Busted: Bankers and The Global Economy

November 23, 2008

Citigroup Saved by Federal Reserve and TARP

citigroup1In headier times a mere six months ago, Citigroup was discussing the sale of assets to raise cash flow and liquidity. With the stock market value of Citigroup plummeting, one of the larger international bank groups has now been saved this morning through the Federal Reserve. This is undoubtedly designed to build confidence in the markets this week as the economy continues to flag amid record job losses in America.

Citigroup is one of the world’s largest owners of toxic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). This pool of bonds has created one of the largest victims in the financial crisis.

The U.S. Treasury and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is providing liquidity against the possibility of unusually large losses on an asset pool of approximately $306 billion of loans and securities backed by residential and commercial real estate, which will remain on Citigroup’s balance sheet. As a fee for this arrangement, Citigroup will issue preferred shares to the U.S. Treasury and FDIC.

The U.S. Treasury has invested $20 billion in Citigroup from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in exchange for preferred stock with an 8% dividend to the U.S. Treasury. ~ E. Manning

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November 12, 2008

Discouraged U.S. Treasury Takes Other Options

illiquidity support

illiquidity support

The major determination of the initial $700 billion bailout to buy up devalued securities has been scrapped. “Illiquidity in this sector is raising the cost” coupled with continued pressures on consumer credit. “This is creating a heavy burden on the American people and reducing the number of jobs in our economy.” Obviously, Paulson’s original take on the bailout was heavily overestimated.

What U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has just admitted is that the functionality, transparency and the scope of the defective banking instruments is so poor, that buying them up won’t solve the problem or would involve a significantly larger sum of taxpayer money, showing a huge chasm in the underlying viability in the U.S. and global banking industry and perhaps the U.S. economy as well.

The bailout made only a month ago won’t deliver what was promised. Secretary Paulson pitched the bailout plan as a way to rid bank balance sheets of illiquid mortgage assets. Congress may show resistance to releasing the remaining $350 million in funds for future purposes. The real problem is that the national bailout won’t work at all. Banks are still holding the toxic debt that they created.

92308-paulson-bernanke-testifyThe United States seems to be stuck in a netherworld of economic dysfunction. Now the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve officials are exploring another facility with the idea of supporting the market for securities backed by assets. Paulson wants to use bailout money to encourage investing again. Investing in a terminally broken system is not the answer and a paramount oversight on Paulson’s part. His misjudgment is just another reason why Paulson should not be allowed to continue to tinker with the financial system. He doesn’t have the expertise required, further muddied by a failed and hopelessly bankrupt and antiquated system. This portends bad things for the U.S. economy and the world, but even worse, the U.S. Treasury is now misrepresenting previous actions without answering to any other authority under the guise of failure. Has anyone really studied the problem enough to be able to develop a core solution?

Continuing to invest in the same bankrupt insanity is poor thinking at best. Trying to convince investors to do the same thing is even worse. There is a push overseas to rebuild a new monetary architecture with a new global financial society. Will desperate American politicians pile on in an effort to redeem themselves and what is left of our failing financial system? What real options does America have?
~ E. Manning

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

October 8, 2008

Nationalizing U.S. Banks; Globalizing Banks

global bailout fever

global bailout fever

If there was ever a question about the nationalization of U.S. commercial banking, that question may be at an end. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson signaled the government may invest in banks as the next step in trying to resolve the deepening credit crisis. What does investing in banks mean?

The bailout legislation that Congress passed last week to rescue financial institutions gave Henry Paulson broad authority that he intends to use beyond buying mortgage-related assets on bank balance sheets. Paulsen intends on using the initial $700 billion for a far grander notion. He intends to boost the capital of firms with cash infusions with idea of making the nation’s financial system stronger.

The International Monetary Fund has published that banks worldwide are not raising enough capital to offset losses to the tune of a $150 billion deficit. Henry Paulson and the U.S. Federal Government have arrived on their white horse to save the day.

There has been some discussion within the ranks of international central bankers and the G-7 finance ministers of a global banking bailout using identical policies. Britain has questioned this idea. Still, the turmoil is a global phenomenon that central bankers see advantage in addressing to secure their control. Undoubtedly, this will involve an enhanced system of controls and tools to manage the global economy. The real question remains: Are banks globalizing under a single economic control structure?

In Paulson’s mind, regulators will take measures to limit the systemic risk from any single bank failure. The reality is that the systemic risk has already been introduced due to the same lack of regulation. Allowing the same watchdogs to monitor the system is a questionable move that is apparently unavoidable. ~ E. Manning

October 7, 2008

U.S. Federal Reserve Extends Economic Lifeline

Now the Fed is loaning on “commercial paper” for the first time in history and extending credit to nearly one trillion dollars. What is next to expand the economic lifeline?

global bailout crisis

global bailout crisis

Countries scrambled to slow the growing global financial crisis today. The Federal Reserve was close behind the heels of a bad day at the stock market with a few arrows in its quiver early this morning to counter the mess that has evolved from frenzied mortgage lending and trading in unregulated financial derivatives. 

The Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act of 2006 originally authorized the Federal Reserve to begin paying interest on balances held by or on behalf of depository institutions beginning October 1, 2011. The recently enacted Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 accelerated the effective date to October 1, 2008.

The economic lifeline credit for banking has been extended by the Federal Reserve and will reach nearly $1 trillion dollars by the end of the year.

“The sizes of both 28-day and 84-day Term Auction Facility (TAF) auctions will be boosted to $150 billion each, effective with the 84-day auction to be conducted Monday. These increases will eventually bring the amounts outstanding under the regular TAF program to $600 billion. In addition, the sizes of the two forward TAF auctions to be conducted in November to extend credit over year end have been increased to $150 billion each, so that $900 billion of TAF credit will potentially be outstanding over year end.”

The Federal Reserve Board on Tuesday announced the creation of the Commercial Paper Funding Facility (CPFF), a facility that will complement the Federal Reserve’s existing credit facilities to help provide liquidity to term funding markets. The U.S. Federal Reserve has focused on calming chaotic markets by creating a new commercial paper facility that buys “short-term highly rated debt,” funding corporate borrowing for the first time in history.

 

crisis worsens

crisis worsens

Today Ben Bernanke admitted that institutions including Washington Mutual and Wachovia had experienced banking runs by depositors, creating a crunch on funding. Because of the size of Wachovia and to prevent destabilization, the Federal Reserve is working to have other institutions absorb the assets of that bank without closing it down.

 

Bernanke also admitted that inflation has been elevated, reflected by the steep increases in the price of oil this year as well as other commodities, imports and higher costs of production. Until now, the Fed has been reluctant to publicly admit such a fact. However, more recently, the prices of oil and other commodities, while remaining quite volatile, have fallen from their peaks, and prices of imports show signs of decelerating. The recently falling price is due to inflation in the rest of the world lining up with the United States, although Uncle Ben didn’t specify that reality.

Uncle Ben is ever the public optimist:

“The steps being taken now to restore confidence in our institutions and markets will go far to resolving the current dislocations in the markets. I believe that the bold actions taken by the Congress, the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and other agencies, together with the natural recuperative powers of the financial markets, will lay the groundwork for financial and economic recovery.”

Meanwhile, the pillars of high finance are giving way. The International Monetary Fund increased an estimate of global losses from the financial crisis, warning that the world’s economic downturn is quickly evolving into a global depression. Iceland, Russia and Australia are high on the list of countries working at a frantic pace to protect their banking and monetary systems.

October 4, 2008

Pork Helps the U.S. Bailout Medicine

The first bailout was largely unpalatable to Congress, largely because of the reaction of taxpayers. Their rejection of the first bailout also makes lawmakers appear responsible, careful and in control. Don’t kid yourself. A healthy chunk of pork-barrel spending makes almost any Washington legislation go down much easier.

Yesterday, the Senate tacked an additional 341 pages onto the original House bill in the form of various renewable fuel and energy tax incentives, a number of additional tax provisions, and the Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity Act.

The 2008 Emergency Economic Stabilization Act contains stronger oversight protections than the three-page bill Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson offered a few days ago. That isn’t saying much though. Checks and balances are truly in question. Section 101of the bailout directs the U.S. Secretary to “prevent unjust enrichment of financial institutions…by preventing the sale of a troubled asset at a higher price than what the seller paid to purchase the asset.” Suspending accounting rules does nothing to change the value of the junk assets, allowing institutions to value their assets based on whatever scenario they like. Hmmm.

Section 104 allows for oversight by the same folks that allowed the regulatory debacle to begin with including the U.S. Treasury Secretary and the Federal Reserve. The oversight is window dressing with no direction to make the reports public or to report corruption or abuse.

The legislation in Section 107 allows the Treasury Secretary to waive “specific provisions” if he determines that “urgent and compelling circumstances make compliance with such provisions contrary to the public interest.” Nice.

What about foreclosure prevention? “…the Secretary may use loan guarantees and credit enhancements to facilitate loan modifications to prevent avoidable foreclosures.” There is very little material to govern this process. There is plenty of wiggle room for problems here and very little action for taxpayers here. Government can continue to rubber stamp the actions they are making now which is pretty much nothing at all. This is not a taxpayer or foreclosure bailout by any stretch.

The Secretary must “make available to the public, in electronic form,” a description of assets including cost. Hopefully, an average person will be able to understand the information. No such provision is made. Other oversight provisions made seem to be to good effect. At least they have been thinking. Legislators have also been thinking about copious amounts of pork. A few examples are below:

Sec. 201. Deduction for state and local sales taxes.
Sec. 201. Inclusion of cellulosic biofuel in bonus depreciation for biomass ethanol plant property.
Sec. 211. Transportation fringe benefit to bicycle commuters.
Sec. 301. Extension and modification of research credit.
Sec. 308. Increase in limit on cover over of rum excise tax to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Sec. 309. Extension of economic development credit for American Samoa.
Sec. 317. Seven-year cost recovery period for motorsports racing track facility.
Sec. 323. Enhanced charitable deductions for contributions of food inventory.
Sec. 324. Extension of enhanced charitable deduction for contributions of book inventory.
Sec. 325. Extension and modification of duty suspension on wool products; wool research fund; wool duty refunds.
Sec 502. Provisions related to film and television productions.
Sec. 503. Exemption from excise tax for certain wooden arrows designed for use by children.
Sec. 504. Income averaging for amounts received in connection with the Exxon Valdez litigation.
Sec. 601. Secure rural schools and community self-determination program.
Sec. 602. Transfer interest earned to abandoned mine reclamation fund.
~ E. Manning

September 29, 2008

A Bailout Draft Without Details

government efficiency

government efficiency

Once the new Wall Street bailout legislation was released to the public by Congress, pundits and citizens alike plowed into the house.gov website. Sunday afternoon, presumably because of high traffic, the website was not accessible for many. In the late evening only a summary file was available. The actual legislation file was not viewable, duly noted with the stately notice “the file is damaged and could not be repaired.” So much for getting any real news direct from the source or the media. Other “helpful” media links merely directed John Q. Public to the same official document with the same result. Does anyone have a copy of the draft legislation? Heaven forbid that such a thing was intentional. Perhaps Chinese hackers are to blame.

The summary of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was short on details, in which unquestionably the devil resides. The old news is that $700 billion will be designated to the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury for buy bad mortgage securities. The recent Republican contribution “allows” companies to insure troubled assets.

The legislation requires the Treasury to modify the troubled loans involved in the failed securities to allow some Americans to keep their homes. This process has been widely discussed for more than six months with little real result or prospect of streamlining the process. How will the U.S. Treasury manage such a large job and save homeowners in foreclosure from losing their homes? “Wherever possible” is the key word of the day, insuring that very little will be done by the Treasury. Instead, homeowners have hope through improving the HOPE for Homeowners program through HUD. The idea, once again, is to help more families to keep their homes. Once again, we are classicly short on details or provisional government motivation.

can of worms?

can of worms?

Part 3 highlights taxpayer protection with idea that taxpayers should not be expected to pay for Wall Street’s mistakes. This statement prevents a tea party. As a bonus for being bailed out, warrants will insure that taxpayers will benefit from future growth enjoyed as a result of participation in the program. Interestingly, the draft legislation intends that the President is responsible to submit legislation to cover losses to taxpayers resulting from the program.

Part 4 covers windfalls or golden parachutes for executives. They won’t walk away with millions in bonuses. Companies are projected to lose “certain tax benefits” and may be required to limit executive pay. Unearned bonuses must be returned. What determines “unearned” and the resulting enforcement is a huge question mark.

Finally, the federal government assures strong oversight in the draft legislation. Financial provisions indicate that the U.S. Treasury will not receive the funds at one time, starting with $250 billion, and followed up by the president as funds are needed. The Treasury is required to issue a report every sixty days. EESA establishes an Oversight Board that cannot act in an arbitrary manner and includes a special Inspector General to secure against fraud, waste and abuse.

Obviously, the legislation has good points and seems to take plenty of precautions. The reality is that the liquidity crisis is an accounting crisis bolstered by destructive decisions and pandering politics. More troubling is that trusting the government to properly handle legislation once it has passed has become a large question mark based on past performance. Trust has to be built and the nation is short on that right now. The morally-bankrupt weak-kneed Congress wants to restore that trust. Just considering that the nation must elect a Senator to be President is enough to give one pause to think. ~ E. Manning

Read First Amendment of rejected Congressional Bailout 

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