Busted: Bankers and The Global Economy

May 12, 2009

Wall Street Giddy with High Times to Come

economic crisisWe live in exciting times. The stock market is up 100 points… or who knows what goodness corporate investors are blessed with today. Wall Street mavens and financial wizards are feeling giddy with delight. They want good times so badly that they are already deluding themselves that the recession is over and that runaway prosperity is in the wings. It’s time to start making money all over again the way “we” used to. After all, nothing has changed beyond massive cast infusions to hold up the system. Multitudes of banks, corporate mongers, financial wizards and wishful investors are convinced that we are about to relive heady good times without an ounce of reform or correction in the system that jack built. They may be right.

bear stearns collapseThe longer reform takes, the less likely reform is to happen, at least if financial and corporate simple simons have their way. It’s time to stop pretending that the Wall Street economy is the same as the real economy that everyone lives in. Wall Street hasn’t met with total and final meltdown because the Wall Street economy has been rescued. They have lived to see another day because of government bailout, presumably at taxpayer expense. Yep, Wall Street seems to be showing signs of life along with the giddiness that goes along with having a future without any reform or consequences. A real party is set to ensue at the expense of all. The real economy that the rest of America lives is another matter altogether.

What is truly important where the economy is concerned is whether real Americans can find work. If Americans can’t find work or create work that they use to survive, the country is in trouble, pure and simple. 539,000 Americans lost their jobs last month after many months of ongoing successive unemployment disaster. Since the recession officially began in December 2007, 5.7 million jobs have been given the write off by government employment statistics. The reality is actually even worse.

Still, there has been plenty of impressive talk about the new world of reform that America will enjoy, but little has been done beyond the talk. Regulatory reform is dying on the government vine of important projects.

Geithner has quipped, “We are being dramatically more aggressive than I believe any serious government has ever been, certainly in generations, in responding to financial crises. So if you look at the scale of action, look at the quality of initiative we’ve taken, I think it dramatically exceeds even the best-managed crises we’ve seen before.” Ple-e-ze. The system continues just as before, but without any reform or any real ideas for reform that hold any substance. The Masters of the Economy can’t seem to wrap their minds around the banking deluge that has brought us to our knees, much less figure out a way to reform it. They just don’t want to rock the boat of monetary largess. Geithner told Congress that fixing the system would be accomplished not by “modest repairs”, but by “new rules of the game.” I agree that what is playing out between government, corporate bankers and central bankers is a game. That much is obvious.

People are watching. Are you? ~ E. Manning

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October 14, 2008

Is Inflation King Yet?

superpower confidence

superpower confidence

The media and the perception of confidence took a temporary nosedive after a banner day at the global superpower. There is so much going on, who can really know what is really driving the situation except perhaps confusion? The bottom line is that investors will continue to fret about the stock market and take profits while they can, even in a volatile market. That is human.

As part of the new building blocks in the national economy, the U.S. Treasury finally confirmed plans to use the initial $250 billion to invest in large banks and former investment banks with conditions. All but one bank took the federal government up on the offer. President Bush has requested another $100 billion for bailout aid as well as a move for the Federal Reserve to start buying up short-term debt from companies. Meanwhile, Henry Paulson has hired Mellon Bank of New York to assist the U.S. Treasury in buying failed mortgage securities or troubled assets.

As usual, the Federal Reserve’s main preoccupation is to manipulate public perception of interest rates and the classical perception of low inflation. Ben Bernanke is keenly interested in keeping national confidience in the hope of somehow strengthening the dollar and curbing the tide of what is proving to be nasty inflation in a time of wage stagnation. The Fed simultaneously manages interest rates while working to keep the economy from dropping into a recession. Uncle Ben has his work cut out for him, especially since we are probably already in a recession by his own definition. If he knows that, he isn’t saying. No surprise there. Besides, inflation is now a back door issue.

Uncle Ben has been busy on the dollar and liquidity front as well. Unknown trillions of dollars have been forced into the U.S. banking system in an effort to get banks moving again. Uncle Ben has been working with the help of central bankers around the globe to make this happen. So far, the efforts haven’t worked. One of the conditions on U.S. bailout funds for banks is that the money is used for loans instead of bank protection, which may begin to change the banking equation soon. Whether that condition works remains to be seen.

All this money flowing would appear to generate some positive and decisive activity. A nationally-recognized recession seems evident as Corporate America and Corporate Multinationals are starting to reap financial declines, further jeopardizing any chance at economic expansion and further withering job prospects. Huge injections of cash are generating one large problem that will come home with a vengeance given some time: a rather stiff inflation rate. The U.S. will soon wish for today’s inflation. But, we live in the real world, so we consider the price of food and fuel without faking the facts. Other issues like a high jobless rate coupled with that inflation will be still worse. Could stagflation be around the corner or are we already there? That depends on who you ask. ~ E. Manning

September 13, 2008

Investment Bankers Fear Panic and Unrest

Paulson's Grand Staircase?

Paulson at the Grand Staircase?

With the shakeout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers almost seems an afterthought these days. The firm is clearly looking for salvation, but Big Government doesn’t seem so eager for a Bear Stearns type bailout. The problem is that the panic on Wall Street doesn’t affect only the plight of Lehman Brothers, but has the ability to touch the entire scope of Wall Street resulting in economic ripples and collateral damage throughout the U.S. economy.

Are the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve in such fear that no solution is evident or is the weakness of banking institutions creating a problem in an effort to support failing Lehman Brothers? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discern that the nation is in the midst of another economic crossroads. However, the national and investor confidence doesn’t ring true with the “optimism” suggested by the press last Monday with Fannie and Freddie in the stock market.

In the past, the god of confidence has been the mainstay of U.S. economic policy. Confidence can only be harmed by allowing failing Wall Street to collapse. Yet, if decline and collapse what were to happen, that is exactly what should happen. The federal government has put themselves in the business of shoring business up instead of allowing for the consequences of business risk or business failures as a result of banking abuse. The reluctance of U.S. authorities to shore up the perception of a crumbling system indicates other more severe economic issues at hand behind the scenes. Wall Street stress is just the tip of the iceberg.
~ E. Manning

September 12, 2008

Lehman: The Prophecy of Failure

Lehman Brothers paints themselves as an innovator in global finance as they serve the financial needs of corporations, governments and municipalities, institutional clients, and high net worth individuals worldwide. They “maintain leadership positions in equity and fixed income sales, trading and research, investment banking and investment management.

In advance of the collapse of investment banker Bear Stearns in March of this year, rumors have been circulating continually about the demise of Lehman. Those have hardly quelled since then. As a result, the value of the stock holdings has steadily evaporated and the value of the investment bank plummeted.

Employees are now worried and expecting pink slips. The New York Times is pointing out that the Lehman decline is much like Bear Stearns. However, while the failure and decline is similar, the circumstances that brought those about is very much different.

The demise of Bear Stearns was brought about by bungling, bad financial moves within the banking system and an ensuing panic. The collapse was quick and decisive. The decline of Lehman has been created by the prophecy of pessimism, the fear of weakness which has been mostly unrelenting. This undercurrent of perceived weakness has evolved over time despite the efforts to prop up the firm.

The Times reports an employee as saying, “Everyone is walking around like they have just been Tasered. Everyone was always hoping we would pull through. Now, that is not really an option.” The undercurrent involving a lack of confidence has been pernicious, even on the inside.

The media has talked up the demise and is now talking up the sale of the company. “The cold prospect of losing a life savings in Lehman stock has become more of a reality, many employees have grown resentful.” While that is true, the idea of investing is usually based on a sound investment. It is sad that employees have chosen to sink with the ship instead of divesting themselves if that were possible. What is more sad is that a wealthy corporation like Lehman hasn’t bothered to secure even a small portion of interest in their employees. That is, in fact, the dilemma that threatens the very fabric of American society. It’s all about “me.” This eighties born attitude rises to the top of the corporate ladder. The backlash has been and will be substantial except for the corporate leaders.

It is true that business is not about charity. However, this writer is not discussing charity. The problem is that life in America has become so self-centered that the prospect of tomorrow is rarely if ever addressed. There is lack of planning and little care for tomorrow or for anyone else on any level. That attitude is as prevalent at the top of business as it is at the bottom. The nation has thoroughly corrupted itself and the corporate environment that it originally built. There is not even the illusion of responsibility. Live for today for tomorrow is its own.

Sooner or later, that attitude along with the prophecy of failure comes home to roost. ~ E. Manning

September 9, 2008

Investor Confidence: History of Short Rallies

Since the current mortgage crisis has been officially publicly documented around July of 2007, investor profitaking has barraged the stock market under the pretense of confidence after each bailout. Each time the bailout grows larger. The market scores big gains followed by a drop “as reality takes hold.” The media circus and investors appeared to rejoice upon the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but the joy has proved to be short-lived.

bailout fever

bailout fever

The federal government seems to enjoy playing the same game, now using Sundays as a day of economic rescue and salvation. Traders are in agony as they mourn the loss of another fall downward in the markets. Why can’t we just get the problems over with so we can get back to making money like we used to? That is the essence of Wall Street’s attitude about the economy, an attitude of frustration. These self-centered expressions are expected in a market that has no moral compass beyond profit.

investor dunce award

investor dunce award

Self-absorbed traders and profiteers shouldn’t need to ask. The bailout of Fannie and Freddie, like the bailout of Bear Stearns has prevented a complete meltdown of the economy, certainly saving the plight of every investor from the jaws of bankruptcy today. Considering the short-term mentality of investors, the bailout is good when you consider that investors can come to play another day.

~ E. Manning

September 8, 2008

Billions Lost: Bailing Out U.S. Mortgages

The Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bailout has effectively destroyed the paper value of all investments in those institutions, effectively cleaning the slate in a modified sort of bankruptcy for the mortgage twins as the federal government steps in. Billions of dollars have been lost by the banking community that was invested through common and preferred stock. The mouthpiece and supporter of the federal government, the Federal Reserve, points out hopefully that only some smaller banking institutions have stock holdings that threaten their existence.

With that in mind, the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Office of Thrift Supervision are prepared to work with these institutions to develop capital-restoration plans to keep the system operating. The Federal Reserve will buy the stock holdings at fair market value before the bail out. The banks holding the stock must report holdings as available for sale and deducted from bank capital to complete the bailout.

In the minds of politicians and bankers, due diligence has been done. However, confidence will likely be shaken on many levels and a stock market effect is likely to be seen in a big way tomorrow as the economy adjusts to the new emotional and fiscal reality. How to restore confidence?

To make the boo-boo all better the Federal Reserve and Ben Bernanke has stepped up to the financial altar to make the following statement:

“I strongly endorse both the decision by FHFA Director Lockhart to place Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship and the actions taken by Treasury Secretary Paulson to ensure the financial soundness of those two companies. These necessary steps will help to strengthen the U.S. housing market and promote stability in our financial markets. I also welcome the introduction of the Treasury’s new purchase facility for mortgage-backed securities, which will provide critical support for mortgage markets in this period of unusual credit-market uncertainty.”

The appearance is that the “Treasury’s new purchase facility” will be through the Federal Reserve. Whether that is the ultimate truth or not, the Federal Reserve will finance it because the United States doesn’t have the cash or credit for the bailout. The federal government is bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as the bankers that have invested. The taxpayer is securing all the debt for the bailout which has been predicted to run up as high as $65 billion. That is likely a conservative figure to bail out the entire mortgage and banking system. Authorities claim that the U.S. taxpayer will profit from the move. The word profit can be used in a number of ways. Doubtless, the American taxpayer will profit in regards to the current status quo. The public will be much more comfortable with the lastest plans versus total collapse of the economy because of a failed banking system. The future success of the nation depends on the future success of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Too bad they didn’t see fit to rename the companies with a clean sweep, but perhaps that move was considered as too bold. 

The interesting truth is that a temporary effect of the bailout is likely to be instability rather than stability based on the old demon of fear and lack of confidence. Later today we will discover the pulse of the nation. ~ E. Manning

July 24, 2008

Europe Uneasy about Market Collapse

Europe has been suffering from a loss of confidence while forecasting downright dismal news on the banking and economic front. Investors are buggy about the European stock market folding up as they watch the region’s pension funds and insurers uneasily. Stock indexes all over the world have fallen more than 20 percent from recent peaks, creating a bunker mentality.

The prospect of forced selling by European insurers prompted the last stock market collapse in 2003. Pension fund fears loom large, both in Europe and the U.S. However, Europe fears that the plight of EU pension funds could worsen the situation by (more…)

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