Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 24 2009: Tragedy only resides in reality


Russell Lee Board Meeting October 1938
Negro store near Jeanerette, Louisiana


Ilargi: Well, couldn't someone have warned me? In my head, it was carved in stone that January 28 '08 was our first day doing The Automatic Earth. Turns out, it was the 22nd. We missed our own anniversary. That will have to be rectified tonight, and with a vengeance.

To me, though, it feels like it's been way longer than just a year. That may have something to do with the fact that we were already doing the Oil Drum before TAE started, but somehow I think it’s primarily to do with the increasing intensity and the long hours that go into this work. There's a huge difference between what I thought would happen back in the day and what there is now. As Stoneleigh recently said, we must be a remarkable source of information for posterity. Our readership has grown enormously in the past 12 months. And that is a compliment for all you readers in my view. I realize full well that what I post here every day is not the easiest dinner to metabolize. And that that hurts our reader numbers enormously. People just happen to like bite-sized offerings, but that's not good for them. Having to chew is a good thing.

And I have often thought about other ways to present the material, but I get whistled back all the time. I don’t want this to be a site like so many others, that feed you a pre-fab opinion; I think I already provide more than enough of my views every day. In the end, it's about you, about your mind forming a picture of what you see going on around you. Since the main media, well paid reporters who have access to all the sources and all the people, incessantly fail to do what should be considered their jobs, you can't get the kind of information from them that would be sufficient.

We need to, every single day, dig through tons of garbage to find the morsels that count. It's a shame and a pity, but it's also very obviously the reality we live in. And there is no doubt in my mind that it's the main reason why what were once the best and best sold newspapers and TV news shows are being hit so badly in the present crisis. People may be suffering, but they would still be willing to pay for information that clues them in to what is really happening. The internet has many spots for ideas, opinions and ways to work that are independent, that don't have the political agenda's that kill off the multi-million established news organizations.

Sure, Rupert Murdoch still makes money, but it comes at the expense of both the readers and the journalists. The lowest common denominator works great, just look at politics, media, TV shows and the Billboard top 100, but there is a high price being paid for that. The best -as in most honest and open- musicians, reporters, thinkers and representatives are thrown overboard. And the world winds up with not even mediocrity, but something even way below that. It’s not the medium common denominator we're talking about, after all, it's the bottom feeders that rule our world. Still, when the bottom feeders are consistently wrong in what they say about matters that affect people directly, and the credit crunch certainly fits that bill, there will necessarily be a move away from them.

In the case of TAE, or more broadly financial blogs, people will always first tend to go to those sites that are run by investors and economists. Most of them will be satisfied with that, since reading them will unleash a sufficient amount of feel-good chemicals in their brains. And as you can see daily in what we post, economists, and anyone else with a degree in whatever field, can still be wrong in what they say a hundred times in a row, and still be asked for a 101'st opinion. Insight, people feel, comes from cramming thousands of pages of material written by other people into your head. The excuse for not getting it right even if you have that degree can be found in the media all the time: it could not be foreseen, and nobody foresaw it.

At TAE, we all know that that is nonsense. For a year now, and in the years before that, my dear friend Stoneleigh and yours truly have been living proof that much if not most of what has happened, and much of what is about to, could and can indeed be foreseen. Because thousands of people every day have come to understand that, we now have all you great people with us every day. And that is as much a tremendously proud feeling as it is a grand responsibility.

As for the next year: we haven't seen anything yet. The bankruptcies and lay-offs have yet to start. Our governments will continue to make the exact wrong decisions, because their focus is on the rear-view mirror, on going back to where we were, on the return of the perpetual growth economy. It will never come back. That record is not just skipping, it's been broken into a million little pieces, and there's no reserve copy. Nor is there a trillion dollar needle that will make us ever hear the song again.

The media we have, and the political systems, will not recognize this until it's far too late, until they will be wiped away and thrust way off the stage. We cannot prevent that phase from playing out first before we get to look at what we have left, and that is very tragic, and it will be the end for millions of us. It’s a part of the drama that has to be played out. We won't stop trying to restore what we once had until what we actually DO have hits us over our heads with a vengeance.

Yes, that is tragic. And it is because it is true. Tragedy only resides in reality. Dreams can be scary, but they're never tragic.

It's time for me to start that anniversary party with that foretold vengeance. Thanks for being here, and thanks for your past and future donations that make this joint possible. We have a journey ahead of us that will be harder than we can imagine today for many among us. At least, you don't have to do it on your own. That is our pledge, mine and Stoneleigh's. Look around you, get closer to the people around you, seek out those who need help now or will need it in the future. The nuclear family is no more, and neither is their abode, the McMansion. People need people.






Downturn Accelerates As It Circles The Globe
The world economy is deteriorating more quickly than leading economists predicted only weeks ago, with Britain yesterday becoming the latest nation to surprise analysts with the depth of its economic pain. Britain posted its worst quarterly contraction since 1980 on the heels of sharper than expected slowdowns reported from Germany to China to South Korea. The grim data, analysts said, underscores how the burst of the biggest credit bubble in history is seeping into the real economies around the world, silencing construction cranes, bankrupting businesses and throwing millions of people out of work.

"In just the past few days, we've had a big downward revision, we're seeing that an even bigger deceleration is on the way than we thought," said Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The depth of the troubles, analysts say, indicates that nations may need to spend more than the billions of dollars already planned on stimulus packages to jump-start their economies, and that a global recovery could take longer, perhaps pushing into 2010. Analysts are particularly concerned about the slowdown in China and the recession in Europe. There is mounting concern about the stability of the euro and the British pound, which dropped to a 24-year low against the dollar yesterday.

Analysts are fretting about the possibility of a debt default in a euro-zone country that could send fresh shock waves through global financial markets. The problems in Europe now appear to be as bad if not worse than those in the United States. In the last quarter of 2008, the British economy shrank at an annualized rate of 6 percent. That is worse than economists expected, but also showed the British recession may be even harsher than the one in the United States, where analysts predict data expected next week will show the U.S. economy to have contracted between 5 and 5.5 percent in the last quarter of 2008.

The meltdown is altering high streets in Britain, where retail icon Woolworths shuttered the last of its 807 branches this month after 99 years in business. Marks & Spencer, sometimes described as the bellwether of Britain's retail sector, said this month that it would close 27 stores and cut more than 1,000 jobs. The average price of a house has plummeted to mid-2004 levels, according to Halifax, Britain's biggest mortgage lender. Car sales are at a 12-year low. The number of people out of work has climbed to nearly 2 million, a level not seen since 1997 when the Labor Party came to power.

In fact, the only sector to show growth in Britain was agriculture, which accounts for about 1 percent of the overall economy. "The question now is not how bad will 2009 be, but will we recover in 2010 and if we recover, will it only be anemic?" said Andrew Scott, professor of economics at the London Business School, adding that the housing bubble is bigger, consumer debt is higher and the speed of the slowdown faster than in previous recessions. Partial data released in recent days by Germany, Europe's single biggest economy, indicates its economy saw a major contraction in the last months of 2008, posting a 6 percent annualized drop, according to Howard Archer, chief Britain and European economist for IHS Global Insight in London.

That could get worse as problems mount in the European financial system. In recent days, major banks in Europe -- including the Royal Bank of Scotland -- reported surprisingly massive losses. European authorities are seen by some critics as falling behind the Americans in dealing with distress in the their financial sectors. Standard & Poor's has downgraded Greek and Spanish bonds and warned that others, including Ireland's, may be next. The sense that some European countries are now more risky has driven up the borrowing costs for even large nations in the region, including Italy. That has made it harder for those countries to raise the vast sums needed to launch major stimulus packages aimed at economic recoveries.

Also troubling are signs that China, once a rare light in the global economy, may not prove to be the pillar of strength in Asia that many analysts had hoped. Beijing announced this week that its economy grew by 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 -- slower than the 7 percent analysts expected -- bringing total growth for 2008 to a seven-year low. Chinese data, however, are somewhat opaque, and analysts warned the slowdown there may be sharper than Beijing is willing to admit.

That is diminishing hopes for China as Asia's economic white knight, with its growth potentially propping up economies in the region. And as China grows at a far slower rate, it is importing fewer goods from neighbors, giving export-dependent nations in the region no way to pick up the slack from plummeting demand in the United States and Europe. Particularly hard hit is South Korea, which saw trade with China soar in recent years. But as China slows, and the United States, Europe and Japan sink into deep recessions, unsold goods are piling up at South Korea docks. This week, the government said the economy in the fourth quarter staged its sharpest drop since the Asian economic crisis swept across the country in 1998.




The U.S. Mega Bad Bank
Despite a full year of being in detox, the U.S. banking system is still lurching around in a hospital gown. What is working, and what is not, and how will the incoming Administration deal with one of the worst economic crises to hit the world’s largest superpower since the Great Depression? The markets need to clear, and clear out now, the bad assets acting like an anvil on bank balance sheets across the country, in order to stop this financial crisis–if we continue to prolong it with ad hoc government bailouts, we will soon look like our Pacific neighbor, Japan. 

Forced mergers, forced shotgun weddings, forced liquidations, all must be on the table. Because all of the central bank’s liquidity and all of the Treasury’s bank capital injections can’t cure a bad bank asset. "If Treasury gives a bank capital and the value of troubled assets keeps falling, it’s like throwing money down a hole–eventually the bank is going to need another capital injection," says Michelle Girard, top economist at RBS Securities. Bank executives wasted all of last year defending the status quo. From Bear Stearns’ Alan Schwartz to Washington Mutual’s Kerry Killinger to Lehman Bros.’ Richard Fuld to Merrill Lynch’s John Thain, all covered up with a multitude of spins the severe troubles on their books, leaving it to the press and to analysts to do that painspotting for the government. All of them are now gone from their companies.

And the government’s plans have careened so badly from pillar to post, you have to put a GPS system on the thought processes down in Washington, D.C. to keep track of what is going on. Because following the government’s constant changes to its bailout plan is like trying to follow a mosquito in a tornado. The latest idea: Now there is talk of a massive, US mega-bad bank, an outsized trash compactor, a gigantic dumpster much like the one Sweden launched in the early ‘90s to take on its country’s bad bank assets–which means we could be taxed like Sweden to pay for this entity. A US Mega-Bad Bank that could get, say, $100 billion in TARP money, where it would then, ironically, lever that $100 billion up to $600 billion, with debt backed with FDIC guarantees, to start buying and taking off bank balance sheets $2.4 trillion worth of rotting loans and securities issued for pie-in-the-sky projects like empty strip malls, condos and townhouses on swamplands.

Borrowings to cure borrowings in a government-distorted housing system steered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both built on borrowings backed by the US taxpayer. Motion sickness? Me too. Meanwhile, the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scandal is tying up the FBI’s efforts to catch the throng of scamsters engaging in white collar street crime, mortgage frauds, as well as other Ponzi scams and crooked hedge funds. Because, sure enough, the SEC, it being an agency not populated with market cops but market crossing guards, doesn’t flush out frauds as they occur, neither do auditors–recessions do.

Where Are We Now? Despite the fact that the US government is now providing insurance on $428 billion in bad assets from Bear Stearns, AIG, Citigroup, and Bank of America, despite the Federal Reserve morphing into the world’s largest junk investor as it has taken on $75 billion in bad assets from Bear and AIG, with more coming from Citigroup and Bank of America, despite the Fed nearly tripling its balance sheet, the economy still faces an estimated $2.4 trillion in bad bank assets, now ticking time bombs. The top four banks hold $1.4 trillion in bad assets, out of a total of $2.4 trillion of potential rotten eggs for the entire bank sector. Because of these stinkers, some $2 trillion in market value in the S&P financial sector has been lost since May of 2007, with Citigroup losing 10 times as much, analysts’ estimates show. Each of the market values of Kraft Foods, UPS, Home Depot and PepsiCo surpass the market capitalizations of Citigroup and Bank of America-combined.

The Worst Two of All? In the last week of trading, Bank of America has lost more in market cap than the $24 billion it spent buying Merrill Lynch itself. The $45 billion BofA got in government capital injections is now nearly twice its $25 billion market cap. The government has had to invest twice in both Citigroup and Bank of America, as the two represent 40% of the assets in the sector, and are the two most levered up banks, from a tangible common equity perspective, says Goldman Sachs. Citigroup, the world’s biggest financial supermarket, has hung its fire sale shingle on about a third of its balance sheet, $600 billion, selling anything not screwed to the walls. With a gun to its head, Citi sold Smith Barney, the only one of its main units to post a profit in the third quarter. BofA is tenuously capitalized, says Friedman Billings Ramsey, going into 2009 with just $61.7 billion of pro forma tangible common equity supporting a colossal $2.4 trillion of tangible assets. What’s next?

Back to the Future So it’s back to the future time, a revival of TARP 1.0, a United States Mega Bad Bank, is now under serious debate in Washington, to take on this Kryptonite. That would be a return to the initial incarnation of TARP, which would have held a Dutch auction for these assets. The breakup of Citigroup could be a harbinger of what is to come. As Fox Business first reported starting in November, Citigroup has split into Citicorp and Citi Holdings, with Citicorp a return to its roots as a deposit taking bank, and Citi Holdings housing its bad assets. With this move, Citi may be positioning itself to unload a huge slug of the $895 billion in bad assets at Citi Holdings onto the US Mega Bad Bank.  

Who Will Oversee the US Mega Bad Bank? Be mindful that the TARP program will be overseen by incoming Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, also the incoming boss of the IRS, who didn’t pay about $34,000 in self-employment taxes, who only paid his 2001 and 2002 self-employment taxes in November 2008 when he was tapped as nominee, and who wrongfully deducted as dependent care costs on his personal tax returns summer camp fees for his children. Geithner is a former New York Federal Reserve official who oversaw the Bear Stearns bailout, the government’s Emily Litella moment, who is criticized for not doing enough in the interim to stop another primary dealer, Lehman Bros., from collapsing, who lives by his own tax rules as he makes up the bank bailout rules as he goes along. An official who, with incoming Obama economic advisor Larry Summers–a self-made man who worships his own creator–will now oversee the rescue of the world’s biggest banking system.

Market Impact of the Mega Bad Bank Would a mega trash compactor trigger a bank stampede, would banks then dump assets en masse onto the US taxpayer, and would doing so in turn potentially create fresh new values for this landfill, or marks, and thus more writedowns? Would the US government then be forced to suspend mark-to-market accounting, a flawed bookkeeping methodology which even Enron used to inflate its profits, a methodology which has created colossal bank writedowns as it has forced banks to write down these assets as if they were selling them today in an iced-over market, even though many are not selling them?

The Problems with TARP The TARP capital injections, in the form of stock purchases in troubled banks, have acted as blood thinner to existing shareholders, as the banks have had to issue more shares, diluting existing investors, explains economist Ed Yardeni. There are more problems with the TAR-PIT. The Treasury said it would give money only to healthy banks to jump-start lending. But at least two-thirds of the 314 banks who got TARP money were already in violation of federal regulatory guidelines for lending because they blew out their construction, development and commercial real estate loans, says bank analyst Richard Suttmeier.

And watch this. According to the Wall Street Journal OneUnited Bank in Boston received $12 million in TARP money at the behest of Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. However, Suttmeier says that OneUnited’s commercial real estate loan exposure is 2,005 times federal regulatory guidelines for capital requirements. Two thousand and five times. "The regulatory guideline is no more than 300% [of capital], and this ratio is the worst among all [of the] 8,384 FDIC insured financial institutions," Suttmeier says, adding that "a bank in Alpharetta, Georgia had a heavier concentration, but [it has] already been seized by the FDIC."

World’s Biggest Junk Investor: The Federal Reserve Meanwhile, the central bank’s balance sheet has surpassed $2 trillion, triple what it was a year and a half ago. The Fed has taken on a mountain of potentially bad paper assets that, stacked, could reach to outerspace. Among other things, the Fed $73 billion in assets from Bear Stearns and American International Group, warehousing them in off balance sheet vehicles much like Citigroup did and valuing them with the help of the credit rating agencies, who helped get us into this mess by rubberstamping as triple A all sorts of junk. The Fed also has given massive guarantees of almost $300 billion to Citigroup and Bank of America. What of all this monetary intervention? The Fed is now blowing out its balance sheet to fix a bursting credit bubble that the Fed helped create by keeping interest rates down too long. Inflation will be coming in the next five years. Remember this quote: Business expansions never die of old age–they are routinely murdered by the Federal Reserve.

Why Aren’t Banks Lending? Banks who have received $350 billion in TARP money are under attack for not lending enough money, notes economist Yardeni. But actually, the banks are lending. However, they are lending almost exclusively to the Fed, Yardeni notes-or they are lending to panicked companies who are drawing down on existing credit lines. Yardeni says: *As of January 14, depository institutions had $827.5 billion on deposit at the Federal Reserve Banks. That’s up $795.4 billion since September 10, the week just before Lehman died. It is up $555.6 billion since October 14, when the banks started to receive TARP money. *On January 7, commercial banks had a record $1.1 trillion in vault cash, cash items in process of collection, balances due from depository institutions, and balances due from Federal Reserve Banks.

*Since October 14, when TARP funds were first given as capital to nine major banks by the US Treasury, through January 7, cash held by banks rose $524.3 billion, while loans and leases fell $148 billion. So, why aren’t they lending it? Would you want to lend money in a deepening recession, and who do you trust now to pay those loans back, says Yardeni. All at a time when the banks have to roll over their own debt and pay interest on those liabilities, and when corporate borrowers are demanding cash to rollover their bonds, says Yardeni. And when new accounting rules take effect later this year, banks will be force to put back onto their balance sheets hundreds of billions of dollars in assets and liabilities now warehoused in off balance sheet vehicles. We are in a new year, 2009-can we expect more of the same that we saw in 2008? The answer, unfortunately, is yes.




Ilargi: The author of the article above is Elizabeth MacDonald. She's at FOX, not exactly a recommendation, but I think she's got great stuff.






There's no new motor to drive the economy
There's a piece of fashionable political nonsense you should be vaccinated against before the virus hits us: a whole vocabulary of ministerial happy thoughts to which you'd best learn to block your ears. The coming nonsense is that when this recession is over, countries such as Britain should seek and find our salvation in (in what will become a buzz phrase of 2009-10) a "new economic model".

Wrong. Actually we're just stuffed. We hit a tree. There is no replacement economic model for us to drive off in. We must bash out the dents, clear the broken glass, remove the bumper from the front wheel, and limp on as best we can. We should accommodate ourselves to that prospect. Instead, as our prosperity sinks, the politicians' rhetoric will go skyward. "New challenges", "a new vision", "post-millennial economy", "thinking outside the box"... how wearisome this inspirational PowerPoint pap becomes. Already I can hear that most unlikely exemplar of the next generation of economic thrust, Lord Mandelson, of Foy and Hartlepool, now in his sixth decade, fumbling through ermine for the right intergalactic techno-patter.

He will not be alone. "One thing is certain," the greying heralds of a new economic age will intone, hair tint running down their collars, "nothing will ever be the same again." Hear, hear! How this stuff resounds around the gilded screens and neo-Gothic tat of the Upper Chamber. Melancholy will be the spectacle of a range of middle-aged-to-elderly political throwbacks burbling about life changes and sea changes and gear changes and step changes for the British economy. "Post-recession Britain... new age... new economic dispensation... recalibrate... re-balance... blah, blah, blah." Oh boy, is this nonsense going to sound wise. The riff will be that Western economies like Britain's must reinvent themselves.

Behind the curve, and banging the table as ever, Gordon Brown has not yet latched on to the rhetoric of the "new economic model". He's still trying to kick life back into the old one. His reflexive response to calamity remains to try to get the wounded to their feet, and to pretend it hasn't happened. Yesterday on the Today programme he was still choking on words like "boom" and "bust". Like those pensioners one witnesses taking an unfortunate tumble while boarding a bus, his instincts, and those of much of the political class, have been to stand up again as fast as possible and carry on.

So the talk until recently has been about "kick-starting" the old economy, and Mr Brown's immediate promise was to get mortgage lending back to the levels of 2007. Hah! This mindless attempt to return to routine is an indication either of the absence of imagination, or of panic. I've seen a mule that had just broken one front leg scramble back on to three of its hooves, then begin trying to graze again, desperately reaching for the familiar, though the poor beast was doomed. But as it becomes apparent even to Mr Brown that there is to be no return to that golden decade of no hard choices and uninterrupted growth, he and his Cabinet will begin the search for something new in the Uplift Department to say.

Listen to Peter Mandelson already: this is how it will run. Although (the argument will concede) the old rust-belt industries of the 20th century had to go, Britain turned its back on industry rather too readily. We were bedazzled by financial services: fool's gold from the City. Now (the argument continues) we must square up to the fact that Man cannot live by leverage alone. We need (wait for it) a new economic model. First, we must (argh) "rebalance" our economy. Government must seek out (key words) "a new generation" of manufacturing strengths, a second-wave industrial renaissance.

What, then, are these strengths? Our talent (runs the argument) for (key word) "innovation"; an "IT" (key word) generation; the potential of our existing (key word) "high-tech" industries and (key words) "high added-value" economic activity; and our (key words) "genius for invention". Vital to all this will be (key words) "skills", "training" and "education". We should remind ourselves, too, of that inestimable resource available to our economy: English as a (key words) "world language". Nobody will quite say "white heat of the technological revolution", because Harold Wilson said that in the 1960s and it became a joke.

Nobody will quite say "picking winners" because 1960s and 1970s Labour governments tried to do just that, and ended up picking some deadbeat car factories. Nobody will quite say "fast-forwarding into the future at an ever-increasing pace" because Tony Blair has used those words and they sounded silly first time. So maybe somebody brainy could coin phrases such as "virtual manufacturing" or "the circuit-board economy"... And it will all be just so much hot air. What do people think India's growth is based on? Rice? What is it, precisely, that we do so much better than China?

The truth is that some parts of Britain's high-technology economy, and some of our services industry, are strong already and can remain strong. Where there is potential strength the market has invested already without any help from ministers. However recently the ministers may have discovered promising parts of the British economy located outside the Square Mile, investors and customers can sniff out quality for themselves, and do, and did, even as far afield as Birmingham. The non-City part of our economic landscape has not been held back by political inattention, and will not be significantly advanced by political patronage or speeches.

Politicians don't "rebalance" economies. Market forces do. This recession is not a failure of market economics. It is a reassertion of market economics after a decade in which we paid ourselves more than we were producing, and funded it precariously and temporarily by complicated credit instruments that it took a while for the market to rumble. Now a prosperity that always baffled ordinary citizens has collapsed. The collapse of confidence is not irrational; it's the correction to a long run of irrational confidence.

All that stuff about the emerging Asian giants wasn't just phrasemaking for party conference speeches. It was true. We're falling behind. We face a mountain of debt: the difference between the life we are able to sustain and the life we were enjoying. Politicians cannot do much to jack up the first. So it falls to them to arrange and explain a reduction in the second. The great task facing the next British government is to help the country to recognise and embrace its fate: that we should get poorer, and slip with as good a grace as possible into the world's second league. Yes, there is a rebalancing required: a rebalancing of popular expectation.




'Hold My Administration Accountable'
President Barack Obama asked the nation today to "hold my administration accountable" for the results of the economic stimulus package up for a House vote next week. Amid a familiar rundown of arguments for the proposed $825 billion stimulus package -- which has yet to receive the vote of a single Republican in the two committees that considered the legislation -- Obama inserted new language addressing skeptics. "I know that some are skeptical about the size and scale of this recovery plan," he said in a video address on the White House Web site. "I understand that skepticism, which is why this recovery plan must and will include unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my Administration accountable for these results.

"We will launch an unprecedented effort to root out waste, inefficiency, and unnecessary spending in our government, and every American will be able to see how and where we spend taxpayer dollars by going to a new Web site called recovery.gov." In a bipartisan meeting with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders Friday, Obama stressed the urgency of swiftly passing the economic stimulus package for the good of the American people and as a matter of political expediency. "Look, we are all political animals here. If we don't do this, we may lose seats. I may not be re-elected," Obama said, according to a source in the meeting. "But none of that's going to matter if we don't pass this because the economy will be in a crisis and the American people will be hurting."

The president on Friday brought leaders of both parties into the Roosevelt room of the White House, hoping to gain support from GOP leadership and push the plan through. "I recognize that there are still some differences around the table and between the administration and members of Congress about, particularly, details on the plan," Obama said. "What I think unifies this group is a recognition that we are experiencing an unprecedented, perhaps, economic crisis that has to be dealt with, and dealt with rapidly." Obama expressed optimism that, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Democrats were "on target" for their President's Day time frame for passage of the plan. In his address today, Obama said he would lift a "veil of secrecy" that has shrouded previous federal payouts to shore up the economy.

"We won't just throw money at our problems, we'll invest in what works," he said. "Instead of politicians doling out money behind a veil of secrecy, decisions about where we invest will be made public, and informed by independent experts whenever possible." House Republicans, who say they have barely been consulted on the stimulus package, came to Friday's meeting prepared. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., and House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, brought handouts to the meeting to share their set of specific suggestions for the package being debated on Capitol Hill. Republican leaders would like to make changes to the tax cuts in the stimulus package, framing it as a way to pick up GOP votes. They also suggested making unemployment benefits tax-free, allowing tax deductions for small businesses equal to 20 percent of income, and allowing businesses to carry losses from one year to another.

After discussion of Cantor's ideas, Obama weighed in, saying "Eric, I don't see anything crazy here." On one of the issues, regarding whether the lowest individual tax rates should be cut from 15 percent to 10 percent and from 10 percent to 5 percent, Obama told Cantor that "on some of these issues we're just going to have ideological differences." But Obama added, "I won. So I think on that one, I trump you." Bipartisanship is not easy, but House Republicans came away thinking Obama was at least receptive to their ideas, although other Democrats appeared less receptive, sources said. Some Republicans publicly seemed like they wanted to cooperate with the new president. "Republicans will choose bipartisan solutions over partisan failures every single time," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "I'm concerned about the size of the package, and I'm concerned about some of the spending that's in there," Boehner said. "At this point, we believe that spending nearly $1 trillion is really more than what we ought to be putting on the backs of our kids and their kids."

Some of the spending in the House version of the bill includes $726 million for after school snack programs, $50 million in arts funding and $200 million to repair the National Mall, including grass maintenance -- leading some critics to question whether those outlays truly would be stimulative. When the bill passed the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, not one Republican voted for it. But the Obama team is pushing back. "There's no question that the president believes that the bill is stimulative," White House Press Secretary Gibbs said in a news conference Friday. "Our analysis of the legislation right now is that 75 percent of this money will be spent in the next 18 months to create jobs and to get people working and to get the economy moving again."

GOP leaders left today's meeting generally optimistic. Obama's tone and apparent willingness to work with members of Congress on expansions in small business tax cuts gave House Republicans the sense that he was committed to working together. Obama encouraged Republicans to be in touch with Larry Summers to develop a specific proposal. The Senate is slated to consider its own version of the stimulus package next week, so there's still ample room for negotiation on Capitol Hill. The Senate version is expected to spend less, and possibly cut taxes more than House Democrats are seeking. But Obama seemed to make clear that he is taking ownership of the stimulus package. Presidents for years have started their day with a daily intelligence briefing about the threats in the world. In a sign of the times, Obama is now including a daily economic briefing in his schedule.




Obama Signals Tough Restrictions on Banks in Rescue Package
President Barack Obama signaled that he would toughen restrictions on and oversight of banks as part of a fresh plan to aid the battered industry. Obama blasted the banks yesterday over reports that they’ve spent money renovating offices after receiving billions of dollars from the government and vowed they would be held accountable for any aid they receive in the future. The tough talk seemed designed to build support for a rescue plan that aides say Obama will roll out soon by reassuring lawmakers and voters that the administration will keep close tabs on money it hands out. Pressure for a plan is building after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell for the third straight week, in part because of concerns about the health of the banks.

"They’re going to have to take some early action," said Michael Bleier, a partner at law firm Reed Smith in Pittsburgh and a former Federal Reserve lawyer. "Banks and the financial services industry have to have balance sheets that are strong." The administration’s economic team, which will meet with Obama today, has been working on a program to bolster the banks and get them lending again. People familiar with their thinking have said the plan is likely to include fresh capital injections into the banks and steps to clear bad assets off bank balance sheets. Lawrence Summers, who, as director of the White House’s National Economic Council, is playing a key role in putting together the bank-rescue package, canceled plans to attend the World Economic Forum next week in Davos, Switzerland. So too did Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., whose agency guarantees bank depositors against loss.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president has directed his advisers to come up with new restrictions on the second half of the $700 billion financial-rescue plan, saying the money won’t go to "line the pockets of people" who’ve gotten financial assistance. "The American people need to be greatly assured that their hard-earned money is not going to the bonuses or the remodeling of an office at a bank that’s in trouble," Gibbs told reporters yesterday. The White House comments came after reports that John Thain, the former Merrill Lynch & Co. chief executive officer who was ousted this week, spent $1.2 million redecorating his downtown Manhattan office last year as the company was firing employees. Thain oversaw the sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America Corp. last month. Merrill’s $15.4 billion fourth-quarter loss forced Bank of America to seek additional aid from the U.S. government, which last week agreed to provide $20 billion in capital and $118 billion in asset guarantees.

Obama aides said banks that get additional aid will be prevented from using it to finance acquisitions and instead will be pressed to provide more credit to consumers and companies. The restrictions would follow principles already outlined to Congress by Summers and Timothy Geithner, Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, Gibbs said. Summers told Congress in a Jan. 15 letter that up to $100 billion of the remaining funds will be used to ease the housing crisis. He also promised the administration would restrict executive pay and dividends for financial institutions that get the money. "Those receiving exceptional assistance will be subject to tough but sensible conditions that limit executive compensation until taxpayer money is paid back, ban dividend payments beyond de minimis amounts, and put limits on stock buybacks and the acquisition of already financially strong companies," he wrote.

Senator Bill Nelson, a member of the Finance Committee, said he talked yesterday with Geithner and was told the administration would increase oversight of the TARP money. "I have received direct assurances today from the nominee for Treasury secretary that he will support disclosures and transparency including for money already spent," Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said yesterday. Nelson is co-sponsor of legislation that would require firms receiving the money to disclose how the funds are spent and bar companies from using the money to lobby or make political donations. The Obama administration has been cleared by Congress to tap the second half of the $700 billion fund to stabilize the financial system. Lawmakers criticized how former President George W. Bush’s administration used the fund, and demanded any further release of funds require greater accountability.

"The Congress is justifiably unhappy over the way the first $350 billion was handled," said Alan Blinder, a former Fed vice chairman who’s now a professor at Princeton University. Blinder, who briefed lawmakers earlier this week on the economic outlook, voiced doubts that the remaining $350 billion in the bailout fund would be enough to rescue the financial system and expressed concern that lawmakers would block any additional assistance given the unpopularity of the program. Blinder, along with Harvard University professor Martin Feldstein and Mark Zandi, chief economist at West Chester, Pennsylvania-based Moody’s Economy.com, painted what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described as a dark outlook for the economy in their meeting with lawmakers. "We have economic problems that have never been seen in this country or the world before," Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on the Senate floor. Blinder forecast that the unemployment rate would rise to 9 percent from 7.2 percent, even with the $825 billion economic stimulus package that Obama is negotiating with Congress.




The Media's Role In The Financial Crisis
Our government's current operating principle seems to be bailing out people who were culpable in the financial meltdown. If so, journalists are surely entitled to billions of dollars. Why? Journalists were grossly deficient when it came to covering the reckless behavior, sleaze and willful ignorance of fundamental economics, much of which was reasonably obvious to anyone who was paying attention, that inflated the housing and credit bubbles of the past decade. Their frequent cheerleading for bad practices -- and near-total failure to warn us, repeatedly and relentlessly, of what was building -- made a bad situation worse. Journalists are notoriously thin-skinned, defensive about even legitimate criticism. But this lapse has been too blatant even for reporters to miss. Two-thirds of financial journalists in a recent survey said the news media "dropped the ball" in the period before the crisis became apparent. (Still, almost none of them assigned the press any responsibility for what has occurred.)

It's not as if this is the first time a big issue has had too little discussion while there was still time to fix the problem. Journalism has repeatedly failed to warn the public about huge, visible risks. The media's complicity in the Iraq War-mongering and 1990s stock bubble were the most infamous recent examples until the financial bust came along, but the willful blindness to reality was uncannily similar.  To be fair, in these cases and in every other such foreseeable calamity, at least several journalists or news organizations stood out in retrospect for having seen what was coming. Almost alone among the Washington press corps, the Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) newspaper group's Washington Bureau asked the right questions as the Bush Administration herded the nation toward war. A few scattered stories in the media, including Fortune magazine and The New York Times business section, wondered about the stock and housing price bubbles, not to mention the implications of new financial policies and instruments that made the credit expansion so dangerous. And some commentators (including bloggers who did serious, if widely ignored, reporting) were firmly on the case.

But to say that the press was all over the housing/credit mess before it blew up, as the American Journalism Review argued recently, defies reality. The good journalism was overwhelmed by the happy-face, herd coverage, usually laced with quotes from people who stood to benefit from the bubble's continued inflation. We saw story after story about new cadres of home-loan borrowers, about people who "flipped" homes for big short-term profits, and about the way home values kept rising in unprecedented ways. We saw few cautionary tales about what happens when bubbles burst, how families can and economies can face ruin. It's probably no coincidence that most newspapers have weekly real estate pages or sections, the main purpose of which is to collect advertising for property sales.

And even when the reporting was solid, which was rare enough, news organizations didn't follow up in appropriate ways. If we can foresee a catastrophe, it's not enough to mention it once or twice and then move on. That common practice suggests an opportunity. When we can predict an inevitable calamity if we continue along the current path, we owe it to the public to do everything we can to encourage a change in that destructive behavior. In practice, this means activism. It means relentless campaigning to point out what's going wrong, and demanding corrective action from those who can do something about it. So in Florida, Arizona and California, among other epicenters of the housing bubble, newspapers might have told their readers -- including governmental officials -- the difficult truth. They could have explained, again and again, that the housing bubble would inevitably lead, at least locally, to personal financial disaster for many in their regions, not to mention fiscal woes for local and state governments. How many should have done this, given the media's at least partial reliance on advertising from those who profited from the bubbles? Any that cared to do their jobs.

Some plain-as-day woes don't present any financial conflicts. For example, the threat to New Orleans from hurricane-created flooding was clear long before Katrina, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune did run a series of articles warning of what might happen years before the hurricane struck. What it didn't do was follow up in the relentless kind of way that might have spurred local, state and federal action to prevent or mitigate the inevitable disaster. Californians are absurdly unprepared for the epic earthquake that everyone knows is coming. News organizations have warned about it, but haven't drilled home the message in sufficiently graphic ways of the havoc it will cause, and haven't campaigned enough for pre-quake mitigation that would save lives and treasure. Californians are especially practiced at pretending not to see what's visible in front of them. The state's fiscal crisis is far worse than most, in large part because the governor and state legislature -- with media winks and nods -- generated a torrent of new red ink, via borrowing, to cover new spending and earlier debts. The piper is now demanding his payment, and his price threatens to be ruinous. (Will this be our national fate in a few years?)

Journalists have an opportunity, right now, to ask questions we need answered -- and they should be asking again and again, and again. Taxpayers (or rather our children and grandchildren, who'll pay for this) are forking over $700 billion to bail out financial institutions, the first installment of trillions we're collectively spending to try to save American capitalism itself. Yet we aren't allowed to know how the money is being spent. This isn't merely opaque; it's the blackest of boxes, and occasional queries from journalists aren't helping to make it transparent. Congress is the most culpable party in this case; as usual, lawmakers have dodged their responsibility, but an insistent journalistic campaign wouldn't hurt and might actually help dislodge some facts.

Once upon a time, news people went on campaigns when they saw the need. Sometimes this led to yellow journalism, as when newspaper owners used their publications to stir up the populace in dangerous ways. At other times, however, old-fashioned press campaigns led to change for the better; back when editorial pages had more influence in communities, a few courageous newspaper editors in the South campaigned for school integration, and made an enormous difference. Journalistic activism -- precisely what we need despite most journalists' disdain for the idea -- won't save newspapers that are suffering from a perfect storm of dwindling leadership and advertising losses. But as Online Journalism Review's Robert Niles recently wrote, journalists should "accept the responsibility to demand action" based on what they learn when they do their jobs right. The media's collective irresponsibility has ill-served its audience. If journalists want to keep the audience they have, never mind build credibility for the future, they need to become the right kind of activists. More than ever, we need what they do, when they do it well.




Weak economies tempted to quit the euro face a fate worse than the current squeeze
It's easy to see why there's increasing chit-chat about the single European currency being blown apart by the economic crisis. Monetary policy in the eurozone is relatively tight. The same goes for fiscal policy in Germany, the largest and strongest economy. As a result, the euro has been relatively strong. Not surprisingly, the eurozone's weak economies - Spain, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Greece - are hurting. In Spain, unemployment is already 13.9pc.

If only they could bring back the peseta, punt, lira, escudo and drachma, one might think. In the "good" old days, when these economies got into difficulty, they allowed their currencies to fall - giving local industry a breathing space. They weren't constrained by a one-size-fits-all monetary policy that seems best tailored to Germany's needs. Such thinking is seductive but fallacious. The eurozone's weak economies are drowning in debt. In Italy and Greece's case, the government's debt is hovering around 100pc of GDP. In Spain and Ireland, which had liquidity-fuelled property manias, there's debt in the private sector. And of course, there's the debt in the banks.

The lion's share of these debts are denominated in euros. They certainly aren't denominated in pesetas and punts. If any country quit the euro, its new currency would sink - perhaps something of the order of 30pc-50pc. Although that would give a fillip to exporters, the value of its debts when translated into the new devalued currency would soar. Governments, private-sector borrowers and banks would find "hard currency" debts virtually impossible to service. The end result would probably be bankruptcy - a fate far worse than the current squeeze. Politicians driven can, of course, make errors. But pulling out of the euro would be so crass the even populist politicians will surely avoid it.




Lights go out across Britain as recession hits home
Britain's days as the fastest growing economy in Europe were officially declared over yesterday as the deepest recession in a generation saw consumers turning off the lights and Poles returning home. While official figures showed the economy contracting at its fastest since 1980, National Grid said demand for electricity had fallen over Christmas at homes and factories across the land, and Poland confirmed that thousands of its citizens were coming home from Britain and Ireland.

National Grid said it was cutting its forecast for electricity consumption this year because of the recession. The thousands of people being laid off each week and the hundreds of firms cutting production are reducing demand. Industry has suffered most in this recession and made the biggest contribution to the slump in national output, which fell by a worse-than-expected 1.5% in the fourth quarter of last year compared to the third - or around 6% on an annualised basis.

As the economy had contracted by 0.6% in the July to September period, Britain now meets the most common definition of a recession - two consecutive quarters of shrinkage. But some analysts say the country fell into recession last April. Financial markets took fright at the sheer speed of the economy's contraction, which outpaced anything seen in the recession of the early 1990s. The pound slumped to a fresh, 23-year low against the dollar of just $1.35 - a far cry from the peak of $2.11 seen last summer - and to an all-time low against the yen.

The FTSE 100 share index fell below the key 4,000 level after the news, although it later recovered to end little changed. "These figures are the final nail in the coffin for Gordon Brown's claim to have 'ended boom and bust'. The UK economy is most definitely bust at the moment," said Charles Davis at the Centre for Economics and Business Research. "It is not just that the UK has entered recession; it is the size of the contraction ... The economy is set for the steepest contraction in the post-war era in 2009."

Brown admitted the government had not seen what was coming: "What we did not see, nobody saw, was the possibility of markets' failure. "We are fighting this global recession with every weapon at our disposal. We need other countries to work with us and we are asking them to agree with us a common set of measures." He criticised David Cameron for having suggested Britain might need to go to the IMF for help in financing its bail-out of the creaking banking system. But Cameron insisted he was right to warn that the country faced the prospect of an IMF loan for the first time since 1976. "I think it's right to warn about that, I think it's a responsible thing to do," Cameron said.

He and the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, mocked Brown's claims last summer that the economy was better placed than in the past to withstand recession and would grow in spite of the credit crunch. But TUC chief Brendan Barber blamed bankers and previous Tory governments for the economic mess: "This recession is not bad luck or an inevitable swing of the pendulum. Its cause is irresponsible behaviour by banks and financial institutions taking advantage of the deregulation started by Mrs Thatcher and president Reagan, and continued to a greater or lesser extent ever since."

Unemployment was this week reported to have jumped to nearly two million, and analysts say it would be much higher were it not for workers from countries such as Poland returning home. Poland's treasury minister Aleksander Grad told the Guardian that the economy there, unlike Britain's, would avoid recession. Poland's banks had been regulated tightly and had not got into the toxic derivative products that have brought down banks around the world, said Grad.

National Grid said weekly peak electricity demand would fall by 600-1,000 megawatts, the equivalent of a large power plant, over the next year. The drop will ease the strain on power stations, some of which are facing closure because of age or environmental rules. It will also reduce CO2 emissions.




Britain on the brink of an economic depression, say experts
Britain is heading for economic depression for the first time since the 1930s, economists have warned. Families must brace themselves for a slump of far greater severity and longevity than the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, they warned. They said the current crisis will be of a scale to rival the biggest peace-time crisis in modern history — the Great Depression.The warning was delivered by economists and politicians after the Office for National Statistics revealed that the economy shrank by 1.5 per cent in the final three months of 2008 alone.

The contraction follows a 0.6 per cent fall in gross domestic product (GDP) — the most comprehensive measure of Britain’s wealth generation — during the previous three months. This means Britain fulfils the criteria for a technical recession — two successive quarters of negative output. The news sent the pound sliding to its lowest level since 1985. Sterling dropped more than three quarters of a cent to $1.3688 as investors speculated that the Bank of England may be forced to cut interest rates towards zero in response to the recession.

John McFall, the Labour chairman of the Treasury select committee, sounded a more optimistic note. He said: "We know that 2009 is going to be really tough for many people. There is a determination in Britain and across Europe to keep people in work, to avoid unemployment, so people’s contribution will not be lost." Confirmation that the economy has entered recession capped a week in which Gordon Brown was forced to announce a new £350?billion bank rescue plan. Unemployment has almost reached two million. President Barack Obama discussed the financial crisis with the Prime Minister on the telephone yesterday, his first call to a European leader.

The fall in GDP is the sharpest since 1980, when Britain was mired in its most severe post-war recession. The news is an embarrassment for Mr Brown, who pledged as Chancellor not to return Britain to "boom and bust". Britain is likely to suffer more than other economies due to its heavy reliance on the financial services sector, which has all but imploded in the wake of the economic crisis, experts said. Others raised the spectre of an outright economic depression, often defined by experts as a peak-to-trough economic contraction of 10 per cent. Aside from the demobilisation periods following the First and Second World Wars, this kind of contraction has never taken place — not even in the 1930s’ Great Depression.

Roger Bootle, the managing director of Capital Economics, said: "I think there’s a very good chance this recession will be the worst since the 1930s. I suspect the economy could shrink by 6 per cent from last year to the end of next year — and that might not be the end. The plight facing Britain is uncannily similar to the 1930s, since prices of many assets —from shares to house prices — are falling at record rates, but the value of the debt against which they are held remains unchanged. This "debt deflation" is among the most painful of all economic phenomena, since it means the amount families owe increases each year even if they borrow no more.

Albert Edwards, a strategist at Société Générale, likened the British economy to a Ponzi scheme — a fraudulent debt mountain like that allegedly used by the New York hedge fund manager Bernard Madoff. "What I find amazing is that people aren’t really nailing Gordon Brown and [Bank of England Governor] Mervyn King for this," he said. "At least in the US they had the excuse of the arrival of sub-prime — a new sector of the market. We didn’t really have anything similar but we ended up with a bigger national Ponzi scheme than the US."




Speculation grows that Barclays will be bailed out as investors 'throw in the towel'
Shares in Barclays plunged again yesterday amid mounting speculation that the Government is preparing to take a stake in the undersiege bank. They tumbled 8p to 51.2p, falling for the ninth consecutive trading session, completing a run that has seen Barclays lose nearly three quarters of its stock market value in just 12 days. The latest fall came hours after John Varley, the chief executive, made a fresh attempt to prop up confidence in his bank.

He told Cantos, the online financial broadcaster: "The Financial Services Authority, acting on behalf of the tripartite authorities [the FSA, the Treasury and the Bank of England], ensures that they understand very intimately what’s going on in terms of the way in which the business is being run and that they have good disclosure and good transparency relating to our balance sheet. "That’s an obligation that we take with deadly seriousness because, if we were not honouring that obligation, believe me, we would not be allowed to do business, simple as that."

Mr Varley also emphasised that, if Barclays took part in the Treasury’s planned asset guarantee scheme, it would prefer to pay cash to use the facility rather than issue shares to the Government. But analysts and investors now believe there is a strong possibility of at least partial nationalisation of Barclays. The Times has learnt that Mr Varley has held talks with the Treasury in the past 48 hours after being asked to provide further reassurance over the bank’s financial position. Sources close to Barclays said: "This was a normal meeting to discuss a range of issues, not least the Government’s new stimulus package. The notion that John was summoned or that this was a crisis meeting is nonsense."

With rumours circulating in the City that Mr Varley would have to step down in the event of the Government taking a stake in the bank, Whitehall insiders last night played down suggestions that the Treasury had any immediate intention of intervening. However, sources said that it could "plausibly" be the case that the Barclays board might "see a problem that needed to be fixed". But traders and analysts said that the market appeared to have lost confidence in Mr Varley. Manoj Ladwa, a derivatives broker at ETX Capital, added: "Investors are throwing in the towel on the banking sector, and Barclays in particular." Sandy Chen of Panmure Gordon – one of the bank’s sternest critics in the analyst community – said: "Barclays has a very similar business model to RBS and so the read-across from the RBS figures is what has hit Barclays shares."

Mr Chen said that, to regain trust, the bank needed to "mark to market" the value of some assets on its balance sheet – in other words, show them in the books at their current market price. Barclays has been reluctant to do this, arguing it plans to hold many of its toxic investments to maturity. Despite speculation that the expiry of the ban on short-selling of financial shares was responsible for the recent collapse in Barclays’ price, the tripartite authorities are said to be satisfied that the fall was a result of traditional fund managers selling stock. Philip Hammond, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told The Times: "The Government’s plan is too late and too lacking in detail to reassure the markets."




Just how big is Britain's toxic debt?
An army of accountants is combing through the books, trying to establish just how much the toxic assets of the bailed-out banks are actually worth. At stake, says the Government, is the future of Britain's economy.
 
Before he was unceremoniously fired as chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir Fred Goodwin often said that he had turned the 280-year-old institution into "a sausage machine". RBS, like other banks, was buying and selling pre-packaged parcels of debt, which started out as mortgages and loans but were put through a corporate mincer and wrapped into packages containing small pieces of hundreds, if not thousands, of loans. Rather like sausages, no one could be entirely sure what was in them – but as long as they paid a decent rate of interest and the bonuses kept flowing, no one cared. As we all now know, those parcels had been bulked up with sub-prime loans, which became effectively worthless "toxic assets" when the US housing market crashed.

Confirmation yesterday that the bankers' avarice has officially plunged Britain into recession added to the growing bewilderment as to exactly why we are on the hook for almost £1 trillion in bail-outs and guarantees. No one even knows exactly how many of these toxic assets British banks are holding, and how much more it might cost the taxpayer to get out of this unholy mess – which is why an army of accountants is about to begin the daunting, if not downright impossible, task of tracking down and putting a value on all the debts of all the banks in which the taxpayer has taken a stake.

In effect, to borrow Sir Fred's analogy, the Government-appointed debt hunters will be carrying out the accounting equivalent of dissecting all of those sausages and turning the constituent parts back into pigs. It will be a laborious, thankless task which is likely to take at least six months. But according to the Government, nothing less than the future of Britain's economy depends on it. The reason all the rescue packages have failed is that no one has yet calculated the full extent of these toxic assets – and nothing spooks the City so much as uncertainty. Lord Myners, the minister organising the hunt, says his sleuths will have to deal with "well over a billion items of individual data for each bank".

The desperate need for some hard and fast facts was underlined on Monday, when the value of banking shares collapsed, despite the announcement of a raft of new measures. Gordon Brown is said to have been taken aback by the City's panicked reaction to RBS's announcement of a £28 billion loss, the largest in British corporate history. Experts say the losses reveal the markets' fear of more bad news to come. Despite the Government pledging £954 billion so far – or £31,800 per taxpayer – some analysts believe another £200 billion in insurance may be needed to protect the banks fully against future losses. But no one is willing to predict that it won't be more, just as no one can be sure that our children, or even our grandchildren, won't still be paying off the debts the nation is accruing, as this economic black hole swallows a seemingly limitless amount of our money.

In other words, until the number-crunching is done, there is no prospect of an end to the crisis. "The problem is that we don't really know just where these bad assets are, and the banks are not going to 'fess up," explains Peter Spencer, professor of economics at York University. "As things stand, it is a near-bottomless pit, and no one knows how smelly the stuff at the bottom is." The Prime Minister is pinning his hopes on the Asset Protection Scheme, announced this week, which will assess the exact extent of the toxic assets (currently estimated at £200-350 billion). The theory goes that once the banks know the worst-case scenario, and are insured against it by the taxpayer, they will be able to start lending again.

But the Government-appointed investigators, drawn mainly from Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank, will be entering uncharted waters when they set up shop in the offices of banks such as RBS. Few people on the planet understand the complexities of such opaque instruments as collateralised debt obligations (the technical term for those minced-up sausages of debt, of which £2 trillion were traded in 2006, £188 billion of it in the UK). In some cases they were dreamed up by real-life rocket scientists, poached by Wall Street from Nasa's labs in California.

Until as recently as 2000, British banks lent only as much money as they held on deposit. But the availability of cheap financing on the money markets enabled banks such as Northern Rock to lend up to seven times the amount in their coffers. Rather than holding on to people's mortgages, the banks packaged them up with other loans and sold them on to investors, who could repackage and sell them on again and again. Unpicking these bundles of debt may involve tracking down and valuing the assets on which they are based – such as houses or commercial properties, or even part-shares of them.

Nor will the vastly complex, and vastly expensive, hunt be confined to Britain. To pick just one example, RBS acquired 26 other companies during Sir Fred's eight-year reign, leaving it with £250 billion of foreign loans in the more than 50 countries where it has offices. These include Vietnam, Columbia, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, where RBS is the second-largest foreign bank – there are even seven branches in Kazakhstan, all of which are now 70 per cent owned by the British taxpayer. Many of those loans will be sound, but the investigators must sniff out those that are not. "It will be a very intensive job and we will need to get professional support," one Treasury source says. "It's complicated, but if you didn't have these complicated problems, there wouldn't be a crisis in the first place."

But how could the banks lose control to such an extent? "Greed is part of the answer," says Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman. "We have had a bonus culture in which profits were the only motivating factor, and bankers were getting enormous bonuses on the back of very highly leveraged deals. It's also the case that even some of the bosses didn't understand the things they were trading in, because they had become so complicated. The banking regulators knew this and should have put a stop to it, but they didn't."

It wasn't just the executives who failed to understand what was going on – the Prime Minister and his team were equally clueless. Treasury officials who began going through the books of RBS when the Government took a majority share last year were horrified at the way the bank had been run, as it borrowed more and more money to fund more ambitious deals, such its share of the £49 billion takeover of Dutch bank ABN-Amro in 2007. The previously lionised Sir Fred has now been labelled "the world's worst banker", with growing calls for him to be stripped of his knighthood.

Although the Financial Services Authority insists that there is no evidence he broke any rules, many investors who have lost money believe he was less than candid about the state of the bank's finances and recklessly overstretched himself in the battle for ABN-Amro. In America, RBS's subsidiaries are already the subject of two separate investigations. The Securities and Exchange Commission and New York's attorney general are both looking into the exposure of RBS-owned companies to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Although he has said he is "angry" with Sir Fred, Mr Brown refused to be drawn this week on what action, if any, should be taken against his former friend, who was a valued adviser during his time as Chancellor.

Nor has anyone at the Treasury offered an estimate of how much it will cost to work out the value of the toxic assets. Yet many of the country's leading economists believe that there is an alternative to the scheme: to nationalise the entire banking system to restore confidence, and take control of lending once and for all. George Magnus, chief economic adviser to UBS Investment Bank, and the man credited with being the first to predict the current global recession, says: "There is a danger that a few months down the line further measures will be needed to shore up the banks. It would be cleaner, neater and cheaper just to call a spade a spade and take them into public ownership.

"That would enable the Government to set up a 'bad bank' that could take on these toxic assets and hold on to them for 50 years if necessary, until their value rose and the taxpayer saw a return. "In the meantime, once the crisis is over, they could refloat the banks, as they did in Sweden in 1992. I just don't understand the hang-up the Government has with nationalisation." Professor Tim Congdon, a former adviser to the Treasury, agrees. "The idea of having these civil servants poring over the banks' books is barmy. There are much simpler solutions, such as the Government borrowing from the banks to increase the amount of money in the system." One thing all sides are agreed on is the need for a return to old-fashioned banking, preferably without so much as a rocket scientist – or sausage machine – in sight.




Call for state bailout of ailing UK pension funds after deficit climbs to £194.5bn
The Government was under pressure to shore up Britain’s pensions industry last night as a powerful lobby group for the retirement industry warned that up to 1,000 schemes are poised to shut their doors to new members. As tumbling investment markets threatened to spark another pensions crisis, the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) called on the state to underwrite the Pensions Protection Fund (PPF), set up three years ago to pay pensions if companies collapse.

The NAPF joins the CBI, the employers lobby group, in warning that ballooning shortfalls in company schemes could worsen the recession for British businesses and a string of corporate collapses could stretch the PPF to breaking point. The call for action came on the day that Britain was officially declared to be in recession and blue-chip stocks tumbled below 4,000 at one point, further eroding the ability of schemes to meet retirement obligations. Next week, a leading rating agency is expected to warn that it could be forced to cut companies’ credit ratings if the state of their pension schemes deteriorates further.

The NAPF speaks for 1,200 pension funds. In a survey of final salary schemes, it found that more than half were considering excluding new members and one in four were exploring scrapping their offering for existing staff as well. Joanne Segars, chief executive of the NAPF, said that "bold action" was needed. She likened the case for intervention in pension schemes to the bail-out of the banking sector. "Exceptional times call for exceptional measures and new thinking," Ms Segars said.

The PPF, created in 2005, monitors 7,800 final salary pension schemes, which recorded a deficit at the end of December of £194.5 billion. It funds itself through an annual levy to pension funds and has argued that it is not under pressure. Partha Dasgupta, the outgoing chief executive, has regularly pointed said its liabilities to funds are over the long term and that, typically, the funds that apply for help are small.

But last week, Nortel, the telecoms group, threatened to add as much as £1 billion to the PPF’s burden as it called in administrators in the UK. Ernst & Young has less than a week to apply to the PPF for protection for Nortel’s pensioners. It could also try to offload Nortel’s pension arrangements to a specialist insurer such as Paternoster or Pension Corporation. Ernst & Young said last week that it had notified the PPF and pension regulators about the Nortel administration but was not in a position to comment about the size of the deficit.

The NAPF said yesterday that over the past five months, companies have become increasingly willing to dilute their pension obligations. It also said that workers’ confidence in pensions had evaporated over the past year. In a further echo of the approach taken by the CBI, the NAPF also called on the Pensions Regulator to give companies the flexibility to try to sort out their scheme deficits. It said that companies should be allowed to tinker with retirement ages for their workforce and it also asked the Government to issue more long-dated debt for schemes to buy so that they could better match their assets with their liabilities.




Economists hit back at Jim Rogers claims London is 'finished'
Economists at the Royal Bank of Scotland have hit back at veteran investor Jim Rogers over his claims that "the City of London is finished". In an open letter to Mr Rogers, David Simmonds and Ross Walker criticised what they described as his "Armageddon-esque vision of Britain", and said that his argument "lacks rigour". They added that although the UK financial sector faces "profound difficulties", to say the UK has "gone to the dogs" was an exaggeration.

Mr Rogers, co-founder of the Quantum Fund with George Soros, this week said the UK had lost its appeal because North Sea oil and London's standing as a major financial centre – its most attractive assets – were in decline. He urged investors to "sell any sterling you might have". It appeared that Mr Rogers' comments also angered the Prime Minister, who told the BBC yesterday: "If you think we are going to build our policy around the comments of a few speculators who want to make money out of Britain then you are very, very wrong. The decisions we take about the future of the economy are based on what is right for Britain."

Mr Rogers was unaware of the RBS letter when the Daily Telegraph contacted him, but he responded by saying: "There's nothing to debate. If they object to my comments and think the pound is going up they should buy the pound. If they think the City of London is going up they should buy the City of London. If they think the UK is going up they should buy the UK. I can't prove I'm right but the markets will tell us in five years."




UK City Minister Lord Myners attacks bankers for greed and arrogance
A furious onslaught on banking’s "masters of the universe" has been unleashed by Gordon Brown’s City Minister.
Too many top bankers fail to realise they are grossly over-rewarded and have no sense of society, Lord Myners says in an interview with The Times. With figures yesterday pointing to a longer and deeper recession than feared, lasting into 2010, Lord Myners says that banks have been mismanaged and delivers the strongest attack so far on those responsible. He also reveals that the banking system was close to collapse before the first bailout was announced.

"We were very close on Friday, October 10. There were two or three hours when things felt very bad, nervous and fragile. Major depositors were trying to withdraw — and willing to pay penalties for early withdrawal — from a number of large banks." Lord Myners says that there will have to be fundamental changes in the way that banks operate and that "the golden days of huge bonuses in the investment banking arms are gone". He calls on banking boards and shareholders to stamp on reckless behaviour of bosses and adds that if people have committed crimes they should be prosecuted.

Lord Myners says: "I have met more masters of the universe than I would like to, people who were grossly over-rewarded and did not recognise that. Some of that is pretty unpalatable. "They are people who have no sense of the broader society around them. There is quite a lot of annoyance and much of that is justified. Let us be quite clear: there has been mismanagement of our banks." The 1.5 per cent fall in national income between October and December, announced yesterday, was the biggest decline experienced since 1980, when Britain was fighting soaring unemployment and inflation at the beginning of the Thatcher era.

The statistics led to dire predictions of the worst drop in growth in a calendar year since the Second World War. Lord Myners’ attack comes days after Gordon Brown vented his anger at Sir Fred Goodwin, the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive, and the "irresponsible risks" taken by the bank. Barclays chief executive John Varley was last night under extreme pressure after shares in the bank fell for a ninth day running. Barclays has lost 73 per cent of its stock market value during the last 12 trading sessions and an increasing number of City analysts believe he may be forced to quit.




Credit card industry faces tough 2009
Quarterly results from Capital One Financial suggest the credit card industry faces a tough 2009 as more borrowers struggle to repay debt and cut spending. Capital One, one of the largest card issuers, reported a $1.4 billion fourth-quarter net loss late Thursday as it set aside another $1 billion to cover higher charge-offs this year. The fourth-quarter charge-off rate in the U.S. card business was 7.08%, up from 6.13% during the third quarter. That's expected to jump to roughly 8.1% in the first quarter of 2009, up from the mid-7% range Capital One previously forecast. Credit-card companies are being hit as falling house prices, the financial crisis and surging unemployment limit the ability of some customers to pay back debt racked up on their cards.

Capital One said it expects the U.S. unemployment rate to reach 8.7% by the end of 2009 from 7.2% currently and that, on average, home prices will fall another 10% this year. "From a credit perspective, 2009 is literally and figuratively a write-off," Richard Shane, an analyst at Jefferies & Co., wrote in a note to investors on Friday. "We view the entire industry embarking on a path of permanently lower equity returns." Capital One shares slumped 12% to close at $19.32 on Friday, the lowest level in more than a decade. Shares of American Express, a leading rival, slipped six cents to close at $16, the lowest level in more than 12 years.

In addition to more bad debt, companies in the industry have struggled to securitize the credit card loans they originate. That's forced them to fund the loans on their balance sheets instead, which requires more provisions up front, Shane explained. Tighter regulations on the credit card industry are also limiting the strategies issuers usually use to improve returns, he added. Meanwhile, some borrowers who are still able to pay their credit card bills are now spending less. Growth in Capital One's U.S. Card business was weaker than usual in the fourth quarter because of lackluster holiday spending.

"Revenue opportunities are less than we previously assumed," John Stilmar, an analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, wrote in a note to clients on Friday. He downgraded Capital One shares to reduce from neutral. American Express was cut to sell from hold by Stuart Plesser, an analyst and Standard & Poor's Equity Research. He also slashed his target price on the shares to $14 from $20. "Charge-offs for credit cards have picked up significantly," Plesser said. "We also note that credit is starting to deteriorate for more credit-worthy customers," he added. That's an area American Express has traditionally focused on. American Express is scheduled to report fourth-quarter results on Monday.




Freddie Seeks Up to $35 Billion From U.S.; Fannie May Follow
Freddie Mac, the mortgage-finance company under federal control, needs as much as $35 billion more in federal aid, and Fannie Mae may soon ask the U.S. Treasury Department for rescue funds as well. Freddie, which took $13.8 billion from Treasury in November, said in a securities filing yesterday that its fourth- quarter operating losses will again drive its net worth below zero. The McLean, Virginia-based company also said it settled a dispute over Washington Mutual loans with JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The request for funds comes as the Treasury faces increasing demands from U.S. financial companies, including Bank of America and Citigroup Inc., that are coping with the fallout from a slumping housing market and a deep recession that’s driving foreclosures to record levels. Treasury officials pledged in September as much as $100 billion to Fannie and Freddie each to ensure their solvency. "Their losses are going to be much higher than anyone anticipated," said Paul Miller, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets in Arlington, Virginia. "The more and more that people are digging into these portfolios, they’re finding out the more and more these guys were doing subprime and Alt-A loans and classifying them as prime." Alt-A loans were made to borrowers with little or no income verification or to those with credit scores slightly above subprime.

Freddie and Washington-based Fannie are the largest sources of mortgage money in the U.S., owning or guaranteeing a combined $5.2 trillion of the $12 trillion home-loan market. The companies have posted five consecutive quarters of losses totaling $68.4 billion combined. The Federal Housing Finance Administration seized their operations in September amid concern from regulators that the government-sponsored enterprises may fail in the worst housing slump since the Great Depression. Fannie, which hasn’t yet drawn on the Treasury backup funds, said in November that it may do so after it reports fourth-quarter results next month. Fannie also said at that time that $100 billion may not be enough to keep it afloat. Treasury agreed to pump money into the companies if the value of their assets drops below what they owe on their obligations.

"Given that they have $4.5 trillion of risk out there, $100 billion is a drop in the bucket," Miller said. "Given the fact that their risk profile on these loans is greater than they led everyone to believe, greater than $100 billion in losses on each institution would not surprise me." Stefanie Mullin, a Federal Housing Finance Agency spokeswoman, declined to comment. FHFA Director James Lockhart, who regulates the companies, said in an interview this week that one or both companies may request federal aid after they report fourth-quarter earnings next month. "They will be reporting numbers in mid-to-late February and, yes, I think everybody would expect that there would be a draw on Treasury," Lockhart said.

Spokesmen Brian Faith at Fannie, Sharon McHale at Freddie and Thomas Kelly at JPMorgan declined to comment. Freddie’s settlement with JPMorgan, which took over WaMu’s assets after the thrift collapsed in September, will allow the New York-based bank to retain WaMu’s mortgage-servicing contracts, according to the filing. In exchange, JPMorgan will assume WaMu’s obligations to repurchase any bad home loans that the thrift sold to Freddie with "recourse." JPMorgan will make a "one-time" payment to cover other loans that WaMu would have been required to buy back because the mortgages failed to meet promises made to Freddie about their quality, according to the filing. The filing didn’t specify how much JPMorgan is paying Freddie.




Geithner Delay Slows Assembly of Crisis Team
The delay in confirming Timothy Geithner as President Barack Obama's Treasury secretary is slowing the administration's ability to assemble a team to help tackle the worst financial crisis in decades. Mr. Geithner has in mind several people to serve in top roles at Treasury, including some who served in the Clinton administration, but won't have his team officially in place until after he is confirmed. The Senate is expected to approve Mr. Geithner's nomination Monday after a delay spurred in part by concerns over his personal tax history. The interregnum isn't unusual during a hand-over. But it comes as the banking system takes another lurch downward, sowing concern on Wall Street, where lobbyists and bankers are unsure whom to contact.

"Sometimes the phone just rings and rings," said one financial-industry lobbyist. Among those being mentioned as possible candidates for deputy Treasury secretary, according to people familiar with the matter, are Ralph Schlosstein, a co-founder of the hedge-fund firm BlackRock Inc., and Annette Nazareth, a former member of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Schlosstein, who left BlackRock last year, has given thousands in campaign contributions to Democrats over the years. Ms. Nazareth, now a partner at the law firm Davis, Polk & Wardell, knows Mr. Geithner well from her days on Wall Street and overseeing market regulation at the SEC. Among those being mentioned for a top job, according to people familiar with the matter, is Lee Sachs, a former assistant Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration, who has been coordinating the Obama team's Treasury transition. Mr. Sachs could be tapped as undersecretary for domestic finance, a role in which he would help fashion the government's response to the financial crisis.

Mr. Geithner has already asked Stuart Levey, who is running Treasury pending Mr. Geithner's confirmation, to continue overseeing the department's financial-counterterrorism efforts. Mr. Levey has been a key architect of sanctions against Iran. His retention suggests the Obama administration may continue Bush administration policy in that arena. Another likely holdover, according to people familiar with the matter, is Steven Shafran, a former Goldman Sachs executive and top adviser to former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who helped craft many of the department's past responses to the financial crisis. He is expected to remain as an adviser. Mr. Geithner has tapped Stephanie Cutter, a senior adviser on the Obama campaign and formerly a deputy White House communications director in the Clinton administration, as a counselor. Gene Sperling, formerly an economic adviser to Mr. Clinton, will join Treasury as a counselor for domestic economic policy. Many of the top positions at Treasury require Senate confirmation.

Once Mr. Geithner is confirmed, many of his staff are expected to work in advisory roles pending confirmation. Until then, much of the heavy lifting is being done by career staff. To help get through the transition, the Obama team has asked some of Mr. Paulson's staff to remain temporarily, including Neel Kashkari, who oversees the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. Mr. Geithner has been quietly assembling some staff, including Kim Wallace, a former political analyst with Lehman Bros. and Barclays, to serve as Treasury's head of legislative affairs. Mr. Wallace, a onetime legislative assistant to former Sen. George Mitchell (D., Me.), will be Mr. Geithner's chief liaison with Capitol Hill. Mark Patterson, a former lobbyist with Goldman Sachs and onetime policy director for former Sen. Tom Daschle (D., S.D.), will serve as Mr. Geithner's chief of staff.




Geithner's China Bash
Timothy Geithner's tax oversights drew most of the media attention at his confirmation hearing, but the biggest news is the Treasury Secretary-designate's testimony Thursday that he'll ratchet up one of the Bush Administration's worst habits: China currency bashing. In a written submission to the Senate Finance Committee, Mr. Geithner said the Obama Administration "believes that China is manipulating its currency." He says he wants Treasury to make "the fact-based case that market exchange rates are a central ingredient to healthy and sustained growth." The dollar promptly fell and gold jumped $40 on the news. We're not sure what Mr. Geithner means by "market exchange rates," given that the supply of any modern currency is set by a monopoly known as the central bank.

When Mr. Geithner says China is "manipulating" its currency, what investors around the world hear is that he really wants Beijing to restrain the number of yuan in circulation and increase its value vis-a-vis the dollar. That's a call for a dollar devaluation to help U.S. exporters. This would seem to be an especially crazy time to undermine the dollar, given that the Treasury will have to issue some $2 trillion to $3 trillion in new dollar debt in the next couple of years. A stronger yuan would also contribute to Chinese deflation and slower growth, which would only mean a deeper world recession. Even the Bush Treasury never formally declared China to be a currency "manipulator" in its periodic reports to Congress. If the Obama Treasury is now going to take that step, hold on to those gold bars. We're in for an even scarier ride than the Fun Slide of the last few months.




China Rebuts Geithner, Denies Currency Manipulation
China’s commerce ministry said the country hasn’t manipulated the value of its currency to promote exports and that accusations of government tampering in foreign exchange will fuel U.S. protectionism. "China will keep its currency stable and will not depreciate the currency to support exports," said a ministry spokesman who couldn’t be identified under ministry rules. The official statement today followed comments released on Jan. 22 by Timothy Geithner, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, that Obama believes China is "manipulating its currency." Clashes over the yuan’s value threaten to stoke tension between two of the world’s biggest economies and undermine cooperation to counter the global recession. China limited appreciation of the yuan against the dollar in July 2008 after the currency rose 21 percent against the dollar following the end of a fixed exchange rate three years earlier.

"China has never tried to gain advantage in international trade by manipulating its currency," the commerce ministry official said. "This kind of wrong accusation against China on exchange rate issues will intensify protectionism within the U.S., and it will not help resolve the problem." People’s Bank of China Vice Governor Su Ning echoed the commerce ministry comments in an article published by the official Xinhua News Agency today that called Geithner’s allegations "untrue and misleading." An official in the central bank’s press office declined to comment further. Geithner’s remarks on manipulation were a shift from policy pursued by the Bush administration, which stopped short of using the term in criticizing China’s exchange-rate management. Some U.S. lawmakers are seeking measures to punish trading partners perceived to have undervalued exchange rates. "China will first protect its interest before addressing concerns from other economies," said Sherman Chan, a Sydney, Australia-based economist at Moody’s Economy.com. "The optimal strategy for China is to keep its currency steady."

Geithner made the remarks in written responses to questions from Senate Finance Committee members that were posted on the panel’s Web site. The committee voted 18-5 to approve the nomination of Geithner, 47, who is the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, said the chamber will start debating Geithner’s nomination at 4 p.m. Washington time on Jan. 26 and will vote at about 6 p.m. "Obama -- backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists -- believes that China is manipulating its currency," Geithner said. "The question is how and when to broach the subject in order to do more good than harm." Obama’s team will "forge an integrated strategy on how best to achieve currency realignment in the current economic environment."

The new U.S. administration will also press China to "adopt a more aggressive stimulus package" to boost its domestic economy, Geithner said. A worsening slowdown in China’s economy, the world’s third biggest, may encourage policy makers to limit gains in the currency to help exporters as factories close, throwing millions of people out of work. "China should be expecting a very tough relationship with the new administration," according to Frank Gong, China strategist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. "China will be a natural scapegoat for the problems in the U.S." Gong doesn’t expect China to devalue its currency because the drop in exports is related to a decline in demand, not the price of goods. "China can’t increase exports by making them cheaper because there is no demand," he said, adding that a devaluation may prompt similar moves around Asia, heightening the risk of trade war.

The ministry statement isn’t the first time the Chinese government has responded to comments on its currency from Obama. In October, a letter from Obama, released by a U.S. textile industry group, linked China’s trade surplus with "manipulation" of the yuan’s value. "The yuan exchange rate is not the cause of the U.S. trade deficit," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at the time. "I hope the U.S. can expand its exports to China and reduce barriers to trade and investment." Geithner’s comments also stoked concern that demand from China, the largest foreign investor in U.S. government debt, may wane. China held about $682 billion of Treasuries as of November, and overtook Japan as the biggest overseas owner of the debt last year.




Treasury distributes another $1.5B to 39 banks
The government said Thursday it has distributed an additional $1.5 billion to 39 banks as part of the $700 billion financial rescue program. The latest capital infusions, which were made on Jan. 16, bring the total amount used to buy bank stock to $193.8 billion. Nearly 300 banks in 43 states and Puerto Rico have received support through the program. The outgoing Bush administration also spent an additional $20 billion last week to provide support to Bank of America and $1.5 billion to bolster Chrysler's auto financing arm. Those payments brought the Bush administration's total bailout program spending to $299.6 billion. The government plans to devote $250 billion of the program's first $350 billion to making direct purchases of bank stock as a way of bolstering banks' resources and lending.

The latest injections of money ranged from $400 million provided to the First BanCorp of San Juan, Puerto Rico, to $1.75 million for the Community Bank of the Bay in Oakland. The government is required to publicly disclose its disbursements through the $700 billion rescue program within two business days after the payments are made. The additional $20 billion for Bank of America is not counted as part of the $250 billion "Capital Purchase Program." Instead, this money was provided through the "Targeted Investment Program," which also has provided $20 billion to troubled Citigroup. The new report also included the $1.5 billion provided to Chrysler Financial Services, the auto financing arm of Chrysler. The loans provided to Chrysler, General Motors, and GMAC, General Motor's auto financing arm, now total $20.8 billion. All of the activity on Jan. 16 occurred on the last full business day for the Bush administration because Monday was a federal holiday.

Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and other Bush political appointees left office at noon on Tuesday when President Barack Obama took office. The Senate last week turned back an attempt to deny the Obama administration access to the second $350 billion from the bailout fund. However, Obama's economic team has stressed that it plans to overhaul operation of the program to heed widespread complaints from lawmakers about how the Bush administration managed it. Obama's team has pledged to devote more resources to preventing mortgage foreclosures and to demand greater accountability from banks who receive the funds. Many lawmakers have complained that even with the billions of dollars disbursed, the goal of the program to boost bank lending to deal with a severe credit crunch has not been achieved.




Regulators close 1st Centennial Bank in California
California regulators closed the Redlands-based bank and appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as receiver. 1st Centennial had assets of $803.3 million and deposits of $676.9 million as of Jan. 9. The FDIC said 1st Centennial's insured deposits will be assumed by First California Bank, based in Westlake Village, Calif. Its six branches will reopen Monday as offices of First California. The agency said patrons of 1st Centennial will continue to have full access to their deposits. Regular deposit accounts are insured up to $250,000. First California also will buy about $293 million of the failed bank's assets; the FDIC will retain the rest for eventual sale.

The FDIC estimated that the resolution of 1st Centennial will cost the federal deposit insurance fund $227 million. 1st Centennial was the third federally insured bank to fail and be shuttered by regulators this year amid the pressures of tumbling home prices, rising mortgage foreclosures and tighter credit. It's expected that many more banks won't survive this year's continued economic tumult, and some may have to merge with other institutions. Twenty-five U.S. banks succumbed last year, far more than those that failed in the previous five years combined. Only three failed in 2007. Regulators in November closed two big thrifts -- Downey Savings and Loan Association and PFF Bank & Trust -- based in Southern California, an area of the country that's been battered by the mortgage and housing crises.

Since October, the Treasury Department has been using most of the first half of the $700 billion federal bailout fund to buy stock in banks and other financial institutions, with the idea that cash injections will spur banks to get lending again. Last week, the government extended a new multibillion-dollar lifeline to the country's biggest bank by assets, Bank of America Corp., providing an additional $20 billion in support from the bailout fund on top of the $25 billion it previously received. The Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC also agreed to participate in a program to provide guarantees against losses on about $118 billion in various types of loans and securities backed by the bank's residential and commercial real estate loans.

High-level officials in Washington are trying to find the best way to prod banks into lending more money, reaching for a solution 18 months after the most severe credit crisis in decades sent investors fleeing. U.S. officials have been discussing the notion of establishing a new government-backed bank to remove bad loans and other toxic assets from banks' balance sheets. In theory, with those assets gone, banks would be freer to make more loans. This week the House voiced bipartisan anger over the bailout program, demanding more prudent spending of the remaining $350 billion with tighter oversight. President Barack Obama said Friday that any legislation governing the use of the second half of the money must include new measures to ensure accountability and transparency.

Seattle-based thrift Washington Mutual Inc. failed in late September, the biggest bank collapse in U.S. history. It had $307 billion in assets. The FDIC estimates that through 2013, there will be about $40 billion in losses to the deposit insurance fund, including an $8.9 billion loss from the failure of IndyMac Bank last July. The agency has raised insurance premiums paid by banks and thrifts to replenish its fund, which now stands at around $34.6 billion, below the minimum target level set by Congress and the lowest level since 2003. The FDIC has in place a program to guarantee as much as $1.4 trillion in U.S. banks' debt for more than three years as part of the government's financial rescue plan. Under the program, which is meant to thaw the freeze in bank-to-bank lending, the FDIC is providing temporary insurance for loans between banks, guaranteeing the new debt in the event of payment default by the borrowing bank. Of the roughly 8,500 federally insured banks and thrifts, the FDIC had 171 on its confidential list of troubled institutions as of Sept. 30 -- a nearly 50 percent jump from the second quarter and the highest tally since late 1995.




Australia Won’t 'Hesitate' to Boost Economy, Treasurer Says
Australia’s government won’t hesitate to stimulate the economy further should the need arise amid the global recession, Treasurer Wayne Swan said. Swan, speaking to the New York investment community, said the government could add to some A$45 billion ($29 billion) in stimulus already announced should economic conditions worsen. "We will not hesitate to take whatever further action is necessary to support growth and jobs," Swan, 54, said in speech notes received via e-mail. "Major financial institutions, some of which have withstood world wars and the Great Depression, have either collapsed or been bailed out."

Since October, Australia’s government has announced almost A$45 billion in aid for families, pensioners, bond markets, home buyers, and extra spending on schools and roads. Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens, meanwhile, has embarked on the biggest round of interest-rate cuts in almost two decades. Australia’s "strong balance sheet" and positive net worth position have given the government and central bank "more room" than most countries to adjust settings, Swan said. The government’s recent spending boost came after credit markets froze following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. on Sept. 15, prompting governments and central banks around the world to bail out financial institutions and try to revive growth.

Australia’s biggest trading partners of China and Japan are suffering as the global recession pummels exports. China, which accounts for a fifth of global growth, expanded at its weakest pace in seven years in the fourth quarter; Japan’s first recession since 2001 is deepening. Australia’s economy expanded at its weakest pace in eight years in the third quarter. The unemployment rate rose to 4.5 percent in December, the highest in almost two years, as mining companies, airlines, and automakers fired full-time workers, adding to signs the economy faces its first recession since 1991.

The nation’s economy is not immune to the global financial crisis, but is nonetheless well-placed to weather it, Swan said. "The appreciation of the Australian dollar is helping provide a substantial stimulus to the domestic economy," Swan said. "Australia’s housing market also has positive characteristics." The government, in its latest forecast, said the economy will grow 2 percent in the year ending June 30, 2009. The central bank in November lowered its 2008 economic growth forecast to 1.5 percent from 2 percent.




Price Waterhouse Auditors Arrested in India in Satyam Inquiry
Indian police arrested two employees from the affiliate of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP who audited Satyam Computer Services Ltd., the software exporter at the center of the nation’s largest fraud inquiry. Srinivas Talluri and S. Gopalakrishnan were remanded to judicial custody on charges of "conspiracy and co- participation," A. Shivanarayana, additional director general of police in Andhra Pradesh state, said from the province’s capital Hyderabad, where Satyam is based. Price Waterhouse said in an e- mailed statement it didn’t know why the two were detained. Seven years after the implosion of Enron Corp. led to the dissolution of accounting firm Arthur Andersen LLP, the Satyam case has put PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in the spotlight. Indian police, fraud squad, markets regulator and accounting body have started investigations after Satyam founder Ramalinga Raju said Jan. 7 that he had fabricated $1 billion of assets.

"Over the last fortnight, the firm has fully cooperated in all inquiries and has provided the documents called for by the Indian authorities," Price Waterhouse said in the statement from New Delhi. "We greatly regret that two Price Waterhouse partners have been detained today for further questioning." The auditing firm said Jan. 15 its reports could no longer be relied on after former chairman Raju said he’d fudged the accounts. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, a statutory body which oversees auditors, will report on its investigation into Price Waterhouse on Feb. 11. Prosecutors allege Satyam padded employee numbers to siphon off cash and forged documents to support fake bank deposits.

Satyam had about 33 billion rupees ($674 million) of "fictitious and non-existent" accounts, public prosecutor K. Ajay Kumar told a hearing for the company’s arrested founder Ramalinga Raju on Jan. 22. The Hyderabad-based company had about 40,000 employees, short of the 53,000 claimed by Satyam, he said. India’s biggest corporate fraud investigation is being led by teams from the Andhra Pradesh state police’s criminal investigation department, the markets regulator, the independent accounting body and the government’s serious fraud office. Satyam’s state-appointed board has almost arranged funds to help tide over a cash crunch till the end of March, the Hyderabad-based company said yesterday. The board has hired KPMG and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu to restate the accounts.

Satyam is struggling to raise cash to pay salaries after its founder Raju said he had falsified accounts for several years. The provider is also battling to ward off customers from joining State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. in canceling contracts. Price Waterhouse has offices in nine Indian cities, according to the firm’s Web site. The Indian operation is a separate legal identity from PricewaterhouseCoopers International Ltd., according to the Web site. The auditor’s clients include Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., maker of half the cars in the country, and the local units of Colgate-Palmolive Co., the world’s largest toothpaste maker. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP has a "vigorous global network" allowing member firms to "operate simultaneously as the most local and the most global of businesses," the firm says on its Web site. The site also includes a disclaimer that each member firm "is a separate and independent legal entity."




How America Embraced Lemon Socialism
The federal government -- that is, you and I and every other taxpayer -- has taken ownership of giant home mortgagors Fannie and Freddie, which are by now basket cases. We've also put hundreds of millions into Wall Street banks, which are still flowing red ink and seem everyday to be in worse shape. We've bailed out the giant insurer AIG, which is failing. We've given GM and Chrysler the first installments of what are likely to turn into big bailouts. It's hard to find anyone who will place a big bet on the future of these two.

It gets worse. While Washington debates TARP II, the Federal Reserve Board continues to buy or guarantee or provide loans for a vast and growing pile of questionable financial and corporate assets, much of which are likely to be worth far less than the Fed has paid or guaranteed or accepted as collateral. We're talking big money here -- so far over $2.4 trillion. (The entire TARP -- parts I and II -- in combination with the proposed stimulus package come to just over $1.5 trillion.)

Taxpayers are on the hook for this Fed bailout money, too, of course. We have to pay the interest on the ever-growing debt used to make these payments or guarantees and loans. Yet while TARP II and the upcoming stimulus package are receiving a great deal of attention, this much larger public commitment by the Fed is not. That's partly because the media doesn't much of understand it, but also because the Fed is doing it in secret, using provisions of its charter never before utilized, and avoiding discussion before the full Board of Governors for fear such meetings would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Put it all together and at this rate, the government -- that is, taxpayers -- will own much of the housing, auto, and financial sectors of the economy, those sectors that are failing fastest. Consider too that the government already finances much of the aerospace industry, which is still doing reasonably well but depends on a foreign policy that itself has been a dismal failure. And a large portion of the pharmaceutical industry and health care sector (through the Medicare and Medicaid, the Medicare drug benefit, and support of basic research). These are in bad shape as well, and it seems likely the Obama administration will try to reorganize much of them.

What's left? Most of high-tech, entertainment, hospitality, retail, and commodities. So far, at least, we taxpayers are not propping them up. And when the economy turns up -- perhaps as soon as next year, most likely later -- these sectors have a good chance of rebounding. But the others -- the ones the government is coming to own or manage -- are less likely to rebound as quickly, if ever. If anyone has a good argument for why the shareholders of these losers should not be cleaned out first, and their creditors and executives and directors second -- before taxpayers get stuck with the astonishingly-large bill -- I would like to hear it. It's called Lemon Socialism. Taxpayers support the lemons. Capitalism is reserved for the winners.




Ilargi: No, socialism it ain't, Robert Reich. Think Benito. I’m getting a bit tired of talking about that, so here's Dmitry Orlov's take:

That Bastion of American Socialism
Over the past few months the American mainstream chatter has experienced a sudden spike in the gratuitous use of the term "Socialist." It was prompted by the attempts of the federal government to resuscitate insolvent financial institutions. These attempts included offers of guarantees to their clients, injections of large sums of borrowed public money, and granting them access to almost-free credit that was magically summoned ex nihilo by the Federal Reserve. To some observers, these attempts looked like an emergency nationalization of the finance sector was underway, prompting them to cry "Socialism!" Their cries were not as strident as one would expect, bereft of the usual disdain that normally accompanies the use of this term. Rather, it was proffered with a wan smile, because the commentators could find nothing better to say – nothing that would actually make sense of the situation.

Not a single comment on this matter could be heard from any of the numerous socialist parties, either opposition or government, from around the globe, who correctly surmised that this had nothing to do with their political discipline, because in the US "socialism" is commonly used as a pejorative term, with willful ignorance and breathtaking inaccuracy, to foolishly dismiss any number of alternative notions of how society might be organized. What this new, untraditional use of the term lacks in venom, it more than makes up for in malapropism, for there is nothing remotely socialist to Henry Paulson's "no banker left behind" bail-out strategy, or to Ben Bernanke's "buy one – get one free" deal on the US Dollar (offered only to well-connected friends) or to any of the other measures, either attempted or considered, to slow the collapse of the US economy.

A nationalization of the private sector can indeed be called socialist, but only when it is carried out by a socialist government. In absence of this key ingredient, a perfect melding of government and private business is, in fact, the gold standard of fascism. But nobody is crying "Fascism!" over what has been happening in the US. Not only would this seem ridiculously theatrical, but, the trouble is, we here in the US have traditionally liked fascists. We had liked Mussolini well enough, until he allied with Hitler, whom we only eventually grew to dislike once he started hindering transatlantic trade. We liked Spain's Franco well enough too. We liked Chile's Pinochet after having a hand in bumping off his Socialist predecessor Allende (on September 11, 1973; on the same date some years later, I was very briefly seized with the odd notion that the Chileans had finally exacted their revenge). In general, a business-friendly fascist generalissimo or president-for-life with no ties to Hitler is someone we could almost always work with. So much for political honesty.

As a practical matter, failing at capitalism does not automatically make you socialist, no more than failing at marriage automatically make you gay. Even if desperation makes you randy for anything that is warm-blooded and doesn't bite, the happily gay lifestyle is not automatically there for the taking. There are the matters of grooming, and manners, and interior decoration to consider, and these take work, just like anything else. Speaking of work, building socialism certainly takes a great deal of work, a lot of which tends to be unpaid, voluntary labor, and so desperation certainly helps to inspire the effort, but it cannot be the only ingredient. It also takes intelligence, because, as Douglas Adams once astutely observed, "people are a problem."




Ilargi: And here's Orlov's latest:

Perestroika 2.0 Beta
Congratulations, everyone, we have a new president: a fresh new face, a capable, optimistic, inspiring figure, ushering in a new era of responsibility, ready to confront the many serious challenges that face the nation; in short, we have us a Gorbachev. I don't know about you, but I find the parallel rather obvious. Obama wishes to save the economy, and to inspire us with words such as "We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories." [Inauguration speech] At the same time, he cautions us that "We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense" -- an echo of Dick Cheney's "The American way of life is non-negotiable." And so we descend from the nonexistent but wonderfully evocative "clean coal" to the more pedestrian "Put a little dirt in your gas tank!"

But these are all euphemisms: the reality is that it is either fossil fuels, which are running out while simultaneously destabilizing the planet's climate and poisoning the biosphere, or the end of industrial civilization, or (most likely) both, happening in that order. According to the latest International Energy Agency projections, the half-life of industrial civilization can be capped at about 17 years: it's all downhill from here. All industrial countries will be forced to rapidly deindustrialize on this time scale, but the one that has spent the last century building an infrastructure that has no future -- based on little houses interconnected by cars, with all of its associated moribund, unmaintainable systems -- is virtually guaranteed to fall the hardest. An American's two greatest enemies are his house and his car. But try telling that to most Americans, and you will get ridicule, consternation, and disbelief. Thus, the problem has no political solution. Tragically, Obama happens to be a politician.

"Whenever we confront a problem for which no political solution exists, the inevitable result is an uncomfortable impasse filled with awkward, self-censored chatter. During the Soviet establishment’s fast slide toward dissolution, Gorbachev’s glasnost campaign unleashed a torrent of words. In a sort of nation-wide talking cure, many previously taboo subjects could be broached in public, and many important problems could suddenly be discussed. An important caveat still applied: the problems always had to be cast as "specific difficulties," or "singular problems" and never as a small piece within the larger mosaic of obvious system-wide failure. The spell was really only broken by Yeltsin, when, in the aftermath of the failed putsch, he forcefully affixed the prefix "former" to the term "Soviet Union." At that point, old, pro-Soviet, now irrelevant standards of patriotic thought and behavior suddenly became ridiculous — the domain of half-crazed, destitute pensioners, parading with portraits of Lenin and Stalin. By then, fear of political reprisals had already faded into history, but old habits die hard, and it took years for people’s thinking to catch up with the new, post-imperial reality. It was not an easy transition, and many remained embittered for life.

"In today’s America, it is also quite possible to talk about separate difficulties and singular problems, provided they are kept separate and singular and served up under a patriotic sauce with a dash of optimism on top. It is quite possible to refer to depressed areas, to the growing underclass and even to human rights abuses. It is, however, not allowable to refer to America as a chronically depressed country, an increasingly lower-class and impoverished country or a country that fails to take care of its citizens and often abuses them. Yes, there are prisons where heroin addicts are strapped to a chair while they go through withdrawal, a treatment so effective that some of them have to be carried out in body bags later, but that, you see, is a specific difficulty, a singular problem, if you will. But, no no no, we are a decent, freedom-loving country in spite of such little problems. We just have a slight problem with the way we all treat each other... and others. We did recently invade a country that had posed no threat to us and caused about a half a million civilian deaths there, but no no no, we are a freedom-loving country! That is just a specific difficulty with our foreign policy, not a true reflection of our national character (which is to squirm when presented with unpleasant facts and to roll our eyes when someone draws general conclusions from them based on a preponderance of evidence).

"When it comes to collapse mitigation, there is no one who will undertake an organized effort to make the collapse survivable, to save what can be saved and to avert the catastrophes that can still be averted. We will all do our best to delay or avert the collapse, possibly bringing it on sooner and making it worse. Constitutionally incapable of conceiving of a future that does not include the system that sustains our public personae, we will prattle on about a bright future for the country for as long as there is enough electricity to power the video camera that is pointed at us. Gorbachev’s perestroika is an example of just such an effort at self-delusion: he gave speeches that ran to several hours, devoted to mystical entities such as the "socialist marketplace." He only paused to drink water — copious amounts of it, it seemed — causing people to wonder whether there was a chamber pot inside his podium.

"There are few grounds for optimism when it comes to organizing a timely and successful effort at collapse mitigation. Nevertheless, miracles do happen. For instance, in spite of inadequate preparation, in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, none of the high-grade nuclear fissile material has ended up in the hands of terrorists, and although there were a few reports of radiation leaks, nothing happened that approached the scale of the Chernobyl catastrophe. In other ways, the miserable experience had by all was mitigated by the very nature of the Soviet system, as I described in Chapter 3. No such automatic windfalls are due the United States; here, collapse preparation, if any, is likely to be the result of an overdue, haphazardly organized and hasty effort." [Reinventing Collapse, pp. 108-110]

I sincerely hope that Obama manages to do better for himself than Gorbachev. History can be mean to do-gooders. On that fateful day when Gorbachev lost his job, his wife suffered a stroke, and he, since that day, hasn't been able to wipe that deer-in-the-headlights look off his face. Trying to solve problems that have no solution is a fine thing to try to do. Even if it is utterly futile, it makes for great drama. But I hope, for his sake, that Obama doesn't give up any of his hobbies. should he still have any.




Citigroup Raises $12 Billion in FDIC-Backed Bond Sale
Citigroup Inc. sold $12 billion of notes guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit tries to bolster capital and save the bank from insolvency. The sale is the biggest offering of debt backed by the FDIC since banks began using the government’s Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program on Nov. 25, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The offering by Citigroup and its Citigroup Funding unit surpasses GE Capital Corp.’s $10 billion sale on Jan. 5. Dwindling capital and a sinking stock price have already forced Pandit to take $45 billion in cash from the U.S. government and abandon the bank’s decade-old strategy of selling multiple financial services under one roof. Citigroup returned to the FDIC program for the first time since Dec. 4 as $42.2 billion of debt matures this year, Bloomberg data show.

"A lot of it is to refinance existing debt maturities," said Joe Scott, a banking industry analyst at Fitch Ratings in New York. "It helps them maintain adequate liquidity, and it’s part of maintaining the viability of a very systemically important institution." Pandit said last week he would split Citigroup in two and shed assets to rebuild the New York-based bank’s capital base on the heels of an $8.29 billion fourth-quarter net loss. Citigroup issued $7.5 billion of 2.125 percent fixed-rate notes due in April 2012 that priced to yield 105.75 basis points more than comparable U.S. Treasuries, Bloomberg data show. The bank sold the notes at a discount of 99.806 cents on the dollar to yield 2.19 percent, the data show.

The sale also included $4.5 billion raised by Citigroup Funding that was split among $2.25 billion of 18-month floating- rate notes that pay 10 basis points more than the three-month London interbank offered rate; $350 million of 3.25-year notes that float 45 basis points above one-month Libor; and $1.9 billion of 3.25-year notes that float 33 basis points above three-month Libor, Bloomberg data show. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point. Three-month Libor, a borrowing benchmark, is currently set at 1.17 percent; one-month Libor is set at 0.4 percent.

Bonds guaranteed through the FDIC program are rated a top Aaa by Moody’s Investors Service and AAA by Standard & Poor’s. Today’s sale makes Citigroup the fourth-biggest issuer of FDIC-backed bonds. Citigroup has raised $17.75 billion through the program, including its previous offering on Dec. 4, when the bank sold $250 million of floating-rate notes in a reopening of debt, Bloomberg data show. GE Capital is the biggest user of the government’s debt guarantee program so far, raising $20.9 billion. Bank of America Corp. is the second-biggest borrower with $19.9 billion, followed by JPMorgan Chase & Co. at $17.9 billion, Bloomberg data show.




Flood of foreclosures: It's worse than you think
Housing might be in worse shape than we think. There is probably even more excess housing inventory gumming up the market than current statistics indicate, thanks to a wave of foreclosures that has yet to hit the market. The problem: Many foreclosed homes and other distressed properties that are now owned by banks have yet to be listed for sale. The volume of this so-called 'ghost inventory' could be substantial enough to depress already steeply falling prices when it does go on the market. "That's not good news," said Pat Newport, an analyst with IHS Global Insight. "[Excess] inventory is the biggest problem in housing these days, and it leads to lower housing prices, which leads to more foreclosures."

RealtyTrac, the online marketer of foreclosed properties, recently discovered that it has far more foreclosed properties listed in its database, which the company compiles using courthouse records, than there are listed in the multiple listing services (MLS) maintained by real estate agents. RealtyTrac looked at listings in four states, California, Maryland, Florida and Wisconsin, and found that they contained only a third of the foreclosures it has in its database. The scope of the problem isn't clear, but it could be huge considering that RealtyTrac has a total of 1.5 million bank-owned properties on its site. "Many properties that should be listed on the MLS are not listed on the MLS," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

The National Association of Realtors calculates official housing inventory statistics using data from the multiple listing services. By that measure, there were 4.2 million existing homes for sale in November, an 11.2-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 10.3-month supply in October. But now it seems quite possible that these figures, which are already at record highs, are underestimating the situation. And if that's the case, it could take much longer for the housing market recovery than analysts currently expect. Until supply can be brought down to a more normalized level of six to seven months, home prices will continue to come under pressure, according to Yun. "It could be a worse problem than we think," he said.

L.J. Jennings, a real estate broker with Pyramid Real Estate and Investments in Oakland, Calif., sees plenty of evidence that it is. "There are a number of properties in my area that have actually been taken back by the banks, but have not hit the market yet," he said. "Once a bank repossesses a property, in some cases, it can take more than six months to hit the market." He cites a handful of examples offhand, including a single-family home in Richmond seized in early October, a condo in San Ramon taken back the same month and a four-family building in Oakland that was repossessed in July. "Either lenders are overwhelmed and can't get these properties back on sale quickly" said RealtyTrac spokesman Rick Sharga, "or they're deliberately slowing down."

The chief problem is probably system overload: Lenders are just not prepared to handle the sheer numbers of foreclosures that they have on their books. Banks took back about 860,000 in 2008 - more than twice the number in 2007 - according to RealtyTrac. Before the housing crisis hit, it took only about a month to get a bank-owned foreclosure on the market. Lenders still insist they try to act as swiftly as possible. According to Tom Kelly, a spokesman for Chase Mortgage, their goal is to cut their losses on these homes, which are expensive to maintain, as fast as possible. But banks might hold back listings in areas where they already have lots of homes for sale in order to avoid flooding the market, according to Michael Youngblood, a financial analyst and founder of Five Bridges Capital, an asset management company. "If lenders have a significant number of properties in a limited area, they may want to stagger putting them back on the market," he said.

Eve Alexander, a real estate broker with Buyers Broker of Florida in Orlando, attributes the delays to the general malaise that's overtaken the lending industry as it's imploded. "I think banks are dragging their rears about doing just about everything," she said. "They have so much going on, and there's so much red tape and the people don't care, nothing gets done." There are also batches of bank-owned homes that don't appear on the multiple listing services because lenders are trying to sell them via bulk and auction sales to investors as well as individuals, according to John Mechem, public affairs director for the Mortgage Bankers Association. He adds that it's also taking much longer to get many foreclosed homes in decent enough shape to put on the market.

Bank-owned properties are in worse condition than ever because the foreclosure process is taking longer than ever. As much as a year can pass between the time a borrower first misses a payment and the final auction sale, according to Youngblood. During that time, houses often deteriorate because owners have neither the money nor the incentive to maintain them. Some disgruntled homeowners may even deliberately damage homes before they leave. "According to our servicing folks, it's taking more time for lenders to get properties in saleable condition," said Mechem. The phenomenon of a growing ghost inventory doesn't promise to get better anytime soon, as long as the rate of foreclosures continues to ravage the market. There were more than 3.1 million foreclosure filings in 2008, according to RealtyTrac. Said Sharga: "I don't see how we can avoid another 3 million in 2009." 




Obama: Quit Listening to Rush Limbaugh if You Want to Get Things Done
President Obama warned Republicans on Capitol Hill today that they need to quit listening to radio king Rush Limbaugh if they want to get along with Democrats and the new administration. "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," he told top GOP leaders, whom he had invited to the White House to discuss his nearly $1 trillion stimulus package. One White House official confirmed the comment but said he was simply trying to make a larger point about bipartisan efforts.

"There are big things that unify Republicans and Democrats," the official said. "We shouldn't let partisan politics derail what are very important things that need to get done." That wasn't Obama's only jab at Republicans today. While discussing the stimulus package with top lawmakers in the White House's Roosevelt Room, President Obama shot down a critic with a simple message. "I won," he said, according to aides who were briefed on the meeting. "I will trump you on that." The response was to the objection by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to the president's proposal to increase benefits for low-income workers who don't owe federal income taxes.




Prescient Young Blogger Did What S. Korea Couldn't -- Foresee Global Financial Crisis
As a financial blogger named Minerva, Park Dae-sung was the dark prophet of market decline in South Korea. In this education-obsessed country, where academic credentials are often taken as a measure of human value, he was also something of an idiot savant. He had no degree in economics. He had no professional experience in finance. He was not a wealthy investor. He had been a so-so student who studied communications at a so-so junior college in a backwater town south of Seoul. Thirty-one years old and single, he spent much of his time alone in his room. As his father noted, "He can't even get a job." But he knew a global economic smack-down when he saw one.

Minerva saw it coming last fall, far earlier and with far more acuity than the South Korean government, which his blog has humiliated and angered. Besides getting mad, the government got even. In a move widely perceived by the public as a chilling echo of the 1970s, when a military dictatorship ruled South Korea, the government detained Park this month, invoking a seldom-used telecommunications law that charges him with harming the public by spreading "false rumors." Yet Minerva (no one knew him as Park until police raided his house Jan. 7) made his reputation by spreading rumors that turned out to be all too true. He predicted the collapse of Lehman Brothers five days before it happened. He predicted a sharp decline in the value of South Korea's currency a few days before the won imploded against the dollar.

By the time he was taken away from his computer in handcuffs, he was a cyber-sensation. His blog had garnered more than 40 million page views (there are 48 million people in this well-wired country). He was lionized in the South Korean news media as the "online oracle" and the "Internet president of the economy." Although Park has told authorities he is Minerva, claims have emerged here that Minerva might be a few people. Several economic and financial experts have said they wrote online postings under the name. Prosecutors, though, have declined to investigate, saying they have irrefutable electronic evidence that Minerva is Park. Before police sniffed him out in his bedroom, then-Finance Minister Kang Man-soo publicly demanded that Minerva step out of the shadows for a "face-to-face, down-to-earth talk" with him. (Kang was fired this week, another victim of the lousy economy.)

While Minerva was forecasting doom, government officials spent much of the early autumn inaccurately forecasting moderate market disruption and continued growth. They groused a lot about unpatriotic market speculators. President Lee Myung-bak, whom Minerva's blog mocked and insulted, warned in early October that currency traders must stop "greedily pursuing private interests" when their nation is in trouble. Lee, who marks his first anniversary in office next month, has had a memorably awful year. Before the economy tanked in the fall, his leadership was weakened by months of street protests against his decision to import U.S. beef. The public was, for a time, thrown into a panic by media and online reports that American beef would spread mad cow disease.

The detention of Park has further undermined Lee's popularity, according to Hwang Sang-min, a professor of psychology at Yonsei University in Seoul. In recent weeks, Lee's approval ratings have fallen into the mid-teens, according to newspaper polls. "Legal niceties aside, the public thinks Minerva was arrested by the president because he could not tolerate a challenge to this authority," said Hwang, author of several books on South Korean popular culture. "The arrest weakens the authority of the government." Even the legal niceties of Park's arrest seem shaky. Prosecutors claim that one of his postings is clearly false. The government issued an emergency order Dec. 29, Minerva wrote, urging top banks to stop buying dollars. The government has denied issuing the order, but a number of currency traders have told the South Korean media that the government did urge banks that day to refrain from buying dollars.

Park's detention has also upset civil liberties groups. They say it is a worrisome symptom of an immature democratic culture. "His crime was to have a large following and to make the government look bad," said Song Ho-chang, an attorney with Lawyers for a Democratic Society. "If a court does find Minerva guilty, everyone will be afraid to express an opinion online." Lee's government tried last year to use the "false rumors" communications law against anti-U.S. beef activists who had used cellphone messages to recruit protesters for street demonstrations. A judge dismissed the charges. Park is expected to face trial within a month or two. He has told his attorney, Park Chan-jong, that he is bewildered by his sudden celebrity and frightened by the prospect of imprisonment. "I feel quite lost right now," his attorney quoted Park as saying. "It is scary that I can only talk to you with my handcuffs on."


62 comments:

el gallinazo said...

Snuffy,

Very interesting audio article on colony collapse on today's quirks & quarks:

http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/archives/08-09/qq-2009-01-24.html

rumor said...

Bon anniversaire, apres-le-jour! :P

Gravity said...

Happy anniversary.

@ el gallinazo,

I've been thinking about your suggestion to have people around here do each others laundry for a fee, but this would not increase the velocity of money.

Instead, it would create a
closed loop of traded non-services,
decreasing the functional amount
of currency in circulation in
the retail sector, an effect that may be similar to other bailouts
I could mention.

I should think that multiplying the local food and energy production would be profitable under most conditions, but this is not currently feasible, and investments not forthcoming.

Any other suggestions?

Greenpa said...

Gravity:"Any other suggestions?"

Sure, from Larry Niven, decades ago.

As an answer for multiple problems, he suggested that all US currency should be coined from - nuclear waste; "spent" uranium, mixed with the other metals, including a little plutonium.

You get rid of the waste- sort of; and the incentive to pass the money on is very high.

Speaking of attributions, does Orlov read TAE regularly? Just wondering about the Gorbachev observation, one I haven't seen elsewhere...

bluebird said...

Happy Anniversary!

Eat, drink, and be merry!

Gina said...

Happy Anniversary!

I was planning on baking some cupcakes this afternoon. I'll eat two in honor of you and Stoneleigh. Unfortunately, I am in S. California - a bit far to bring a batch over to you.

Anonymous said...

Hurrah for Larry Niven! Those coins would be nice and heavy, and shiny; give you a real feel of wealth.

They'd also solve the problem of what to do with bankers- anybody tending piles of that stuff would die fairly quickly-

scandia said...

Snuffy,I,too, listened to the CBC program about bee hive collapse. Very troubling. I was going to send it to you but el gallinazo already has.
I&S and TAE community, only a year? I feel so connected to something worthwhile, tranformative. Back in the spring I threw up from the terror of confronting my financial advisor. The support rec'd here meant more than any could realize.I didn't confront him alone.I had a clutch of imaginary friends. Thank-you.

John Hemingway said...

Happy Anniversary!

cheers,
John

Greenpa said...

Gravity- maybe not. I quite like Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth"; worth rereading anytime, or certainly run out and read it if you've missed it. The protagonist starts out as the poorest (almost) of Chinese peasants; - then gets caught by the accumulation bug; evolving through wealthy.

It's usually seen as a study in humanity; but it makes a good study of economics - and wealth, and greed, too.

My new Ultimate Aphorism (of the day):

"It's the GREED, Stupid!"

I'm selling T-shirts now. You can pay either $5/shirt, or $50/shirt, depending on your tribe.

Fuser said...

I or S,

I first heard of this blog while reading theoildrum. Do you think we are at, or near, peak oil? If so, does that eliminate any eventual hope for an economic recovery? Do you feel this is it?

Chance said...

Happy Anniversary!

A five ***** idea:
The plutonium coinage could also be used to power a new form of transport (and kept at home in lead storage boxes). The potential of eliminating bankers due to radiation exposure... hmmm This idea merits expansion -- or at least, a good laugh.

Interestingly, a friend of mine too confronted her financial advisors after my prodding about two months back (I think after having thrown-up also). She found out all her investments were not being watched (no doubt due to them being in the $250k range meaning "not on the radar" for the *fee-related agents*) and also were not indexed.

In 05, the photo I was shown by another close friend - of themselves & their "financial advisor" held by magnet to the front of the Frigidaire...whilst they told me glowingly of how (at ages 70 and 73) they had put ALL of the money from the proceeds of the sale of their home - into "annuities" and stocks!!

I went home and threw-up.

The next week the same couple tried to convince ME, to conference with this advisor! I've been saying OMG OMG ever since. All the best for 2009 to my best daily read.
Chance

Tripwire said...

Happy Anniversary I&S, and greetings from the Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA-NY) conference in frozen Rochester NY.

I am here learning more about organic farming. There are many friendly and down-to-Earth people here, and the food (donated by the farmers) is terrific.

There's even a presentation tomorrow morning on the financial crisis, "The Two Faces of Money" by Philip Botwinik, co-executive director of Local Energy Solutions.

I'm struggling between which seminar to attend, that one or "Bring Out the Best in Your Soil -- Using Soil Maps and Soil Tests."

There have been some excellent presentations so far. The ones I have enjoyed the most have been on organic greenhouse management, and the growing of leafy greens in heated high tunnels during the winter.

If any TAE readers are here, give a shout!

Tripwire

D. Benton Smith said...

The next mainstream media financial journalist to use the phrase 'kick start' gets kicked til he stops.
(A new buzz word, we'll call it kick stopping. Low Tech, but effective at close range.)

To kick start the lend and spend economy is to kick a gratefully dead horse.

Who are these banks supposed to lend to, anyhow? The people they just wiped out?

If previously underqualified borrowers are poorer now than when they overborrowed (and defaulted!) last time, doesn't that sort of preclude lending them more this time?

If such is the case, and banks must now lend less... and to fewer people.... just how, exactly, does that revivify the 'ever expanding growth' economy?

And even if by some divine intervention it did, would it not simply break them all over again?

Sorry if I seem confused about this, but I seem to have got lost somewhere between the Cornucopia and Perpetual Motion exhibits.

scandia said...

I appreciate this is highly irreverant in these difficult times but I can't resist. BBC has a headline," Obama issues US recovery pledge". Is that in recovery pledge that an addict makes?

Anonymous said...

Electron avalanches, cascading systems failure, global systems collapse. You can't stop a worldwide economic fear meme when reality keeps reinforcing it an unlimited wave transmission medium.

Gravity said...

I do not quite understand why my last comment (radioactive currency) was removed.

Of the posters who have been
banned here, I was one, for being
an imbecile and clogging the comments, but I'm trying to be good. For the love of all truth,
why remove the last comment?
too stupid? waste of time?

It may have been poorly phrased, and poorly thought-out, but it wasn't too bad, I thought.

Are my comments being judged on a stricter basis than others?
Is it a two posts limit per 24h?

No longer wanting to be stubborn and egocentric, I am learning self-limiting moderation.

Be well.

Stoneleigh said...

Fuser,

I first heard of this blog while reading theoildrum. Do you think we are at, or near, peak oil? If so, does that eliminate any eventual hope for an economic recovery? Do you feel this is it?

I think we are at peak oil, but that the peak will be obscured by the financial crisis. This is essentially what I've been expecting since I first started to post at TOD in October 2005. We've passed the speculation in reverse phase and are well into the demand destruction phase, both of which are forces lowering the price of oil. Next comes the supply destruction and end to fungibility phase, which should have the opposite effect. There's a primer on this topic on our main page on the right hand side, called Energy, Finance, and Hegemonic Power

My view is that oil will bottom early in this depression, as will gold IMO. I would certainly expect energy shortage to put a hard cap on any recovery that may rear its head in the second half of the next decade.

DIYer said...

Re: doing exactly the wrong thing
At this point, I think Mr Obama would face quite a headwind if he wished to adopt a new response to the approaching tsunami. And many of us who have been paying attention, do not see much philosophical distance between the new administration and the previous three or four, really. Perhaps Jimmy Carter could lend him a cardigan sweater.

Re: foreclosure flood
The article reminds me of the Denver Post article on Detroit from the other day ... a lot of those houses will have been scavenged for copper and plumbing fixtures long before the banks get around to looking at them.

Re: Indian fraud inquiry
Perhaps the PWC auditors were trained at the Enron School of Business* here at UT, and Satyam's accounting methods seemed perfectly normal to them.
* hastily renamed to the "McCombs School of Business" in 2001, true story

Re: perestroika
For some reason I kept thinking of this word several weeks ago, as the "changes" were being unveiled. Kudos to Mr. Orlov for writing a nice essay about it.

Re: bee apocalypse
I understand that a wide variety of native, solitary bees have been making a comeback pollinating wildflowers here in Texas. Walking my dog to the park every day, I believe I have witnessed a rather rapid decline in bees on the landscape flowers in this neighborhood. My personal opinion is that it has been caused by the imidacloprid which is used so copiously in this suburban area to control everything from aphids to agave snout weevils.

TAE, ¡próspero año nuevo!

Degringolade said...

Happy Anniversary and thank you.

The good work is much appreciated.

Degringolade

Third Chimp said...

Hey Tripwire- enjoy the conference, I am riding out the not just frozen, but absolutely cryogenic temps in the Canadian praire. Thanks to sites like this one, I have been spared financial meltdown thus far, and am writing out a cheque for a high tunnel we'll use for organic veg. (And I&S got a little Xmas gift too). We'll see how far we can take leafy things in the tunnel without heating. For all winter long, I am surprised by the heated high tunnel choice, do they know about carbon friendly "solar" designs ?

rapier said...

I come here via 7 years of Bearphilia. My touchstone is Doug Noland's Credit Bubble Bulletin and my hangout is Lee Adler's Capital Stool.

Capital Stool, free site
http://www.capitalstool.com/

and it's pay sister The Wall Street Examiner
http://wallstreetexaminer.com/

Those sites are for speculators, in part. Certainly the pay site is for market players.

The politics of what I call alt.economics is sad. For the most part the serious critics of the system, something sometimes different than super financial market bears, are strict Libertarians or ultra rightists, super patriots and racists.

Classic Liberals, which I term myself, as well as ordinary liberals and even more so Progressives can be said to almost take pride in ignorance of financial and monetary matters. At any rate they are almost absent from Web discussions of the roots of our economic problems.

Long before I officially started immersing myself in macro economics it was obvious to me what a disaster Clinton's neo liberal ideas were. Allowing Rubin to institutionalize the Wall Street Paradigm of wildcat finance, Greenspan worship and general abandonment of all New Deal concepts was a disaster.

Through it all liberals either got on board with limited understanding and Progressives just shouted old slogans about dirty corporations while noting asset distribution issues and whining about income disparities.

For all practical purposes there is no longer even a shred of understanding about the nature of the worlds financial and market system that is not defined in terms of the reigning orthodoxy sometimes called Free Market Fundamentalism.

Thus we now are here, with this stimulus package and probably more TARP. How can it be otherwise. There is not a person among our political or economic elites who is not further than two degrees of separation from being made wealthy and powerful by the old order. Everyone want's to put that world back together again. On a deeper level they cannot imagine any other world. It's outside of their ability to comprehend.

Everything is understood in the context of economic markets. Market fundamentalism explains everything to them. Economic and markets are immanent in all things. A revealed truth like religion. Follow the rules and there will always be growth. No sense going into the role of government because that only muddies things much much more.

Well I'll stop boring you and leave this little verse.

I think over again my small adventures
My fears,
Those small ones that seemed so big,

For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach
And yet there is only one great thing,
The only thing

To live to see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world

Old Inuit Song

Fuser said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fuser said...

Stoneleigh,

Thank you for the response. I read Energy, Finance, and Hegemonic Power as you suggested. It was the most sobbering article I've read since becoming familiar with the concept of peak oil. I find myself speechless.

EBrown said...

Earthlings,
I know many readers here are from Canada and the US, but that there are some from elsewhere. Also there are a few expats in our midst. Anyone have thoughts on which nation(s) will weather the coming hurricane the best? Norway (small homogenous populous, hydro and big oil reserves)? Bolivia (big nat gas reserves and already used to living the simple life)? Iowa (huge corn reserves and some of the most fertile soil on the planet, homogenous populous)?
None of these places on my "to move to" list, but I'm curious if anyone is planning to move somewhere off the beaten path as a part of their plan, el gallinazo, is it Peru?

EBrown said...

Tripwire,
shoot, I missed it. I live in a not too distant small town... I should have gone to the conference.

Anonymous said...

Stoneleigh,
I just wanted to thank you for mentioning the P90X. I just received it today and have watched the introduction. It looks great and Tony looks pretty great too! I was particularly inspired by your comment about finding those "abs." I had two c-sections (18 and 14 years ago) and am wondering if they can be found. Last summer I was in great shape from farming 13 acres of organic vegetables but walking two miles a day this winter isn't enough to maintain the same level of fitness. I have always preferred getting exercise as part of life and not by watching a video but am really wanting to get in much better shape. I am wondering how long have you been using P90X and how hard has it been to keep up with it? Any suggestions would be kindly appreciated.
Much thanks.
LeeAnn

Armando Gascón said...

One of the shortcomings of being a part of the Anglosphere -the World's Cultural hegemon- is that it may turn into a dialogue of like minds. I observe a preponderance of articles from the British press all playing the same tune. Many British write well, most write a lot, and all write the same thing. For example, take this from The Sunday Times (that American newspaper printed in Britain) of tomorrow
January 25, 2009
Britain is not Iceland. Is EU the next Japan? David Smith
AG: The short answer is NO.
Or the Barclay's Telegraph, where you can read the same article recicled and warmed up to be served again: "Weak economies tempted to quit the euro face a fate worse than the current squeeze" ... If only they could bring back the peseta, punt, lira, escudo and drachma, one might think. In the "good" old days, when these economies got into difficulty, they allowed their currencies to fall - giving local industry a breathing space. They weren't constrained by a one-size-fits-all monetary policy that seems best tailored to Germany's needs."
And so on, and so boringly on.

I can read five European languages with proficiency and I don't see any one in Europe writting these things except for them. Certainly no one in Spain, either in the government or the opposition proposes leaving the euro.

I know that as most European newspapers don't bother to publish anything in the Language of Commerce (as jokingly we call English in Spain) it would be a frustrating chore for TAE to try to find other opinions and news and translate them. Only Der Spiegel among respectable European MSM carries a daily newsreel in English -I am sure there must be others, but the day has only so many hours and ars longa, vita brevis, etc.

I think that relying on the British Press for European Economic News is going to give your American readers a very misleading account of things EU.

edlowe said...

Rapier

Thanks for your post. I have been thinking something similar myself of late.

There is a great irony in the poor economic understanding among most 'progressives.' Adam Smith was a liberal (most enlightenment figures were classical liberals -- as opposed to anti-enlightenment figures who were mostly proto-fascists).

In Smith's day there was no rhetorical fence built around the two words 'politics' and 'economics.' For that matter, there was not a rhetorical fence between the words 'business' and 'morality.' -- The antienlightenment British Evangelicals (bankers and traders by trade) had plenty to do with driving a wedge between these ideas, both in their rhetoric and in their life-style practices.

The great tragedy of what has happened since the late 18th century (Adam Smith's time) is how Corporate power has slowly eroded any notion of liberal society, such that now, most people have very little idea just what liberalism stood for -- or how market economic cannot function well without liberal society -- as it was envisioned in the 18th & 19th centuries.

Anonymous said...

Tripwire,

I was planning to go to NOFA but a nasty virus kept me home. I'm sorry to miss it this year.

S & I,
Congratulations for a year of TAE and thanks.

Bluemarble

el gallinazo said...

I&S

Congratulations on your anniversary. May you live in interesting times.

Gravity

The laundry thing was just part of my perverted, bird brained humor. If you took it seriously for more than 15 seconds, it would be a sad thing.

Scandia,

One of my closer friends here is a 65 year old retired school teacher. I told her last spring to dump here equities, about $320K and buy T-Bills. When the market started to really melt in August, I asked her how it went. She said she called up her 75 year old broker several times (who we refer to as "the geezer,") and asked him to sell the stocks, but he just told her not to worry her head about it little lady. The guy sounds just like Foghorn Leghorn. I actually had to get on an extension with her. She told him to do exactly what I said, which was to sell every stock within the hour (maybe 35) and buy 13 week T-Bills. He told me I was an idiot. I said I would rather be an idiot eating steak than a genius like him eating Alpo. I said that he had two choices: do what I said or get his ass sued off for breaking her fiduciary trust. That was when the S&P500 was around 1275. So there are even bigger assholes than your former FA, and nice, trusting, and somewhat timid women are still being screwed by them - at least figuratively.

@ Armando Gascón

A well taken point. It's just that so many of us in North America are monolingual. Most South Americans are monolingual as well - in Spanish. Our hosts are both multilingual, but they are running flat out as it is and could never find the time to translate. But it is unfortunate that we cannot break out of the English press. I do try to read (with great effort and exhaustion) articles from the Latin American press. Hopefully it will become easier before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

EBrown,

A high mountain valley of Peru is number one on my list. But I expect to travel around a bit and wish to check out Mexico. I have heard wonderful things about the warmth of the Mexican people from many different directions. At any rate - I am outahere in July. My bridges are already burnt.

Edlowe,

You can't imagine how galling it is to be watching Congress on C-Span and find yourself supporting the Republican side. Makes me want to barf.

Alex said...

Hronia Polla TAE!

Anonymous said...

Illargi,

You are correct that it is not socialism. It's more like when someone realizes they won't be able to continue to make their credit card payment, and since they are going to stop paying anyway, go ahead and max it out.

I'm certain the US knows they will not be able to roll over their debt and will be forced into default in 2009, thus, borrow, print, and kite until you are stopped is the current plan.

Russia has already caught on and is dumping USD from their currency reserves like it's nobody's business.

Since China's exports have collapsed, there is no reason not to do the same.

2009 is the year of total financial meltdown.

Anonymous said...

Thank you,old bird,nice reminder.I am fortunate in that I live near a national forest land,in a relatively "clean"area.I am taking care in 1.always buy new gear
2.no chem treatments...I am using whats called "survivor stock".Tough bugs,or I take the hive as a loss.Each year I add queens from a "boutique"bee breeder, artificially bred queens from one of the top labs...and mix them with a strain of bees developed by Sue Colby @ Ohio state,Who have a advanced apiary program.I have used her bees for baseline genetic material.Called New World Carniolians,I am hoping that my "mutts"develop into a site specific bee that can survive w/no chems/as well as having other traits needed for ultimate survival.

This small business of mine can be as complex,or as simple as you want it to be,but with the way things are,I enjoy helping my colonies "working"my bees .It a lot more fun then dealing with Irate citizens,or pissed off Ironworkers...

Congratulations!! 1 year of hard truths I&S.I hope you can hold out.We need your words,folks.

Spent the day working on the new greenhouse.In the rain....And am very tired...G'nite

snuffy

Orion said...

Happy Anniversary! Coninuing from yesterday's comments:
------------------
@Eugen: If you don't wish to debate in a public forum, don't comment in one.

Re: Promoting/destroying. No, those words are quite correct.

Re: Making stuff up. Hardly. Everything is quite well independently documented. See below for one example. You can stick your head in the sand and ignore it, but reality doesn't go away.

Before you accuse others of dishonesty, you should take a hard look at yourself first. And add to your list a lame attempt to squelch a public discussion.

------------------
@goritsas. While I agree with you about the ecological impact, I have to respectfully disagree with you about the immediacy of that impact versus other issues. You can try arguing it with the millions who are without jobs right now. I doubt you'll get much agreement. Though less immediacy doesn't mean less eventual impact.

Here's one thing to consider. If you put everyone next to each other (2 ft square per person, say), the entire world's population would fit within a 60 mile diameter circle. I'm of the opinion that we have enough capability and ingenuity to support a population of that size. It's also pretty clear that we're far from doing so in any sort of reasonable manner.

Re: Laws. You can't have a civilized society without laws, nor can you solve problems without them. That's why they first evolved in the dawn of recorded history. But there's a difference between Fascism, Anarchy and a balance to support building a society which enhances the best aspects of humanity and minimizes the worst. You apparently prefer Anarchy.

Your argument is basically an attempt to justify doing what you want, when you want. Just like the Bankers and Politicians who got us into this financial mess.

------------------
@el gallinazo: Thanks for accepting the fact that you don't have an argument which you can back up with reason, logic or facts. But I note that living on wishful thinking got us into this mess. If/when you stop smoking those substances you're fond of, you might want to pay attention and learn from that point.

------------------
@scandia: Congrats on finally becoming a critical thinker! The next step is to come up with workable solutions to make society and the world better as a whole. I eagerly await hearing yours, but so far, they are completely lacking. You might note that Critical Thinking without action isn't helpful. And beware such can be delusional.

------------------
@Ontario: You fail to realize that the U.S. has far greater immigration than any other country. I've stated that it's the life-blood of our Country. But not Illegal Immigration. I noticed that you failed to show how such Illegal Immigration doesn't improve things except for a few, and mostly for the rich. If you could do that, then I would agree with you.

Unfortunately, your evidence is lacking, and the evidence to the contrary abounds.

140,000 construction workers are out of work right now in California. Many of these would be working, if there weren't so many Illegals in construction these days.

In short, you're living in a made up fantasy. Reality has a funny way of biting you when you do that. It's certainly biting people in California right now.


------------------
@Ahmisa: You ignore the crimes against peace and humanity which the problems of Illegal Immigration have caused. Take a look at the increased drug trafficking, human smuggling, extortion, the threat to the lives of the impared who are dependent upon the State, higher unemployment and indebtedness for years, all of which are going on right now. That's not even mentioning a wide variety of other issues.

As I said, the solution is to build things up, not tear them down. It's only the former which can improve things for everyone. Get over your entitlement attitude.

------------------
@Jal; Thank you for reiterating that a complete understanding is necessary. I would only add that intelligent, reasoned debate is critical in helping achieve that.

------------------
@Stoneleigh "I suggest thinking about the immigration issue in human terms than than legalistic ones."

Certainly. And might I suggest thinking, in human terms, about the people who are being significantly impacted, negatively, by the issue? You know, the ones you're always asking money from?

So, do explain, what exactly is there about higher unemployment, less opportunity, greater threats to public health and safety which aren't in human terms? I would honestly love to know.

Legal frameworks come from human terms, and in the U.S. that framework has been built up over time by its citizens to address the very human issues which are important to them. Every country has the right to do that. Your argument, that countries don't have basic sovergnity, is not a solution for solving the problems of the world. It might help a few for a very short time before the better structures are overwhelmed and fall apart.

For example, there are 50 Million Americans who would be in Canada right now to get Health Care if they could. I don't hear Canadians clamouring to let Americans in. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Re: "All too often the law is used to codify, dignify and institutionalize oppression, or legalize financial predation." Of course. But you left out a key point. The law is also used to protect people from abuse. And in the topic at hand, it was passed to protect its own citizens from the negative impacts I've mentioned.

Regarding the impact, you are repeating the theory on how things should work, but not on the reality of how they do. I've posted this before, let me do so once more. From a recent Congressional Budget Office report, no less:
The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on State and Local Budgets.

Since some here don't pay attention to the basic data, I'll summarize: "... costs associated with providing services to unauthorized immigrants [were] tens of billions of dollars in California". And: "The tax revenues that unauthorized immigrants generate for state and local governments do not offset the total cost of services provided to those immigrants". Page 11 if you're interested.

For those with a short memory, that "tens of billions" is at least half of California's budget shortfall, if not all of it this year. Kids are being shut out of college, life saving critical health may be denied in a few days, and much, much more is directly affected.

The myth, that Illegal Immigrants provide a net positive effort to this country, is simply a complete lie. And we're seeing the effects of that lie right now.

Re: "US workers will not be able to hang on to higher wages in any case as unemployment spikes.". The point is that Illegal Immigration further depress wages, increases unemployment, and drain available resources. You are basically advocating making a bad situation worse, for the benefit of the rich.

But hey, if we're all going to end up the same, that means there should be no reason to keep them here, doesn't it?

Tripwire said...

Third Chimp,

What happened to the other two? :-)

I can't comment further on the heated high tunnel here - I don't want to give away the guy's business secrets. However, it is not a wasteful solution and is meant to keep things alive on cold and cloudy days when the sun can't do the job.

EBrown and Bluemarble - sorry you couldn't make it. The sessions are being professionally recorded this year, and I'll post information on how you can order such a thing in case you're interested.

scandia said...

Orion, Your response to me suggests that unless I use newly developing critical thinking skills to save the world they have no valid purpose. At the moment my motivation is to be able to recognize " spin", to survive these uncertain times ,to give a head's up to family,friends, community. I will leave Obama " to change the world ".
About borders, Canada benefitted hugely when those who opposed the Vietnam War found safety and protection in Canada. In particular I am grateful that Jane Jacobs made her way north. These days Americans who do not support the illegal invasion of Iraq try to come to Canada. Our current gov't is not so welcoming although there are individuals who do take them in and help with the legal efforts to stay. So far without much success.Historically Canada has been a destination for those oppressed by the American state. The underground railroad is a well documented example.
As Stoneleigh has pointed out each of us never knows when the state decides our kind are undesirable. Migration has always been a force in human history, always will be especially with the current world leadership. Please open your heart to the possibility that many need to flee in advance of completing the " paperwork" that often takes years.

el gallinazo said...

Mish makes a very strong, detailed argument against the inflationistas this morning. Worth reading.

el gallinazo said...

I&S

What is your take on US Treasury default in 2009 which some Anon brought up? I view it as extremely unlikely. Treasury default means not only the death of the dollar as the reserve currency but as a serious currency. It means the USA could not import anything. I think TPTB would cut every meaningful social program including Medicare, Medicaid, and social security before they would allow this to happen. Maybe down the road - but 2009 - no.

Anonymous said...

Ship of Fools by Ted K.

Once upon a time, the captain and the mates of a ship grew so vain of their seamanship, so full of hubris and so impressed with themselves, that they went mad. They turned the ship north and sailed until they met with icebergs and dangerous floes, and they kept sailing north into more and more perilous waters, solely in order to give themselves opportunities to perform ever-more-brilliant feats of seamanship.

As the ship reached higher and higher latitudes, the passengers and crew became increasingly uncomfortable. They began quarreling among themselves and complaining of the conditions under which they lived.

"Shiver me timbers," said an able seaman, "if this ain't the worst voyage I've ever been on. The deck is slick with ice; when I'm on lookout the wind cuts through me jacket like a knife; every time I reef the foresail I blamed-near freeze me fingers; and all I get for it is a miserable five shillings a month!"

"You think you have it bad!" said a lady passenger. "I can't sleep at night for the cold. Ladies on this ship don't get as many blankets as the men. It isn't fair!"

A Mexican sailor chimed in: "¡Chingado! I'm only getting half the wages of the Anglo seamen. We need plenty of food to keep us warm in this climate, and I'm not getting my share; the Anglos get more. And the worst of it is that the mates always give me orders in English instead of Spanish."

"I have more reason to complain than anybody," said an American Indian sailor. "If the palefaces hadn't robbed me of my ancestral lands, I wouldn't even be on this ship, here among the icebergs and arctic winds. I would just be paddling a canoe on a nice, placid lake. I deserve compensation. At the very least, the captain should let me run a crap game so that I can make some money."

The bosun spoke up: "Yesterday the first mate called me a 'fruit' just because I suck cocks. I have a right to suck cocks without being called names for it!"

It's not only humans who are mistreated on this ship," interjected an animal-lover among the passengers, her voice quivering with indignation. "Why, last week I saw the second mate kick the ship's dog twice!"

One of the passengers was a college professor. Wringing his hands he exclaimed,

"All this is just awful! It's immoral! It's racism, sexism, speciesism, homophobia, and exploitation of the working class! It's discrimination! We must have social justice: Equal wages for the Mexican sailor, higher wages for all sailors, compensation for the Indian, equal blankets for the ladies, a guaranteed right to suck cocks, and no more kicking the dog!"

"Yes, yes!" shouted the passengers. "Aye-aye!" shouted the crew. "It's discrimination! We have to demand our rights!"

The cabin boy cleared his throat.

"Ahem. You all have good reasons to complain. But it seems to me that what we really have to do is get this ship turned around and headed back south, because if we keep going north we're sure to be wrecked sooner or later, and then your wages, your blankets, and your right to suck cocks won't do you any good, because we'll all drown."

But no one paid any attention to him, because he was only the cabin boy.

The captain and the mates, from their station on the poop deck, had been watching and listening. Now they smiled and winked at one another, and at a gesture from the captain the third mate came down from the poop deck, sauntered over to where the passengers and crew were gathered, and shouldered his way in amongst them. He put a very serious expression on his face and spoke thusly:

"We officers have to admit that some really inexcusable things have been happening on this ship. We hadn't realized how bad the situation was until we heard your complaints. We are men of good will and want to do right by you. But - well - the captain is rather conservative and set in his ways, and may have to be prodded a bit before he'll make any substantial changes. My personal opinion is that if you protest vigorously - but always peacefully and without violating any of the ship's rules - you would shake the captain out of his inertia and force him to address the problems of which you so justly complain."

Having said this, the third mate headed back toward the poop deck. As he went, the passengers and crew called after him, "Moderate! Reformer! Goody-liberal! Captain's stooge!" But they nevertheless did as he said. They gathered in a body before the poop deck, shouted insults at the officers, and demanded their rights: "I want higher wages and better working conditions," cried the able seaman. "Equal blankets for women," cried the lady passenger. "I want to receive my orders in Spanish," cried the Mexican sailor. "I want the right to run a crap game," cried the Indian sailor. "I don't want to be called a fruit," cried the bosun. "No more kicking the dog," cried the animal lover. "Revolution now," cried the professor.

The captain and the mates huddled together and conferred for several minutes, winking, nodding and smiling at one another all the while. Then the captain stepped to the front of the poop deck and, with a great show of benevolence, announced that the able seaman's wages would be raised to six shillings a month; the Mexican sailor's wages would be raised to two-thirds the wages of an Anglo seaman, and the order to reef the foresail would be given in Spanish; lady passengers would receive one more blanket; the Indian sailor would be allowed to run a crap game on Saturday nights; the bosun wouldn't be called a fruit as long as he kept his cocksucking strictly private; and the dog wouldn't be kicked unless he did something really naughty, such as stealing food from the galley.

The passengers and crew celebrated these concessions as a great victory, but the next morning, they were again feeling dissatisfied.

"Six shillings a month is a pittance, and I still freeze me fingers when I reef the foresail," grumbled the able seaman. "I'm still not getting the same wages as the Anglos, or enough food for this climate," said the Mexican sailor. "We women still don't have enough blankets to keep us warm," said the lady passenger. The other crewmen and passengers voiced similar complaints, and the professor egged them on.

When they were done, the cabin boy spoke up - louder this time so that the others could not easily ignore him:

"It's really terrible that the dog gets kicked for stealing a bit of bread from the galley, and that women don't have equal blankets, and that the able seaman gets his fingers frozen; and I don't see why the bosun shouldn't suck cocks if he wants to. But look how thick the icebergs are now, and how the wind blows harder and harder! We've got to turn this ship back toward the south, because if we keep going north we'll be wrecked and drowned."

"Oh yes," said the bosun, "It's just so awful that we keep heading north. But why should I have to keep cocksucking in the closet? Why should I be called a fruit? Ain't I as good as everyone else?"

"Sailing north is terrible," said the lady passenger. "But don't you see? That's exactly why women need more blankets to keep them warm. I demand equal blankets for women now!"

"It's quite true," said the professor, "that sailing to the north imposes great hardships on all of us. But changing course toward the south would be unrealistic. You can't turn back the clock. We must find a mature way of dealing with the situation."

"Look," said the cabin boy, "If we let those four madmen up on the poop deck have their way, we'll all be drowned. If we ever get the ship out of danger, then we can worry about working conditions, blankets for women, and the right to suck cocks. But first we've got to get this vessel turned around. If a few of us get together, make a plan, and show some courage, we can save ourselves. It wouldn't take many of us - six or eight would do. We could charge the poop, chuck those lunatics overboard, and turn the ship to the south."

The professor elevated his nose and said sternly, "I don't believe in violence. It's immoral."

"It's unethical ever to use violence," said the bosun.

"I'm terrified of violence," said the lady passenger.

The captain and the mates had been watching and listening all the while. At a signal from the captain, the third mate stepped down to the main deck. He went about among the passengers and crew, telling them that there were still many problems on the ship.

"We have made much progress," he said, "But much remains to be done. Working conditions for the able seaman are still hard, the Mexican still isn't getting the same wages as the Anglos, the women still don't have quite as many blankets as the men, the Indian's Saturday-night crap game is a paltry compensation for his lost lands, it's unfair to the bosun that he has to keep his cocksucking in the closet, and the dog still gets kicked at times.

"I think the captain needs to be prodded again. It would help if you all would put on another protest - as long as it remains nonviolent."

As the third mate walked back toward the stern, the passengers and the crew shouted insults after him, but they nevertheless did what he said and gathered in front of the poop deck for another protest. They ranted and raved and brandished their fists, and they even threw a rotten egg at the captain (which he skillfully dodged).

After hearing their complaints, the captain and the mates huddled for a conference, during which they winked and grinned broadly at one another. Then the captain stepped to the front of the poop deck and announced that the able seaman would be given gloves to keep his fingers warm, the Mexican sailor would receive wages equal to three-fourths the wages of an Anglo seaman, the women would receive yet another blanket, the Indian sailor could run a crap game on Saturday and Sunday nights, the bosun would be allowed to suck cocks publicly after dark, and no one could kick the dog without special permission from the captain.

The passengers and crew were ecstatic over this great revolutionary victory, but by the next morning they were again feeling dissatisfied and began grumbling about the same old hardships.

The cabin boy this time was getting angry.

"You damn fools!" he shouted. "Don't you see what the captain and the mates are doing? They're keeping you occupied with your trivial grievances about blankets and wages and the dog being kicked so that you won't think about what is really wrong with this ship --- that it's getting farther and farther to the north and we're all going to be drowned. If just a few of you would come to your senses, get together, and charge the poop deck, we could turn this ship around and save ourselves. But all you do is whine about petty little issues like working conditions and crap games and the right to suck cocks."

The passengers and the crew were incensed.

"Petty!!" cried the Mexican, "Do you think it's reasonable that I get only three-fourths the wages of an Anglo sailor? Is that petty?

"How can you call my grievance trivial? shouted the bosun. "Don't you know how humiliating it is to be called a fruit?"

"Kicking the dog is not a 'petty little issue!'" screamed the animal-lover. "It's heartless, cruel, and brutal!"

"Alright then," answered the cabin boy. "These issues are not petty and trivial. Kicking the dog is cruel and brutal and it is humiliating to be called a fruit. But in comparison to our real problem - in comparison to the fact that the ship is still heading north - your grievances are petty and trivial, because if we don't get this ship turned around soon, we're all going to drown.

"Fascist!" said the professor.

"Counterrevolutionary!" said the lady passenger. And all of the passengers and crew chimed in one after another, calling the cabin boy a fascist and a counterrevolutionary. They pushed him away and went back to grumbling about wages, and about blankets for women, and about the right to suck cocks, and about how the dog was treated. The ship kept sailing north, and after a while it was crushed between two icebergs and everyone drowned.

Ilargi said...

Could you all please refrain from posting those endless comments? I for one refuse to read them.

Stoneleigh said...

El Gallinazo,

I don't see a default in 2009. I agree that many other measures, even extremely painful ones, would be taken first.

My view of where things are currently going in the market is that we should see a spike downwards, followed by a significant rally - a rally that actually looks like one this time. Such a rally would take the pressure off for a while as fear temporarily gives way to greed and complacency again. I think we'll see the downward momentum building rapidly after that though.

You should be able to relocate to Peru safely before everything hits the fan. I hope you like it there. I think it sounds great.

João Leitão said...

Dear Ebrown,

I am in Portugal, Europe, building a community (relocatenow.ning.com), but I also have a plan C in Angola. My father is there and has a huge farm. Many portuguese engineers and technicians are traveling to Angola as an economic boom is happening. It`s the biggest oil exporter of Africa as we speak. Also have many natural resources and a friendly population.

Congratulations TAE. You are currently my main news source!

João
hortadozinho.com
relocanow.ning.com
permaculturaportugal.ning.com

rapier said...

The US Treasury cannot default. Default meaning not pay the principal and interest on it's outstanding debt. Well it cannot happen in the short term.

A sort of default is possible and that would be if a Treasury auction failed. Meaning there were simply not enough bids to cover the offering. This happened to Germany a couple of weeks ago. A big deal for a world leading economy, as opposed to a third world one but not a big deal like a US Treasury one would be.

A failed auction would possibly cause a new panic in the capital markets.

If the Treasury can't sell its paper the Fed will. Monetizing in other words. The Fed is monetizing now but not directly Treasury securities. I am sure they will from time to tine. The worse things get the more likely they will, in huge quantities. The results are unpredictable, of course.

For the last month Treasury borrowings have been light for many technical reasons but that is now ending. Their massive borrowing needs are now sure to last till Tax day in mid April and that is going to be a huge headwind for the markets. If or when the stimulus package is passed the Treasuries needs will grow accordingly.

With political sentiment against the SP, both well intentioned opposition and bad intentioned. ie politically expedient, one possibility would be for troubles with the auctions to fund it.

Stoneleigh said...

I think Dmitri Orlov's comparison between Obama and Gorbachev is very apt. Both are politicians who took the helm during the endgame for their respective ideologies and both promised to reform, or soften, that ideology while preserving its strengths. Egon Krentz from the former DDR (East Germany) would be another example.

Unfortunately reforming a system that is collapsing under it own weight, is riddled with corruption and is firmly held hostage by vested interests is not possible. The attempt is doomed to be overtaken by events, and the reputation of the reformer suffers considerably in the process.

It makes me wonder who might be the American Boris Yeltsin, the leader one might expect to preside over a group of oligarchs feeding on the carcass of the state and stuffing the proceeds into Swiss bank accounts.

uncertain said...

Armando Gascón, good points, I might have to force myself to start reading the Spanish media again, rusty as my Spanish is. The Anglo/US view is tiresomely predictable, especially in its nonstop efforts to simplify complex situations into false binary opposites, then to hold those two as real, then to discuss the question in light of those. I always found the Spanish media and intellectuals to be refreshingly free of that annoying tendency, ie, they actually seem able to think somewhat clearly, as they demonstrated when they voted Aznar out immediately after the Madrid bombing, assigning blame properly.

And The Market Ticker had this from the Washington Post:

"The job market is now consistently losing 500,000-plus jobs per month, something you couldn't have envisioned eight to 12 weeks ago. Losses in the banking system over the last week or two have been much larger than people had been expecting."

So what's up here, I&L have been 'envisioning' this job loss consistently for months. They must get tired of reading such gibberish, at some point some genius in the US financial sector/media is going to realize that the problem isn't in the ability to predict, it's in the premises used to construct those predictions. As I&L demonstrate week after week, use the right premises, and your predictions are fine.

el gallinazo, try as I might, I simply cannot take anyone who continues to promote a Libertarian agenda seriously at this point, free markets = the freedom to construct oligarchies of capital based power, nothing else, and much as I'd like to share Libertarian views on other issues, until I meet a Libertarian who holds the state power of corporations, as mini-states, to be even MORE dangerous than the state power of political states, I will never have any respect for their position.

The only free markets I've ever seen were in the Third world and Spain, and I'm sure the Spanish mercados were heavily regulated by the state to keep them free, ie, not controlled and dominated by multinational corporations. So I take any apparent similarities between common sense and libertarian thinking as a coincidence, nothing more. Once the world relieves itself of the huge burden imposed by organized feudalist style capital structures, ie, corporations, maybe we can talk about true free markets, but not until then.

With that said, the current Mish posting was the first readable one I've seen, I usually don't follow him, but I checked out a few this week, 2 were nonsense, this one is solid, but that's because he's restricting himself to a VERY narrow perspective.

Ilargi, really good post by the way.

Orion, you are just talking, you present no proof of any statement you make, yet you claim to want to 'debate'.

You also totally ignore the roll of, in the case of South of the Border -> US migrations, the ongoing exploitation and abuse, by American, US, companies, CIA, and related interests, in Mexico, Guatamala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Cuba, Chile, etc... Some of these states have somewhat recovered, some continue to be heavily influenced by US interests, I don't follow the individual status of each country's freedom from US influence any longer, so the list of course changes, but the fact you totally ignore this real history is pretty much all anyone needs to ignore your views.

Expand your analysis to include the two way flow of power and people, and you might have a point worth considering, ignore it, and what you say has no meaning at all beyond: the US should be free to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and if some people's lives are ruined by our Government's and Corporations and ideologies, screw them, America is for us alone.

Speaking as someone who lives in a heavily immigrant filled area, all I see is the normal flow and flux of immigration that has always existed in history, the qualifier 'legal' or 'illegal' is simply a way to pretend that when we say destroy a country, and create total terror, say in Nicaragua or El Salvador, the people there should just stay put, happy to face the death squads we funded and trained. That's just one moment in history, that accounted for one wave of immigrants desperate to survive.

So prove you have a brain and can reason and stop spouting this nonsense, sure it would be nice to have all legal immigration, but it would also be nice to have all legal US foreign policy and Multinational behaviors. I don't expect you to offer more than lip service to such issues however, which basically proves that you are talking only about Us law, not international law, and only US interests, not other nation's interests. People like you watch too much Fox news etc, it's totally obvious, your data is always totally skewed and distorted, so of course are your conclusions.

Stoneleigh said...

El Gallinazo,

I thought Mish's post was good too. He makes the vital point that one simply cannot ignore the effect of credit in understanding what the effective money supply really is. Far too few commentators consider it, which is why they don't have an accurate picture of what is going on. When we are on the verge of a credit collapse that could wipe out 99% of the effective money supply, inflation simply isn't possible.

el gallinazo said...

@Uncertain

You ought to know by now that I detest most Libertarians, but Mish is definitely Lib Lite. His analysis on a **practical** level of the markets is clear and well thought out. He is even a pleasant, soft spoken, sympatico person which is, to say the least, a rarity for a Libertarian. He detests Bush, the wars, thinks Geithner was a horrible mistake, and realizes that taking a hard, public line with China (Geithner) is the height of stupidity.

He is totally against the bank bail outs and organized the most effective grass roots fight against it. He regards Obama's stimulus strategy as stupid and ineffective. He holds the Fed in contempt and thinks it should be abolished.

On a very practical, nuts and bolts, what should we do and what's going to happen tomorrow level, it would be hard to slip a knife blade between our hosts, I&S, and Mish.

He is a firm advocate of using the "d" word for what we are in. On a practical or predictive level, the only major difference I can see between Mish and I&S is that I don't believe that he realizes the **cataclysmic** results of the coming depression. He also does not seem to discuss peak energy much, but for the immediate future, as Stoneleigh constantly points out, this has taken a back burner to the collapse of the Greater Depression anyway.
On a theoretical level, Mish is far less alienated from the system as it exists as a structure.

Please listen to his 13 minute interview on Howe Street on Friday and let me know what you think.

el gallinazo said...

Stoneleigh,

Please describe for me the media rational resulting in the herding of the suckers' rally. Do you think that Obama's stimulus package will slow down the stream of horrible news and earnings reports and mask it? How is the suckers' rally compatible with continued, and possibly accelerated, deleveraging resulting in the further destruction of the money/credit supply?

I just can't get my head around this degree of irrationality, but really need to in order to keep playing successfully with my "mad money" project.

Stoneleigh said...

El Gallinazo,

You're right that we agree with Mish about many things, but the extent of what we're facing isn't one of them (and neither is Libertarianism). I remember him saying that this crisis wouldn't be as bad as the tech-wreck after 2000 because such a thing could only happen once in a lifetime. That's just laughable. The tech-wreck was just the opening act. 2000-2003 will look like the good old days soon enough.

Too many finance types can't seem to envisage an end to the world of everything viewed in terms of investment opportunities. The world of desperate capital preservation isn't real for them yet, but it will be.

Ahimsa said...

I & S, congratulations. Thank you for your hard and effective work.

jal said...

There is a good mix of intellectual discussion going on in this blog.

Solutions on what to do can only come from a complete understanding, and not by ignoring the issues.

Uncertain and Orion.
you are both forcing people to think outside THEIR BOX.

Permanent solutions cannot be found and implemented by little boxes.
Permanent compromises and accommodations for dynamic variables are not permanent stabilization mechanisms.

Market corrections are an indication of our lack of knowledge, flawed models and inadequate/useless tools in our mixed social and capitalist economic system.

We have incomplete historical data of social and economic models that have lasted thousands of years which we find to be unacceptable. (ie. China etc.)

Yesterday is gone and I expect that Tomorrow will come from the fringes (like this blog)
=======
el gallinazo said …
“I just can't get my head around this degree of irrationality, but really need to in order to keep playing successfully with my "mad money" project.”

I’d would also like to get an answer … I want to withdraw the remainder of my sucker money out with minimum loss.
jal

Stoneleigh said...

El Gallinazo,

Do you think that Obama's stimulus package will slow down the stream of horrible news and earnings reports and mask it? How is the suckers' rally compatible with continued, and possibly accelerated, deleveraging resulting in the further destruction of the money/credit supply?

I don't think that the stimulus package will slow down or mask the horrible news. I think society will have one of its endogenous mood swings, which will temporarily take the focus off the negative factors all around us. That will make the stimulus package look good for a while.

In a very real sense, mood drives the news rather than the news driving mood (although there is constant feedback between the two). It does so by altering the perceptions of those who write the news, so that their emotional response to events is less driven by danger signals and more by complacency.

Reality doesn't have to change at all for this to happen, as it isn't a rational process. However, mood can temporarily improve reality by abating the forces that drive people to perform the panic behaviours inherent in a market cascade.

Rallies happen for no other reason than people suddenly feel more positive, and therefore take chances again, even in the face of all the available data. When the rally is over, people will begin cashing out again and the deleveraging will continue, as it must until the (small amount of) remaining debt is acceptably collateralized to the (few) remaining creditors.

uncertain said...

el gallinazo, I will, but I have to say, his asinine comments re state workers getting forced to take pay cuts really was one of the stupider comments I've seen this week.

A core problem in the US is this bizarre notion that we don't have to pay taxes to support our advanced modern industrial system, so to see Mish happily pointing to state workers unions being forced to take pay cuts was truly obnoxious in my opinion, and so utterly typical of anyone of that mindset. Let's talk about raising taxes, let's talk about a return to 90% top income tax levels, etc. And let's talk about getting the stolen money back from the elites who stole it before we whine about someone who works for a living.

That said, I agree that the current posting was happily void of such garbage, but that's the real difference between our hosts here in my view and a guy like him, and it's why I respect I&L and I don't respect Mish at all. All he wants is.. what? Logically the position makes no sense, sure he can do an analysis, but his world view has no solution in it, none is possible, because it's not the state that is at core at fault, it's the corporatist system that is to blame. That's my point, where's all the talk of corporate lobbying, bribery, etc, corrupting our political process? That's the real problem here. He can talk all he wants about the issues, and be as good at analyzing them, but when push comes to shove, the ideology of free markets is void as far as I'm concerned, and following it is an error.

Anyway, I do agree that as straight analysis, today's was good. But I can already see he's only good if he keeps within very narrow guidelines, guidelines which our hosts here are very comfortable stepping outside of, because they have much wider world views, that are able to handle a much greater range of data.

Overall, I'm not very interested in such narrow views as Mish has, and I'm definitely highly skeptical of anyone who can't figure out for themselves why a free market view point in today's system is an absurdity, and I tend to wonder how many other core mental glitches like that they have that color things they say in subtle or not so subtle ways. Enough where I find it not worth reading them, I'd say, there's too many great people and thinkers out there to waste time on one trick ponies who got one thing right, one time.

By the way, the second Orlov piece was quite good, thought provoking. I don't always like him, I don't think his Soviet experiences really jell that well with whatever will happen here, but sometimes he really hits it, not always, but sometimes.

uncertain said...

Doug Noland also published a commentary on U.K. Takes a Turn for the Worst

He hasn't been as consistent doing his credit bubble bulliten, but today's was good, and a big warning of things to come here, might be a good one for tae

As always, go to the very bottom of the page to read his commentary, he does it the opposite of TAE, stories / blurbs are up, comment is below.

el gallinazo said...

Uncertain

I agree with much that you are saying. However, Mish is also outraged at the greed and duplicity of the investment banks. Like our hosts, he feels that these scourge of the earth banks should be let to die an ignoble death. Not only should their stockholders lose all, but so should their bondholders in a proper bankruptcy proceeding. He hates this debt being shifted to the taxpayer. This would also force their "casino toilet paper" out into the open.

As to the eventual reduction of government workers pay which seems to have enraged you the most against him, I believe he is just being realistic. As the economy implodes, and deflation increases the value of real money and taxpayers are more and more hard pressed, keeping current levels of pay for government workers amounts to a real pay increase. After the Fed has managed decades of inflation forcing workers to fight for cost of living increases, is it unfair for taxpayers to ask for a cost of living decrease? This is going to happen. Forcing the burden of the deflation from the elite to the taxpayers is also going to happen, but, as opposed to Obama, Mish stands against it.

el gallinazo said...

PS Uncertain

I also agree that our hosts have a much more humane and wide ranging humanistic understanding of coming events. I simply believe that Mish's blog and interviews have a lot of value and he is not nearly the villain you paint him to be.

ccpo said...

Jal,

Market corrections are an indication of our lack of knowledge, flawed models and inadequate/useless tools in our mixed social and capitalist economic system.

I think it's nothing of the sort. Your phrasing implies these things can be perfected. Perhaps that is not what you meant? If so, I would remind that we, humans, are subject to the same laws as the rest of nature. The same chaotic and/or non-linear patterns apply. So, while there may be some utility in the discussion for practical purposes such as getting your money into your mattress at a good time, the underlying system will never escape the forces of natural cycles. These things will happen regardless of our innovations simply because we are, first and foremost, human. I.e., unbefreakinlievably flawed.

Even if there are some that would be able to build a system (see below) that is sustainable, there are always other forces that can, and will, intervene.

We have incomplete historical data of social and economic models that have lasted thousands of years which we find to be unacceptable. (ie. China etc.)

Um... China, and it's systems have changed greatly over the time span you mention. Now, there are still some aboriginals hiding out here and there that manage the trick...

Cheers

jal said...

Hi ccpo!
Your comment complement my bullets.

"The same chaotic and/or non-linear patterns apply."

That is why the "models" must be constantly monitored and adjusted/modified.
Nothing stays the same.
Everything evolves and eventually finds a state of equilibrium.
The problem is that we don't know/agree on "a state of equilibrium". Should it be designed to last for a political lifetime, a generation, or a Gaia lifetime?

"Um... China, and it's systems have changed greatly over the time span you mention. Now, there are still some aboriginals hiding out here and there that manage the trick..."

Agreed!
A model that did not work prior "computer power" might be worth re-investigating.
jal

Orion said...

@scandia: I would hardly put it that way, about no valid purpose. My apologies if it came across as such. My intent rather was to encourage you to apply your radical thinking beyond your immediacy, to the problems we face. Through discussion, if nothing else. Goodness knows, this blog has enough people who can only debate without thinking, and prefer to keep their heads stuck in the sand when evidence to the contrary exists.

Which is symbolic of how we got into this fiscal mess we're in, but I digress.

My second point was that without sharing your ideas and debating them, one runs the risk of a feedback loop that results in ideas which are built upon nothing but logical inconsistancies. I.e. a House of Cards that comes tumbling down when examined closely.

But I would encourage radical thinking. That's how progress is made.

Regarding borders: Hey, that's great. So when can I expect to see you advocating relaxing Canada's so that Americans can take advantage of their Health Care?

I notice that no one ever answers that.

Regarding opening my heart, you miss the point completely. We tried that. It failed. And now it's seriously and negatively impacting the people who wanted to do that. It doesn't work. People took advantage of the system, and now the system is collapsing. Just like the financial structures.

Both are characterized by greed and suckers all around, alas.

@uncertain: I've consistently offered documentation, but because it doesn't fit your agenda, you ignore it and instead offer nothing but red herrings (and, I might add, no documenation. Ahem.). Good try though. Is there something about reading things which doesn't fit your preconceived notions that is difficult?

So, if you've got some documentation beyond your personal experience, please offer it. I too live in a multicultural area (arguably one of the most diverse in California), and my experiences are quite different from yours.

And for that documentation which counters the independent study from the Congressional Budget Office, I'm not talking about your red herrings, or any propaganda from racist extremist organizations like La Raza and their ilk.

Good luck with that.

@Jal: Bingo! Exactly. You've spotted the forcing people to think outside their box. There are two things that I've noticed people don't like. One is change, and the other is thinking. The former is being forced upon us all by outside events. Unfortunately, people are still resistant to the latter. The lack of thinking got us into this mess.

And unfortunately, it's the only way to get out of it, in a positive manner.

Poes said...

Interesting comparison, Gorbachev and Obama. Obama comes to power in a moment of acute crisis, perceived universally. The USSR however was not in the same position. Mid 1980s USSR seems at its "endgame" only in hindsight. It is truly amazing how so many historians and commentators today see the breakdown of the USSR as "inevitable". How many of them saw it coming? Nothing compelled the system to break down, at least not so quickly. Gorbachev played an important part in enabling that collapse. Ironically, I believe he was a far less charismatic leader than Obama seems.

Orion said...

FWIW - Heard this recently on the news here in California.

Farmers are predicting a rise in food prices here because of the water issues. First, we're down by about 1/3 of our normal rainfall.

Second, they are claiming that because the State hasn't issued water allocations yet, some farmers are refusing to plant crops.

Supposedly the State will do so in about a month, but the claim is that this will be too late for those farmers.

I can't tell whether there's truth in this or not, or whether it's just a political stunt to get the State moving faster on what they want. But I just wanted to pass it along in case it's useful, or anyone else has something they can add.