NYT’ Steven Davidoff Doesn’t Consider the Successful 300 Years of Financial Transactions Taxes In London
Steven Davidoff really doesn’t like financial transactions taxes (FTT) but is not honest enough to acknowledge this fact. Instead he tells readers that proponents of a tax haven’t thought about its consequences and uncritically repeats every piece of nonsense produced by the financial industry to attack the idea.
In the course of a 1300 word essay we get assessments of the tax from Credit Suisse, Blackrock, and the Partnership for the City of New York, which is effectively the New York City Chamber of Commerce. All of these accounts are presented uncritically, as though the purveyors of this information had no interest other than conveying the truth. We are also told that the New York Stock Exchange “threatened to jump across the Hudson River to New Jersey” in reaction to a plan to increase the city’s stock tax in the 1966 (interesting image). Davidoff apparently never heard of businesses making threats to extract concessions from governments.
The NYT running a column like Davidoff’s is like the Iowa City Press Citizen running a column on a plan to cut back farm subsidies where the views of the state’s leading wheat and corn farmers are presented as unquestioned truth, along with a study from the corn growers trade organization. I suspect that the Press Citizen has higher standards.
Meanwhile when it comes to the proponents of the tax, Davidoff lectures:
“advocates of this neat idea conveniently ignore the century of less-than-successful experience with this tax, including New York State’s own failed attempt.”
This comment is more than a little bizarre. Davidoff writes as though proponents of the tax are completely ignorant of economics and have not done research into the history of financial transaction taxes.
Contrary to this assessment, the proponents of the tax include some of the world’s most prominent economists. Furthermore, there is extensive research on the history of financial transactions taxes. Much of it can be found right here on the European Commission’s (EC) website.
Contrary to Davidoff’s bizarre comment, implying the New York tax is a rare example of a government implementing such taxes, nearly all financial markets operated with financial transactions taxes for long periods of time (more than 300 years in the case of London’s market). Most of the world’s major financial centers, including London, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore, still have financial transactions taxes on their stock exchanges. Perhaps Davidoff should be lecturing these governments on how their taxes really don’t work.
As far as the substance, Davidoff tells us that research shows that the tax will increase rather than decrease volatility. There are two different notions of volatility at play here. One is the volatility associated with normal price fluctuations over the course of a day or week. This is likely to be increased by a tax since it will increase the costs for arbitragers to enter a market. That means that we may see somewhat larger divergences between prices than would otherwise be the case. This could mean that the gap in the price of oil between two markets may rise to 0.4 percent rather than 0.3 percent before arbitragers whittle it down again.
Proponents of FTTs are probably not much concerned about this sort of volatility. The economic consequences are likely close to zero. Furthermore, since the levels of taxation being debated would just raise transactions costs back to where they were 10-15 years ago, it is difficult to believe that the effects could be too severe. (We did have very liquid capital markets in the 1990s.)
The type of volatility that more likely concerns proponents of FTTs are the sharp movements that are not driven by fundamentals, such as the 1987 crash and the flash crash in the spring of 2011. While it is difficult to prove that a FTT will reduce the likelihood of such sharp movements, it is worth noting that such events did not occur in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, when trading costs were much higher than in the last three decades.
As far as the incidence of the tax, Davidoff gives us the assessment of Blackrock:
“that if the financial transaction tax were set at 0.1 percent per trade, an investor putting $10,000 in its global equity fund would lose more than $2,300 in expected returns over a 10-year period. This amount would rise to $15,000 if the money were invested in a more actively managed European fund.”
Incredibly, Blackrock assumes that its trading does not in any way respond to the tax. If this were true then Blackrock’s funds would quickly go out of business since their cost would be far higher than others in the industry. There have been a range of trading elasticities estimated by various studies (see the EC research), with most estimates close to -1.0. (None are near zero.) If the elasticity is near -1 then trading volume would decline by roughly the same amount that the tax increases trading costs.
This means that if the tax doubled trading costs, then trading volume would be roughly cut in half. That means that if Blackrock’s fund managers responded as the research suggests, then they would cut back the number of trades by enough so that the non-tax trading costs for their $10,000 account would fall by roughly $2,300 over the course of a decade or $15,000 in the case of its more actively managed European fund. This would be revenue lost to Blackrock, not to its clients.
In this respect it is worth noting that the sharp decline in trading costs over the last four decades has not been associated with higher returns to investors, but rather to a more than proportionate increase in trading volume. This has caused the total amount spent on trading financial assets to rise sharply relative to the size of the economy. These trading costs are money out of investors’ pockets and a drain on the economy.
Davidoff’s effort to claim that the tax could not raise any revenue approaches the bizarre. He tells readers:
“In Britain, for example, where the financial transaction tax has fluctuated from half a percent to 2 percent, the tax has raised significantly less revenue than one might expect, about £3 billion a year. The reason is that investors who trade regularly in Britain use options to avoid the tax, which applies only to trading in stock. The result may be that the tax pushes investors into more risky securities in their efforts to avoid it.”
First, it is worth noting that £3 billion comes to 0.2 percent of UK’s GDP. (The UK had raised almost 0.3 percent of GDP from this tax before the 2008 crash [Table 2].) This would be the equivalent of almost $400 billion over the 10-year budget horizon in the United States. That is almost 3 times as much as President Obama has proposed to save by cutting the Social Security cost of living adjustment. In other words, in the current budget debates it would be regarded as real money.
Second, the decision to not tax derivatives like options is a political one made by governments that have been closely allied with the financial industry. The tax being put in place by 11 countries in the European Union would tax options and other derivatives. In the 1980s Japan had a broadly based tax that was imposed on a wide range of financial assets including options. This tax raised an amount of revenue that was close to 1.0 percent of its GDP. This would amount to $2 trillion over the 10-year budget horizon in the United States.
At one point Davidoff tells readers:
“As for seeking revenue gains to solve budget problems, if the tax is too small, it will have no effect.”
Huh? The Securities and Exchange Commission imposes a tax of 0.002 percent on stock trades in the United States. This tax raises roughly $1.2 billion to finance its budget. Is Davidoff suggesting that the SEC should get rid of this tax because it is not really raising money?
As I said, Davidoff doesn’t like FTTs, that’s pretty clear from reading this piece even though he tells us:
“This is not to say that a financial transaction tax by itself is such a terrible idea.”
He has a case built with non-sequitors (one example of the horror of FTTs is that traders fled a tax imposed by Sweden in the 1980s and instead did their trades in London, which also had a tax). And he ignores all sorts of evidence that FTTs can and do raise large amounts of revenue without disrupting capital markets. This piece lets us know where Davidoff stands on FTTs, it doesn’t provide much information on the merits of the policy.
- Economist: Financial Transactions Tax Would Bring in Hundreds of Billions a Year (voicerussia.com)
- 5 Reasons Why The U.S. Needs A Financial Transactions Tax (thinkprogress.org)
“Democracies die behind closed doors” – Judge Damon J. Keith
For 15 years (1956-1971) the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ran a broad and highly coordinated domestic intelligence / counterintelligence program known as COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgrams). What was originally deemed as a justifiable effort to protect the US during the Cold War from Soviet and Communist threats and infiltration, soon devolved into a program for suppressing domestic dissent and spying on American citizens. Approximately 20,000 people were investigated by the FBI based only on their political views and beliefs. Most were never suspected of having committed any crime.
The reasoning behind the program, as detailed in a 1976 Senate report, was that the FBI had “the duty to do whatever is necessary to combat perceived threats to the existing social and political order.” The fact that the “perceived threats” were usually American citizens engaging in constitutionally protected behaviour was apparently overlooked. The stated goal of COINTELPRO was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” any individual or group deemed to be subversive or a threat to the established power structure.
The FBI’s techniques were often extreme, with the agency being complicit in the murder and assassination of political dissidents, or having people sent away to prison for life. Some of the more “moderate” actions that were used were blackmail, spreading false rumors, intimidation and harassment. It has been argued that the US is unique in that it is the only Western industrialized democracy to have engaged in such a wide spread and well organized domestic surveillance program. It finally came to an end in 1971 when it was threatened with public exposure.
Or did it?
In a stunning revelation from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), it appears that COINTELPRO is alive and well. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, PCJF was able to obtain documents showing how the FBI was treating the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, from its inception, as a potential criminal and domestic terrorist threat. This despite the FBI’s own acknowledgement that the OWS organizers themselves planned on engaging in peaceful and popular protest and did not “condone the use of violence.”
The documents, while heavily redacted, give a clear picture of how the FBI was using its offices and agents across the country as early as August 2011 to engage in a massive surveillance scheme against OWS. This was almost a month before any actual protests took place or encampments were set up (the most famous being the one in New York City’s Zuccotti Park).
The FBI’s documents show a government agency at its most paranoid. It considered all planned protests, and the individuals involved, as potential threats. Most disturbing of all, there is talk (p. 61) of the government being ready to “engage in sniper attacks against protesters in Houston, Texas, if deemed necessary” and perhaps needing to formulate a plan “to kill the leadership [of the protest groups] via suppressed sniper rifles.”
Furthermore, the documents reveal a close and intricate partnership between the federal government on one side and banks and private businesses on the other.
On August 19, 2011, the FBI met with representatives of the New York Stock Exchange in order to discuss OWS protests that wouldn’t happen for another four weeks. In September of that year, even before OWS got into full swing, the FBI was notifying local businesses that they might be affected by protests. It is not clear if, while on Wall Street, the FBI investigated the criminal and irresponsible behavior engaged in by some of the largest banks on the planet, behavior which led directly to the financial crisis of 2008.
We are also introduced to a creature named the “Domestic Security Alliance Council” which, according to the federal government, is “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector.” A DSAC report tells us that any information shared between US intelligence agencies and their corporate partners should not be released to “the media, the general public or other personnel.”
In a curious coincidence, nine days after the PCJF’s embarrassing release of FBI documents, the New York Post ran a story about how a 27 year old woman and her “Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street” boyfriend, Aaron Greene, were arrested by officers from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) after an alleged cache of weapons and bomb making explosives were found in their Greenwich Village apartment.
And what exactly led the police to this apartment? Was it credible actionable intelligence gathered from the FBI’s massive domestic surveillance program? Did some agent acquire this information by bravely infiltrating the potential domestic terrorist group known as OWS? Hardly. The NYPD was simply executing a routine search warrant related to a credit card-theft case.
But in a story about the exact same event that appeared in the New York Times, it was reported that “police said they did not believe that Mr. Greene was active in any political movements” and that no “evidence of a planned terrorist attack” had been found . Furthermore, police hadn’t “made a connection to any known plot or any connection to any known terrorists.” No mention was made of the suspect’s alleged ties to the OWS movement, an item that had been prominently reported in the New York Post’s version of events.
Oddly, a more recent New York Post story stated that Mr. Greene was now a “Nazi-loving Harvard grad” and a reported “Adolf Hitler-wannabe.” No mention was made of his suspected ties to OWS. This author made several attempts to contact the New York Post, and the writers of the 2 articles, in an effort to find out how they knew that Mr. Greene was an OWS member and activist. Attempts were also made to try to find out if the New York Post still believed that Mr. Greene was an active OWS member, or if they now simply thought that he was just an “Adolf Hitler-wannabe.”
As of the writing of this article, no response has been received from the New York Post.
The FBI’s stated mission regarding America’s security is to “develop a comprehensive understanding of the threats and penetrate national and transnational networks that have a desire and capability to harm us.”
The American people would be far better served by their government if, instead of wasting millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours harassing peaceful protesters, it spent a fraction of that time and money investigating, and bringing to justice, the people responsible for the engineered destruction of the American economy, and by extension, American society.
You know. The real terrorists.
Tom McNamara is an Assistant Professor at the ESC Rennes School of Business, France, and a Visiting Lecturer at the French National Military Academy at Saint-Cyr, Coëtquidan, France.
“COINTELPRO: The FBI’s Covert Action Programs Against American Citizens” Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, Book III, Final report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate, April 23, 1976. Accessed at:
“COINTELPRO: The Untold American Story”, by Paul Wolf with contributions from Robert Boyle, Bob Brown, Tom Burghardt, Noam Chomsky, Ward Churchill, Kathleen Cleaver, Bruce Ellison, Cynthia McKinney, Nkechi Taifa, Laura Whitehorn, Nicholas Wilson, and Howard Zinn. Presented to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa by the members of the Congressional Black Caucus attending the conference: Donna Christianson, John Conyers, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Barbara Lee, Sheila Jackson Lee, Cynthia McKinney, and Diane Watson, September 1, 2001. Accessed at:
“FBI Documents Reveal Secret Nationwide Occupy Monitoring” The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), December 22, 2012. Accessed at:
“Greenwich Village couple busted with cache of weapons, bombmaking explosives: sources” by Jamie Schram, Antonio Antenucci and Matt McNulty, December 31, 2012, The New York Post. Accessed at:
“Manhattan Couple Stored Bomb-Making Items, Police Say” by Wendy Ruderman, December 31, 2012, The New York Times. Accessed at:
“More About FBI Spying” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), June 25, 2010. Accessed at:
“NYC couple arrested after explosive substance find” December 31, 2012, CBS/AP. Accessed at:
“Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy” by Naomi Wolf, December 29, 2012, The Guardian. Accessed at:
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation – Mission” The Federal Bureau of Investigation. Accessed at:
“Village ‘bomber’ planned to blow up Washington Sq. Arch with high-grade explosives: cops” by Jamie Schram and Jessica Simeone, January 10, 2013, The New York Post. Accessed at:
- Terrorists and criminals: Documents prove FBI monitored OWS (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- FBI Documents Reveal Secret Nationwide Occupy Monitoring (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Newly obtained documents confirm that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was monitoring peaceful protesters with the Occupy Wall Street movement before the first OWS demonstrations even began.
Files uncovered this week by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) through a Freedom of Information Act request reveals that the FBI was actively keeping an eye on activists across the United States since Occupy Wall Street was still in its preliminary planning stages.
Documents, only published over the weekend, show inner-office communiqué that confirms investigators were considering Occupy demonstrators in some instances as criminals and domestic terrorists.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the executive director of the PCJF, writes in a statement this week that the initial 100-plus pages obtained through the FOIA request are “just the tip of the iceberg” of what’s expected to be a substantial trove of data proving that the FBI was actively monitoring activists.
The list of documents, says Verheyden-Hilliard, “is a window into the nationwide scope of the FBI’s surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement.”
“These documents show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity,” she writes. “These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”
Canada’s Adbusters magazine first published a call-for-action in June 2011 addressing what would become known months later as Occupy Wall Street. On September 12 of that year, activists from around the United States began to descend on Zuccotti Square in Lower Manhattan, and soon the movement spread across the rest of the United States and the world. Even before the first occupiers erected tents and organized actions against corporate greed and criminal police activity, though, the FBI was well involved in investigating the group.
“As early as August 19, 2011, the FBI in New York was meeting with the New York Stock Exchange to discuss the Occupy Wall Street protests that wouldn’t start for another month,” the PCJF writes. “By September, prior to the start of the OWS, the FBI was notifying businesses that they might be the focus of an OWS protest.”
In another document, the Indianapolis, Indiana division of the FBI released a “Potential Criminal Activity Alert” about the protests two days before they even started in New York, let alone spread to the Midwest.
In other locales across the country, the FBI alerted authorities to potential criminal and terrorism activity from the protesters and asked them to monitor the movement of the group.
The trove of information received through the FOIA requests is perhaps the most substantial proof so far that the FBI was thoroughly vested in treating Occupy Wall Street as a form of terrorism. It isn’t, however, the first evidence used to prove that peaceful protesters aligned with OWS were on the FBI’s radar: in September, the American Civil Liberties Union received documents obtained through their own FOIA request showing that Occupy activists in Northern California were routinely targeted by federal agents.
“Why does a political protest amount to a national security threat?” ACLU attorney Linda Lye asked at the time.
Why the Feds Won’t Prosecute the Big Wall Street Banks
Yesterday the Department of Justice and 49 state attorneys general announced the long anticipated $25 billion deal with 5 large Wall Street firms — Bank of America Corporation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Company, Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. — to settle foreclosure and mortgage servicing abuses. Unfortunately, the settlement is not yet 24 hours old and cracks are emerging.
Each major corruption settlement with Wall Street, and they are legion over the past 15 years, triggers a commemorative magazine cover. I keep some favorites handy.
The October 1996 cover of Registered Representative Magazine, the trade magazine for financial consultants and stock brokers, blared in 48 point bold red type: “How the NASD Was Corrupted.” That issue focused on the years of price fixing of stocks traded on the Nasdaq market by the biggest firms on Wall Street while the self regulatory body, the National Association of Securities Dealers, was dominated by the same firms and looked the other way. (Think SEC today.)
The Department of Justice, then under Janet Reno, had this to say about the settlement: “We have found substantial evidence of coercion and other misconduct in this industry. By providing for the random monitoring of traders’ telephone calls, we expect to deter future price fixing on Nasdaq.” At the time, Reno said the “law does not provide the Department with statutory authority to recover damages or monetary penalties in such cases.”
The next big corruption probe drew a giant green serpent wrapped around the street sign for Wall Street on the cover of BusinessWeek with the rhetorical question: “Wall Street: How Corrupt Is It?” That settlement collectively cost the big firms $1.4 billion for peddling fake stock research to the public to induce investors to buy bad companies while the same analysts called the firms “dogs” and “crap” in internal emails. The announcement of the deal came on April 28, 2003 from the SEC, the New York Attorney General of that day, Eliot Spitzer, the NASD, the New York Stock Exchange and state securities regulators — all gushing over how great this deal was for the public and how it was going to reform Wall Street.
New York Magazine has found an odd way of commemorating the crumbs available to illegally evicted and displaced children and families under the current settlement. The current magazine cover has a Wall Street guy clasping his… uh…private portfolio…with the headline: “The
Emasculation of Wall Street.” If Wall Street is being emasculated, you sure can’t tell it from yesterday’s settlement.
Not only did Wall Street settle its robo-signing, illegal foreclosures and servicing problems with the Department of Justice and 49 state attorneys general (Oklahoma settled independently) but lost in the headlines was that the two major regulators of national banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Reserve, also settled with the biggest Wall Street banks in a decidedly cozy deal that effectively lets them off without a monetary fine as long as they pay under the federal-state settlement agreement.
The OCC settled with Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo for a combined $394 million but here’s the cozy part: “the OCC agrees to hold in abeyance imposition of such penalties provided the servicers make payments and take other actions under the federal-state settlement with a value equal to at least the penalty amounts that each servicer acknowledges that the OCC could impose…”
The Federal Reserve issued monetary sanctions of $766.5 million against the parent holding companies: Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Ally Financial, Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Wells Fargo & Co. and two mortgage servicers GMAC Mortgage, LLC a subsidiary of Ally Financial, Inc., and EMC Mortgage Corporation, a subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase & Co. But again, the Wall Street firms can get off the hook for paying these sums by simply paying them under the $25 billion federal-state settlement.
The specifics of just what the state attorneys general agreed to is unknown, even to some of the attorneys general. According to the web site set up to inform the public about the settlement both the primary “Settlement Document” and the “Executive Summary” will be “coming soon.” Without those documents available for public perusal, there is the reasonable suspicion that the public has once again been feted to lipstick on a pig, as they like to say on Wall Street.
One striking problem is that California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris states on her web site and in this video that California is getting $18 billion. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
says on her web site that Florida is receiving $8.4 billion. Those two amounts would leave a negative figure for the other 47 states that agreed to the $25 billion deal.
There’s also something peculiar about the Federal Department of Justice and 49 states setting up an informational web site that ends in .com instead of .gov. Register.com shows the web site has used a privacy shield to block the name of the owner of the site.
Corporate media is reporting that the deal settles only foreclosure and servicing abuses. But this web site states: “The agreement settles only some aspects of the banks conduct related to the financial crisis (foreclosure practices, loan servicing, and origination of loans) in return for the second largest state attorneys general recovery in history and direct relief to distressed borrowers while they can still use it.” The Florida Attorney General concedes on her web site that the deal with the state includes loan origination issues. That may not sit well with residents of a state where massive loan origination frauds occurred.
I called the AG’s office in Massachusetts – historically a tough regulator when it comes to Wall Street. The spokesperson could not answer why loan origination is included on the settlement web site.
Why is mortgage loan origination a big deal? Because tens of thousands of consumers were victimized in a bait and switch racket, believing they were getting a fixed rate mortgage only to find out a few years down the road that they had an adjustable rate mortgage that reset and doubled or even tripled their monthly payment – making it impossible to stay in their home; an effective wealth stripping enterprise by Wall Street against decent, hardworking families across America.
Other abuses in loan origination abounded. The Federal Trade Commission took this testimony from Michele V. Handzel, a former Branch Manager for CitiFinancial, a unit of Citigroup. Ms. Handzel is comparing the practices of CitiFinancial after it acquired another firm, The Associates.
“CitiFinancial put much more pressure on employees than the Associates did to include as many credit insurance and ancillary products as possible on every loan….In fact, I feel that the credit insurance sales practices at CitiFinancial were worse than at The Associates. From January to June 2001, the policy was that no personal loan at CitiFinancial would be approved if it did not include some type of credit insurance, nor would a real estate loan be approved without some type of ancillary product…There were several internal measures in place to effectuate this policy. For instance, District Managers would frequently refuse to send a loan to underwriting if it did not include some type of insurance product. Moreover, loans that were closed and did not include any insurance would be identified by CitiFinancial’s internal insurance auditors, and the employee who closed the loan would be written up…Closings at CitiFinancial resembled those at The Associates – they were brief. Personal loan closings took approximately 10 minutes. Real estate loan closings took a little longer but also did not provide a lot of details about the loan. At CitiFinancial, I was instructed to do a ‘closed folder’ closing, meaning that information would be discussed orally first. Only after the borrower indicated that he wanted to sign would the employee open the folder and have the borrower sign the papers.”
In the past, Wall Street knew it could steal billions and settle with its easily maneuvered regulators for millions. It did this time and time again, never having to admit to any crime. Wall Street translated this to mean that crime was a lucrative profit center. This latest settlement raises the potential of this profit center. Wall Street now understands that it can steal trillions and settle for billions.
And just why is it that the Feds can’t or won’t prosecute the biggest of the Wall Street firms? Because they are the Federal Government’s bond brokers, the primary dealers who contractually agree to buy Treasury bills or notes or bonds at every U.S. Treasury auction. They may be serially corrupt, but Uncle Sam needs those contractual guarantees of its primary dealers to be sure it can pull off its debt auctions. And the U.S. government cannot engage in contracts with convicted financial felons.
And it won’t break up these bloated behemoths because big balance sheets are just what a government with $15 trillion in debt is looking for in a bond broker.
Pam Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years. She spent the last decade of her career advocating against Wall Street’s private justice system, which keeps its crimes shielded from public courtrooms. She maintains, along with Russ Martens, an ongoing archive dedicated to this financial era at www.WallStreetOnParade.com. She has no security position, long or short, in any company mentioned in this article. She is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. She can be reached at email@example.com
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