Written by Daniel Edgar exclusively for SouthFront
While putting together an analysis of the shareholders of some of the most strategic and lucrative sectors of the Australian economy several years ago I discovered that almost all of them are substantially or majority-owned and completely controlled by just four financial entities: JP Morgan, Citibank, HSBC and National Nominees (I suspect that National Nominees is a façade of the other three – possibly an investment vehicle for National Australia Bank (NAB) – but was not able to find more information on the identity of this particular legal/ financial construct). They also own a majority of the shares of the stock exchange itself, and therefore have a primordial role in the day to day management as well as the regulation of their playpen. The actual quantities for the companies surveyed were as follows:
Moreover, in most cases their holdings are probably larger than the percentages cited above, dispersed through smaller purchases by other controlled entities, as the totals cited above only include the holdings of the twenty largest shareholders and also do not take into account the shareholdings of other corporate entities and investment funds that are partially or completely owned by the ‘Big Four’. I was surprised that the degree of control that they exercise is so openly flaunted, given their infinite capacity for obfuscation and deception. Best of all, it is not even their own money: the trillions of dollars at their disposal are the deposits and investments of their clients.
Among the companies in which they own over 50% of the stock (or somewhat less in some cases, but surely a substantial enough stake to exercise substantial or complete control over the companies) are BHP Billiton and South 32, both of which are involved in the management of two mining projects in Colombia (El Cerrejon and Cerro Matoso) which have had devastating social and environmental impacts. This brazen demonstration of power and control, ‘hidden in plain sight’, emphasizes the futility of campaigns to hold the front companies accountable individually: they are merely artificial constructs and smokescreens for the real owners and beneficiaries, whoever (or whatever) they are.
Ultimately the senior executives and directors of the two mining companies are merely agents and bureaucrats executing policies that are dictated (or ‘encouraged’) by their largest shareholders (as are the executives of Nestlé and Coca Cola, two other companies that have been the subject of protracted campaigns due to the social and environmental impacts of their operations in Colombia – as discussed below, ultimately they have many of the same major shareholders). If social campaigns for corporate responsibility and accountability are to result in meaningful systemic and long-term changes as opposed to a series of occasional and ephemeral tactical concessions, the campaigns must be directed at those that control the companies – to the extent it is possible to identify them. In the case of all of the companies surveyed above this control is apparently exercised by the same four shareholders (or three if National Nominees is indeed owned or subject to a significant degree of influence by the other three).
Of the companies reviewed, the only partial exception to the hegemony of the Big Four is Westpac Bank, in which a couple of European-based financial entities (UBS and INVIA) also have significant stakes. In most if not all of the cases reviewed the individual holding of each of the four companies (JP Morgan, HSBC, Citigroup and National Nominees) is sufficient to appoint at least one director and thereby obtain intimate knowledge of the company’s operations and a significant degree of influence over appointments of senior executives and decision-making. In many cases the total of their holdings is sufficient for them to be able to appoint a majority of the directors (if not all of them).
An intermediate layer of control
Nonetheless, despite their size and power it turns out that these three financial monstrosities (JP Morgan, Citibank and HSBC) are themselves simply an intermediate and secondary level of control that are in turn owned by a very select and limited number of shareholders, principal among which are Vanguard Group, Inc., BlackRock, Inc,, State Street Corporation, Fidelity Management & Research (FMR LLC) and Capital Research & Management Co.
A recent report by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies (“War Profiteers: The U.S. War Machine and the Arming of Repressive Regimes”) discusses five of the largest weapons producers that have profited most from the ‘War on Terror’ (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics), an open-ended and unwinnable war in military terms that appears set to provide them with many more billions of dollars (often from cost-plus, no-bid contracts), presumably until they finish off what is left of the planet. The same financial entities that own substantial stakes in JP Morgan, HSBC and Citigroup (as well as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) are also prominent amongst the largest shareholders of all of the arms companies: Vanguard and BlackRock in particular are at the top of the list of the largest shareholders of all five pillars of the perpetual warfare complex (as well as many of the smaller arms companies), followed by State Street Corporation (4), Capital Research & Management Co. (2), Newport Trust Co. (2), FMR LLC (2), Bank of America (2) and T. Price Rowe Associates (2).
Vngd – Vanguard, BkRk – BlackRock, StSt – State Street, Nwpt – Newport, CapRM – Capital Research & Management, FMR – Fidelity Management & Research Co. – FMR LLC, TRP – T. Rowe Price Associates, Bnk Am – Bank of America, LAC – Longview Asset Management, Norges – Norges Bank, Harris – Harris Associates, Brkshr H – Berkshire Hathaway, Mtbshi – Mitsubishi
The total in the final column refers to the combined holdings of the main financial entities reviewed (in particular Vanguard, BlackRock, Capital Research & Management, Fidelity Management & Research Co. and T. Rowe Price). As in the previous chart the actual total is probably considerably larger as it only includes the ten or twenty largest shareholders in each instance and also doesn’t include the shareholdings of other corporations and investment funds controlled by the principal financial entities (such as JP Morgan, etc.). The percentages are taken from the lists of largest shareholders compiled by ‘Marketscreener’ and ‘Morningstar’.
Notwithstanding some exceptions in which other ‘investors’ appear to exercise control or significant influence (as in the case of Westpac noted above), the same small group of financial entities owns and controls (or has a substantial interest in) a staggering proportion of the economies of Europe, North America, Oceania, Africa and Latin America. Typically, the exceptions among large shareholders of significant companies are anonymous private ‘investment funds’ or one of the large financial entities from France, Switzerland or Germany in particular (I doubt that the large shareholdings of several autocrats from the Middle East give them any real power in the control of these companies – presumably they will be deposed and their wealth ‘repatriated’ at an opportune moment).
An analysis by James Henry for the Tax Justice Network in 2012 (“Revised estimates of Private Banking Assets Under Management and Total Client Assets – Top 50 Global Private Banks 2005-2010”) suggests that other European and UK counterparts of The Big Four of the Australian Stock Exchange, presumably exercising similar levels of control over the economies and infrastructure of other countries, include UBS, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, PNB Paribas, Pictet, Bank Leumi, Barclays, ABN Amro, Credit Agricole and Banco Santander.
Two other articles (one by Lisa Karpova in 2011, “The Large Families that rule the world”, posted at Pravda.ru and reposted at realnews24, and another posted at ‘Donde la verdad nos lleva’ in 2015 titled “Descubre a Vanguard, ¿El amo de la economía mundial en la sombra?”) provide a shortlist of some of the most well-known companies that this group of financial entities controls or has a substantial interest in, just a small sample of their holdings but sufficient to demonstrate that they exercise an extremely high level of control over the most strategic and lucrative sectors of the economy in many countries.
The lists include corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Johnson & Johnson, Amazon, Exxon Mobil, BP, Pfizer, Visa, Chevron, AT&T, Cisco, Verizon Communications, British American Tobacco, Delta Air Lines, Boston Scientific Corporation, Ford, Honeywell, Gilead Sciences, Abbott Labs, United Health Group, Monsanto, Nestlé, Coca Cola, Walt Disney, CBS Corporation, and Comcast (the owner of NBC Universal). The following chart quantifies the major shareholders of just a small sample of these conglomerates:
The total in the final column refers to the combined holdings of the main financial entities reviewed below (Vanguard, BlackRock, State Street Corporation, Capital Research & Management, Fidelity Management & Research and T. Rowe Price). As noted above, the actual total is probably considerably larger.
Moreover, there is a high degree of interlinked ownership among the corporate entities at the top of the pyramid (where one of the corporations owns a substantial number of shares in one of the others), cross-ownership (mutual ownership of shares between two corporations) and self-ownership (where a fund owned by one of the corporations holds shares in the parent company). This provides a closed loop of control, emphasizing the fact that in many cases these financial entities constitute the end of the line in terms of the ultimate corporate and financial chains of command and control (whoever the real owners and beneficiaries are).
Thus, for example, apart from owning significant portions of their own stock, Vanguard owns (at least) 5% of BlackRock shares and BlackRock owns at least 25% of Vanguard shares. They are also the two largest shareholders of T. Rowe Price, and both are among the five largest shareholders of State Street Corporation (of which T. Rowe Price is the largest shareholder). (The structures of ownership and management have been simplified for the present analysis – the diverse subsidiary investment fund vehicles of each corporation have been considered as a part of the whole.)
The Federal Reserve System – just another intermediate layer of control
According to a series of descriptive bulletins posted at the website of ‘the Fed’ (in this instance, “Current FAQs: Who owns the Federal Reserve”, accessed in 2013): “The Federal Reserve System fulfils its public mission as an independent entity within government.” It goes on to assert, “It is not ‘owned’ by anyone and is not a private, profit making institution”. Elaborating on these enigmatic statements it states:
“The 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, which were established by the Congress as the operating arms of the nation’s central banking system, are organized similarly to private corporations – possibly leading to some confusion about ‘ownership.’ For example, the Reserve Banks issue shares of stock to member banks. However, owning Reserve Bank stock is quite different from owning stock in a private company. The Reserve Banks are not operated for profit, and ownership of a certain amount of stock is, by law, a condition of membership in the System. The stock may not be sold, traded, or pledged as security for a loan; dividends are, by law, 6 percent per year…“
Another of the bulletins (“Current FAQs: What does it mean that the Federal Reserve is “independent within the government”?”) notes that: “The Fed’s income comes primarily from the interest on government securities that it has acquired through open market operations. Other sources of income are the interest on foreign currency investments held by the FRS; fees received for services provided to depositary institutions, such as check clearing, funds transfers, and automated clearinghouse operations; and interest on loans to depositary institutions. After paying its expenses, the Federal Reserve turns the rest of its earnings over to the U.S. Treasury.”
It describes the status and role of the regional Reserve Banks (“Current FAQs: Who are the members of the Federal Reserve Board, and how are they selected?”):
“The Federal Reserve Board is a federal agency that is responsible for maintaining the stability of financial markets; supervising financial and bank holding companies, state-chartered banks that are members of the Federal Reserve System, and the U.S. operations of foreign banking organizations; and supervising the operations of the Reserve Banks… Unlike the Federal Reserve Board, the Reserve Banks are not federal agencies. Each Reserve Bank is a federally chartered corporation with a board of directors. The membership of each Reserve Bank board of directors is determined by a process intended to ensure that each bank board represents the public and member banks in its district…”
The report completed by the Government Accountability Office in 2011 after the Congress authorized it “to audit certain Federal Reserve System lending activities and required us to conduct a one-time audit of emergency loans and other assistance provided by the Federal Reserve System from December 1, 2007, through July 21, 2010” commented (GAO, 2011; 12) of the membership of the Reserve Banks:
“The nation’s commercial banks can be divided into three types according to which governmental body charters them and whether or not they are members of the Federal Reserve System. Those chartered by the federal government (through the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in the Department of the Treasury) are national banks; by law, they are members of the Federal Reserve System. Banks chartered by the states are divided into those that are members of the Federal Reserve System (state member banks) and those that are not (state nonmember banks). State banks are not required to join the Federal Reserve System, but they may elect to become members if they meet the standards set by the Board of Governors. As of March 2004, of the nation’s approximately 7,700 commercial banks approximately 2,900 were members of the Federal Reserve System—approximately 2,000 national banks and 900 state banks.
Member banks must subscribe to stock in their regional Federal Reserve Bank in an amount equal to 6 percent of their capital and surplus, half of which must be paid in while the other half is subject to call by the Board of Governors. The holding of this stock, however, does not carry with it the control and financial interest conveyed to holders of common stock in for-profit organizations. It is merely a legal obligation of Federal Reserve membership, and the stock may not be sold or pledged as collateral for loans. Member banks receive a 6 percent dividend annually on their stock, as specified by law, and vote for the Class A and Class B directors of the Reserve Bank. Stock in Federal Reserve Banks is not available for purchase by individuals or entities other than member banks.”
Thus the financial holding companies and commercial banks that constitute the ‘shareholders’ of the regional Reserve Banks obtain a proportion of ‘shares’ equivalent to 6% of their capital and surplus which presumably is reflected in their relative weight as a shareholder or member of the Regional Bank. Further, they receive a 6% ‘dividend’ annually (in effect 12%, as they are only required to pay half of the value of the stock).
At the top of the list of the ‘Top 50 holding companies’ (as of 2013) that are members/ stockholders of the Federal Reserve System are JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. The consolidated assets of each are much larger than those of the next largest companies that follow on the list. Given their significant stakes in many of the largest financial holding companies and commercial banks that make up the Federal Reserve System, it is not unreasonable to presume that one way or another the owners of Vanguard, BlackRock, State Street, Capital Research & Management and Fidelity Management & Research also have a substantial role in and influence over the management of the Fed.
The final (?) layer of the pyramid of financial/ economic ownership and control
So who and what are these financial/ corporate behemoths? While the question of how they are located within the deeper power structure and the identity of those that exercise final control must remain an open one (if such information exists in the public domain I have not been able to find it, or it remains scattered amongst the proliferation of conjecture and suppositions), the following is a (very preliminary and basic) description of their publicly-stated corporate structures and ‘chains of command’. (The possibility probably should not be dismissed that some of them are not integral or even secondary parts of a deeper unified system of planetary political, financial and economic power and control, that they have simply been extremely effective at accumulating and investing tremendous amounts of money and have copied the strategies of the others. Maybe there is no covert system of control at all…)
Vanguard and BlackRock are the two largest financial entities by a considerable margin in terms of assets under management. They are also listed on the stock exchange, as are T. Rowe Price and State Street Corporation, meaning that there is generally more information available as to their official ownership, annual accounts and range of activities. Nonetheless, attempting to trace their ownership and control to individuals – actual people rather than legal and corporate constructs – remains an impossible task in almost all instances. The other entities are ‘privately held’ corporations and ‘finance and investment fund managers’, which generally reduces the requirements to publish annual accounts and other information.
The total in the final column refers to the total amount of stock directly held by the financial entities surveyed (Vanguard, etc) – as above, it is probably underestimated in most cases. According to ‘The Large Families’ article cited above, FMR, BlackRock and State Street are among the principal owners of PNC Bank.
The Vanguard Group, Inc.
The Vanguard Group, Inc. was established in 1975 by John Bogle. Its corporate headquarters is in Malvern, Pennsylvania. As of 2018 it was reported as having approximately $4.7 trillion in assets under management (its activities and services include the management of exchange-traded funds, pension and mutual funds, brokerage and financial planning services, and variable and fixed annuities). It has approximately 16,600 employees. It expanded rapidly during the 1980s and by the late 1990s was among the largest fund managers in the world. Bogle retired as Chairman in 1999 and was replaced by John Brennan. William McNabb was appointed CEO in 2008, and was replaced by Tim Buckley in 2018.
BlackRock, Inc. also provides a wide range of investment management, risk management, financial planning and related advisory services for institutional and retail clients, and has approximately $6 trillion of assets under management (it is listed in second place here as Vanguard appears to have been more active in leveraging its fund under management into shareholdings in key corporations and economic sectors, as demonstrated above). It was founded in 1988 (by Ralph Schlosstein, Susan Wagner, Robert Kapito and Laurence Fink), its corporate headquarters is located in New York and it has approximately 13,900 employees. Laurence Fink and Robert Kapito have been key personnel since its founding and retain the key positions of Chairman and CEO (Fink) and President (Kapito). Apart from the holdings listed above, according to the Spanish-version Wikipedia it has significant stakes in many of the most important companies in Spain (and thereby Latin America), including Banco Santander (approximately 6%), BBVA (5%), Banco Popular (3%), Telefónica (4%) and Repsol (3%).
State Street Corporation
State Street Corporation was founded in 1792 and its corporate headquarters is in Boston, Massachusetts. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and has approximately $2.7 trillion of assets under management administered by approximately 37,000 employees. The Chairman and CEO is Joseph Hooley (since 1986), the President is Ron O’Hanley (since 2017).
Fidelity Management & Research Co.
Fidelity Management and Research Co. (FMR LLC) has approximately $2.4 trillion of assets under management and 38,000 employees. It is on the Forbes list of ‘America’s Largest Private Companies’ (in 17th place), which describes it as follows:
“Fidelity Investments is one of the largest mutual fund companies in the U.S. Headquartered in Boston, the firm offers financial products and services to more than 20 million individuals and institutions through 5,000 financial intermediary firms. Founded by Edward Johnson II in 1946, the company is still managed by the family who own 49% of the company. Fidelity employees own the remaining 51% of the company. In 2015, the company named Abigail Johnson as CEO. She is succeeding her father, Edward Johnson, III…”
Capital Research & Management Co.
Capital Research and Management (also referred to as Capital Group Companies, Inc.) operates as a privately owned investment manager and financial services company. It provides services to individuals, investment companies, pooled investment vehicles, corporations, and other managed account programs. It was founded in 1931 by Jonathon Bell Lovelace, has approximately $1.8 trillion in assets under management and 7,000 employees, and the corporate headquarters is located in Los Angeles, California. James Lovelace, Joyce Gordon, Mark Denning and Alfonso Barroso are described as Senior Vice Presidents of its primary investment fund vehicle (Capital Research Global Investors) in an article by Bloomberg (from information compiled by S&P Global Market Intelligence).
Another article (“Capital Group: Investment manager highlight”, by Eric Whiteside) states of the unconventional management structure:
“The Capital Group does not present its people by their management titles with the company. Instead, they are presented as a seven-member management committee. Committee members have an average tenure with the company of 31 years. Five of the committee members, including Chairman Tim Armour, are listed as being active portfolio managers.”
T. Rowe Price Group, Inc.
T. Rowe Price was founded in 1937 by Thomas Rowe Price Jr and its corporate headquarters is located in Baltimore, Maryland. It has approximately $1 trillion in assets under management, the President and CEO is William Stromberg (since 2016), the ‘Non-Executive Chairman’ is Brian Rogers (since 1982) and the Vice Chairman and Vice President is Edward Bernard (since 1988).
Reclaiming the system – disclosure and accountability as a necessary first step
A recent interview by Catherine Austin Fitts (‘Globalizing Thievery’, on the Richard Doland Show, from about 35 minutes into the interview) describes how the financial holding corporations and ‘investment’ funds consolidated and rapidly multiplied their holdings (particularly from the 1990s, relying to a considerable extent on the management and leveraging of pension funds), and notes the fundamental importance of transparency and disclosure concerning the ownership and operating structures of these entities and the economy and financial sectors more generally if the current situation is to be comprehended and debated in a meaningful manner.
The widespread use of secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens is one of the immediate obstacles to this objective. In a report completed by the Government Accountability Office in 2008 (“International Taxation: Large U.S. corporations and federal contractors with subsidiaries in jurisdictions listed as tax havens or financial privacy jurisdictions”), Citigroup was identified as having the most subsidiaries in tax havens out of the companies reviewed by the GAO. Of Citigroup’s ‘significant subsidiaries’ listed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, 427 were located in tax havens (including 16 in the Bahamas, 17 in Panama, 19 in Costa Rica, 21 in Jersey, 35 in the British Virgin Islands, 40 in Hong Kong, 90 in the Cayman Islands and 91 in Luxembourg). Bank of America Corporation listed 115 (out of a total of 311), Morgan Stanley listed 273 (out of 568, including 158 in the Cayman Islands and 29 in Luxembourg), while J.P. Morgan Chase & Co ‘only’ had 50 subsidiaries located in ‘offshore’ jurisdictions.
The networks of offshore subsidiaries operated by many of their controlled corporate conglomerates are also extensive in many instances. For example, of the ‘significant’ foreign subsidiaries listed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that were domiciled in jurisdictions categorised as tax havens for the purposes of the GAO study, News Corporation listed 152 (out of a total of 782 subsidiaries, including 62 in the British Virgin Islands and 33 in the Cayman Islands), Johnson & Johnson listed 38 (out of 175), PepsiCo, Inc. listed 70 (out of 356) and Pfizer listed 80 (out of 356, including 28 in Ireland and 16 in Luxembourg.
The need for genuine transparency, accountability, regulation and analysis is pertinent both with respect to the financial entities and conglomerates themselves (including matters such as the overall corporate structures, common or harmonized country-by-country reporting and accounting definitions, practices and standards, and requiring a complete listing of all partially and wholly owned subsidiaries), as well as to the reporting on financial and economic sectors conducted by States (in particular the secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens and their main counterparty jurisdictions) consolidated at the level of international markets and institutions.
Another fundamental element is the establishment of a system that permits the development and implementation of genuine independent auditing procedures and requirements. At present this function is conducted almost entirely by the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms – PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and KPMG. For a discussion of some of the topics related to this two reports by Harari, Meinzer & Murphy (“Key Data Report: Financial Secrecy and the Big 4 Firms of Accountants”) and Tax Research UK (“Where 4 art thou? A geographic study of the Big 4 firms of accountants”) respectively are very useful.
** Note 1: Generally, the closer one gets to the centre of this network of ownership and control, the more anonymous is their structure and the identity of their owners. As the author of ‘The Large Families that rule the world’ notes: “The names of the families that control ‘the big four’ (BlackRock, Vanguard, State Street and Fidelity), never appear…”
The research of a diverse range of authors such as Kwame Nkrumah (in particular, Neo-Colonialism: The final stage of Imperialism), Carroll Quigley (for example, Tragedy and Hope), Anthony Sutton (The Anglo-American Establishment), Eustace Mullins (The World Order – A Study in the Hegemony of Parasitism), David Teacher (Le Cercle), the Institute for the Study of Globalization and Covert Politics (The Pilgrims Society – A study of the Anglo-American Establishment), Dean Henderson (Big Oil and their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families and their Global Intelligence, Narcotics and Terror Network), Kamran (Who really controls the world? Deadly Weapons, Concentration of Wealth, Corporate Media), Vitali, Glattfelder & Battiston (The Network of Global Corporate Control), Phillips & Soeiro (The Global 1%: Exposing the Transnational Ruling Class), David Icke (The Biggest Secret), Fritz Springmeier (Be Wise as Serpents’) and Lyndon LaRouche (Dope, Inc.) – to mention just a few examples – suggests that the traditional royal families and associated aristocracy in Europe remain among the most likely candidates for membership of the select group(s) of people that wield final control over some or all of the principal financial entities reviewed.
Having been born in Australia and generally not paid much attention to relations among the royalty and aristocracy of Europe and their associates, I am not in a position to evaluate the respective merits of claims as to which particular families and groups may be members of the grouping or council that constitutes the central hub of decision-making and control over the financial entities surveyed (or which other families or groups might be involved and to what extent).
Given the inevitable diversity of personalities and interests among even such a small group, it seems incredible that ultimately their principle mechanisms of control can be reduced to around half a dozen financial entities. One possible explanation is that some type of accord has been reached among the most powerful families and groupings to consolidate and coordinate the activities of each financial entity as a centralised mechanism of control to prevent internal disputes from disrupting their overall systemic control and preclude the emergence of competition, while they presumably continue to compete amongst themselves over control of the joint project and/ or in other activities.
** Note 2: Generally, the amount of publicly traded shares held has been taken from the annual reports of the companies in the case of Australian (registered) companies, and from a selection of sources (including ‘Marketscreener’, ‘Morningstar’ ‘Investopedia’ and ‘Nasdaq’) in the case of the other companies. Listings on multiple exchanges and other classes of ownership have not been included – while they would be necessary to gain a more precise description of the allocation of ownership and control, the purpose of this analysis is to identify and describe the basic structures and patterns as a basis for further research. In any case, to be meaningful such precision would also require specific information as to the motives, interests and manoeuvres of those that dominate particular processes for electing corporate directors and appointing senior executives (and from whom they presumably receive instructions before taking major decisions) in each instance.