How broken is the banking system?

My latest from over at BlownMortgage:

The most important number not included in Mr. Geithner’s bailout plan has nothing to do with who gets how much. That is all just fine-tuning and clearly not a number Geithner & Co. have figured out yet. (Why release a plan before you have figured that out? I dunno either.) The most important number not included in the bailout plan is one he knows and isn’t telling: How big is the problem? … (more)

Treasury thinks maybe foreclosures actually are a problem

My latest from over at BlownMortgage.com:

Latest news has it that the Treasury Dept. is thinking really, really hard about maybe using some of the $700 billion from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) to do something about home foreclosures.

Neel Kashkari, who has to administer the Troubled Assets Relief Program, told Senators, “We continue to aggressively examine strategies to mitigate foreclosures and maximize loan modifications.” It is well worth noting Kashkari offered no actual details as to what this might mean.

This doesn’t seem to indicate any change in Henry Paulson’s willingness to consider an FDIC plan to help homeowners. “Under the FDIC proposal, the government would seek to encourage lenders to modify loans by offering to share the cost of any defaults. The FDIC has said its proposal could prevent about 1.5 million foreclosures.” Paulson has said that use of TARP money for this would be a misuse of the funds. This is odd given his willingness to spend the money on just about anything except homeowners.

On the bright side: He’s only got 47 more days on the job.

There’s more (including a long quote from CollateralDamage Sr.) here.

What is the definition of “depression”?

More from me at BlownMortgage:

It is difficult to believe but earlier this year people were still debating whether or not we were in a recession. The debate broke down along the lines of, “We haven’t met the technical definition of a recession” vs. “If it smells, like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck then it’s a duck.”

One of the reasons for the debate was because there are so many different definitions of a recession.

The standard definition used by idiots and journalists (like me!) is a decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for two or more consecutive quarters.

Idiots and economists (like them!) don’t like this because it leaves out the unemployment rate and consumer confidence as indicators. “By using quarterly data this definition makes it difficult to pinpoint when a recession begins or ends. This means that a recession that lasts ten months or less may go undetected.” Sadly, that’s not going to be an issue this time around.

BTW, now that the extension of unemployment benefits has passed the Senate expect to see a sharp increase in the unemployment rate — which only counts people who are collecting unemployment insurance. You are no longer officially counted as unemployed if you are not collecting insurance. A lot of people who used up their benefits but aren’t employed will now re-appear magically on the roles. They will just as magically disappear in seven weeks when their benefits are used up and the rate will go down again. However, those people won’t be any more employed.

Nothing happens until the new prez takes over. Good or bad?

My latest from BlownMortgage:

In a time of economic crisis, where every moment brings more bad/alarming news, what does it mean that the government is essentially in a holding pattern for the next two months?

Many people are concerned this will mean a continuation of the Paulson strategy of throwing good money after bad. (”Am I the only one worried that by the time Obama is sworn in on January 20th, the Paulson Treasury will have run through almost a trillion dollars to little or no effect?“) Currently there are attempts to qualify GM as a bank so it can get a cut of the bailout money (LOL!!!). A similar request by GE makes more sense to me because GE is a well-run company. Several large cities are also making requests for funds. Personally, I’d give funds to Wasilla before I’d hand a dime to GM.

Still others think that Paulson and the Congress will take this moment to do nothing — and that’s a good thing. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe thinks this is such a good thing that he wants to legislate a freeze on the remaining bailout cash. (Inhofe’s willingness to rip Paulson a new one is a great indicator of how the Bushies are closer to dead-duck instead of merely being lame: Senator Inhofe suggests Paulson “may have given the [bailout] money to his friends.”)

There’s more where that came from…

How to get a piece of the government bailout

My latest from BlownMortgage:

At this point in the economic down-turn there’s really only one question on most of our minds: How can I become a commercial bank or an automaker?

Old friend Helen Kennedy put it succinctly in The New York Daily News: “Two more pillars of the American economy are coming to Washington hat in hand: American Express and Detroit’s Big Three. The struggling New York-based credit giant reportedly wants a $3.5 billion bailout. American Express got permission to become a bank holding company this week, making it eligible for a piece of the $700 billion bailout.

The Federal Reserve gets to make the decision about who gets to be a bank. Since the Fed has already decided to leave us all holding the bag for bank companies, it seems only fitting that we should also get a chance at being a bank holding company as well.

Use the following checklist to see if you qualify:

  • Do you need to cut borrowing costs?
  • Are your main sources of funding in danger of going away?
  • Do you need access to government money?
  • Has your inability to get credit endangered your fiscal health?
  • Would the ability to issue government-backed bonds keep you solvent?
  • Are you willing to take deposits from both consumers and companies?
  • Is your current role in the financial system mostly watching your investments lose money?

If you answered yes to all these questions then CONGRATULATIONS!!! You clearly meet all the essential qualifications needed to be a bank holding company.

Not sure of all that it takes to become an American car company but I do know I can fulfill one of the basic obligations: I guarantee no one will want to buy a car I build.

Is it just me or does the plan to throw more money at the car companies give new meaning to the phrase “Grand Theft Auto”?

Obama carried all the “really” red states

My latest from BlownMortgage (with charts and facts and everything!):

Popular opinion has it that Barack Obama won because he took some red states away from John McCain. Nonsense. Obama won all the red states. And McCain won all the black states. But this has nothing to do with that stupid red state/blue state dichotomy. This is about the much more tangible difference between red (ink) states vs. black (ink) states.

As this chart from the Wall Street Journal shows, Obama carried 18 of the 20 states where housing prices have dipped into the red – according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight house price index for the second quarter. Those two that went for McCain? Arizona and Alaska – which makes their anomalous standing understandable.

Wall Street sets record for most bounces from a single dead cat

My latest from BlownMortgage:

The markets continue to stagger around like  drunks after last call and with every bit as much connection to reality. As I write this, a half hour before the final bell, the Dow is up 11%, nearly 900 points for the day. The NASDAQ and S&P 500 are both up around 10%. All this despite reports of consumer confidence and home prices dropping faster than President Bush’s approval ratings.

Wall Street’s Queens of Denial were apparently responding to talk that the Fed will cut the prime rate by at least half a percent. This is just one more measure of how the markets are now a faith-based initiative. It doesn’t matter how low the rate is when there is no money to borrow. The system is still facing a liquidity crisis and even if it wasn’t we’d still be tanking. For better and mostly for worse consumers still drive the economy. Those of them fortunate enough not to be losing their houses are losing equity at an astounding clip. …

Alan Greenspan, ingenue

Another one from BlownMortgage:

Alan Greenspan attempted to mimic Michael “Heckuva Job, Brownie” Brown during his testimony before congress yesterday. Mr. Greenspan attempted to place blame squarely on anyone except himself. Mr. Brown’s performance in the same role was slightly more credible because he was utterly unqualified for the job he held, a claim Mr. Greenspan cannot make.

Mr. Greenspan claims to have been overtaken by events so rare that no one could have seen them coming. He called it a “once-in-a-century credit tsunami” and that it was impossible for anyone to have been prepared for it. Mr. Brown made the same claims about hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans with every bit as little justification. The record of warnings about both disasters is substantial and undeniable.

And there’s more where that came from…

Would you buy a used economic commentary from this man?

My latest over at BlownMortgage:

The Fed has announced it will now buy commercial paper from money market mutual funds and endorsed the idea of another economic stimulus package. Far be it from me to turn up my nose at free money. I could use a handout … I mean stimulus check as much if not more than most of Wall Street. But I am disturbed that these efforts continue are in keeping with previous Bush Administration policy to never have a clue how something – like a war or a however many bailouts there will be – will be paid for.

Click for more of this and my paen to William Proxmire.

Once there was a law that could have prevented all this …

By me, over at BlownMortgage.com:

Once upon a time the US actually had a law in place that would have at least hindered the current mess. Not surprisingly, that legislation – the Glass-Steagall Act – came out of the Great Depression. Just as unsurprisingly it was repealed in 1999 at a time when lawmakers and business no longer thought that “what goes up must come down” still applied to the economy.

Simply put, Glass-Steagall prevented the mingling of investment and commercial bank activities. If you did one, you couldn’t do the other. This happened because way back then it was thought that commercial banks were way too speculative – both with where they were investing their assets and also because they were buying stocks for resale to the public.

Here are the key housing bailout questions no one is asking

Another one from BlownMortgage.com:

Here’s a heretical notion: How much CEOs get from the bailout doesn’t matter. It’s a smokescreen, red meat being tossed to the public to make it seem as though the bad guys won’t get away scott-free.

While limits on pay packages for executives whose firms seek assistance from the government will be part of the whatever settlement gets reached, it will have no real impact on the bailout. But it will give the politicians something to beat their chests about and say that they have stood up to Big Business.

Click on the link to read the rest.

Congress doesn’t even want to fiddle while Rome burns

I’ve got a gig as a guest blogger over at BlownMortgage.com. Here’s the start of my first post:

Every news story about the bailout makes it sound as if Friday is some sort of do-or-die deadline. It’s not. It is just the day Congress wanted to adjourn so they could get home and do some campaigning. Given the magnitude of the crisis and the size of the pig in this particular poke, it’s time for Congress to get its priorities in order. If ever there was a piece of legislation that needed to be carefully considered, this is it.

Click above to read more.

This is truly a bipartisan issue. Regardless of your political affiliation I urge you to do what I have already done and call your rep, senators and the Speaker of the House about this.

Do I think calling these people will make any difference? No idea. I take the approach of the baseball manager who was asked why he argued with the ump. “It’s all I can do.”