Posts Tagged ‘Crisis’
(Via Felix Salmon)
I’ve written negatively about Senator Blanche Lincoln in the past for her vote in favor of the Iraq War, her frightening views on indefinite detention and torture, her support of warrentless surveillance, and a host of other sins, but I think she deserves major credit for introducing a bill earlier this week that would ban over the counter derivatives:
“Speculators will not be exempted and all trades will be reported to regulators and the public,” Mrs. Lincoln wrote. In addition, any agency that is used for the trading of swaps contracts, including those dealing with energy commodities, will be required to register with the C.F.T.C.
This is exactly the kind of transparency and oversight that could have prevented the crisis, or at least made it softer. I want to stress that the layers upon layers of new regulation that Timothy Geithner intends to add (and which I discussed in the post immediately before this one), will not do anything for public transparency.
Blanche, you’ve voted for some pretty bad things in the past, but this is a bill I can get behind.
Well, I certainly didn’t expect this. It looks as though Germany is going to rely on the IMF to bail Greece out should the dreaded moment arrive (hint: it will). This does not bode well for the European Union, and indeed, until now, many thought the only way to preserve the integrity of the Euro would be to treat this Greek crisis as an in-house affair. Resorting to IMF loans would do very little to assure investors that the EU is good for its members’ debt, as this basically signals to the rest of the world that Germany (virtually the only healthy economy left in the EU) is either unwilling or unable to shoulder the entire partnership’s burden.
Remember: France, Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, and Belgium are all facing debt crises of their own, many just as deep, though not as visible, as that of Greece. Germany’s indication that it will not help Greece is effectively a pre-emptive warning to the rest of these countries that when their own respective economies collapse, not to come banging on Germany’s door. Bloomberg reports today that Greece’s Prime Minister has set a deadline for Germany to bail it out, before it goes to the IMF for help. Germany has already indicated that it’s going to let the IMF solve Greece’s problem, effectively rendering that threat moot.
This is big news for several reasons. With Germany, the last healthy EU economy, refusing to bail Greece out, we may be seeing the end of the European Union as a cohesive economic entity. The Euro has been taking a beating ever since fears of a Greek default arose (it’s down more than 10% since this crisis began), and it’s sure to drop further on today’s news. It is unlikely that Greece will default or be forced out of the economic partnership, but if the IMF gets its fingers into Greece, it will only be a matter of time before the rest of the EU comes to the IMF, arms outstretched. Greece will not be the last European country to undergo a debt crisis, as I hope I have shown.
If Greece accepts IMF help, it will be forced into far worse “austerity measures” than anything Germany would have imposed. “Austerity” is generally a euphemism for cutting off social services and indiscriminately firing middle class workers while the rich make off like bandits. Already these measures have caused massive riots and general strikes in Greece, and these are sure to continue if the IMF gets its way.
As always, one can draw a straight line between economic collapse and Wall Street. Many sources have already reported on how Wall Street helped Greece hide its debt for years, and, in fact, encouraged them to take on more debt via “securitized” trades.
But that isn’t all. Wall Street’s “innovative financial instruments” – its Collateralized Debt Obligations and other over-the-counter derivatives – proliferated throughout the European economy, and are at the heart of the myriad debt crises. They made billions selling Europe these worthless junk bonds, and now they’re slowly walking away, whistling, as though they had nothing to do with it. Greece should be demanding massive reparations for the unprecedented fraud of which they, and the rest of the EU, were the victims.
It’s difficult to see where this will end. The IMF bails out Greece instead of Germany – but then what? Portugal, Italy, Spain… then France? What if Britain needs a bailout? Does the IMF have such resources? Are they just going to print the money? Does anyone know what they’re doing?
“I borrow money right now to buy food,” says Jackita Muhammad, a teller in the city’s finance department. “I try to buy beans and other staples so I don’t have to ask family for money, but the truth is that if the mayor cuts my pay, I will have to declare bankruptcy.”
Muhammad, a single mother of three, has been employed with the city since the year 2000. Ironically, during the day she handles thousands of dollars in checks and money that people come to her window with and pay for taxes and other costs.
Her plight, though precarious, is not unusual for people working full time in Detroit. AFSCME workers make less than $30,000 a year on average and represent less than 40 percent of the city’s payroll budget. The mayor’s pay cut will make many of them qualified for welfare benefits even though they work full time.
“It’s simply not fair,” says Muhammad.
The Independent has a good rundown of some recently released documents pertaining to the Lehman Bros. debacle in September ’08:
The failed investment bank [Lehman Bros.] approached a London law firm over plans to use a controversial accounting trick – known internally as “Repo 105” – to temporarily conceal the liabilities.
The bank used the Repo 105 tactic in the run-up to the end of its three-month financial reporting periods to help cushion the blow of huge losses in the first half of 2008 and suggest its financial health was far more robust than it was.
Linklaters – which drafted a document which stated that the technique was legal under UK law – was only approached after Lehman was unable to find an American law firm to say that the Repo 105 transactions could be carried out in the US.
The bank had become so addicted to using the technique that when executive Bart McDade, who went on to become Lehman’s chief operating officer, was asked if he was aware of the device the report cited he wrote in an April 2008 e-mail: “I am very aware … it is another drug we r [sic] on.”
I don’t know how many of these scandals have to emerge before we realize that financial institutions (and, likely, corporations in general) are not scrupulous organizations, and they are willing to dispense with any ethical norm a) so long a they’re allowed to, and b) so long as it’s profitable.
It’s astounding that we haven’t done a single thing to prevent our banks’ future malfeasance. Their size hasn’t been restricted (indeed, they’ve grown since the crisis), OTC derivatives are still legal, most of the same executives are in place – its a ticking time bomb.
The London Telegraph has the scoop:
Mr Dimon told investors at the Wall Street bank’s annual meeting that “there could be contagion” if a state the size of California, the biggest of the United States, had problems making debt repayments. “Greece itself would not be an issue for this company, nor would any other country,” said Mr Dimon. “We don’t really foresee the European Union coming apart.” The senior banker said that JP Morgan Chase and other US rivals are largely immune from the European debt crisis, as the risks have largely been hedged.
California however poses more of a risk, given the state’s $20bn (£13.1bn) budget deficit, which Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is desperately trying to reduce.
(c/o The Daily Digest)
Ron Paul makes sense (on this, at least):
Is it possible that our Federal Reserve has had some hand in bailing out Greece? The fact is, we don’t know, and current laws exempt agreements between the Fed and foreign central banks from disclosure or audit.
Greece is only the latest in a series of countries that have faced this type of crisis in recent memory. Not too long ago the same types of fears were mounting about Dubai, and before that, Iceland. Several other countries (Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Latvia) are approaching crisis levels with public debt as well. Many have strong ties to Goldman Sachs and the case could easily be made that default could have serious implications for big US banking cartels. Considering the ties between the Fed and these big banks, it is not outlandish to wonder if the US taxpayer is secretly bailing out the entire world, country by country, even as our real unemployment tops 20 percent. Unless laws are changed to allow a complete and meaningful audit of the Federal Reserve, including its agreements with foreign central banks, we might never know if this is occurring or not.
The point is, we don’t know. In fact, we know very little about what the Federal Reserve does with the trillions and trillions of dollars in cash that it’s empowered to print and distribute as it sees fit. I remember a couple months ago people were seriously discussing whether or not to audit the Fed. This never happened, and after a couple weeks people just stopped paying attention and turned their gaze to the next shiny object on the horizon.
Without a meaningful audit of the Federal Reserve, we will never know where our money goes. The Fed, as we all know, as been bestowed massive new powers as a result of this crisis (which they helped cause), and this makes an audit all the more important. I guess I would suggest you phone your congressperson about this, but we all know how much good that’ll do.