Mark Gongloff, HuffPostBiz's trusty financial news curator, is off so today's 7.5 Things is brought to you by Jillian Berman.
Thing One: Merrill Mess: When Bank of America shareholders approved the bank’s $50 billion acquisition of Merrill Lynch during the depths of the financial crisis, they didn’t know about the depths of Merrill’s losses, but BofA’s executives -- including the bank’s then-CEO Kenneth Lewis -- did understand how bad it was, The New York Times reports.
From the NYT:
“The transaction, which was ultimately encouraged by government officials who were concerned about the impact on the financial system of a foundering Merrill Lynch, also saddled the bank with billions in losses and required an additional $20 billion from taxpayers on top of an earlier bailout it received in 2008.”
The deal, which came about when government and bank officials met in 2008 to decide what to do about then-failing Lehman Brothers, created the country’s largest financial institution at the time. It also prevented Merrill from undergoing a Bear Sterns or Lehman-style meltdown.
Two shareholder groups have already sued BofA over the losses and subsequent bailout that came in the wake of the acquisition.
Thing Two: JPMorgan Fallout Continues: JPMorgan Chase’s huge trading mess seems to get messier by the hour. Now one lawmaker is putting pressure on the Office of Comptroller Currency -- a banking regulator often criticized for its cozy relationship with, well, banks -- to reveal how much it knew about JPMorgan’s risk-taking before it suffered a $2 billion loss last month. Sherrod Brown, a Democratic Senator from Ohio, asked the the head of the OCC for more information about the agency’s "process for reviewing trading operations" at JPMorgan and other banks, the Wall Street Journal reports.
But it’s not just the feds charged with monitoring the bank’s risk that may have been asleep at the wheel. JPMorgan officials will likely strengthen the company’s board panel that oversees risk, The New York Times reports, a recommendation those same officials ignored when it came from a shareholder group last year. Still, the reforms may not go far enough for some critics. The bank’s chief risk-officer allegedly wasn’t paying close attention to the type of trade that ultimately went bad. In addition, the chief risk officer didn’t review big bets made by the chief investment office, the unit responsible for the loss, former traders told the NYT.
Thing Three: European Unity: In a move likely aimed at increasing her power over the Eurozone, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing for a more integrated “fiscal union” in Europe, Reuters reports. Merkel, known for her love affair with austerity, is looking to install “central authority to manage euro area finances, and major new powers for the European Commission, European Parliament and European Court of Justice.”
Merkel isn’t the only one calling for more unity though. Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Monti and Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy -- the leaders of two of Europe’s least fiscally sound countries -- called for moves that would more closely unify the region, The New York Times reports.
Thing Four: MF Global Ignored Red Flags: Apparently officials at MF Global were warned about the way they were handling customer money a week before the firm imploded How did they respond? By allegedly continuing to misuse customer money. That’s according to federal investigators’ interviews with former MF Global employees, The New York Times reports. More than $1 billion in customer funds went missing from the firm after it filed for bankruptcy in October.
And while some were raising red flags that the customer money might disappear, MF Global officials told the CME Group, a trading exchange operator, that the firm had “a $200 million cushion in accounts that ensured customer funds were being kept separate from the firm's own money,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Thing Five: Facebook For Kids: Soon everyone and their baby may be on Facebook. The social network is looking into ways to give access to kids under 13 with parental supervision, the Wall Street Journal reports. The move could help Facebook navigate the awkward situation of kids signing up for the service anyway by lying about their ages. In addition, it could help the company tap into a pool of new users that would pay for games and other types of entertainment offered on the site, at a time when many are questioning its value in light of Facebook’s stock plunge.
Thing Six: Cigarette Tax Battle: The tobacco industry is up in arms about a ballot initiative giving California voters the chance to decide whether to raise taxes on cigarettes another $1 per pack, The New York Times reports. The ballot initiative, called Proposition 29, has ignited a $47 billion barrage of advertisements financed largely by the tobacco industry to defeat the aim. If proponents of the tax hike manage to convince voters -- despite that they’re being outspent by opponents four-to-one -- California would join Illinois and other states with $1 per pack cigarette taxes.
Thing Seven: No One Is Ever Retiring Ever: The European debt crisis may make us all miserable for years to come, at least according to one CEO. AIG head Robert Benmosche told Bloomberg this weekend that he expects “Retirement ages will have to move to 70, 80 years old,” thanks to the madness in Europe. Benmosche, who is 68, had planned to retire sometime in 2012, but told the company’s board late last year that he’d like to stay on a year longer than expected.
Thing Seven And One Half: Donald Trump Would Like You To Call Him, Maybe: American exceptionalism was in full force during the Miss USA Pageant that aired live from Las Vegas Sunday night. But nothing can be more exceptional than the Donald -- who owns the pageant -- holding his fingers to his ear in a phone shape as he mouthed the words to Carley Rae Jepson's "Call Me Maybe" as part of the contestants' cover of the super-catchy tune (h/t Buzzfeed). FWIW Miss Rhode Island won the pageant.
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Calendar Du Jour:
10:00 a.m. ET: Factory Orders for April
Heard On The Tweets:
@umairh: I don't know why you people are so worried about jobs when we can all invest in daily deals and social networks.
@justinwolfers: Even excluding the Great Recession, average jobs growth under Dubya was only 66k. So if +69k is a recession, we've been in one for a decade.
@ObsoleteDogma: To everyone asking what more the Fed can do, I have three words: expectations, expectations, expectations. Oh, and expectations.
@ReformedBroker: Yes, clearly the reason people aren't borrowing/hiring is 1.5% interest rates. Very important we push those down to 1.25% with more QE
@zerohedge: Good news: FaceBook is unchanged-- Calendar and tweets rounded up by Khadeeja Safdar.