September 25, 2008
Stakes of the Financial Crisis, Cont.
GOP strategist Alex Castellanos, in the National Review today:
So is this the time to pull our nation back from an economic precipice? Yes, for America cannot afford to play Russian roulette. If Congress votes down this bailout and our economy collapses, Americans will be at Washington's door with torches and pitchforks. Remember when Republicans shut down the government? Imagine if Republicans shut down the economy. There is a liquidity crisis. Whether with loans or a bailout, our government must meet it.
His point: this outcome is far from desirable for conservative ideology, but that doesn't make it any less necessary in reality.
Meanwhile, Rich Lowry receives interesting email from informed sources. What do we risk if Congress fails to act?
"A major, major depression--as bad as anything we've experienced in our lifetimes."
"If the conservative members of the GOP derail this deal and there is an economic collapse, no one will care that they were trying to save the taxpayers money..."
Posted by Eric Earling at September 25, 2008
07:07 PM | Email This
1. But they should try to save the taxpayers money where reasonably possible. When not possible, then okay. But we are fighting mad that we're having to clean up messes caused by people who took out loans they couldn't afford, banks who lent to people who couldn't pay, and Fannie/Freddie who backed risky loans while Enron-ing the store and feeding themselves fat 9-figure bonuses before taking off and leaving us to clean up the mess. And to think Obama uses people who messed up Fannie/Freddie for his consultants...sheesh...judgment issues there?
Bad mortgage loans are only a small part of the problem. The bursting of the housing bubble has become the red herring for a much more fundamental problem.
Does anyone know what a credit default swap (CDS) is? Get the particulars from Wikipedia. In short, the net effect of a CDS is that a company with a good credit rating let's a borrower without a good credit rating, or even no credit rating, use the company's credit rating to borrow funds. In other words, the company with the good credit rating is essentially a co-signer on a risky loan. Why do that? Because the company is paid a fee to lend out their good credit.
This sort of borrowing and swapping of credit risk became rampant when the Federal Reserve allowed investment banks to increase their leverage ratio from about 14 to 40 times assets in 2004. Investment banks and hedge funds associated with them used CDS's to borrow trillions of dollars for risky investments, like investing soy bean futures. Ever wonder where all the $ was coming from for the huge run up in commodities futures (like oil)? And why those commodity prices are dropping like rocks?
This is the hidden bubble that has burst that few people are noticing while they worry about the housing bubble that has also burst.
Who is on the hook for paying back the bad loans that were originated using CDS's? The "co-signers" ... the companies with good balance sheets that for a fee allowed speculators to borrow on their balance sheet. This is what bought AIG down. AIG was not heavily invested in mortgage backed securities. They were heavily saddled with CDS agreements and suddenly became responsible for paying back all of these bad loans that were effectively taken out using AIG's balance sheet. In fact, they were leveraged in this "off balance sheet" manner several times their asset base.
This is the real mess that Paulson wants to clean up. Freddie and Fannie helped to create a moderate sized mess. But the apocalyptic situation is what I described above.
I suspect half of Congress can't get their minds around this. The other half are scared to death that the public will find out about the real nature of the problem. Paulson, coming from Goldman, which played a major role in inventing and spreading CDS's, wants to get to work to cover some of the CDS's and cover up what his pals on Wall Street did. And, by the way, cover up what the Fed did in allowing these leverage ratios to go up so astronomically. This "plan" is more like a "cover up" than a "bail out."
The ONLY person that has characterized the situation correctly in Congressional testimony is Alan Greenspan. He may have been imperfect in the early part of the decade by keeping rates too low for too long, but he sees the picture clearly now. I guess that's because he now realizes what he did by allowing Wall Street to leverage up the way he did. As he said, the $700 billion plan on the table now is a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions of $ of bad loans that were created using CDS's.
And, here is the amazing thing. The Federal Reserve is not part of the US government. It is owned by banks. "Oversight." The idea that the government has "oversight" over the Federal Reserve is a carefully crafted illusion.
Instead of arguing party politics, what you guys might want to be doing is debating whether the country should go into a classic deflationary depression or go into an extended hyper-inflationary period. Those are the only two choices at this point.
Personally, I think we are lucky to have Paulson there for the next couple of the months to do the best he can. He understands the situation better than anyone, because he helped to create it. And I think he really wants to do his best to ameliorate it to the extent possible. But, in a private, I'd bet that he concedes, at least to his wife, that all he can do, even with $700 billion, is soften the blow a little.
If there is anyone left reading this far along, you might want to do some research on who made money during the Great Depression and why. The rest are back to watching American Idol.
3. @2 Bananaland, you did a fine job of explaining
this crisis, the best I've heard. If you don't
mind, what do you do for a living and how old are
We've truly departed from our path as conservatives when we prop up failed business models in order to maintain power.
I see the logic in what he's saying but it doesn't make it right.
Hi Mark. I'm an executive in never-never-land. Not as old as McCain, not as young as Palin.
Do you also find it a bit frightful that there is not a single media outlet that is interested in explaining the actual situation? MSNBC is like Obama's personal news agency. Flip that for Fox. Not a single newspaper seems interested in exploring and explaining the nature of the problem.
I assume this is because the media - across the board - is just not smart enough to do the job. Even if their is someone in the media smart enough to explain the situation, they are more interested in promoting their own stardom.
I just became so pissed off and offended that information was not getting out to the public that I became determined to figure it out. I don't have the full picture now, but I think I've got a good part of it. More than enough to know that all options are bad at this point.
6. Well... WAMU just imploded. 5,000 good paying jobs in Seattle gone. Not good for the Washington economy.
7. @5 Could you tackle explaining an extended
hyperinflationary period? I don't much care
for the sound of a depression.
I don't know if the characterization of the CDS is wholly accurate @2. See link below. Otherwise, I think the statement @2 is pretty close to correct.
@7 - The only reason I can see to choose hyper-inflation would be to delay the inevitable depression. I don't know of any way to eventually end hyper-inflation other than to throw an economy into hard reverse. Volker did a small version of that in 1980-82 to stop Carter's inflation, which only reached about 14% by 1979. Imagine that times 100 to end hyper-inflation.
The tempting thing about hyper-inflation at a time like this is that debt gets devalued because it has a fixed face value and a fixed interest rate. In the process, prices go through the roof, which helps put equity back into real estate. So, through hyper-inflation you end up effectively de-leveraging the economy.
Of course, at the same time, savings looses any value because any cash you have should be spent as soon as possible, our currency becomes worthless relative to other currencies, and people on fixed incomes, such as retired people, get completely screwed because their savings and fixed income (whatever the source) become worthless. Interest rates shoot through the roof.
Personally, I think the healthiest long term thing to do is go through the de-leveraging process, get the suffering over with over the next 5 to 10 years, end come out a much more mature and realistic population and citizenry.
For people who tend to be skeptical about global warming models, you folks sure go for the hook line and sinker when there isn't even a model.
The truth is that despite the fancy mathematics that economists love, theirs is an art not a science.
When people say "The economy will go into a recession," or "a depression," they are speculating, plain and simple.
Remember 1987, the end of the world for some? The people who were diversified and watched it happen with their hands in their pockets did fine.
It's no wonder conservatives can't say no to, for example, military incursions into Pakistan or attacking a country that hasn't done anything to us, or government scheduling a man's execution, if they can't even say no to this blatent giveaway.
It almost makes me want to go to a liberal blog site, except I know they'll all think it'll be a some great moral victory if they can whittle down a CEO's pay while handing him 750 B.
Thanks all, New Left Conservative #1
11. But if the GOP votes with the Democrats, we all know what they will do. Remember all those Democrats whw voted for the Iraq war? What happens if/when this plan doesn't work and on top of the collapse, we've lost an additional Trillion? It will be "pin the blame on the GOP time"...again.
@8 - from your recommended link, here is the definition of a CDS.
How They Work
A CDS contract involves the transfer of the credit risk of municipal bonds, emerging market bonds, mortgage-backed securities, or corporate debt between two parties. It is similar to insurance because it provides the buyer of the contract, who often owns the underlying credit, with protection against default, a credit rating downgrade, or another negative "credit event." The seller of the contract assumes the credit risk that the buyer does not wish to shoulder in exchange for a periodic protection fee similar to an insurance premium, and is obligated to pay only if a negative credit event occurs. It is important to note that the CDS contract is not actually tied to a bond, but instead references it. For this reason, the bond involved in the transaction is called the "reference entity." A contract can reference a single credit, or multiple credits. (To learn more about bonds, see our tutorial Advanced Bond Concepts.)
As mentioned above, the buyer of a CDS will gain protection or earn a profit, depending on the purpose of the transaction, when the reference entity has a negative credit event. When such an event occurs, the party that sold the credit protection and who has assumed the credit risk may deliver either the current cash value of the referenced bonds or the actual bonds to the protection buyer, depending on the terms agreed upon at the onset of the contract. If there is no credit event, the seller of protection receives the periodic fee from the buyer, and profits if the reference entity's debt remains good through the life of the contract and no payoff takes place. However, the contract seller is taking the risk of big losses if a credit event occurs. (For related reading, see Corporate Bonds: An Introduction To Credit Risk.)
Note the last sentence. "The contract seller is taking the risk of big losses if a credit event occurs." A "credit event" is a fancy way of saying that the bond or debt interest goes into default.
As JP Morgan said about the cause of the 1929 stock market crash, someone asked for their dollar back. The 1920's high flying stock market was driven by people trading "on margin" - in other words, borrowing money to buy stock. The stock itself was used as collateral. When someone asked for their dollar back, and the stock used as collateral dropped, the debt could not be repayed. That was the flap of butterfly wing that caused a hurricane.
See the similarity? In this case, all this debt created through CDS's were not used in the stock market. They were used to fund private equity acquisitions and highly speculative commodities trading as well as real estate (especially commercial), and a lot of that money moved overseas to emerging markets, among other things.
Someone finally asked for their dollar back.
Let's just hope we don't do the additional dumb things that were done after the 1929 crash, like trade protectionism.
13. @11 scott - a trillian $ later, with no improvement, and a severe depression under way, I don't think there will be many people concerning themselves with these petty party concerns. We'll be lucky to get out of it with a capitalist system in place. Whether the parties themselves even survive is low down on my list of priorities.
@14: Wow... nothing but lies there. Issuing loans in areas targeted by the CRA did not
cause this bubble, poor overwriting standards and speculation did.
Figures that Republicans would try to blame poor people again. Class war indeed. Don't you ever get tired of this?
Thanks, demo kid.
For me, I am astonished not to find anyone voicing conservative views at Sound Politics.
Best wishes everybody, New Left Conservative #1
Your posts are great. What is your opinion on Newt's proposals for economic "rescue?"
I concur with your view that the Fed is a private bank. I have long held that immense national and international events are never accidental, because there are so many brilliant planners who have always gamed the system throughout history. Consequently, since our current "crisis" is economic, it is prudent to conclude the Fed is driving most of it. A fortiori, most of the solution lies with modifying or disbanding the Fed, and disciplining its employees. Granted, the Fed is highly insulated and trip-wired against corrective and self-defensive measures by the citizenry it rules, but I see no other long-term, non-spiritual mitigation. What are your views and recommendations?
Pirate - I concur. Every time I hear about the federal government "taking over a bank," I realize that it is the WRONG bank.
There is only ONE bank the federal government should take over - The Federal Reserve Bank.
Clean house. Issue US Treasury currency. Remove all of the Federal Reserve Notes (our current currency). Set basic targets for growth in money supply (that is, US Treasury Notes) that is tied to long term economic growth.
In 1982, Washington State Senator (later Conressman) Jack Metcalf, along with six other Republican senators and six Democrat senators, co-sponsored and passed Engrossed Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 127 in the 47th Legislature, Second Extraordinary Session, challenging the constitutionality of the Federal Reserve System, and requiring its independent audit. One dozen states also commenced similar proceedings to audit the Fed or repeal the Federal Reserve Act.
Metcalf blazed the trail before the internet, unfortunately the Fed is still extant. When this topic becomes de rigueur on political websites, the dominoes will start to fall. There is ample legislative precedent to reference in future efforts to abolish the Fed, and implement the federal issuance of currency you propose, based on economic growth.
Most political battles and conflicts are secondary to this one; some even say they are diversionary.
Thanks for noticing finally our economy is not doing so well. Yes, we are in trouble but this is not the solution. Why would you believe it is? Bush, Paulson and Bernanke have absolutely no credibility any longer. They have either been lying to the American people or are completely incompetent. Every quote they have had in the last year and a half has been to proclaim everything is fine, even a few weeks ago. Now you believe them when they tell you to trust them? I find it amazing that all the fools who couldn't see this mess coming are the ones who think they have the solution.
Stop being a Bush lapdog and think for yourself. You and a dozen other people still support this clown.
Bananaland. Unfortunately the Fed IS a government institution...or at least quasi-government. From wikipedia:
The Federal Reserve System (also the Federal Reserve; informally The Fed) is the central banking system of the United States. Created in 1913 by the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, it is a quasi-public (government entity with private components) banking system composed of (1) the presidentially appointed Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington, D.C.; (2) the Federal Open Market Committee; (3) twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks located in major cities throughout the nation acting as fiscal agents for the U.S. Treasury, each with its own nine-member board of directors; (4) numerous private U.S. member banks, which subscribe to required amounts of non-transferable stock in their regional Federal Reserve Banks; and (5) various advisory councils. As of February 1, 2006, Ben Bernanke serves as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
It is NOT "owned by banks". Rather, the fed acts as a "bank for the banks", loaning money to banks and other institutions.
What most people here fail to understand is that regardless of who is at fault (and blame lies on both sides), unless Congress acts NOW, the entire US financial system will collapse, and bring down much of the world.
Why did we have to bail out Fannie and Freddy? Because the Chinese government, which owns a significant chunk of the national debt (ran up by the GOP) threatened to dump their dollars..to the tune of $1 trillion's worth. This would have collapsed the value of the dollar, threatened the US dollars status as the world reserve currency, and essentially dried up our ability to go further into debt. Faced with a $400Bil+ budget deficit, and a $10bil/month war in Iraq, the only way out would have been to print currency. This would lead to massive inflation here in the US.
The GOP seems to think deficit spending is fine, and the national debt is no cause for concern. These times prove the folly of such thinking.