09/20/2012 07:50 am ET

Wheels Of Libor Justice Turn Very Slowly Indeed: Seven And A Half Things To Know

Thing One: Prosecutin' Is Hard: Willie Sutton apocryphally said that he robbed banks because that's where the money was. But if you really want to crime it up the right way, you should join a bank instead of rob it: You still get the money, but you are far less likely to go to jail.

Take the Libor scandal. Please! This scandal involves traders at some of the world's biggest banks openly manipulating a key interest rate on a near-constant basis for more than a decade, sometimes all but begging regulators to make them stop. Despite mountains of evidence of such manipulation, including emails and confessions to regulators, prosecutors are struggling to bring cases ahead of the five-year statute of limitations, The Wall Street Journal writes. They won't say this, but we can guess what happened: The prosecutors just heard of this whole "Libor" thing a few months ago, even though everybody knew it was happening five years ago, and they're scrambling to catch up. Saddest of all, the prosecutors are asking the banks involved to please please please just ignore that whole statute-of-limitations thing and give them some extra time. Luckily for them, the banks will probably comply, rather than risk having prosecutors go ahead and bring charges to beat the clock. This way, they'll have more time to work the refs a little bit. Everybody wins! Except for us.

Prosecutors and regulators are hamstrung, the WSJ says, by the complexity of the case, involving 16 different banks on three continents. And this is only involving one interest rate. A new study by the International Organization of Securities Commissions finds that Libor-like manipulation is likely happening in benchmark rates around the world, Bloomberg reports. Given all of this complexity, it seems highly unlikely we'll see anybody frog-marched away in handcuffs over interest-rate manipulation -- particularly given how complicit regulators have been over the years in letting it happen. This follows the utter failure of prosecutors to send anybody to jail over the shady dealings that led to the financial crisis. Willie Sutton spent nearly two decades in prison. Turns out he was just on the wrong side of the teller window.

Thing Two: Housing Pokes Head Out Of Foxhole, Sees Charred Hellscape: About five years after leading the country into the worst recession since the Great Depression, the housing market is finally seriously turning around, the WSJ writes. Maybe. Home re-sales and new-home construction both jumped to their highest levels in two years, according to separate reports yesterday. And instead of vulture investors, today's buyers appear to be real people who want to buy houses, lured back into the market by record-low mortgage rates and (sort-of) low prices after years of waiting. But things are still far from normal: Banks are being super tight with lending, foreclosures are still high, and activity is still well below its pre-bust levels. But these are baby steps in the right direction. Maybe that's why neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney ever talk about housing on the campaign trail?

Thing Three: The Incredible Shrinking Bank Of America: Bank of America, once the biggest U.S. bank by assets, just keeps shrinking and shrinking. The bank is ramping up its already planned job cuts and is now on pace to lay off 16,000 people by the end of the year, the WSJ reports. By the time it's done, the bank will have gone from the biggest bank employer to only the fourth-biggest, according to the WSJ. This comes as the bank has already cut thousands of jobs and is closing dozens of branches and shedding side businesses, in an effort to survive in a post-crisis world.

Thing Four: Apple's Map App Crap: Apple released its iPhone operating system, the iO6, yesterday, to mixed reviews. For one thing, people aren't too jazzed that it replaces Google Maps with Apple Maps, which is not so great at, you know, finding things, The New York Times writes. One user "complained that a search for 'Bloomberg' failed to turn up the company’s headquarters, and one for an address on Lexington Avenue pulled up a street in Brooklyn, even when 'NY, NY' was specified."

Thing Five: Your Tax Dollars At Work: The Department of Housing and Urban Development may have paid $1 billion in bogus claims for mortgage assistance, according to a report by HUD's inspector general, the Washington Post writes. The inspector general studied 80 random claims under HUD's Preforeclosure Sale Program, which helped homeowners selling underwater houses, and found that 61 of them didn't really qualify for the program.

Thing Six: Put Your Junk In That Box: You might think that all you get in your snail mail any more is junk mail, but you have not seen anything yet. Scraping for survival, the U.S. Postal Service is going to start delivering even more junk mail, the NYT writes.

Thing Seven: High Speed Trader Tells All: A refugee from the world of high-speed trading takes to Capitol Hill today to tell the Senate Banking Committee about that murky world, the WSJ writes, "giving lawmakers a potential road map to address practices that critics say can put ordinary investors at a disadvantage and the financial system at risk."

Thing Seven And One Half: I Actually Like Jokes, As Well As Things That Are Sort Of Fun: Say this about Mitt Romney, he keeps the Internet entertained. He is the source of frequent hashtag eruptions on Twitter -- yesterday there were the "missing 2 minutes (#missing2min)" and "debunked (#debunked)" hashtag waves, inspired by things his rapid-response team said about that "47 percent" video. And he seems to bring out the best in video mashup artists, including whoever did this: "Mitt Romney and the Infinite Sadness."

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Calendar Du Jour:

Economic Data:

8:30 a.m. ET: Weekly Jobless Claims for Sept. 15

10:00 a.m. ET: Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index for September

10:00 a.m. ET: Leading Indicators for August

Corporate Earnings:

Before Market Open:

Jefferies Group
Rite Aid

After Market Close:


Heard On The Tweets:

@TFMkts: If the goal of QE3 was to make stock markets incredibly dull and boring, it has succeeded. Almost miss the "busy" days of August

@morningmoneyben: I know "redistribution" is a spooky scary bugaboo word but it's also supported by anyone who believes in a progressive tax system

@davidenrich: This is the first time I can remember that a hyped Apple product (iOS6) encounters widespread criticism. Turning point?

@kibblesmith: Eats entire blueberry pie and comments "Hooey—I am a messy boy!" #missing2min

@jakebeckman: Bunk beds #debunked

@carr2n: just put another PR professional on the perma-delete list for using all caps CORRECTION in email header. #nuked

@JennyJohnsonHi5: Say what you want about Lindsay Lohan, but the lengths that chick will go to in order to prove a point is pretty damn impressive.

You can follow me on Twitter, too: @markgongloff