Big banks are known by a number of pejoratives, but lacking balls isn’t one of them. Combating a legacy of financial fraud due to the crisis resulting from the subprime mortgages fiasco of the late 2000s, the U.S. Department of Justice has been aggressively targeting major money institutions. The DOJ has successfully negotiated terms with a number of domestic and global bankers. However, with Barclays PLC (ADR) (NYSE:BCS), the government agency finally hit a snag.
Barclays balked at the terms offered by the DOJ, which, according to BCS executives, was well above the $2 billion with which they were willing to part. This in turn is a rare form of “insubordination” that the regulatory body is experiencing. More often than not, big banks are willing to settle with the DOJ in order to avoid costly and lengthy litigation. Firms are further incentivized by the overwhelming evidence of financial fraud — many turned a blind eye to subprime mortgages in order to fatten their wallets.
BCS has two favorable factors working for them. First, they have hired law firm Williams & Connolly, which is notorious for their pugnacious defense. Second, Barclays may be emboldened by the incoming Donald Trump administration. Under his campaign promises, the financial sector among others will be less encumbered by onerous regulations. Certainly, Trump will be a lot easier to work with than the present lame-duck Obama administration.
While this sounds like a David versus Goliath setup, I’m sure very few are sympathetic to either big banks and their elitist cronies, or to corrupt Washington politicos. Add the fact that we’re dealing with global bankers, and the situation becomes more muddied. In principle, I support any regulatory agency that will cut down on financial fraud like the proliferation of subprime mortgages. At the same time, let’s be real — our own government is one of the biggest peddlers of financial fraud.
The BCS-DOJ showdown is nothing more than a charade. It’s pitting elitist organizations against another in the pretense that the government is serious on white-collar crime. But until we have truly free and transparent markets backed by a sound monetary system, all this talk is nothing more than precontrived legal drama.