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Posts Tagged ‘Crisis

Blanche Lincoln Stands Up Against OTC Derivatives

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(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.

Written by pavanvan

April 16, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Germany Flip-Flops on Greek Bailout

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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?

Detroit City Employee: “I Borrow Money to Buy Food.”

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It’s true.

“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.

Written by pavanvan

March 18, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Posted in Economy

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Britain Helped Lehman Bros. Hide Billions

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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.

Written by pavanvan

March 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Europe’s New Debt Solution – Its Own Credit Agency

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Spiegel reports that the EU is unhappy with the standard American credit rating agency, Moody’s, and seeks to create its own. Moody’s is notorious for over-rating US debt, and under-rating nearly everyone else’s, so the frustration is understandable. During the Crisis, Moody’s engaged in outright fraud by pricing worthless derivatives as “Triple-A” paper, along with a raft of other deceptions.

A particular danger now is that Moody’s will downgrade Greece’s debt rating, prohibiting them from borrowing from the EU central bank. If this happens, the Euro is pretty much toast. Their solution is to just create their own rating agency, which seems like a good idea. Relying on Moody’s to gauge the health of an investment is like asking a homeless guy how much he thinks your diamond ring is worth.

But its worth taking a look at the motivations behind Europe’s push for its own rating agency. According to Spiegel, the EU’s major beef with Moody’s is not its widespread fraud and malfeasance during the crisis, but merely the possiblility that it might “downgrade” Greece, along with the “veto power” it exerts over European banks – and indeed, whole countries:

Under existing rules, the ECB can only accept euro-zone sovereign bonds as collateral when lending money if at least one of the three main rating agencies gives the country issuing the securities an A- rating or better. Moody’s is now the only main rating agency that still gives Greece an A2 rating; Standard & Poor’s and Fitch have already lowered their grades to the BBB level.

Although an exception to the rule is in place as a result of the financial crisis — the current minimum rating is just BBB- — that rule will expire at the end of 2010. If Moody’s were to downgrade Greece, as it threatened to do last week, the country would be cut off from ECB loans as of Jan. 1, 2011, triggering a liquidity crisis for the country. This means that Moody’s effectively has a veto over Greece’s access to Europe’s key financing facility.

So what they want is not a stable, accountable rating agency – just one that will consistently give their countries AAA ratings. In effect, they want a “European Moody’s” – a ratings agency that will ignore all tangible market signs and spit out the ratings the big bosses command, just as Moody’s did in America.

I fail to see how this will be an improvement.

Written by pavanvan

March 7, 2010 at 10:01 am

JP Morgan Says California A “Bigger Risk” Than Greece

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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.

Written by pavanvan

March 1, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Are US Taxpayers Bailing Out Greece?

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(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.

Written by pavanvan

February 21, 2010 at 11:40 am

Greek Street

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The Times has a pretty good rundown on Wall Street’s complicity in Greece’s current budget woes. The European Union has rather strict rules on the size of the deficit its member countries are allowed to have; but Greece, it turns out, has been under-reporting its deficit for nearly a decade. I wonder where they learned to cook their books?

The bankers, led by Goldman’s president, Gary D. Cohn, held out a financing instrument that would have pushed debt from Greece’s health care system far into the future, much as when strapped homeowners take out second mortgages to pay off their credit cards.

It had worked before. In 2001, just after Greece was admitted to Europe’s monetary union, Goldman helped the government quietly borrow billions, people familiar with the transaction said. That deal, hidden from public view because it was treated as a currency trade rather than a loan, helped Athens to meet Europe’s deficit rules while continuing to spend beyond its means.

Oh.

We’re going to hear a lot in the coming weeks about Greece’s irresponsibility and how Wall Street callously enabled them like a heroin dealer that profits from a junkie’s weakness. And while these accusations are no doubt true, they miss the real point of the Greek debt story, which has to do with the paradox on which the European Union is founded. In fact, a crisis like this was bound to happen. Greece’s and Wall Street’s malfeasance are inexcusable, and certainly no one should try to absolve them from blame on this, but we have to ask ourselves: how long did Europe expect this partnership to last?

At the heart of the EU’s troubles lie the fundamental disparities between its member economies. Germany, as we all know, is an economic powerhouse, and produces the lion’s share of the EU’s GDP. France does well for itself, as do Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and a host of other countries. But the countries that aren’t doing so well: Greece, yes, but also Italy, Portugal, Ireland, and Spain are all  in a difficult and ultimately insoluble position.

Their economic fortunes entwined with that of the rest of Europe, they find themselves under enormous pressure to report spectacular economic growth. If unable to do so, their troubles extend to the other member countries, and, most importantly, cast aspersions upon the value of their shared currency – the Euro. So the incentive to fudge the numbers is tremendous.

The paradox of “Eurozone” (zone of countries that use the Euro) directly stems from this. Put simply, no country can leave the Eurozone after it joins, and at the same time, every Eurozone member has to post annual growth without fail. The Greek situation is a perfect illustration of this, but the point is that it could have happened (in fact, probably will happen) to several EU countries. Greece just happened to be the scapegoat because it had the biggest debt.

This handy chart from Der Spiegel should nicely demonstrate this point.

Even Germany and France, the so-called “EU powerhouses”, are technically breaking their own debt rules. But why doesn’t Greece just divest itself from the Euro, say it was too hasty in joining, and maybe re-apply for admission in a few years once it gets its economy under control? Well, it could do this  – and likely would, if France and Germany had their say – but such a move would precipitate a run on Greece’s banks, sink its economy, and leave it a European pariah for at least a generation. Think about it: if you had a bank account in a Greek bank in Euros, and the Greek Premier announces one day that your account will be transformed into Greek Drachmas on such-and-such a date, what would you do? Obviously you would liquidate your holdings and invest in some more stable Eurozone country. Germany, perhaps?

But at the same time, Greece’s economic situation is causing near-panic among investors and ravaging the Euro. The Euro’s value has dropped more than 9% in just two months. And therein lies the paradox. By staying in the Eurozone, Greece threatens the whole enterprise. By leaving, it dooms itself to economic collapse.

A recent interview with the EU Central Bank chief economist Jurgen Stark displays the confusion now embroiling the EU. It’s clear that no one knows what to do about this. For the time being, I suppose, Germany or France will have to pony up the cash to bail Greece out, but this does nothing but delay the central problem described above.

Written by pavanvan

February 14, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

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Bloomberg gets the scoop on how Obama’s flimsy “Bank Tax” will affect Goldman Sachs:

Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama’s call last week to curb bank risk-taking and crack down on “obscene” Wall Street bonuses may help boost those very payouts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Goldman Sachs, like many banks, is awarding more of its bonuses in stock to tie them more closely to performance. The firm priced those shares at $154.12, the closing level on Jan. 22, a person familiar with the matter said, after a two-day, 8.1 percent slide prompted by Obama’s plan.

……………….

“The unintended consequences of some of this craziness coming out of Washington are breathtaking,” said Michael Holland, who oversees more than $4 billion as chairman of Holland & Co. in New York. “In the process of trying to score political points, they have taken the target, in this case the so-called fat-cat bankers, and provided them with a reward.”

I wonder if we’ll ever realize that you can’t punish people who make the rules. In this case, Goldman Sachs regularly gets their first choice appointed to the Treasury Secretaryship, and as Rep. Dick Durbin had the courage to remark, so far as Congress goes, the banks “frankly own the place” .

Under these circumstances, finding a way to curb executive compensation or even castigate the banks for getting us into this stupid crisis isn’t just difficult. It’s well-neigh impossible. It would be like getting Obama to reduce his executive powers, or trying to convince Stalin to step down nicely after two terms.

Written by pavanvan

January 26, 2010 at 10:22 am

Financial Quote of the Day

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Hat Tip to The Big Picture:

“Isn’t it funny when you walk into a investment firm, and you see all of the financial advisors watching CNBC — that gives me the same feeling of confidence I would have if I walked into the Mayo-clinic or Sloan Kettering and all the medical doctors were watching General Hospital…”

-Senior portfolio manager, UBS

Written by pavanvan

January 23, 2010 at 11:43 am

Posted in Economy

Tagged with , , , , ,

Diet Glass-Stegall

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The Economist has a pretty good rundown of Mr. Obama’s proposed financial “regulations”. You can tell they really want to be in favor of this, but even The Economist realizes that short of breaking up the big banks once and for all, any “regulation” is bound to fall short.

This is one of my favorite lines in the article:

Though not a full return to Glass-Steagall, the law that separated commercial banking and investment banking in the wake of the Great Depression (and was repealed in 1999), [the plan] is at least a return to its “spirit”, as one official put it.

Ha! Its spirit! Well, that oughta teach those bad ol’ banks a lesson.

But at least The Economist is honest enough to call a spade a spade:

Moreover, the plan is unlikely to help much in solving the too-big-to-fail problem. Even shorn of prop-trading, the biggest firms will still be huge (though also less prone to the conflicts of interest that come with the ability to trade against clients). As for the new limits on non-deposit funding, officials admit that these are designed to prevent further growth rather than to force firms to shrink.

They may, in any case, be pointed at the wrong target. Curbing the use of deposits in “casino” banking is an understandable impulse, but some of the worst blow-ups of the crisis involved firms that were not deposit-takers, such as American International Group and Lehman Brothers. And much of the losses stemmed not from trading but from straightforward bad lending (think of Washington Mutual, Wachovia and HBOS).

So how is Wall Street reacting? The Journal and The Times each emphasize the stock-market response (with colorful verbs such as “plunges” and “sinks”), but Kevin Drum over at Mother Jones got an e-mail which I think illustrates Wall Street’s mood a bit better:

Nobody I’ve talked to on Wall Street seems to think the proposed reforms (although details remain vague) are anything more than PR, aimed in the wrong direction, don’t do anything to make risk-taking more expensive, and are mere structural reforms that will be annoying to get around, but will be gotten around.

We’ll see what comes out in the next few days. Maybe there’s more to it than telling a bank you can’t invest in PE funds. We can hope anyway.

But if the intent was to “go after the banks” and get the HuffPo crowd revved up, it seems to be working. Hey, maybe we can throw in Geithner or Bernanke’s scalp and “hope” will re-spring eternal.

Yeah, that seems closer to the mark.

Written by pavanvan

January 23, 2010 at 11:13 am

Finally, a US Bonus Tax

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This is good news, even if it does fall short of anything one could describe as “punitive” toward the banks. The plan, I guess, is that Mr. Obama collects $90 billion over the next decade (that’s $9 billion per year) from the 50 banks he deems were “most responsible” for the late crisis.

At one point, Mr. Obama channels Michael Moore:

“We want our money back and we’re going to get it,” Obama said. “If these companies are in good enough shape to afford massive bonuses, they are surely in good enough shape to pay back every cent they received from taxpayer.

Right. And while this $90 billion (over ten years) may go some distance in repaying the $2,000,000,000,000 we printed as a result of this imbroglio, I seriously doubt it’ll cover the tab. Mr. Obama seems to follow the strictest definition of “borrowed” imaginable – he only counts the TARP program (you remember, the first $700,000,000,000 back in November ’08), and not the trillions we’ve simply distributed as behind-the-scenes gifts.

The Washington Post sums it up in a quote:

The new big-bank tax is just like charging a nickel sin tax on a half-gallon of cheap liquor — it may make moralists feel good, but it doesn’t do much to stop bad behavior,” said Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics, which tracks regulatory issues for financial industry clients.

Exactly. I would hasten to compare this half-assed bonus tax to the one recently levied in Britain and France (50% of all bonuses, whether or not your bank received a bailout). These taxes have a punitive element to them that the US counterpart completely lacks. What, are we supposed to feel good because our government finally worked up the nerve to ask for some of the money back? The towering levels of fraud and malfeasance perpetrated by our financial sector deserves, I think, a little more than a light admonishment and the extraction of a promise of repayment.

As always, any talk of “financial regulation” and “congressional oversight” (let alone “repayment”) mean absolutely nothing without mentioning the Glass-Stegall Act. You know, that rule they made after the Great Depression that said “commercial” and “investment” banks must be separate entities? The one whose repeal in 1999 allowed our banks to assume epic risk, gamble away people’s 401(k)s, and eventually bring the whole system down? Yeah, that one. If we don’t correct the shoddy legislation that allowed this crisis to happen in the first place, we’re just setting ourselves up for another one however many years down the road.

Written by pavanvan

January 15, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Geithner: Whose side is he on?

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Bloomberg has a fantastic front-page report on Treasury Secretary Geithner’s latest abuses. I mentioned previously that Geithner was instrumental in AIG receiving 100 cents on the dollar in their bailout. Essentially, the Federal Reserve agreed to print the full value of AIG’s misbegotten “derivatives” and hand it to them, no questions asked. AIG initially indicated it was willing to “get a haircut” (that is, receive 95 or even 90 cents for every dollar they lost gambling), but quickly backpedaled when it became clear the Fed was going to bail them out 100%.

Now Bloomberg reports that in addition to giving AIG an essentially blank cheque, Geithner instructed AIG to deceive the public on who their “counter-parties” were, on who would benefit from the AIG bailout. Much as the Banking Trusts of the 1920s, our mega-conglomerates today are heavily invested in one another – a bailout to one goes to pay back its creditors elsewhere in the banking system. This proved invaluable in convincing the public to bail AIG out. As Machiavelli wrote, if one must rule by robbery, it is best to conduct a big crime all at once, rather than small ones continuously. By giving a massive ($200 billion +) bailout to AIG, the government could thereby distribute their gift to other banks (the “counter-parties”) without the attention of the public, whose ire would be focused solely on AIG.

Later it turned out that Goldman Sachs, the firm which regularly gets to choose the Treasury Secretary (Geither was their first choice, and his predecessor, Hank Paulson, worked at Goldman for 35 years), was one of the AIG counterparties.

One of the most salient passages in Hugh Son’s excellent article, way up high in the 3rd paragraph:

The New York Fed took over negotiations between AIG and the banks in November 2008 as losses on the swaps, which were contracts tied to subprime home loans, threatened to swamp the insurer weeks after its taxpayer-funded rescue. The regulator decided that Goldman Sachs and more than a dozen banks would be fully repaid for $62.1 billion of the swaps, prompting lawmakers to call the AIG rescue a “backdoor bailout” of financial firms.

“It appears that the New York Fed deliberately pressured AIG to restrict and delay the disclosure of important information,” said Issa, a California Republican. Taxpayers “deserve full and complete disclosure under our nation’s securities laws, not the withholding of politically inconvenient information.”

So it seems obvious that Geithner did not want the public to know the extent of Goldman Sach’s involvement with this bogus “derivative” scheme, likely so as not to tarnish Goldman’s image of having never received a bailout.

But whatever the reason, this latest report adds to the already exhaustive list of opacity, malfeasance, and outright cronyism that has plagued this crisis.  We cannot approach any semblance of fair economic policy (let alone fantasies of a “free market”), if one corporation regularly gets to appoint Treasury officials and make policy.

Written by pavanvan

January 9, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Dow Overvalued

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Zero Hedge gives us yet more evidence that the Dow is overvalued: industry insiders are selling stock 82 times faster than they’re buying it.

In the most recent data set, $11.6 million in stock was purchased by insiders, while a whopping $957 million was sold. And somehow pundits are still spinning this mass orchestrated sell into the bid by those in the know as a bull market.

For significant holders of stock, now might be the time to unload.

Written by pavanvan

December 9, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Too big

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I know I’m somewhat late to this party, but I wanted to point out to all who are still unaware that the ‘too big to fail’ banks which caused our late crisis are even bigger.

JP Morgan, AIG, Citigroup, Goldman, and Bank of America were the winners of Geithner-Paulson’s free money giveaway (with Lehman a bad loser), and together they have swallowed the hundreds of small and medium banks that have failed since. They now present an even bigger and more systemic risk, should they choose to gamble away their money once again.

Despite repeated calls from almost every respected economist (notably Joseph Stiglitz) that these banks are a menace, Lords Geithner and Bernanke have done nothing to restrict their size – indeed, they have made them impossibly more dangerous and lucrative.

Furthermore, none of the incentives which led to such reckless gambling (ludicrous bonus packages, easy credit, low intrest, short-term rewards) have been addressed, and instead have been reinforced.

The next bailout will have to be 700 trillion instead of a mere 700 billion.

Written by pavanvan

November 30, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Some Fine Tuning

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If you have been following the recent media saliva-thon regarding The Obama’s recent trip to China, you may be under the impression that the trip was an utter failure, an abject round of grovelling and slavering, and an unmistakable sign of both Obama’s incompetence and America’s irrevocable decline.  That is the predominant message the US mainstream apparently wishes to get across, with its endless narrative of Obama as a “profligate spender coming to pay respects to his banker”.

Once we in the US agree upon a story, we tend to believe it in the face of contravening evidence (WMDs anyone?).  How else to explain our ignoring of this article in China’s (state-run) China Daily? If one takes its message at face value, this article indicates a major victory for the Obama Administration.

From the article:

The vice-foreign minister said the RMB rate’s flexibility may widen, echoing the nation’s central bank a month ago.

The announcement by Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun comes after the People’s Bank of China, which has the power to oversee the yuan and financial institutions, said it was in the process of reforming the exchange rate system.

China is also starting to receive more international pressure to let its currency appreciate. The nation adopted the policy of loosely pegging the RMB to the US dollar since the financial recession began.

“China will increase the flexibility of the RMB exchange rate at a controllable level in the future,” Zhang said, “based on the market demand and with reference to a basket of currencies.”

China Daily is essentially the equivalent of Pravda in the Soviet Union – a state-run publication whose role is to inform the public and businessmen on official government policy (aside from the ‘state-run’ part, not at all dissimilar to our US media). Of course, their articles are written in byzantine journal-ese and one won’t find the slightest breath of dissent within its pages, but over the years it has grown useful in deciphering what the Chinese leadership wishes to say publicly.

Thus the surprise. For more than two years now, China has steadfastly refused to allow its currency to appreciate, an act which nearly every other country considers cheating (or “aggressive monetary policy”). By keeping its currency pegged to the dollar at favorable rates, China puts its export market on steroids. The US has made its position on this practice abundantly clear; our Treasury Secretary castigated China for it literally on his first day, and our leading Nobel Laureates write accusatory op-eds in our state-run newspapers demanding that “something be done”.

Now, a few lines in a China Daily hardly pass for a substantive policy announcement, but one is led to think that Obama and his Chinese doppelganger had a nice little chat while he was over there, and they made some kind of agreement regarding China’s “currency manipulation”.

If China allows its currency to appreciate, they will have acceded to Obama’s central (though unstated) goal in visiting Asia. They will also have begun to do their part in reducing our monstrous and unsustainable trade deficit. However it is also clear that any currency re-valuation on the part of China will spell hardship for America’s “middle class” (that is, the bottom 95%). We depend on cheap products from China to a wholly unhealthy extent, in much the same manner as a heroin user. When inexpensive Chinese currency is no longer an option, import prices are bound to inflate. Of course, this matters little to our policymakers at the top; their interest is in preventing the further hemorrhaging of value from the dollar, thus securing their overseas investments.

So! Good news, I guess?

Written by pavanvan

November 27, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Failed Bank Fridays!

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I missed the last three failed bank Fridays, so here are all seventeen that failed in the past three weeks in a row. As always, from the FDIC:

Pacific Coast National Bank San Clemente CA 57914 November 13, 2009 November 18, 2009
Orion Bank Naples FL 22427 November 13, 2009 November 17, 2009
Century Bank, F.S.B. Sarasota FL 32267 November 13, 2009 November 18, 2009
United Commercial Bank San Francisco CA 32469 November 6, 2009 November 9, 2009
Gateway Bank of St. Louis St. Louis MO 19450 November 6, 2009 November 9, 2009
Prosperan Bank Oakdale MN 35074 November 6, 2009 November 9, 2009
Home Federal Savings Bank Detroit MI 30329 November 6, 2009 November 9, 2009
United Security Bank Sparta GA 22286 November 6, 2009 November 9, 2009
North Houston Bank Houston TX 18776 October 30, 2009 November 3, 2009
Madisonville State Bank Madisonville TX 33782 October 30, 2009 November 3, 2009
Citizens National Bank Teague TX 25222 October 30, 2009 November 3, 2009
Park National Bank Chicago IL 11677 October 30, 2009 November 3, 2009
Pacific National Bank San Francisco CA 30006 October 30, 2009 November 3, 2009
California National Bank Los Angeles CA 34659 October 30, 2009 November 3, 2009
San Diego National Bank San Diego CA 23594 October 30, 2009 November 3, 2009
Community Bank of Lemont Lemont IL 35291 October 30, 2009 November 3, 2009
Bank USA, N.A. Phoenix AZ 32218 October 30, 2009

Written by pavanvan

November 21, 2009 at 4:16 am

Geithner and AIG, Sitting in a Tree

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The Times reports on a recently released audit which concludes, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Timothy Geithner (now Treasury Secretary, then President of the New York Fed) voluntarily gave up vast negotiating powers when choosing to shower AIG with billions upon billions of dollars.

The article is written in standard Times-ese, which is to say that it seeks to relate truly scandalous information in such a way as to cause as little uproar as possible, but although it must be translated into standard English, some truly damning testimony emerges:

Just two days before the New York Fed paid A.I.G.’s partners 100 cents on the dollar to tear up their contracts with the insurance giant, one bank volunteered to take a modest haircut — but it never got the chance.

UBS, of Switzerland, alone offered to give a break to the New York Fed in the negotiations last November over how to keep A.I.G. from toppling and taking other banks down with it. It would have accepted 98 cents on the dollar.

The Fed “refused to use its considerable leverage,” Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, wrote in a report to be officially released on Tuesday, examining the much-criticized decision to make A.I.G.’s trading partners whole when people and businesses were taking painful losses in the financial markets.

So this means: The New York Fed decided to print 100% of the value of AIG’s investors’ bad loans in order to get them to divest from AIG, and (hopefully) save the money-laundering giant. Realize, now, that the Fed was under no obligation whatsoever to guarantee these loans with taxpayer dollars, and certainly not guarantee them at full value. Given that these CDS loans were later revealed to be totally fraudulent, this decision makes even less sense.

If I convinced you to give me real dollars for Monopoly Money, and then you complained to the government that the Monopoly Money you received was actually worthless, would you expect them to just print 100% of the value and give it to you, no questions asked? Or would you expect them to give you nothing and tell you, in effect, to be smarter next time?

What’s truly astounding about this episode is that some of the banks offered to take less than 100% of the value of their worthless investments, but Geithner refused! He said to them, essentially, that “oh well, it doesn’t matter – it’s taxpayer dollars anyway! Go ahead, take the full value!”

This is the man who is now our Treasury Secretary.

This Week in Failed Banks

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Show me the money!


Bank Name

City

State

CERT #

Closing Date

Updated Date

Flagship National Bank Bradenton FL 35044 October 23, 2009 October 23, 2009
Hillcrest Bank Florida Naples FL 58336 October 23, 2009 October 23, 2009
American United Bank Lawrenceville GA 57794 October 23, 2009 October 23, 2009
Partners Bank Naples FL 57959 October 23, 2009 October 23, 2009

Written by pavanvan

October 24, 2009 at 1:12 am

This Week in Failed Banks

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Three this week, including one from my home state. Who says the recession is over?

Via the FDIC:


Bank Name

City

State

CERT #

Closing Date

Updated Date

Southern Colorado National Bank Pueblo CO 57263 October 2, 2009 October 2, 2009
Jennings State Bank Spring Grove MN 11416 October 2, 2009 October 2, 2009
Warren Bank Warren MI 34824 October 2, 2009 October 2, 2009

Written by pavanvan

October 4, 2009 at 1:51 am

Goldman and The Government: Strange Bedfellows

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The Huffington Post gives us a nice preview of an insider report in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, detailing the secret meetings between Goldman Sachs and the US Treasury at the height of last year’s stock market crash.

Here is a nice little Q&A with the author, Andy Sorkin, to get you warmed up. Look out for this article.

Written by pavanvan

September 30, 2009 at 10:23 pm

More on the FDIC

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As I mentioned in an earlier post the FDIC has seen its reserves dwindle under the weight of this year’s bank failures. Well, the day of reckoning has come, according to The New York Times, who reports that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will fall into deficit this week.

The speed with which the FDIC has eaten through its $50 Billion slush fund should alarm, but after three successive Trillion-dollar bailouts, mere billions fail to awe. Rank-and-file depositors probably have no reason to worry, however – the missing cash will most likely be “borrowed” (at no interest) from the Treasury or from our bailout-bloated mega-banks, in a maneuver only one step removed from simply printing more cash.

Our federal balance sheet has already loosed from any anchor to reality it may have once had, so, the argument goes, what’s a few billion more? But take this as an indication that the glut of bank failures, far from slowing amid last year’s bailouts, has continued at a steady clip.

Written by pavanvan

September 29, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Posted in Economy

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This Week in Failed Banks

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From the FDIC:


Bank Name

City

State

CERT #

Closing Date

Updated Date

Irwin Union Bank, F.S.B. Louisville KY 57068 September 18, 2009 September 18, 2009
Irwin Union Bank and Trust Company Columbus IN 10100 September 18, 2009 September 18, 2009

Written by pavanvan

September 18, 2009 at 9:31 pm

This Week in Failed Banks

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From the FDIC, this week’s bank failures:

Bank Name

City

State

CERT #

Closing Date

Updated Date

Venture Bank Lacey WA 22868 September 11, 2009 September 11, 2009
Brickwell Community Bank Woodbury MN 57736 September 11, 2009 September 11, 2009
Corus Bank, N.A. Chicago IL 13693 September 11, 2009 September 11, 2009

Written by pavanvan

September 12, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Some sense from The New Republic

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The New Republic has often drawn my ire for its steadfast support of the status quo, its corporatism, its hostility to the consumer, and, at times, its open agitation for war. I therefore take all the more pleasure in directing you to this informative piece on the Federal Reserve and its bungling of our current crisis. One would hardly expect such clear analysis from a publication whose role is to manufacture consent for the Fed’s policies, and one hopes such criticism portends a more vigorous phase in the magazine’s long and illustrious career.

After a short outline of the Fed’s birth and original purpose, TNR focuses on the organization’s role in the various booms and busts of the past 30 years. Startlingly, TNR asserts the Fed’s centrality to the boom-bust cycle, overturning the conventional wisdom that our central bank is merely an observer, able to lend a push in one direction or a pull in another, but largely helpless to shape the overall landscape. In their words:

The decisions he made during the recent crisis weren’t necessarily the wrong decisions; indeed, they were, in many respects, the decisions he had to make. But these decisions, however necessary in the moment, are almost guaranteed to hurt our economy in the long run–which, in turn, means that more necessary but harmful measures will be needed in the future. It is a debilitating, vicious cycle. And at the center of this cycle is the Fed.

Strong words; and a few even stronger:

Enabled by the Fed, our system’s tolerance for risk is out of control. This is an increasingly dangerous system. It is only a matter of time until it collapses again.

The New Republic attributes this risk to the age-old complaint: bankers and CEOs are simply not punished for poor performance – on the contrary, they are rewarded with dollar amounts we mere mortals can hardly fathom. For evidence they cite Citigroup’s $100 million CEO pay packages to Robert Rubin and Chuck Prince – some of the main architects of our current boondoggle.

When discussing solutions, unfortunately, TNR once again displays its establishment colors. The recommendations it puts forth are mostly watered down, and appear limp when compared to the magnitude of the problems they address.

“Reasonable personal liability” for failing CEOs sounds nice, but will inevitably translate to a small slap on the wrist. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a large difference between a $200 million annual paycheck and a $100 million paycheck. What seems like “reasonable liability” to most CEOs still leaves them unconscionably rich. We must truly divorce ourselves from the idea that as a financial leader you can bankrupt thousands of people and still walk away rich as a Midas. If this means the CEO goes bankrupt with his shareholders – well, so be it. Nobody said banking was a safe business.

Likewise with their reccomendations regarding conflicts of interest. The New Republic advises a “cooling off” period for public servants who enter a regulatory position after making their fortune in the private sector (for example Hank Paulson, who retained his Goldman Sachs holdings while serving as Treasury Secretary).

This is not enough. If our crisis has taught us anything (something which remains to be seen), it is that financial ties run deep, and are often not erased by time. It is ludicrous to appoint to a regulatory position anyone who has ever had anything to do with the financial industry. Such conflicts of interest are inherent – “cooling off period” or no.

A weak finish to an otherwise outstanding article.

Written by pavanvan

September 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm