The thing no one in power likes to talk about is, for capitalism to function, there has to be a way to accurately assess risk. Now we know that there is simply no way to know what anyone on Wall Street is actually doing. You'd think that both Republicans and Democrats could agree on the need for strict regulation and transparency, but so far you'd be wrong:
It was like a hidden passage on Wall Street, a secret channel that enabled billions of dollars to flow through Lehman Brothers.
In the years before its collapse, Lehman used a small company — its “alter ego,” in the words of a former Lehman trader — to shift investments off its books.
This was reported last month in the bank examiner's report of Lehman's collapse:
The examiner, Anton R. Valukas, refers repeatedly to “Repo 105,” a name for a set of accounting tactics originated by Lehman that temporarily shuffled about $50 billion off the firm’s balance sheet for the two fiscal quarters before it collapsed.
You read that right: $50 billion.
The firm, called Hudson Castle, played a crucial, behind-the-scenes role at Lehman, according to an internal Lehman document and interviews with former employees. The relationship raises new questions about the extent to which Lehman obscured its financial condition before it plunged into bankruptcy.
While Hudson Castle appeared to be an independent business, it was deeply entwined with Lehman. For years, its board was controlled by Lehman, which owned a quarter of the firm. It was also stocked with former Lehman employees.
None of this was disclosed by Lehman, however.
Entities like Hudson Castle are part of a vast financial system that operates in the shadows of Wall Street, largely beyond the reach of banking regulators. These entities enable banks to exchange investments for cash to finance their operations and, at times, make their finances look stronger than they are.
Critics say that such deals helped Lehman and other banks temporarily transfer their exposure to the risky investments tied to subprime mortgages and commercial real estate. Even now, a year and a half after Lehman’s collapse, major banks still undertake such transactions with businesses whose names, like Hudson Castle’s, are rarely mentioned outside of footnotes in financial statements, if at all.