Thursday, August 27, 2009

Federal Reserve Says Disclosing Loans Will Hurt Banks


The Federal Reserve argued yesterday that identifying the financial institutions that benefited from its emergency loans would harm the companies and render the central bank’s planned appeal of a court ruling moot.

The Fed’s board of governors asked Manhattan Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska to delay enforcement of her Aug. 24 decision that the identities of borrowers in 11 lending programs must be made public by Aug. 31. The central bank wants Preska to stay her order until the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York can hear the case.

“The immediate release of these documents will destroy the board’s claims of exemption and right of appellate review,” the motion said. “The institutions whose names and information would be disclosed will also suffer irreparable harm.”

The Fed’s “ability to effectively manage the current, and any future, financial crisis” would be impaired, according to the motion. It said “significant harms” could befall the U.S. economy as well.

The central bank didn’t say when it would file its appeal.

Fed lawyer Kit Wheatley told Preska in a conference call today that she did not know how long it would take for the Fed board to search the New York Fed for records.

“We really don’t know what’s in New York,” Wheatley said. “We don’t control the system of record-keeping in New York.”

The Standard

The Fed’s lawyer went on to say that she did not know what records would fall under a “delegated function,” which would be a task assigned to the New York Fed.

Preska interrupted Wheatley, saying that “Ms. Wheatley, I held that’s not the standard. You didn’t search under the regulation. You’re supposed to search under the regulation.”

Preska scheduled another conference call for 2:30 p.m. today to discuss the schedule for a search of the New York Fed.

“Nobody is going to deny you your right to an appeal,” Preska said on the call, “We’re going to do it expeditiously, not in a piecemeal fashion and hand it all off to the Second Circuit.”

The Fed has refused to name the financial firms it lent to or disclose the amounts or the assets put up as collateral under the emergency programs, saying disclosure might set off a run by depositors and unsettle shareholders.

Bloomberg LP, the New York-based company majority-owned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sued on Nov. 7 under the Freedom of Information Act on behalf of its Bloomberg News unit.

Public Interest

“Our argument is that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the banks’ interest in secrecy,” said Thomas Golden, a lawyer with New York-based Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP who represents Bloomberg.

Preska’s Aug. 24 ruling rejected the Fed’s argument that the records should remain private because they are trade secrets and would scare customers into pulling their deposits.

“What has the Fed got to hide?” said Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who sponsored a bill to require the Fed to submit to an audit by the Government Accountability Office. “The time has come for the Fed to stop stonewalling and hand this information over to the public,” he said in an e- mail.

The Clearing House Association LLC, an industry-owned group in New York that processes payments between banks, filed a declaration that accompanied the request for a stay.

Negative Consequences

“Experience in the banking industry has shown that when customers and market participants hear negative rumors about a bank, negative consequences inevitably flow,” Norman Nelson, vice president and general counsel for the group, said in the document. “Our members have accessed the discount window with the understanding that the Fed will not disclose information about their borrowing, especially their identity.”

Members of the Clearing House are ABN Amro Holding NV, Bank of America Corp., Bank of New York Mellon Corp., Citigroup Inc.Deutsche Bank AG, HSBC Holdings Plc, JPMorgan Chase Inc., UBS AG, U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo & Co.

The case is Bloomberg LP v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 08-CV-9595, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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