Which Bank Is the Worst for America? 5 Behemoths That Hold Our Political System Hostage
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A word of caution is in order. This report is based only on what the banks are forced to disclose. It doesn't include lobbying by corporate front-groups like the Chamber of Commerce, and it doesn't include the “independent” campaign spending that has exploded in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which corporations are no longer required to disclose to the public. This is a classic story of American political corruption writ large.
Meet the Big Banks
You’re no doubt familiar with Bank of America. Just recently BofA has made news because it's been sued for $10 billion over “toxic” mortgage-backed securities, and it's imposing an arbitrary and unfair $5-a-month fee for customers who use their debit cards. Bank of America’s on shaky ground these days and its stock price has dropped significantly, in part because of its purchase of Countrywide Financial, a mortgage lender that wrote a huge chunk of the bad mortgages that broke the economy. Still, it remains a giant company, ranked number 9 on the Fortune 500 list of largest corporations for 2011, right under General Motors and right above Ford.
BofA is the behemoth it is because the bank has taken over 13 other financial institutions since the 1990s, including US Trust, NationsBank, BayBanks, and most recently the large investment company Merrill Lynch, but it's no longer the biggest of all. According to its most recent filings, JPMorgan Chase is the biggest financial firm in the country (it ranks number 13 on the Fortune 500, right below AT&T), with $2.29 trillion in assets. In 2010, the bank had $115 billion in revenues, and turned a neat profit of $17.4 billion. Chase is the conglomerate’s retail banking and credit branch, while JP Morgan has been the investment, asset management and private banking end of operations since the merger in 2000 of JP Morgan and Chase Manhattan. In 2008, JPMorgan Chase swallowed up Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual; despite common complaints of “too big to fail,” the big banks mostly got even bigger after the economic crisis. JPMorgan Chase is now headquartered in midtown Manhattan, many blocks north of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in the financial district.
Bank of America still has $2.22 trillion in assets even after a steep decline. Last year, it made $134 billion in revenues, and reported a loss of $2.24 billion. (The protest group US Uncut loves to point out that Bank of America received a $1 billion tax refund in 2010.) It's headquartered in Charlotte and has branches around the country -- though it may be closing up to 600 of them. Interestingly, the Democratic party will hold its 2012 convention in Charlotte, where BofA is the big dog in town.
Hot on JPMorgan and BofA’s heels in the size race is Citigroup, which just announced this week that it would be charging its depositors a $15 monthly fee if they don’t maintain a $6,000 balance in their checking accounts--yet another unfair and regressive fee, even though Citigroup isn’t exactly hurting for money. It is number 14 on the Fortune 500, with $1.91 trillion in assets, $111 billion in revenues and $10.6 billion in profits in 2010.
Wells Fargo reported profits of $12.36 billion last year, and sits at number 23 on the Fortune list, just above Procter & Gamble. The California-headquartered bank acquired Wachovia, which had itself previously absorbed First Union and the Money Store among others, in 2008, in the throes of the financial meltdown, and as of 2010 has $1.26 trillion in assets and $93 billion in revenues.