06/22/2012 08:01 am ET

Banks Under Siege: Seven And A Half Things To Know

Thing One: Taking It To The Banks: Credit-rating agencies are sort of like the Royal Family in England: Everybody says they're irrelevant anachronisms, but then we still get all excited by them anyway.

Yesterday was a prime example: Moody's downgraded 15 banks in the U.S., U.K. and Europe, a move that managed to cause a tizzy in financial markets and the media despite it having been all but telegraphed four months earlier. Four of the big five U.S. banks got two-notch downgrades, and Bank of America, already near "junk" status, got a one-notch downgrade. This will force the banks to post billions of dollars in additional collateral and make it costlier for them to trade derivatives -- probably not such a terrible thing for the safety of the financial system, come to think of it.

So what, bank investors pretended to yawn, who cares? It is true that, as Peter Eavis and Susanne Craig of The New York Times write, banks will likely just pass these costs on to you, the consumer. The downgrades just confirmed what the market already knew. Bank stocks are higher this morning. But they had taken a beating since Moody's warned of the downgrades back in February, and this morning's rebound is likely just a dead-cat relief bounce. The downgrades are just one more headache the banks didn't need, when business is already lousy, with the global economy slowing, regulations rising and interest income being squeezed by the Federal Reserve. More ominously for the too-big-to-fail set, downgrades also may herald the end of the global banking model, the Financial Times' Lex column warns.

Thing Two: The Summit To End All Summits, Until The Next Summit: If it's Friday, it must be time for another European summit meeting. Sure enough, leaders of Europe's Big Four -- Germany, France, Italy and Spain -- meet in Rome today to work their jaws some more about what the heck to do about Europe's economy being on fire. Unfortunately, they're still far apart on solutions, Bloomberg notes. To sum up, nobody, including the IMF, cares for Germany's do-nothing approach. Meanwhile, the new Greek government is maybe not as pro-austerity as everybody thought! European stocks are down this morning, after German business confidence hit a two-year low. The rot is reaching the core now.

Thing Three: Market Meltdown: The U.S. stock market is finally starting to feel the pain of the global economic slowdown. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 250 points yesterday, after a passel of bad economic data from China, Europe and the U.S., and with no hope of an immediate Fed rescue, write Chris Dieterich and Liam Pleven of the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, a broad index of commodity prices fell into bear-market territory. That's a "strong recession warning," Barry Ritholtz, CEO of research firm Fusion IQ, warned in a tweet.

Thing Four: Investigating The Exchanges: The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the role of the Nasdaq in the Facebook IPO debacle as part of a broader look at how the exchanges are handling high-speed trading, The New York Times writes. The investigation comes at a time when investor confidence in the market is lower than it has been in years, because of the Facebook IPO, the Flash Crash and other market snafus, all of which have the fingerprints of high-speed trading all over them.

Thing Five: Masked Hedge Funds: When hedge funds were forced by new post-crisis laws to register themselves with the SEC, they didn't worry: They just adopted cryptic fake names for their filings, Juliet Chung of the Wall Street Journal reports: "The practice, allowed under a new SEC instruction that lets firms preserve the anonymity of their clients in certain cases, has irked some investors and their advisers. They argue that hiding funds' identities in regulatory filings undermines Washington's efforts to make the reticent world of hedge funds more transparent and hinders investors' efforts to keep tabs on the firms that manage their assets."

Thing Six: What's At Stake (Financially) In Health Care: When the Supreme Court finally rules on health-care reform in the coming days, at stake will be billions of dollars that were slated to go to projects such as community health centers for the poor, writes The New York Times: "While speculation has focused on how the decision would affect the future of the nation’s health insurance market, little attention has been paid to the tens of billions of dollars in federal money appropriated for a host of other provisions in the law." The Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young has been all over the various effects of health-care reform on the system. Too many must-read stories to link here.

Thing Seven: Tight With The Squid: A current Goldman Sachs manager was in the habit of sending daily emails to convicted inside trader Raj Rajaratnam, the Wall Street Journal reports. The manager is one of three Goldman employees under investigation in the federal government's insider trading probe. Neither he nor Goldman have been charged with wrongdoing.

Thing Seven And One Half: Our long national nightmare is over: LeBron James at last has an NBA title.

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Calendar Du Jour:

Economic Data:


Corporate Earnings:

Carnival Corp.

Darden Restaurants

Heard On The Tweets:

@BCAppelbaum: It boggles the mind that Moody's still has the power to move markets.

@TheStalwart: The entire world is in tuck position, bracing for Moody's

@zerohedge: Morgan Stanley may have to promptly announce very soon it is proudly accepting deposits now

@samplereality: Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

@JustinWolfers: The great Anna Schwarz, has died. She was an amazing presence, still turning up to NBER meetings into her late 90s.

-- Calendar and tweets rounded up by Khadeeja Safdar.

And you can follow us on Twitter, too: @markgongloff and @byKhadeeja