Barclays cheats, and shareholders pay
Unless the wrongdoers are forced to pay personally, nothing will change.
Lawlessness. Utter lawlessness. That's what I came away thinking about after Barclays (BCS) admitted that its traders tried to manipulate interest rates to make themselves look better and seem more solvent.
This rate they manipulated, the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR, is immensely important, controlling trillions of dollars in contracts, everything from what corporations borrow at to what you and I might have gotten our mortgage priced off of. It was sacrosanct, or so I thought, and along come these trading pirates taking it where they can, perhaps in a total conspiracy with other bank traders, to get bigger bonuses and inflate their banks' share prices.
To which I say of course they did. Why not? If they got caught, who paid? The shareholders, that's who. "Barclays agreed to pay $453 million in fines," the lead story of The Wall Street Journal opens with. But it wasn't Barclays, it was the hapless owners of Barclays. "The unusually steep punishment," to quote further, reflected the serious and widespread nature of the manipulation.
Huh? What's steep about this punishment? Isn't punishment meant to punish wrongdoers? What did the shareholders do? There were people involved in the price-fixing. The fact that they aren't paying the fine says to me that this is anything but steep. It just encourages more lawlessness. We have put Mafia chieftains in prison for years for fixing the prices of the trucking of goods. We have indicted, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced organized-crime lords for cheating casinos and running numbers and sports books. We've put people behind bars for ages for fixing the price of electrical equipment and cardboard boxes!
But these guys, involved in far more nefarious rigging, easily documented from emails, get to laugh all the way to the bank, because I am not even hearing about clawbacks of bonuses that might have been enlarged by the manipulation of the most important financial contract in the world.
How about the boys at the top? Sure enough Barclays chief executive Robert Diamond and three other top executives agreed to forgo 2012 bonuses of $23.5 million. I feel their pain. But that's go-forward money. How much did they make during and after the scams? It's bad enough the stock prices have been horrendous, but they got rich at the same time, perhaps off of these actions.
Nobody ever seems to have to give up anything, and nobody ever seems to lose a job, and nobody ever seems to even get prosecuted, provided they are bankers. It's like the job gives them immunity for all but insider trading, and they would probably have immunity from that, too, if we didn't have a tough and fair U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
This immunity is just one more injustice, not unlike the immunity that all of the bankers at Lehman or Bear Stearns or AIG or Countrywide received. It's not unlike the immunity the bankers received from the robo-signings. These bankers were the proximate cause of so many of our ills, yet somehow they evaded the law.
That's because banking is a lawless profession. To me these people are embezzlers, fraudsters and perhaps even gangsters in pinstripes. Their immunity makes a mockery of justice, and it explains why so many simply calculate that it's worth it, because even if they get caught, all that happens is shareholders pay. What a sweet deal they have on the rest of us.
Jim Cramer is a co-founder of TheStreet and contributes daily market commentary to the financial news network's sites. Follow his trades for Action Alerts PLUS, which Cramer co-manages as a charitable trust and which has no positions in stocks mentions.
More from TheStreet.com
put this egomaniac hack in jail before he has one more CEO on his show to pump fraudulent info
he glibly has a cutesy acronym for faud.......he lauds companies that what he calls UPOD
that stands for under promise over deliver.............isn't under promising the same as lying or fraud?
put this carnival barker away
If I did it, I would be going to jail, no doubt of it.
Who are these men of lust greed and glory?
Rip off the mask and let’s see.
But that’s not right.
Oh no, what’s the story?
Well, there’s you and there’s me.
Crime Of The Century, Supertramp
Bow down all you terrorists; you’ve got nothing compared to this bunch.
Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.
The solid report comes a month after the retailer closed all of its Canadian operations.
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
Top Stocks provides analysis about the most noteworthy stocks in the market each day, combining some of the best content from around the MSN Money site and the rest of the Web.
Contributors include professional investors and journalists affiliated with MSN Money.
Follow us on Twitter @topstocksmsn.