Busted: Bankers and The Global Economy

August 14, 2008

American Households Face Financial Headwinds

Americans survived the attack of Hurricane Katrina and much of the nation felt the effects for years. What Americans are going now is not a hurricane or strong storm winds, but headwinds of a financial nature brought about by a number of converging factors. If you pick up the paper or look at the internet, you can hardly avoid the headlines and the details of economic carnage.

financing prosperity
financing prosperity

Aside from the banking and mortgage crisis, automakers are on top of the economic worry list, facing a continual onslaught of sliding auto sales as Americans can no longer afford to finance overpriced vehicles. Instead, many Americans out of necessity are keeping what they already drive. That is life in America today in the current economic cycle of life.

Gasoline prices have brought about hardship and fueled inflationary pressures for the nation and the world. Complaining sources indicate that retail sales have fallen again after downward pressure from lack of taxpayer stimulus payments. All of that bad news is presented with the auto industry, which is pulling down retail sales figures. Indications were that stimulus payments received by Americans did what they were designed to do, but never enough for the longing imaginations of business. Were it not for autos, retail sales would be up .4 percent, comparable to the month before. The nation has seen gains in retail since February for small ticket items, a bright spot despite the bleak outlook. The majority of Americans are buying smaller purchases for disposable items. Devalued money only goes so far and consumers are stretching it to the max.

retailer desperation
retailer desperation

Retailers are once again grousing about less than perfect sales as back-to-school shopping hits the retail scales. This reality reflects the desperate nature of retailers. Business inventories are overstocked, even despite negative forecasts, business chose to invest in stock for sales in the hope for a better holiday. They choose to talk about the cautious consumer, further enforcing a negative business mindset by downplaying the prosperity they have. The reality is that business is counting on the Holiday Season to somehow pull them through into a pinnacle of victory that rarely comes. They talk the same games every year. Talking business down even when business is up is not the way to foster prosperity.

Enough with the auto industry and consumer financing schemes! Americans don’t need all that now. This writer has made certain that he is on a spending vacation. Many others are in the same reality, whether out of necessity or self-imposed discipline. Americans need to regroup and explore the economic world they live in for any advantage that they can find to keep them moving forward. The nation is catching its collective breath after a financial burnout. The nation cannot continue to finance away the future for the moment nor continue to give money away. Money is our blood, sweat and tears: the building blocks of life. Bankers and Americans alike must face the facts. We are at a new place in the business cycle and in life.

If we stop grousing about how bad things are when they are not Mr. Retailer, we can actually enjoy what we have. Prosperity is relative. Unfortunately, Retail America has outrageous expectations and government statisticians are ever hopeful of a tax windfall, yet eternally unsatisfied that they can’t fleece their victims more effectively to bolster government agendas with more give-away programs.

big ticket greed

big ticket greed

Hope springs eternal in government to squirm away from the worst slump in housing in many decades and a severe credit crunch from pushing the country into a deep recession, ignoring the fact that we didn’t get here as a nation simply as part of an economic cycle or downturn. Bankers and financiers brought us here, fare and square to this place in the road and aside from a few unscrupulous home buyers, Americans are victims from lack of banking regulation and integrity, endless profiteering through investment vehicles combined with government inattention, always hoping for better on the gravy train of tomorrow. The nation has been firmly addicted to credit and keeping up with the Joneses. This part of the cycle is payment for that.

It time for a new chapter in America including rethinking what we do for a better future, inflation aside. Todays sales figures will ultimately take care of themselves as the nation rebalances from a huge economic and worldwide debacle perpetrated through boundless greed and financed through predatory lending across the board by winners like GMC, Capital One and Countrywide. Financial predators have abounded.

What the nation does will either slow down the cycle of recovery or get it over with faster. The decision is up to America, partly grounded in our own attitudes. As a retired financial analyst and economist, I know the difference between economic theory and reality. I’ve lived it in the trenches. This writer is for getting the economic pain over with instead of prolonging the pain through more addictive medication. ~ E. Manning

August 8, 2008

Bankers Seek to Buy Out Uncle Sam on Fraud

Regulators have been investigating Wall Street firms for their role in the sales and marketing of auction-rate investments.

Wall Street agreed to buy back more than $17 billion in securities that they fraudulently sold to retail customers paving the way for other banks and brokerage firms to do the same.

Merrill Lynch jumped ahead of regulator investigatory scrutiny, announcing that they will buy back about $10 billion in auction-rate investments that it sold to retail investors.

Citigroup reached a settled with state and federal regulators, agreeing to buy back about $7.3 billion of auction-rate securities that it sold to retail customers. As recompense for misconduct, Citigroup will pay a $100 million fine for its misconduct. The securities are essentially worthless, even though the buyers were told that the securities were safe and easy to cash in.

Even Bank of America is under attack with subpoenas related to securities sales. Taking on responsibility of bank instruments in bank bailouts has likely posed an additional headache.

At this time, institutional investors are still out in the cold, but both firms claim to be working on a resolution on problems with institutional investors in the hopes of avoiding more heat and gaining brownie points from the federal government. A rush of settlements are expected in the next few months as Wall Street aims to absolve itself.

Regulators are starting to pile on in a sort of informational and investigational bankers bloodletting. The Securities and Exchange Commission has elected to stay out the recent penalties as they expect to weigh in on their own investigation. From all appearance, Wall Street’s troubles have only just begun. Bankers know their guilt. Can they distract the investigations to avoid the embarassment as the propensity of their fraud is exposed to the nation? Seeking to buy out authorities may be seen as an easy way out as the financial onslaught on Wall Street and for banking in general continues.

June 5, 2008

U.S. Banking Pressures Continue Unabated

Uncertainties in today’s economic environment continue to pose significant challenges for the banking industry, households and bank regulators. Banks continue to experience increased pressure on earnings resulting from a deterioration in credit quality noted first in higher-risk nontraditional mortgage loans and now evident in other sectors. Construction and development loans have continued to deteriorate in quality and threaten to destabilize lending.

Many American citizens know that economic life is tough. The FDIC recognizes that economic weakness combined with rising food and energy costs have increased risks to banking because of the suffering consumer/home buyer. The FDIC anticipates a rise in the number of problem institutions over the next few quarters, but so far the number of under-capitalized institutions remains well below levels seen during previous economic downturns.

This news is not entirely surprising considering that the Federal Reserve put a new floor into the banking system with banking auctions (TAF) and with the rescue of Wall Street. The actions of Federal Reserve have allowed the beleaguered U.S. banking system to tread water, but little more so far. As a result, bank failures have been very limited.

Because of difficulties arising from problems in the housing sector, financial markets and the overall economy, the FDIC fears that the insurance fund could suffer losses that are significantly high than projections. Bankers have cleverly learned to mask many of their debts with an increasingly complex system. For example, brokered deposits are a recent complexity in recent bank failures that have cost the FDIC dearly in the effort to maintain consumer confidence.

The FDIC has re-evaluated the banking system in the last year in order to restructure risk and the cost of required insurance to banks. Problem banks are many and the FDIC is zealously protecting the banking community from public knowledge and individual scrutiny.

Interestingly, the FDIC has admitted to developing projections of expected failures and is hiring new staff to coordinate with those projections. Like other government agencies, they expect to hire private contractors and the perils that third-party hiring brings to the mix. In the face of significant risks from economic conditions, the fallout from recent unsustainable mortgage lending practices and disruptions in the credit/capital markets, the FDIC insists that most banks are well capitalized.

On a similar note, the Federal Reserve Board announced approval of Bank of America Corporation to acquire Countrywide Financial Corporation and some non-banking subsidiaries. The Federal Reserve has admitted that it is still learning about the increased complexity in financial products and markets.

Reflecting deterioration in the mortgage industry, nonperforming assets more than doubled over the past year from $37 billion to $81 billion. This number is notoriously small considering the huge wealth within the industry and yet threatens to destabilize the country by the admission of many experts. The shows the severity of the bad management and gambles for profitability of the last 8 years or so.

The Federal Reserve admits that they and bankers have failed dismally at determining actual risk. They claim that lessons have been learned, but have failed to gain a complete understanding of what the actual breakdowns are and how to deal successfully with the result.

With all the finger-pointing, could outright graft and fraud be so outrageous that it looks like ignorance? Could this scenario be the real answer for U.S. bankers, Wall Street and their institutions? As Bugs Bunny often said, “Eh-h, could be doc.”

May 19, 2008

Mortgage Vultures and Congress

In a recent hearing on mortgage servicing, Senators probed Countrywide Mortgage on exactly how mortgage servicers make their profits. Servicers earn revenue through a fee that is a percentage of the mortgage, float income from interest on temporarily-held funds, and through retained fees like late charges and other fees paid by borrowers.

Senator Charles Schumer described the addition of these fees as “piling on”. Mr. Schumer is convinced that a “vulture mentality” is developing among mortgage servicers as defaults rise. Senator Schumer called Steve Bailey of Countrywide to task for attempting to deny that mortgage servicers profit everyday from delinquent homeowners, even when borrowers and loan holders might benefit if the family retained its home, rather than struggle to pay an avalanche of default costs. (more…)

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