That Bull’s got Some Balls

By George Mantor

So, I’m trying to get a little escapism, enjoying a beverage and watching a bunch of overpaid freaks of nature continually fail to make free throws. Free throws!

These are the playoffs. The playoffs!

When it comes to basketball, these guys are the best of the best. The only thing they aren’t very good at is …making baskets.

The hoop is a gigantic eighteen inches in diameter and a pro-size number seven ball is only about half that at 9.39 inches in diameter. They are standing a mere thirteen feet from the edge of the rim. They are nearly seven feet tall with an overhead reach approaching nine feet. How do they ever miss? Shooting baskets is all they do.

In 1996, 75 year old Ted St. Martin hit 5,221 in a row. In a row. He might still be there shooting but they had to close the gym for the night. Fred Newman made 88 in a row while blindfolded.

So, because pros cannot make free throws, it has led to the most annoying part of any professional sport, the deliberate foul. In what other sport is rule breaking rewarded?

But it’s hard to argue with the facts. If they let their opponent shoot, it’s two or three points. If they send him to the foul-line the probability is very high that he will miss one, if not both shots.

Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t lob a tennis ball into a swimming pool from four feet away and fouling him became so common that the strategy was referred to as “Hack-A-Shaq.”

So, I was already shaking my head when they cut away to commercial.

The commercial begins with a mangy bull climbing a hardscrabble and barren hillside. What life there was here is now obviously withered up and except for a few shreds of dried grass hanging tough on a rocky knoll, blown away. Everything is brown. Kinda post-nuclear.

Then the bull is shown heading in the opposite direction. Not a good sign.

A voice-over narrator says, “Today our financial advisers lead from a new position of strength. Together with Bank of America, they have access to more resources than ever before.”

Beneath the scene is displayed a quote from the founder of Merrill Lynch, “The interest of our clients must come first.”

Excuse me but the symbol for this is a bull wandering aimlessly in a desolate wasteland? I like it.

Yes, this is where Wall Street and their bull have taken us. Where the bull is loping could very well be an abandoned future sub division outside of Barstow. It’s so symbolic that it made me wonder if their ad agency might not have turned on them.

Really. What is a bull doing here? Bulls want food, water and cows. None of which appear to be available for hundreds of miles.

The poor thing looks like a straggler left behind in a Death Valley cattle drive.

This is intended to convey the message that you should trust your investments to Merrill Lynch because Bank of America now owns them.

That’s bull alright.

Last week a Reuters story helped to place this in the proper context. “Top executives at Bank of America did not tell shareholders just prior to a 2008 vote on its purchase of Merrill Lynch & Co that losses were mounting and expected to weigh down earnings for years…”

Where do I begin? The very deal that brought them together was fraud on the investors who backed the deal. And that’s just the ironic part.

Together, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch are both up to their eyebrows in litigation with their partners, their shareholders, their customers, their investors, federal and state agencies, pension funds, rating agencies and foreign governments for fraud on an epic scale.

So when they say that their “financial advisors lead from a new position of strength”, they may be implying that they are getting stronger but this is carefully parsed to avoid actually saying so.

They go on to say that “Together with Bank of America, they have access to more resources than ever before.”

Well, that’s bull too.

What they have is debt. Massive, crippling unmanageable debt.

On Thursday, Fitch Ratings released the results of a study that inadvertently drew attention to the real unsolvable problem here and in Europe.

Six banks account for more than two-thirds of the derivatives assets and liabilities among 100 large U.S. companies

Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo–are on one side of the majority of derivatives trades conducted by the companies Fitch studied

According to Dow Jones Wire, “In filings from 2010 and 2011, some 47 of the 100 companies reviewed by Fitch had disclosed what the rating agency calls “credit-risk related contingent features” in their derivatives–in other words, an obligation to post additional collateral or settle outstanding liabilities in the event of a credit rating downgrade.”

“The companies in the study were those with the highest outstanding debt in the S&P 1,500 universe, representing nearly $3.5 trillion of debt collectively as of the fiscal year-end 2011. The face value or “notional” amount of their derivatives was $300 trillion.”

Did you get that? One hundred of the 1,500 most debt ridden companies owe $3.5 trillion, yeah that’s a lot, but six banks have a derivatives exposure of 100 times that.

For comparison, our national debt is $16 trillion. Worldwide, there is $50 trillion in cash and everything else of value on the planet plus the cash comes to only $165 trillion. Yet six banks owe $300 trillion in derivatives.

Talk about bullish, why am I the only one who thinks that might be a bit of a problem?

Why do Spain’s banks need a bailout? What is wrong in Greece? Europe is running out of ways to paper over this massive black hole of nonexistent money perpetrated by the world’s largest banks.

But it cannot end there. Ireland has already made a demand for terms similar to what Spain is getting. Italy will be next. Then Portugal. Uncertainty has stalled out the British recovery and we already know that the US is much worse off than anyone who knows is willing to admit.

I have a feeling that after reading this, my many admirers at Bank of America might take that commercial off of the air. But at the moment, they see no irony in suggesting that despite all of the evidence to the contrary you should follow their bewildered bull and trust your money to them.

Man, that bull’s got some very big balls, wouldn’t you say?