 $111 $290 $110

State Street $274 $209 $243

We'd have liked to cite the source...

March 2, 2015

JP Morgan Chase has "announced plans to reduce expenses by $2.8 billion by 2017, including axing approximately 300 branches in the next 22 months.Bank of America Corp. implemented "Project New BAC" in 2011, a cost savings program that involved heavy branch cuts. Since the program was initiated, the company has reduced its branch count from over 6,000 branches to 4,891, adjusted for any openings and closings, and announced mergers and acquisitions as of Feb. 24.Citigroup Inc. also recently began reducing its branch footprint, which is already very small compared to the other large institutions with only 894 U.S. branches, adjusted for any openings and closings and announced mergers and acquisitions, as of Feb. 24. In 2014, the company struck 2 deals with BB&T Corp. to sell over 60 branches in Texas and rumors were swirling last year that the company was looking for a buyer for a handful of it California and Nevada branches" -- all this according to a Financial reporting service that has chosen, for us, to remain UNnamed... Watch this site.

February 23, 2015

IMF Talks Up Ukraine Program, On Libya No Answer, Of Yemen's Poor

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 19 -- At the International Monetary Fund's biweekly embargoed briefing on February 19,  Inner City Press asked IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice for the IMF's view of the economic impacts of the Libyan crisis on that country, the region and the world.  No answer was given.

  Instead, the IMF insisted that its assumptions for proposing over $17 billion to Ukraine would be met; Rice said the IMF's program has no "conditionality" about stopping or even slowing the war.

  Inner City Press also asked, twice, about Georgia, where "Economy Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili has said the country has approach the IMF for assistance to stabilize the Lari - can you confirm and what would be the next steps?" This was not answered either.

  Following up on Ghana, on which he answered last week, Rice said an IMF team is in Accra from today to February 26. Inner City Press had asked, "Ghana's head of IMF Negotiation Team Kwesi Botchway has said most of the issues with the IMF have been concluded and to expect action at the April 2015 IMF Executive Board meeting. Is that where things stand?"

  On Yemen, Inner City Press asked, "how does the ongoing political stand-off impact the IMF's program? Who are the IMF's interlocutors in Yemen at this time?" The interlocutor question was not answered. Rice took a question he said was from Yemen -- then corrected, "Saudi Arabia" -- and said the IMF is concerned about the poor.

  Amid a flurry of questions about Greece and a possible Grexit, Rice said, I'm wrapping it, it's a wrap. But the questions will continue.

* * *

 Previously, on February 5, Rice answered on the IMF's process in Ghana (and in Mongolia, see below).

  Inner City Press asked "In Ghana, President Mahama on Feb 3 said, 'Ghana is committed to securing an IMF programme and we are confident that we will reach agreement with the IMF by the end of this quarter.' What is the process / status at the IMF?"

  IMF spokesperson Rice said there has been "good progress," and mentioned "cleaning up the payroll" and "medium term reforms," as well as considering the impact of declining oil prices.

 On August 28, 2014 on Ghana Inner City Press had asked “Convention People’s Party chair Samia Nkrumah has said, 'It will be erroneous to accept the fact that IMF conditionalities could not be rejected since in 1965, Ghana, under the First President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, rejected the proposal of the IMF when they recommended the sale of national assets such as factories in exchange for a loan.' What is the IMF's response?”

  Rice then said that the IMF team will be in Accra in September. Things have moved since then.

  On February 5 about Mongolia, Inner City Press asked, "what is the process forward on their request for an IMF stand-by arrangement? When will a visit to the country take place?"

  Rice replied, "The IMF has received a request from the Mongolian authorities to begin discussions of possible support to Mongolia. The IMF will be sending a team to Ulaanbaatar soon to initiate these discussions."

February 16, 2015

M&T, with its long pending application to acquire Hudson City protested by Fair Finance Watch, NCRC and others, has a mandatory pre-trial conference in the fair lending case against it scheduled for April 7. Will the Federal Reserve take note?

February 9, 2015

Now it can be said: one of the most dubious proposal going is the Application by Sterling National Bank to acquire and merge with Hudson Valley Bank - we'll have more on this.

February 2, 2015

Here's an interesting merger: Bridgehampton proposing to buy Community National, on whose 11 branches one is in Manhattan and one in Queens - in Bayside. We're watching this one.

January 26, 2015

Royal Bank of Canada trying to buy City National? We'll have more on this. And on Cathay General - AsiaBank too...

January 19, 2015

  Here's some new mergers, mostly small:

Washington Savings Bank on January 15 announced a proposal to acquire First Federal Savings - and on the same day, Seattle-based First Sound Bank announced a proposal to acquire Eastside Commercial Bank. In Texas, Guaranty Bancshares on January 11 announced a proposal to buy Preston State Bank. In Louisiana, First NBC Bank Holding Co. announced on Dec 30 a proposal to acquire State-Investors Bank. And so it goes - watch this site.

January 12, 2015

Bank mergers in India and South Korea are being challenged - by employees. In India, “employees' unions at ING Vysya Bank today staged a protest with demands for 'job security' in the wake of its proposed merger with Kotak Mahindra Bank. The protest was jointly organized by the All India ING Vysya Bank Employees' Union and All India ING Vysya Bank Officers' Association, which claimed their concerns over the proposed merger remain unresolved.”

And in South Korea, “the merger talks between Hana Bank and Korea Exchange Bank faced another hurdle Friday as the KEB union demanded that Hana Financial first confirm the detailed process of the merger in advance - a term that the latter will not easily embrace.” We're following this - and would like to see things like it in the USA.

January 5, 2015

Better late than never, the chickens come home to roost: Royal Bank of Scotland, big player in the predatory lending meltdown, now reportedly faces fines from the FHFA and Justice Department. Only now, it's 81% owned by the UK government...

December 29, 2014

  In Puerto Rico, the offices of Doral Bank have been raided -- this is beyond CRA...

December 22, 2014

On CIT - OneWest, from CRC:

FDIC has Already Paid to OneWest
 
under IndyMac Shared Loss
$670,754,214
under La Jolla Bank Shared Loss
$357,650,183
Total
$1,028,404,397
 
 
FDIC Estimate of Future Payments
 
under IndyMac Shared Loss
$1,335,407,190
 under La Jolla Bank Shared Loss
$94,615,970
Total
$1,430,023,160
 
 
Total estimated amount FDIC will pay to OneWest Bank
$2,458,427,557*

December 15, 2014

With IMF Reform Not in CRomnibus, Lagarde Fights Back, in January

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 11 -- With IMF quota reform not included in the more than 1000 pages of the US Continuing Resolution / Omnibus known as CRomnibus, what now will IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde do?

  At the first IMF embargoed press briefing in four weeks, Deputy Spokesperson William Murray was asked (Inner City Press submitted this and five other questions before the briefing, see below.)

  Murray referred to Lagarde's Work Plan for 2015, also under embargo until 10:30 am. Now, at that time, here it is, Paragraph 12:

"12. Governance and resources. Prompt entry into force of the 2010 Quota and Governance reforms is of utmost importance to preserve the quota-based nature of the IMF, and strengthen its legitimacy, effectiveness and relevance. In line with the IMFC’s
commitment to maintaining a strong and adequately-resourced IMF, steps will also be taken to ensure the availability of sufficient Fund resources for crisis prevention and resolution. As
flagged in the Spring WP, in the event that the 2010 Board Reform Amendment and the 14th General Review of Quotas have not become effective by the end of 2014, a Board meeting
on alternative options for rebalancing quotas and increasing Fund resources will be scheduled for January 2015. The Board will discuss a draft report to the Board of Governors on the
15th General Review of Quotas before the end-January deadline for the completion of the 9 Review. The timing of Board meetings on the 15th General Review and on revisions to the
quota formula will be determined, taking into account progress made in ratifying the 2010 reforms."

 So there will be an IMF Board meeting in January on the topic. Murray said the date of the next briefing, in January, is not yet set, pending the date of Lagarde's cusp of the year speech then travel to Davos. Watch this site.

  Inner City Press on December 11 - actually, submitted December 10 -- asked:

If not asked “in the room,” what if the IMF's response to IMF quota not being included in the US Congress' end of year Continuing Resolution / Omnibus?

On Yemen, does Saudi Arabia withholding budget support due to advances by the Houthis impact the IMF's program or predictions? Relatedly, what is the IMF's response to the Yemeni central bank's Mohammed Bin Humam being quoted that “our current level of foreign reserves is still sufficient and in line with our program with the IMF”?

On Ireland, what is the IMF's response to protests against its role in the raised water charges for consumers in that country?

What is the IMF's response to UNASUR Secretary-General Ernesto Samper being quoted, Dec 8 in Quito, opposing Managing Director Lagarde's comments on Latin America and that “the IMF does not have the moral authority to give any recommendations to us after we were subject to their constraints for many years, negating any possibility for progress”?

On Dec 10, the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs' World Economic Situation and Prospects 2015 report addressed Ebola imposing “major economic costs in the affected countries through disruptions to travel and trade.” What are the IMF's estimates now of Ebola's impact?

  Watch this site.

December 8, 2014

Along with the mergers we listed last week, there's another in Hawaii, where Hawaiian Electric Industries announced last week a proposal to be acquired by NextEra Energy, in a $4.3 billion deal. “The transaction does not include American Savings Bank, which HEI also owns. The company says it plans to establish the bank as an independent publicly traded company. ASB Hawaii’s estimated current value is approximately $800 million, or approximately $8.00 per share. The spinoff is expected to be completed immediately prior to and is contingent upon the completion of the combination of HEI and NextEra Energy.”

We'll see about that...

December 1, 2014

We are looking at these proposals:

Iowa into Minnesota: MidWestOne Financial Group of Iowa City, Iowa proposing to buy Central Bancshares and Central Bank of Golden Valley, Minnesota....

North Carolina into Virginia: BNC Bancorp, holding company for Bank of North Carolina proposes to buy Valley Financial Corporation and Valley Bank of Roanoke, VA...

Hawaii: First Foundation Inc. proposes to buy Pacific Rim Bank in Honolulu, Hawaii.

November 24, 2014

 Here are two applications to the Federal Reserve that look almost identical - but they're not:

IBERIABANK Corporation, Lafayette, Louisiana    to merge with Old Florida Bancshares, Inc., Orlando, Florida, and thereby acquire its two subsidiaries, Old Florida Bank and New Traditions Bank, both in Orlando, Florida    3    Atlanta    12/15/2014

IBERIABANK Corporation, Lafayette, Louisiana CORRECTION    to merge with Florida Bank Group Inc., and thereby indirectly acquire Florida Bank, both in Tampa, Florida    3    Atlanta    11/24/2014

November 17, 2014

We'll be cryptic here for now: Fair Finance Watch commented on BB&T application to acquire 41 branches from Citibank in Texas, then on BB&T application to acquire Bank of Kentucky. After that and a weird response from BB&T, the bank announced a larger $2.5 billion proposal to buy Susquehanna. What do you think comes next?

In Burkina Faso, IMF Tells ICP Mission Off Until Recognized Govt

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 13, updated with transcript -- When the International Monetary Fund held its biweekly embargoed media briefing on November 13, Inner City Press asked about Burkina Faso: "does the IMF have any comment or response to the change of government, any impacts on IMF programs or forecasts for the country or its neighbors?"

  IMF deputy spokesperson William Murray replied that "in terms of Burkina Faso there were some issues with a mission recently but now the situation is evolving. As soon as an internationally recognized transitional government is in place, we look forward to resuming discussions with the authorities."

Citing "signals for donor engagement," Murray said the IMF "anticipates the transitional government  is likely to want to continue a program engagement of some sort. Depending on the authorities' wishes and the commitments they are willing to undertake, options might be a one year program under the Rapid Credit Facility or continuation of the current ECF supported program."

  And there you have it.

From the IMF's subsequently released transcript:

IMF's William Murray: I have a question, again from Matthew Lee, on Burkina Faso. On Burkina Faso, does the IMF have any comment or response to the change of government and any impacts on IMF programs or forecasts for the country or its neighbors. Let me -- I'm going to have to dive into my brief here, Matthew. In terms of Burkina Faso, you know there are some issues there with the mission recently, but now the situation is evolving and we are following developments in Burkina Faso closely. As soon as internationally recognized transitional government is in place, we look forward to resuming our discussions with the authorities. Burkina Faso has a long track record of strong performance with programs supported by the IMF. Since the current program provides a signal for broader donor engagement, we anticipate that the transition government is likely to want to continue a program engagement of some sort. Depending upon the authorities' wishes, and the commitments that they are willing to undertake, options might be a one year program supported by the rapid credit facility or possibly continuation of the current ECF supported program. Program implementation capacity will also be an important consideration. That's our latest update on Burkina.

All right, I think we can wrap this up. Is there any other questions we can? Okay, great


November 10, 2014

  Look at two new mergers:

In Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Utah, Nov 5, Banner Bank & AmericanWest Bank for $702 million http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/11/05/3956752/americanwest-bank-to-merge-with.html

In Massachusetts, Berkshire Hills Bancorp & Hampden Bancorp, Nov. 4 http://www.timesunion.com/business/article/Banks-agree-to-109M-merger-5870004.php

November 3, 2014

 We are looking at new mergers in TN - NC, Wisconsin, Louisiana - Florida (redux), Oklahoma, West Virginia into Pittsburgh, and Tennessee. Watch this site.

October 27, 2014

In the UK, the "biggest retail bank will set out plans next week to close more than 200 branches under a blueprint that will also see 9,000 jobs disappear... Lloyds Banking Group will say that a significant minority of its 2,250 branches across the UK will be shut by the end of 2017, ending a three-year moratorium on such closures. The focus of the axe will be on urban centers."

  Inner City Press -- and the Fair Finance Watch -- will have more on this.

October 20, 2014

  TD Sleaze: “A former Toronto-Dominion Bank executive was charged in south Florida federal court with six counts wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a $1-billion (U.S.) Florida Ponzi scheme on Friday, according to court documents.Frank Spinosa, 53, faces 20 years in prison and $1.5-million in fines, prosecutors said in a statement. He was released on a $250,000 bond on Friday and is due to be arraigned on Oct. 24.Spinosa allegedly used his position at Canada’s TD Bank to help attorney Scott Rothstein convince investors to buy stakes in what he said were settlements of potential lawsuits over sexual harassment or whistleblower claims.”

October 13, 2014

IMF Press Conference Has Syria Questions from USAID, Yemen & Mali Qs Ignored

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 10 -- With the International Monetary Fund having its Annual Meeting, Managing Director Christine Lagarde began by saying the quota reform, blocked by the US, is crucial.
 
  Then at the IMF's October 10 press conference about the Middle East, even as Press questions about Yemen and other topics were pending, the IMF called on USAID to ask a question about Syria.

  See video here at Minute 41, question of Mona Yacoubian, USAID's Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Bureau.

   The IMF's transcript omits that the question was from USAID, that the questioner said, "Mona Yacoubian from USAID."

  It is often said that these press conference are limited to the media, including to the Free UN Coalition for Access which advocates for press access including at the IMF. How then can a US government agency ask a question about Syria? And what does it mean?

  Inner City Press submitted a question on October 10 about Yemen, still not answered, and during the Africa briefing about Mali and South Sudan. Does the IMF answer questions from the US government but not from the press? Was it just a mistake?

    Back on October 6 with the dispute between Argentina and hedge or vulture funds more and more discussed, the International Monetary Fund released a paper and held an embargoed press call on the topic of "Strengthening the Contractual Framework to Address Collective Action Problems in Sovereign Debt Restructuring."

  Inner City Press asked the IMF's Sean Hagan, General Counsel and Director of the IMF's Legal Department, how his "market based" approach relates to the vote take last month in the UN General Assembly and to respond to the critique that the lack of quota reform at the IMF undermines the legitimacy of its approach.

   Hagan said the UNGA's approach is "treaty based," and that

"There was insufficient support in our members to support that approach, there has been in no change in the attitude of our members when we discussed this last year.”

  But in essence the membership of the IMF is the same as the UN General Assembly -- it's just that in the IMF votes are weighed to wealth, measured in the past. The UN is controlled by five permanently veto-wielding Security Council members. At the IMF for now there is one veto: the US.

  Hagan made much of Kazakhstan including some of the IMF supported language in its most recent bond issuance. He mentioned copycat litigation, already pending in Grenada. He said it seems the issue will be discussed at the upcoming IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings in a session involving "civil society organizations." We'll have more on this.

October 6, 2014

  We are looking at  First Western - Sunflower to form a $2.5 billion bank in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, California and Wyoming; to form a $1.5 billion bank (Metcalf) in Missouri, Kansas, Illinois and Oklahoma; in Louisiana ( announced Sept 29); in Indiana (Oct 1); and Iberiabank to acquireFlorida Bank Group (announced Oct 3)... A story:

IMF Weighs Financial Inclusion in Kenya, But Not Elsewhere, Ghana Update

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 2 -- Amid the Kenya report released under embargo today by the International Monetary Fund is a review of financial inclusion and technology:

"Financial inclusion continues progressing with mobile-banking loans and deposits driven by M-Shwari (7 million customers in its first year of operations) and higher SME access to credit.

"M-Pesa was introduced in 2007 as a means to transfer money via mobile phones. M-Pesa users deposit money into a 'cell phone account,' and use SMS technology for transfers and 'on demand' payments. Thanks to its use of low-cost technology, overall transaction costs have declined as bills can be paid remotely. Even more importantly, the poor have benefited the most: M-Pesa reaches 84 percent of population earning less than US$2 a day.  M-Shwari, a deposit-lending facility tailored to the poor, has 7 million active customers in over a year of operations. Kenyan farmers benefit from schemes to acquire equipment, like water pumps, with repayments being made through M-Pesa; M-Kopa allows the use of solar panels in areas not served by the power grid, with repayments in small installments."

   Whether in other contexts the IMF is promoting financial inclusion is another question. But there is much to be learned from Kenya - including for lower income parts of the ostensibly developed world. We'll have more on this.

  On October 1 at the UN, Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access pushed for and reported on a briefing about African Regional Economic Communities, here.

  Back on September 25, with Ghana hosting an International Monetary Fund visit, Inner City Press asked IMF Spokesperson Gerry Rice about what Ghana’s President John Mahama said this week at the New York Stock Exchange: "It is my hope that by January we should start a three-year IMF program to try and stabilize the macroeconomic environment.”

Rice took the question from Inner City Press and said "I can tell you we currently have an IMF team in Accra to initiate discussions on a program. We will have a press release at the end of that mission. The context is, indeed, that the Ghana authorities initiated discussion on an economic program that could be supported by the Fund. Those are the discussions that are then taking place. So it's premature to have dates and more details on that process because the team is in Ghana. We’re expecting it to conclude this week, and we will communicate at the right time."

  Then this, concluding that "discussions on a possible program that could be supported by the IMF will continue in Washington during the Annual Meetings."

  Inner City Press also submitted this question on September 25: “Ukraine PM Yatseniuk yesterday said, 'We do understand that we have to readjust the program. Because when we started the program with the IMF, it was a peace program. For today, this is a wartime government and a wartime program.' What is the IMF's response to / comment on this?”

  While Rice said that there was no request for any “readjustment” yet, that the IMF will combine two reviews in November with an eye toward its Executive Board meeting on Ukraine at the end of the year or early 2015. He said the purpose of such reviews, generally, is readjustment.

  But Rice did in this answer address the appropriateness of IMF lending into what Yatseniuk called “a wartime government and a wartime program" speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. We'll have more on this as well.

September 29, 2014

On Ghana, IMF Tells ICP Visit Ongoing, 1/2 Answer on Ukraine

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 25 -- With Ghana hosting an International Monetary Fund visit, Inner City Press asked IMF Spokesperson Gerry Rice at his embargoed briefing on September 25 about what Ghana’s President John Mahama said this week at the New York Stock Exchange: "It is my hope that by January we should start a three-year IMF program to try and stabilize the macroeconomic environment.”

Rice took the question from Inner City Press and said yes, an IMF team is in Accra discussing a program, and will have something to say once the visit concludes.

  Inner City Press also submitted this question: “Ukraine PM Yatseniuk yesterday said, 'We do understand that we have to readjust the program. Because when we started the program with the IMF, it was a peace program. For today, this is a wartime government and a wartime program.' What is the IMF's response to / comment on this?”

  While Rice said that there was no request for any “readjustment” yet, that the IMF will combine two reviews in November with an eye toward its Executive Board meeting on Ukraine at the end of the year or early 2015. He said the purpose of such reviews, generally, is readjustment.

  But Rice did in this answer address the appropriateness of IMF lending into what Yatseniuk called “a wartime government and a wartime program" speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. We'll have more on this.

September 22, 2014

Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch is looking at recently announced mergers, like in BB&T's proposal to buy Bank of Kentucky for $363 million announced last week, and to buy 41 Citibank branches in Texas, announced earlier this month; Virginia(August 30); Pennsylvania (August 28), Florida (August 25), and elsewhere...

UN Obfuscates Lack of Debt Relief for Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Censors

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 18 -- When the UN presented its "State of the Global Partnership for Development" report on September 18, it said that three countries not being processed for debt relief -- Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan -- are only treated that way because they have no national economic plans.

  Inner City Press challenged this, noting public discussions of blocking any debt relief to Sudan, which like Eritrea and Somalia is under UN sanctions.  In response, UN DESA tried to say it was a matter of stability and being in conflict.

   But the IMF continues working on a program with Mali, certainly in more conflict than Eritrea, despite the untransparent purchase of a new jet by Mali's president.

   Inner City Press has asked the International Monetary Fund about Mali, and on July 10 was told the IMF has suspended its program at least until toward the end of this year, IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice answered Inner City Press.  Video here, from Minute 19:30.  Since then, IMF visits and work toward unlocking money has proceeded.

  If the UN and its DESA obfuscate the reasons countries like Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea don't get debt relief, what else are they obfuscating?

Footnote on how the UN runs briefings: on September 18 initially the first question was being given to a reporter who actually covers development. But the UN Correspondents Association's representative complained, demanding a set aside, and got it, along with an apology. Then asked a softball question, not following up on a false answer and in all probability not reporting on it. It's asking the (first) question just for the sake of it, the UN's Censorship Alliance whose Executive Committee worked to try to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN and remains UNreformed. The new Free UN Coalition for Access opposes set-asides, especially for the UN's Censorship Alliance.

September 15, 2014

Here's what Inner City Press asked the IMF last week:

ICP Asks IMF of Sovereign Debt, It Says Contractual and Market Based on Hold Outs

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 11 -- Two days after 124 nations in the UN General Assembly voted to start a process on sovereign debt restructuring, Inner City Press asked the International Monetary Fund, "What is the IMF's comment on the “sovereign debt restructuring” resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 9? The resolution cites the IMF's work on the issues, in 2003."

  At the IMF's embargoed briefing on September 11, IMF spokesperson William Murray provided a long answer, including that the IMF is working on a "market based" solution, particularly on debt contractual terms to prevent "hold out" problems. He mentioned, as he had to, Argentina, which has had it own contentious relation with the IMF.

  Clearly, Argentina -- and Bolivia as chair of the Group of 77 -- were aware of these IMF efforts when they pursued the issue in the UN General Assembly. We'll have more on this.

  In the last briefing, Inner City Press asked the IMF about ebola. This time, Murray cited the economies of Liberia and Sierra Leone shrinking 3 to 3.5%, and Guinea by 1.5%.

  On Portugal, he said the IMF has received no communication about an early pay-off.

  Inner City Press also asked the IMF for its view of Cyrus' foreclosure laws -- sounds like the IMF doesn't like them -- as well as Yemen and Egypt:

What is the IMF's view of the partial roll back by Yemen's government of its initial cut in fuel subsidies?

On Egypt, what is the status of the IMF's work with the country? What is the IMF's comment on Bank of America Merrill Lynch saying it expects no near-term IMF engagement with Egypt?

  We'll have more on this as well.

When Argentina's foreign minister Héctor Timerman held a press conference at the UN at 5:30 pm on September 9, he was flanked not only by Argentina's ambassador to the UN Maria Cristina Perceval but also the chair of the Group of 77, Sacha Llorenti of Bolivia.

  They spoke of 11 countries opposing their resolution on sovereign debt and vultures funds, or sovereign debt restructuring, including the United States. Timerman took the high road, saying that Argentina would present a project with the G77 and speak with all opponents.

  He asked how the UN General Assembly, which he called the most democratic forum, could be involved in so many fields but not this one. Why indeed.

September 8, 2014

Last week the New York Times reported on Evans Bank being under investigation for redlining. Well, on March 17, 2014 Inner City Press reported:

Word in update New York is the AG is looking at Evans bank NA; we looked at 2012 date for the Buffalo MSA:

for home purchase loans, 59 loans to whites, one to an African American applicant, no Latinos.

worse: for refinance loans, 147 loans to whites, NONE to African Americans or Latinos...

And on marketing / outreach:

for home purchase loans, 71 applications from whites, one from an African American, none from Latinos.

worse: for refinance loans, 185 applications from whites, NONE to African Americans or Latinos...

So yeah, they should be looked at. And so should others...

September 1, 2014

On Valley National - 1st United, now on Inner City Press' FOIA appeal the OCC acknowledges that it improperly withheld communications between the OCC and Valley National -- but claims that ALL communications about the CRA can be withheld. Some transparency.

August 25, 2014

  We are looking at recently announced mergers, like in Alabama (August 4), Ohio (August 4) and more, more recent...

 August 18, 2014

The now-proposed merger of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle and Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines would result in an institution with $119 billion in assets covering 13 states. Our initial concern is about public notice, and public participation. Watch this site.

August 11, 2014

BancorpSouth has announced it will withdraw its two protested applications, now after the protests being faced with investigation not only for money laundering but also fair lending. They say they'll re-file. We'll see.

August 4, 2014

In beginning to look at CIT - OneWest, Inner City Press finds that in 2012 OneWest in the Los Angeles MSA for home purchase loans made 28 loans to whites - and NONE to African Americans. We'll have more on this.

July 28, 2014

On CIT - OneWest, it would make for another over $50 billion SIFI bank. Any new SIFI requires particular scrutiny. CIT used to do subprime lending; given OneWest's record, and given CIT's subprime history and joining the SIFI / Too Big To Fail club, public hearings will be needed.

On Gaza, IMF Tells ICP That PA Needs Help, Israel GDP Down 0.2%

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 24 -- With no ceasefire yet in Gaza, Inner City Press on July 24 asked the International Monetary Fund for its estimate of the economic impact of the conflict in both Gaza and Israel, including specifically with the FAA and now Delta and other airlines' decisions on access to Ben Gurion Airport.

  IMF Deputy Spokesperson William Murray read out Inner City Press' Gaza question (and others from Inner City Press on Ukraine and Liberia) at the IMF's embargoed briefing on July 24. On Gaza, the IMF's Murray answered Inner City Press:

With the conflict ongoing, it is too soon to make an accurate assessment of the impact, which will depend on the conflict's duration. Post-conflict reconstruction poses risk to Palestinian Authority finances absent additional donor financing. The Palestinian Authority does not have fiscal room to take on this additional burden.”

  On Israel, after noting that he saw news of renewed access to Ben Gurion Airport, Murray answered Inner City Press:

As for Israel, Israel financial market have remained stable, with shekel steadily appreciating, the Tel Aviv 100 has been little changed in past two weeks. The cost of the conflict of past two weeks, point two percent of GDP... The impact on economic activity, tourism and SMEs in southern Israel has already been felt. A further deceleration of GDP growth could be likely in 3d quarter. Once conflict ends we expect growth in Israel to rebound relative quickly.”

A tale of two economies, you might call it. Murray added that the IMF Executive Board will be off from August 4 to 15, and that the IMF's next briefing will be on August 28. Watch this site.

July 21, 2014

Well noted: the DOJ's settlement with Citigroup went out of its way NOT to mention Jack Lew's time at Citi, nor Geithner's role in mis/un regulating Citi at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Yes, funny...

July 14, 2014

Revolving door, EU edition: Deutsche Bank AG (DB) has hired Luxembourg's Luc Frieden as vice chairman for international and European affairs from mid-September.

On Mali, IMF Suspends after IBK Plane Buy, UN Partners on Crime

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 10 -- On Mali, the International Monetary Fund has suspended its program at least until toward the end of this year, IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice answered Inner City Press on July 10.  Video here, from Minute 19:30.

  There will be an audit, and (re) consideration of procurement systems. This comes as UN officials including UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous visit Mali talking about cooperation in fighting crime -- apparently not including the President's new $40 million plane and no-bid contracts.

  Inner City Press also asked the IMF, in its embargoed briefing on the morning of July 10, about Romania and Pakistan.

On Romania, what is the IMF's comment on President Basescu now rejecting the planned social security tax cut, pending measures that would cover a likely revenue shortfall?

  Rice said that off-setting measures are needed; video here, transcript below.

In Pakistan, the Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has abandoned the policy of releasing national accounts on a quarterly basis, described as “a violation of the IMF's guidelines on good statistical practice” - is that the case? Any IMF comment?

  Rice spoke of the IMF's technical assistance; video here, transcript of all three questions here:

MR. RICE:  There are a few questions from InnerCity Press, so let me just -- let me just take some of them, I won't take them all, but they may be of interest to -- more broadly.

One is on Romania. "What is the IMF's comment on President Basescu's now rejecting the planned Social Security tax cut, pending measures that would cover a likely revenue shortfall?"

Maybe just stepping back and setting that question in context. The joint IMF/EC Mission had constructive discussions with the Romanian authorities, so far on how to ensure further progress on the third review of the current program. Some key issues remain outstanding so those discussions continue.

On the specific question, I would say that while the Fund shares the objective of lowering the high tax burden on labor in an effort to stimulate employment, we need to understand how the government intends to compensate the revenue shortfall. Without offsetting measures, a reduction of the Social Security contribution rate by 5 percentage points, would increase the fiscal gap.

A question on Mali. "Can you provide an update on the IMF's review of the two contracts that were awarded without competitive bidding, including the purchase of a new plane for the President?"

Again, just setting the context; the first review under the current extended credit facility, which had been initially scheduled for June, is being postponed following the recent discovery of a series of problematic transactions which reveal weaknesses in public financial management.

Now, a delegation led by the Minister of Economy and Finance, visited Washington for a few days of talks in June, and reached an agreement with the IMF on remedial measures which include an audit of the transactions by the Independent Government Auditor, and a tightening of the Procurement Code. And at the end of that visit the Minister and the Mission Chief issued a joint declaration which we published.

So what's the status? The status is that as per that joint statement, the reviews, again, under the ECF arrangement, have been postponed until September, and related disbursements would only happen toward the end of the year, at the earliest.

So, again, the conclusion of the reviews will depend on the implementation of the remedial measures and, again, in line with this, any related support in the form of a disbursement would only happen following approval by the reviews by our Executive Board.

One other question that I will take, which is on Pakistan. "The Bureau of Statistics has abandoned the policy of releasing national accounts on a quarterly basis, described as a 'violation of the IMF's guidelines on good statistical practice' is that the case? What is your comment?"

My comment is that the IMF has been providing technical assistance to Pakistan on improving national account statistics with significant progress observed over the course of the last year. The upcoming mission, which is scheduled for early August, will follow up on latest developments with data dissemination.

A question that was not (yet) answer was this, on Jamaica:

In Jamaica, Opposition Spokesman on Finance Audley Shaw has said that Managing Director Lagarde “crossed the line from being non-political to making statements, which can be construed as political interference.” What is the IMF's or MD's response?

  Watch this site. 

July 7, 2014

IMF Praises French Banks, Silent on BNP's Sudan Violations, Lagarde Echo?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 3 -- In the International Monetary Fund's final Article IV consultation report on France issued under embargo on July 3 there is an elephant in the room, or in the report: BNP Paribas, its violations of sanctions and nearly $9 billion fine. Click here for Inner City Press' coverage of the settlement.

  The IMF today says of France that its "Directors observed that the economy and public finances are better shielded from banking shocks thanks to the efforts made by banks to build stronger liquidity and capital buffers and to an improved bank resolution framework. However, they noted that the regulatory framework is still evolving."

 Still evolving away from concealing transactions with Omar al Bashir's Sudan, for example?

  The IMF's eight-page Staff Report mentions BNP only twice: both in charts touting French banks' compliance with Basel III. The 31-page "Selected Issues" does not mention BNP once.

   Then again, now the US Securities & Exchange Commission has given a waiver from BNP suffering the consequences of its actions and plea (click here for a Reuters piece citing Inner City Press' previous work on Chase Manhattan now JPMorgan Chase.)

June 30, 2014

Now Umpqua is closing 27 branches. Is that part of its vaunted “CRA Action Plan,” mailed June 18 to Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch? We'll have more on this.

June 23, 2014

U.S. government slapped SunTrust Banks Inc. with $968 million in fines and consumer relief as the Atlanta lender became the latest bank to settle allegations of abusive mortgage practices.

And the revolving door continues: J.P. Morgan Names Former Congresswoman Melissa Bean Midwest Chairwoman...

Here now is M&T Bank, laundering money for drug gangs in Baltimore -- CRA, anyone?

U.S. District Judge James Bredar in Baltimore on June 17 accepted the government’s claim in a February complaint that the teller converted proceeds of illegal drug sales from small denominations to $100 bills in at least eight transactions, ranging from $20,000 to $100,000, without notifying regulators. The M&T teller in the case, Sabrina Fitts, 29, was sentenced to a month in prison followed by eight months of home detention for her role in the failure to file the mandatory reports. She worked at the bank’s Perry Hall, Maryland, branch outside of Baltimore. Fitts was paid a 1 percent fee by a member of a drug trafficking organization for each transaction completed without a report, according to prosecutors. “Through the cooperation we provided to law enforcement during an investigation into the illegal activities perpetrated by a former employee, we have assisted the U.S. Attorney’s Office with this prosecution and recovery,” Mike Zabel, a spokesman for M&T, said in an e-mailed statement. “This case shows how banks work closely with law enforcement to prevent and detect money-laundering.”

Yeah, right...

IMF Warns of Romania Fiscal Gap, Heads to Ukraine June 24, 7 Qs UNanswered

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 19 -- What is the International Monetary Fund's response to Romania's plan to cut required social contributions by employers by five percent later this year? Inner City Press asked this and seven other questions on June 19, and got this response from IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice:

We share the objective of reducing the high tax burden on labor in an effort to stimulate jobs, however the announced cut of the social security rate by five percentage points creates a fiscal gap and will make it difficult to reach the fiscal target in 2015. Offsetting measure need to be identified.”

  The answer is appreciated -- Inner City Press covers Romania and the IMF, for example here -- but this similar question on June 19 by Inner City Press on Slovakia has yet to be answered, by the embargo time:

On Slovakia, what is IMF's response to Finance Minister Peter Kazimir insisting the government will base its decision-making on Slovak legislation stating that the VAT rate should be reduced automatically when the public-finance deficit falls below three percent of GDP?

  Six other questions remain unanswered, including the now-perennial, does the IMF include Western Sahara in its data for Morocco:

On Morocco, can you confirm what central bank governor Abdellatif Jouahri has said, that a new two-year line of credit is being finalized and will “be less than $6.2 billion granted by the fund in 2012-2014”? And again, is Western Sahara included in the IMF's Morocco data? (As submitted)

In Yemen, in light of attacks on power plants and pipelines, what is the status of the IMF's $550 program and its conditions? Is there a concern the cuts to subsidies could lead to further unrest?

In Myanmar, does IMF believe the country is ready for the opening of foreign financial institution, while governance of the Central Bank of Myanmar continue to fall under Myanmar's outgoing central banking law, dating to 1990?

In Ukraine, does IMF have any comment on US giving $10 million to Kyiv for anti-corruption programs? Does the IMF have any view of or comment on President Poroshenko asking Parliament to replace central bank chairman Stepan Kubiv with investment banker Valeria Gontareva, who has no government or regulatory experience? In terms of central bank independence, and in light of the IMF's program with Ukraine?

  This last was partially answered; and the next IMF mission to Ukraine started June 24 in Kyiv and goes for two weeks. Watch this site.


June 16, 2014

Connecticut games redux: Peyton R. Patterson, now CEO of Bankwell Financial Group, has done a second IPO, and aims to buy Quinnipiac Bank & Trust. This echoes the sell-out of NewAlliance Bancshares - formerly New Haven Savings Bank, converted in 2004 from depositor to investor ownership, then sold to First Niagara Bank. Slash and burn banking? We'll see.

June 9, 2014

BNP Paribas cynically violated sanctions on Sudan while the French government and others were accusing Khartoum of genocide. Now French president Francois Hollande comes to BNP's defense, saying not to fine it too hard or he will look askance at T-TIP. So be it - these trade deals would globalize for example censorship under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Good riddance!

June 2, 2014

So BNP Paribas committed fraud to beat Sudan sanctions and is now defended by French politicians -- even as France talks tough on Darfur at the UN. Mistral, anyone?

May 26, 2014

IMF Answers ICP on Serbia, Says Talking with Bosnia & Yemen

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 23 -- At the International Monetary Fund's May 22 embargoed briefing, spokesperson Gerry Rice answered Inner City Press' question about the Balkan floods; afterward, his office provided a response on Yemen.

  From the IMF transcript released today, video here from Minute 26:

GERRY RICE: Let me go online for a minute, because I've got a couple of questions here from Matthew Russell Lee. He asked Mali... and about the serious flooding in the Balkans which we're all, of course, very concerned about that. He's asking about the impact on the countries of the Balkans, and Serbia, and Bosnia.

Serbia's, again, been significantly affected. We have great concern, also, about the human casualties and the wide-spread damage, but we do not yet know the full extent of that. As an EU pre-accession country Serbia will be eligible for aid from the EU's disaster Fund.

In the meantime, the IMF engaged with Serbia through our policy advice, as well as in our discussion with other international, financial organizations through our resident representative. On Bosnia, actually, we have a staff team on the ground right now.

  Inner City Press, beyond Mali (reported here), had also asked about Yemen, adding the response to that as an update and now here:

ICP Question: Yemen's Finance Minister said the country will reduce fuel subsidies to get a $500M IMF program, hoped to be concluded by end of May. What is the status, and what about fuel shortages and impacted Yemenis?

IMF Answer: A mission is discussing with the authorities their economic reform program and how the IMF can support them.

  Well, a similar reduction in subsidies by the government in 2005 led protests that left dozens killed and wounded. And now, after deporting a journalism, Yemen says it will inform about its military operations by putting its own videos on YouTube... Watch this site.


 
Follow @innercitypress Follow @FUNCA_info

May 19, 2014

  We will be looking at : May 7, NJ/NY into Florida for $312 million, Valley National proposes to acquire 1st United Bancorp; May 5, Arkansas into Tennessee for $243 million, Simmons First National Corporation proposes to acquire Community First Bancshares;  May 5 in Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr Bank Corporation to acquire Continental Bank Holdings; May 5 Illinois buying into Florida, First American Bank to buy Bank of Coral Gables; May 5 in Texas, Green Bancorp to acquire SP Bancorp;  April 29 in Texas for $307 million, Southside Bancshares to acquire OmniAmerican Bancorp..

May 12, 2014

IMF Positions on Bosnia & Ghana, Would Talk Opposition, W. Sahara No Answer

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 8 -- While Ukraine and Greece were the subjects of the first six questions taken at the International Monetary Fund's May 8 embargoed briefing, the IMF impacts countries all over the world. Inner City Press submitted five questions -- on Morocco, Madagascar, Pakistan, Bosnia and Ghana -- the last two of which were read out and answered during the briefing. Video here, filmed from IMF webcast while at UN Security Council stakeout

  On Ghana, Inner City Press asked: the Secretary-General of the Trades Union Congress Kofi Asamoah spoke out on May Day against the government seeking an IMF program. What does the IMF make of it, and would the IMF consult with such opponents if a program were requested?

  IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice said that Ghana has yet to formally request a program - there is a lot of discussion in the country about it, though. The IMF Board after its discussion of the Article IV review will have a press release in due course. He added that the IMF speaks with a range of people, and has spoken with the Trades Union Congress in the past.

  On Bosnia, Inner City Press asked what steps would the IMF require to unfreeze the next tranche of its stand-by program? Does the IMF have any comment on the Federation's May 6 auction of 6-month treasury bills?

  The IMF's spokesperson Rice's answer was long, so with the embargo expired we are uploading the video here, filmed from the IMF webcast while at the UN Security Council stakeout:Rice said the fifth review was completed; the decision by the Parliament to delay decisions including excises on different on tobacco products has delayed completion of the staff review. To go forward, full implementation of the prior actions is needed.

Inner City Press also asked:

  In Pakistan, PTI Information Secretary KPK and MNA Ayesha Gulalai has said, “it is very unfortunate that Pakistan's budget is being prepared by the IMF in Dubai.. instead of taxing the 4 million wealthy identified by the FBR, burden is being passed on to the already burdened masses.” What is the IMF's response?

  On Madagascar, when George Tsibouris on May 6 said the government agreed to "address the issue of fuel price subsidies over time," can you be more specific on how much time the IMF envisions? Also, can the IMF be more specific about what is referred to by "creating a level playing field for the private sector"?

  While the Managing Director is in Morocco, can you answer if Western Sahara is included by the IMF in Morocco's data, and what impact the IMF believes the Western Sahara issue has on Morocco's economy and economic prospects?

This last one, Inner City Press also asked two weeks ago, and again more recently on connection with the IMF's Ukraine program. Watch this site.

May 5, 2014

The M&T merger continues to face delays as M&T has had to increase spending to comply with anti-money-laundering guidelines. Earlier this month, M&T said its first-quarter profit fell 16%, on lower mortgage revenue and higher compliance costs.

On Ukraine, IMF Will "Take Stock" Of Keeping In Crimea Data- "Until Recognition"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 1 -- The day after the International Monetary Fund announced its $17 billion program for Ukraine, under embargo until 11 am it released its Staff Report and held a media call.

   In the Staff Report the IMF says, "It is acknowledged that at this stage the authorities do not have effective control with respect to Crimea for purposes of implementing their economic policies in that territory... Staff will take stock of future developments on this matter that might affect the need and feasibility of presenting Ukraine’s data with or without Crimea."

   Inner City Press on the embargoed call asked the IMF's Reza Moghadham what factors the staff will "take stock" of in terms on continuing to include Crimea in Ukraine's data.

    Reza Moghadham replied that it is IMF policy to continue to include until their is "international recognition" of the separation. Inner City Press asked, so does the IMF still include Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia's data?

   Moghadham said Georgia is not in his division, but that an answer might come. Inner City Press submitted the question in writing last Thursday, as well as asking if Western Sahara is included in Morocco's data by the IMF.

  On April 30, the IMF sent this statement to the Press:

IMF Executive Board Approves 2-Year US$17.01 Billion Stand-By Arrangement for Ukraine, US$3.19 Billion for immediate Disbursement

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) today approved a two-year Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) for Ukraine. The arrangement amounts to SDR 10.976 billion (about US$17.01 billion, 800 percent of quota) and was approved under the Fund's exceptional access policy. The authorities’ economic program supported by the Fund aims to restore macroeconomic stability, strengthen economic governance and transparency, and launch sound and sustainable economic growth, while protecting the most vulnerable.

The approval of the SBA enables the immediate disbursement of SDR 2.058 billion (about US$3.19 billion), with SDR 1.29 billion (about US$2 billion) being allocated to budget support. The second and third disbursements will be based on bi-monthly reviews and performance criteria, and the remainder of the program period will be subject to standard quarterly reviews and performance criteria.

  Back on April 24 the IMF said it expected to approve a $14-18 billion program for Ukraine on April 30, while still including Crimea in its Ukraine data, IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice said at the IMF's embargoed briefing on April 24.

  Rice said the IMF expects its $14-18 billion to "unlock" $15 billion in financial assurances that have already been made by others, whom he did not name. He said that the IMF has now received from Kyiv documents covering all "prior actions" or conditions imposed by the IMF.

  Asked if sanctions imposed to "punish" Russia might harm Ukraine, Rice said the IMF position is that current US and European Union sanctions on Russia are unlikely to have a significant effect on the Ukrainian economy. He said the IMF believes the more substantial risk is from the possible further escalation of tensions.

  On the IMF still including Crimea in its Ukraine data, Rice would not explain except to add that Crimea is only 3.7% of its Ukrainian data. Asked for analogies to lending to Ukraine at this time, Rice cited past IMF programs in Bosnia, Sri Lanka and Peru, calling them "fragile" and with "political tensions."

While the IMF answered three of the six questions Inner City Press submitted during the briefing, its question concerning whether the IMF still includes Abkhazia and South Ossetia in its Georgia data was not answered -- nor whether it includes Western Sahara in its Morocco data.

  The inclusion of Crimea in the IMF's Ukraine data raises the question of the relation between the UN General Assembly vote, with 58 abstentions, on the Crimean referendum and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the US Congress' refusal to pass the IMF quota reforms which US President Obama agreed to in 2010.

April 28, 2014

Schizo: Mercantile Chairman Michael Price told his company’s annual shareholder’s meeting at the Kent Country Club on April 24:

The $151 million merger, first announced last August, has been delayed after a New York-based public interest group challenged the merger, claiming the Grand Rapids-based bank holding company has a poor record of lending to minorities. That challenge has triggered a review process by the Federal Reserve, which has delayed its approval of the merger, which Mercantile and Firstbank executives had hoped to complete by the end of 2013. “It takes a long time to walk through that process,” Price told some 100 shareholders gathered at the Kent Country Club. “We have a pretty strong feeling we’re at the end of the process.”

Price told shareholders his bank has earned “outstanding” rankings in its past two surveys under the Community Reinvestment Act. Referring to the challenge by the Inner City Press/Fair Finance Watch, Price said the group “cherry-picked” two loan categories. “He’s just one guy,” said Price of Inner City Press/Fair Finance Watch director Matthew Lee. The bank recently drew the ire of the group when it complied with its request for information by sending paper documents rather than easy-to-crunch data files

April 21, 2014

In the Persian Gulf, Ahli United Bank, Bahrain's largest lender, is evaluating a sale or a merger with a rival bank in a potential $5 billion deal, several bankers familiar with the situation said. A deal of this size would be the largest banking transaction in the region for the past 20 years, beating Emirates Bank's $3.7bn acquisition of National Bank of Dubai in 2007 and Qatar National Bank's $1.9bn purchase of Societe Generale's Egyptian business in 2012... We are watching.

April 14, 2014

  There's more to say, but this is on Mercantile of Michigan:

April 12, 2014

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Attn: Chair Janet Yellen, Secretary Robert deV. Frierson
20th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20551

Re: Comments in Extraordinary Circumstances On, Requesting Hearings & an Extension of the Comment Period On the Applications of Mercantile Bank Corporation to merge with Firstbank Corporation and thereby indirectly acquire Firstbank

Dear Chair Yellen, Secretary Robert deV. Frierson and others in the FRS:

Starting in October 2013, Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch has on fair lending grounds protested the Applications of Mercantile Bank Corporation to merge with Firstbank Corporation and thereby indirectly acquire Firstbank. To assess in Mercantile's record is improving or further deteriorating, ICP asked Mercantile through counsel for its 2013 HMDA-LAR. It is attached, for inclusion in the record.

Amazingly, the bank has provided its LAR only in paper form, so that it cannot be computer analyzed. This contrasts to other banks' timely responses to ICP with their LAR in the requested .DAT format in which it is filed.

Reviewing the 2012 HMDA data, ICP examined Mercantile's and its mortgage company's home purchase, refinance and home improvement lending in its Grand Rapids, Michigan headquarters MSA and finds them outrageous.

In 2012 in the Grand Rapids MSA for conventional home purchase loans, Mercantile Bank lent ONLY to whites. Its mortgage company made 42 such loans to whites, NONE to African Americans or Latinos.

In 2012 in the Grand Rapids MSA for refinance loans, Mercantile Bank lent ONLY to whites. Its mortgage company made 159 such loans to whites. It had a 100% denial rate for African American applicants.

In 2012 in the Grand Rapids MSA for home improvement loans, both Mercantile's bank and mortgage company lent only to whites.

This is outrageous. So is the bank's cynical decision to provide its 2013 LAR in un-analyzable form. The comment period should be extended, the bank admonished and its applications denied.

April 7, 2014

On US Bank's application to acquire more than 90 branches from Royal Bank of Scotland, Inner City Press has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the entirety of a largely redacted / black-out response by US Bank, showing that several RBS products would be dropped. Now that US Bank has admitted to the Federal Reserve that it would eliminate Charter One's Credit Builder and energy efficiency loan programs, and make it more difficult for the customers it would acquire to avoid fees, the Fed should schedule public hearings. So far, the comment period was re-opened and extended to April 25, when more analysis will be submitted.

March 31, 2014

Too big to fail? "Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. has held preliminary talks with Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC about the possibility of buying its U.S. retail-banking business, according to people familiar with the discussions. Executives from the two banks recently have met to discuss a possible deal for RBS Citizens, which boasts nearly 1,400 branches and $122 billion in assets across 12 states in the Northeast and Midwest, these people say... Authorities in the U.S. and Japan would have to agree to allow Sumitomo Mitsui, already one of the world's biggest banks, to get even bigger--a potentially tall order in an environment where regulators are wary of too-big-to-fail banks." We'll see.

March 24, 2014

Old National has provided WARN Act notice in Indiana of at least 40 merger related layoffs...

March 17, 2014

On Ukraine, IMF Defers Most Press Questions While Mission “In Field,” Insiders?

By Matthew Russell Lee

WASHINGTON, March 13 – The day after several US Senators argued that International Monetary Fund quota reform would have to be approved by Congress to enable the IMF to meaningfully assist Ukraine, Inner City Press asked IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice if this is true. Video here, from Minute 12:05.

  Rice genially said several times that the question couldn't or wouldn't be answered while the IMF mission is “in the field” in Ukraine. He initially gave the same answer to Inner City Press' question that had nothing to do with Ukraine: is it true, as Russia reportedly argued at the most recent G-20 meeting, that quota reform could be accomplished without US approval, under some set of rule changes?

  Rice during the briefing repeated this could not be answered while the mission is in Ukraine. Later it was conveyed that the reform is not possible without US approval. The answer is appreciated: a benefit of asking in person. But Inner City Press (and the Free UN Coalition for Access) hope to make the online asking of questions work better from now on.

  The IMF visit to Ukraine should end tomorrow, so we'll see – on Sudan and South Sudan as well: responses will be published upon receipt.

  In another non-Ukraine question, Inner City Press asked Rice about a book published earlier this week in Hungary, that the then-economy minister in 2011 told Goldman Sachs that the government would be going to the IMF for a program. Since much currency trading ensued, Inner City Press asked if the IMF has any rules limiting its government interlocutors from trading on or sharing insider information.Video here, from Minute 31:12.

  Rice said there are confidential provisions. But are those only for the contents of communication and not the existence of communications or negotiations? We'll see.

Word in update New York is the AG is looking at Evans bank NA; we looked at 2012 date for the Buffalo MSA:

for home purchase loans, 59 loans to whites, one to an African American applicant, no Latinos.

worse: for refinance loans, 147 loans to whites, NONE to African Americans or Latinos...

And on marketing / outreach:

for home purchase loans, 71 applications from whites, one from an African American, none from Latinos.

worse: for refinance loans, 185 applications from whites, NONE to African Americans or Latinos...

So yeah, they should be looked at. And so should others...

March 10, 2014

M&T Bank with its stalled merger proposal with Hudson City Bancorp cut CEO Wilmers’s pay by 23 percent last year as the stock lagged. Wilmers, who said executives should make sacrifices in their compensation in his most recent annual shareholder letter, was awarded $3.05 million for his work last year, the Buffalo, New York-based bank said today in a regulatory filing. That included a salary of $950,000, a $425,000 cash bonus and $1.68 million in restricted stock. He was awarded $3.95 million for 2012. While Wilmers, 79, saw his cash bonus increase, his salary was cut 49 percent from last year and the amount of stock he received declined 12 percent, according to the filing...

March 3, 2014

Under review in New York are Ocwen's affiliates Home Loan Servicing Solutions Ltd., which has bought mortgage-servicing rights from Ocwen, and Altisource Portfolio Solutions SA, which provides IT services to Ocwen...

In the United Kingdom, there are increasing calls for a community reinvestment act -- as Royal Bank of Scotland tries to sell its Chicago-land branches to US Bancorp, and to spin off Citizens Bank...

February 24, 2014

Now, on a delay (from Jan 27 to Feb 11) Huntington's lawyers at Wachtell, Lipton have provided Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch with a copy of their letter to the OCC, arguing unpersuasively that the 226 Third Street branch in Marietta, Ohio is sufficient to close down the one at 478 Pike Street, more than a mile away, despite consumer complaints. We'll see...

February 17, 2014

M&T, whose Hudson application Inner City Press protested in 2012 and is still pending, now is challenged on fair lending and says it will close 10 branches in New York. We'll see.

February 10, 2014

Here's a combination that should be reviewed, in the new New York: "Atlas Bank, a division of Kearny Federal Savings Bank." Really?

February 3, 2014

Talk about arrogance: with the proposed Mercantile - Firstbank merger subject to Additional Information letters from the Federal Reserve after ICP/FFW's fair lending protest, Mercantile CEO Michael Price said Price "said they are making 'steady progress' towards completing the merger." What, without approval? Exactly what steps are being taken?

January 27, 2014

The CEO of Old National, Robert G. Jones, has replied to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, acknowledging lending figures Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch raised, but saying they are OK. We disagree and put these pages of the letter online here; we'll have more on this.

January 20, 2014

Last month Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch commented on Old National's application to buy Tower Financial (below); now Old National wants to buy United in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We'll be there..

Reviewing the 2012 HMDA data released by the FFIEC (and largely unaddressed in existing CRA performance evaluations and fair lending exams), ICP has examined Old National's home purchase, refinance and home improvement lending in the Indianapolis, Evansville and Fort Wayne MSAs and finds them outrageous.

In 2012 in the Indianapolis MSA for conventional home purchase loans, Old National Bank lent ONLY to whites. It made 78 such loans to whites; none to African Americans or Hispanics. In Table 4-1, it made 25 loans to whites, one to an African Americans and NONE to Latinos, denying both applications it received from Latinos. This is a pattern.

For refinance loans in Indianapolis, Old National made 601 such loans to whites, 18 to African Americans and seven to Latinos.

For home improvement loans in the Indianapolis MSA, Old National in 2012 made 89 such loans to whites, one to an African American and NONE to Latinos, denying both applications it received from Latinos. Yes, this is a pattern.

In 2012 in its Evansville (Headquarters) MSA for conventional home purchase loans in 2012, Old National Bank made 195 such loans to whites; six to African Americans and NONE to Latinos, denying the application it received from a Latino applicant. In Table 4-1, it made 80 loans to whites, three to African Americans and ONE to a Latino.

For refinance loans in Evansville, Old National made 775 such loans to whites (while denying 371 from whites), 8 to African Americans (while denying 12 from African Americans) and only two to Latinos, while denying 6 applications from Latinos. The denial rate disparities are a pattern.

For home improvement loans in the Evansville MSA, Old National in 2012 made 155 such loans to whites (while denying 133 from whites), 5 to African Americans (while denying 7 from African Americans) and only two to Latinos, while denying three applications from Latinos. The denial rate disparities are a pattern.

Finally, for now, in the Fort Wayne MSA where it seeks to buy Tower, Old National Bank in 2012 for home purchase loans and home improvement loans lent only to whites. For refinance loans in Fort Wayne it made 28 loans to whites, one to an African American and NONE to Latinos, denying both applications it received from Latinos. This is a troubling pattern.

Also troubling regarding Old National is its history of branch closing. According to its hometown newspaper the Evansville Courier News & Press (September 10, 2013)

"since 2004 Old National has purchased 175 banking offices, either through acquiring smaller financial institutions or buying selected office locations. Old National has also shed 140 banking offices by consolidating 121 locations and by selling 19 other offices."

Old National is a bank with a disparate lending record that specializes in buying and closing bank branches.

January 13, 2014

As Indiana-based Old National now moved on United Bank & Trust in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it still hasn't completed its attempted acquisition of Tower; in 2012 in the Indianapolis MSA for conventional home purchase loans, Old National Bank lent ONLY to whites. It made 78 such loans to whites; none to African Americans or Hispanics. In Table 4-1, it made 25 loans to whites, one to an African Americans and NONE to Latinos, denying both applications it received from Latinos. This is a pattern on which we'll have more....

January 6, 2014

This week we first look overseas: in South Sudan, amid the slaughter, it's said Kenya Commercial Bank considering pulling out. But threatened with difficulty then maintaining or regaining licenses, it decided to stay and was praised for it. Which shows if one doesn't want branches to be closed...

The US Community Reinvestment Act should be enforced throughout the country (and world), and across the full spectrum of banks. On that principle, Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch's challenge to Mercantile Bank's application to acquire FirstBank in Michigan proceeds. When last we reported, Mercantile tried to rebut FFW's analysis of its lending disparities by submitting self-serving letters, for example one from a borrower of saying, "I am a person of color."

Now we can report, as Mercantile did not, that the bank is being sued for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The facts at issue are more relevant to the Federal Reserve, and on the merger, than the letter Mercantile solicited and submitted. Watch this site.

December 30, 2013

Rockville - United in Connecticut have disclosed the four branches they would close in the merger they have yet to apply for, here. In this case, the longest distance is slightly over a mile. The companies should be applying to the Federal Reserve Board soon...

December 23, 2013

Blind leading the blind -- FIG Partners tells its clients:

"Yesterday, MBWM-Mercantile Bank filed an 8-K stating that due to the timing of certain regulatory processes and approvals the pending merger with Firstbank Corporation (FBMI) will most likely not be completed on 1/1/14 as previously planned. Instead it appears the transaction will close later in 1Q14 possibly in February. The delay appears to be related to certain CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) and fair lending issues. Based on our conversation with management there does not appear to be much merit to this accusation but time will tell."

Yeah, time will tell.

December 16, 2013

Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch has commented to the Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency about the lending record of Indiana-based Old National as it attempts to buy Tower Bank and Trust:

Reviewing the 2012 HMDA data released by the FFIEC (and largely unaddressed in existing CRA performance evaluations and fair lending exams), ICP has examined Old National's home purchase, refinance and home improvement lending in the Indianapolis, Evansville and Fort Wayne MSAs and finds them outrageous.

In 2012 in the Indianapolis MSA for conventional home purchase loans, Old National Bank lent ONLY to whites. It made 78 such loans to whites; none to African Americans or Hispanics. In Table 4-1, it made 25 loans to whites, one to an African Americans and NONE to Latinos, denying both applications it received from Latinos. This is a pattern.

For refinance loans in Indianapolis, Old National made 601 such loans to whites, 18 to African Americans and seven to Latinos.

For home improvement loans in the Indianapolis MSA, Old National in 2012 made 89 such loans to whites, one to an African American and NONE to Latinos, denying both applications it received from Latinos. Yes, this is a pattern.

In 2012 in its Evansville (Headquarters) MSA for conventional home purchase loans in 2012, Old National Bank made 195 such loans to whites; six to African Americans and NONE to Latinos, denying the application it received from a Latino applicant. In Table 4-1, it made 80 loans to whites, three to African Americans and ONE to a Latino.

For refinance loans in Evansville, Old National made 775 such loans to whites (while denying 371 from whites), 8 to African Americans (while denying 12 from African Americans) and only two to Latinos, while denying 6 applications from Latinos. The denial rate disparities are a pattern.

For home improvement loans in the Evansville MSA, Old National in 2012 made 155 such loans to whites (while denying 133 from whites), 5 to African Americans (while denying 7 from African Americans) and only two to Latinos, while denying three applications from Latinos. The denial rate disparities are a pattern.

Finally, for now, in the Fort Wayne MSA where it seeks to buy Tower, Old National Bank in 2012 for home purchase loans and home improvement loans lent only to whites. For refinance loans in Fort Wayne it made 28 loans to whites, one to an African American and NONE to Latinos, denying both applications it received from Latinos. This is a troubling pattern.

Also troubling regarding Old National is its history of branch closings, and attempt to stay just below the $10 billion threshold for scrutiny under the Dodd Frank Act.

According to its hometown newspaper the Evansville Courier News & Press (September 10, 2013)

"since 2004 Old National has purchased 175 banking offices, either through acquiring smaller financial institutions or buying selected office locations. Old National has also shed 140 banking offices by consolidating 121 locations and by selling 19 other offices."

Old National is a bank with a disparate lending record that specializes in buying and closing bank branches. It seeks to continue to fly under the radar. The article continues:

"Old National currently has $9.6 billion in assets. Jones said the bank’s assets will remain just below the $10 billion mark even after the Tower acquisition.The $10 billion threshold is important because of banking rules that were put into place as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms following the recent recession. Banks with $10 billion or more in assets are limited in how much they can charge merchants in debit card transaction fees. Smaller banks are not subject to this limit. Jones said Old National would expect to lose between $8 million and $12 million a year in transaction fees once it hits the $10 billion asset mark. To remain below the $10 billion threshold following the Tower transaction, Old National can reduce its assets by taking steps such as reducing its investment portfolio or selling residential mortgages."

Old National with its disparate lending record and business strategy of reducing services in communities seeks to game the system by staying just under the threshold.

ICP is requesting evidentiary hearings and that this proposed acquisition, on the current record, not be approved.

December 9, 2013

in examining the 2012 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data of Michigan's Mercantile Bank, Inner City Press found that in the Grand Rapids MSA for conventional home purchase loans, Mercantile Bank lent only to whites. Its mortgage company made 42 such loans to whites, none to African Americans or Latinos.

After Inner City Press put this and other date in an October comment on Mercantile's application to acquire Alma, Michigan-based FirstBank, the Federal Reserve asked Mercantile a round of questions on November 6, and another on November 26. These included:

"Describe any other community outreach efforts (e.g., credit needs ascertainment, marketing / advertising, and product development) by Mercantile to make credit available to residents throughout the bank's assessment areas, including to African America or Hispanic individuals or residents of minority census tracts in those areas, including in the Grand Rapids MSA.

"Mercantile stated (page 11) that, effective in 2013, the monthly reports to the bank's CRA Committee include the number of minority loan applications and originations and that these changes were implemented to bring focus to the bank's efforts to increase the number of minority loan applications. Indicate when this expanded reporting began..."

Could it be too little, too late? On November 26, Mercantile filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that its plan to close the deal by the end of the year, and for FirstBank to not file a 2013 SEC Form 10-K, no longer held.

Another proposed merger in Virginia, of United Bancshares and Virginia Commerce Bancshares (VCBI) has similarly been delayed by comments by NCRC and members, including Inner City Press. United Bancshares went out and hired the Sullivan & Cromwell law firm, to try to push its application through with the Federal Reserve.

Is this a trend? It would seem so. In discussions between Inner City Press and a pro-industry cynic (that is, an arbitrageur), theories emerged such as that regulators have "excess capacity" or feel some responsibility for the subprime lending triggered meltdown of 2008.

In the alternative, as community and consumer groups turn their attention to smaller banks and find disparities that had heretofore escaped their scrutiny, they bring them to the attention of regulators who, at least for now, seem to take them more seriously.

The lesson for banks might be to clean up and improve their lending records before applying for mergers. Or to not set aggressive closing dates and then have to extend them. On this, we agree with the arbitrageur.

December 2, 2013

There is interest in the NCRC challenged proposed merger of United Bancshares with Virginia Commerce Bancshares (VCBI). ICP also commented; Union Bancshares went out and hired Sullivan & Cromwell. But still the deal isn't approved, and the arbs are taking notice...

November 25, 2013

IMF in Sri Lanka Ignoring CHOGM Issues Unanswered, Sudan Ignored

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 21, updated twice -- The International Monetary Fund visited Sri Lanka, during the same time frame there was worldwide news about crackdowns on the press and families of those disappeared or killed by the government. But the IMF's Naoyuki Shinohara issued a statement mentioning none of that, basically cheering for the government.

  During the IMF's bi-weekly media briefing on Thursday, Inner City Press submitted this question, and others set forth below [the IMF at deadline says an answer is pending on the DRC]:

"In Sri Lanka, does IMF acknowledge any impact of the issues raised during the CHOGM, but not mentioned by Naoyuki Shinohara?"

IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice, purporting to answer questions posed not only "in the room" in Washington but also online, including a repeat question from a financial reporter usually in the room, never acknowledged this one. (The only way Inner City Press has gotten a substantive answer from the IMF on Sri Lanka was by going to the briefing in person, and even then...).

  This time, IMF Spokesperson later on Thursday sent this:

Dear Mr. Lee, On your Sri Lanka question: The CHOGM discussed a broad range of issues, as is typical for these meetings. The IMF did not participate or take positions on the issues discussed or outcomes.

Mr. Shinohara’s visit focused on areas specific to the IMF’s mandate – including recent economic outturns, fiscal and monetary policies, structural reforms, and measures that might help to facilitate sustained growth and low inflation.

As has become its pattern under Christine Lagarde, the IMF ignored Africa questions:

In DRC, what is IMF's view of, and role in, the draft Oil Law, since Oscar Melhado said to avoid "mistakes made with the mining sector"?

[After the briefing, an IMF spokesperson wrote, "I’m following up on your question on DRC will get back to you asap.]

On Sudan, please explain Edward Gemayel's Oct 12 statement that: "Sudan has a long track record of implementing sustainable economic policies" - and if IMF acknowledges any role in or responsibility for the unrest including 200 dead related to subsidy cuts?

  While unanswered is what the IMF does in the Sahel, where the World Bank for example has announced new programs. If only because many are part of FrancAfrique and Lagarde's in charge of the IMF, an answer if not a program would be expected. Watch this site.

Footnote: Again the IMF had no comment on the US having spied on it. Nor did it have an answer on Honduras saying it wants an IMF program. At least Rice took that question - but perhaps only because it was "in the room." Africa? Forget it - or, forgotten by the IMF?

November 18, 2013

JP Morgan Chase Gets Asked of Predatory Lending & Even Tony Blair, Cancels Q&A

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 13, updated -- It was back on November 6 that JP Morgan Chase started teasing a November 14 Twitter Q&A by an unnamed executive, urging that questions be posed using the hashtag #AskJPM.

  The foreseeable push-back didn't begin then. But the day before answers were promised, the hubris of bailed-out predatory lender JPM Chase believing it could launder itself through social media was brought to light.

  And so the questioning began, ranging from "Can I have my home back?" through "Do you own anything you didn't steal?" Inner City Press' UN-focused following up, "Does Tony Blair still work for, or get paid by, JPMorgan Chase? For what, exactly?"

  (Blair, alongside being the UN Quartet's representative on Palestine and Israel, took a job with JPMorgan Chase among others, and refused in the UN to answer Inner City Press' questions about the conflict of interest.)

  After much mocking, @JPMorgan called it off: "Tomorrow's Q&A is canceled. Bad Idea. Back to the drawing board."

  Such is the level of righteous anger, after the predatory lending, after the bail-outs. But that's among people -- in Congress, the wheels being greased, JPMorgan and Citigroup have already rehabilitated their image. That's what made them blind. Watch this site.

Footnote: Returning to a UN perspective, what would happen if the UN in Haiti asked people what they thought, after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon deemed all cholera claims "not receivable"? This is why large parts of the UN system not only never promise to answer questions -- they never do. They communicate one-way. But social media questions should be answered...

Update: it's reported that two-thirds of the 80,000 #AskJPM tweets were negatives. So who WERE those other one-third?

November 11, 2013

Not only will RBS speed up its spinning off of Citizens - now it is settling some predatory lending / underwriting charges in the US: "Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (RBS, RBS.LN) has agreed to pay more than $150 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges over a subprime residential mortgage-backed security offering in 2007. RBS Securities Inc., which was known as Greenwich Capital Markets at the time of the offering, didn't admit to or deny the allegations that it misled investors over whether the loans backing the offering met its underwriting guidelines. The SEC said nearly 30% of the loans were below the guidelines, even though the firm said they 'generally' met them." Predators....

Among proposed mergers we're looking at:

In North Carolina, NewBridge Bancorp and CapStone Bank... In Washington State, Heritage Financial Corporation and Washington Banking Company. Also in the Pacific Northwest, Bank of the Cascades outbidding Banner Bancorp to try to buy Idaho's Home Federal Bank. Up in Alaska, Northrim BanCorp announced a proposal to buy Alaska Pacific Bancshares. And Huntington Banchares' proposal to acquire Advantage Bank. The analysis: "Mergers and acquisitions were virtually nonexistent in Ohio following the recession, with only 16 bank deals from 2008-12." But now they're back - and so are we.

November 4, 2013

Royal Bank of Scotland is moving up its divestiture of Citizens Bank in the US: an stock sale of 20 to 25 percent in the second half of 2014, all of the rest by the end of 2016. And if an actual bid to buy the US subsidiary comes up before then?

October 28, 2013

IMF Stresses Lagarde NOT Call for Wealth Tax, Ignores Africa

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 24 -- That the International Monetary Fund under Christine Lagarde has devoted more and more of its members' money to Europe is one thing. But her IMF now won't even answer basic questions about other continents, most notably sub-Saharan Africa.

At Thursday's bi-weekly IMF press briefing, amid in-room questions about Ireland and Greece and Cyprus, Inner City Press, Inner City Press submitted two questions about Africa: Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On Sudan, after Managing Director Lagarde's meeting with Sudanese financial minister Abdel-Rasool, what steps if any have been taken regarding the country's debt, what are the prospects and issues?

On DR Congo, does Gecamines reportedly concealing its possible sale of its stake in Kamoto Copper Co. to Dan Gertler impact on the chances of the IMF reviving its $532M DRC program or starting a new one?

But despite multiple submissions, and a separate e-mail, these Africa questions were not even read out. Rather, repetitive questions about Europe, a question about Egyptian officials saying the IMF insulted that that was not answered, old Argentina questions (the IMF said it had "nothing fresh"), and a pointed clarification that the IMF is not, repeat not, recommending a wealth tax. Of course not!

That clarification was made electronically to deputy spokesperson William Murray. He said, my colleagues want me to make this clear. But the colleague did not highlight or allow the Africa questions.

Finally, just before the 10:30 embargo, on the DRC this came in:

Subject: RE: Question Received
From: ____ at IMF
Date: Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 10:21 AM
To: Matthew Russell Lee [at] InnerCityPress.com

Hi Matthew: Please find below the responses to your question on DRC. We’ll get back to you on Sudan.

· As we have already said, the Fund stands ready to start program negotiations with DRC if the authorities request it.

· Background: In May 2013 the authorities published an affidavit on the Comide transaction, paving the way for the reengagement of the IMF in a program context if the authorities request it.

The point is, now there is another Gecamines cover-up. That doens't change anything? Watch this site.

October 21, 2013

Last week's Intelligence Squared debate on breaking up the big banks featured "one of America's most outspoken Federal Reserve presidents, Richard Fisher, joins forces with former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson to debate in favor of breaking up the big banks. Arguing against them: Douglas Elliott and Paul Saltzman, two financial industry titans, advocating for the continued growth of big banks. To prevent the collapse of the global financial system in 2008, Treasury committed 245 billion in taxpayer dollars to stabilize America’s banking institutions. Today, banks that were once “too big to fail” have only grown bigger, with JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs holding assets equal to over 50% of the U.S. economy. Were size and complexity at the root of the financial crisis?"

The answer is yes. But the debaters bared touched on CRA or consumer protection. An oversight we aim to counteract...

October 14, 2013

On August 12, Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch filed a timely protest to the proposed deal of Republic and H&R Block. And now the deal had fallen apart. Good riddance.

Investors Bancorp's application are still pending -- the disparities are just too great.

October 7, 2013

It's global: "Mizuho Bank, a core unit of Japan's second-largest lender, lent money to crime-syndicate members for more than two years without cutting them off or alerting the authorities."

Then, "Mizuho Bank said that at least four senior executives in charge of legal compliance knew about loan transactions with crime-syndicate members for more than two years from 2010 but that they didn't alert the bank's chief executive or its board." Can you say, scapegoat?

September 30, 2013

IMF Says Nothing Is Its Fault in Greece or Pakistan, Ignores Sudan, Defers on Iran