Olduvaiblog: Musings on the coming collapse

Home » Posts tagged 'TARP'

Tag Archives: TARP

Forward Guidance | KUNSTLER

Forward Guidance | KUNSTLER

     “Guidance” is the new organizing credo of US financial life with Janet Yellen officially installed as the new Wizard of Oz at the Federal Reserve. Guidance refers to periodic cryptic utterances made by the Wizard in staged appearances before congress or in the “minutes” (i.e. transcribed notes) from meetings of the Fed’s Open Market Committee. The cryptic utterances don’t necessarily have any bearing on reality, but are issued with the hope that they will be mistaken for it, especially by managers in the financial markets where assets are priced and traded.

One such infamous moment of guidance was Ben Bernanke’s May 2007 statement saying that percolating sub-prime mortgage problems were “contained.” If that was a signal for anything it was a green light for banks not yet deemed too big to fail to continue constructing swindles called collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), which were bundles of already bundled mortgage backed securities based on janky mortgages for million-dollar houses owned by Las Vegas busboys, and the like, that had no prospect of ever being paid. The banks kept at it sedulously for another year, and then in September of 2008 this stream of combustible financial garbage blew up the banking system. Nobody at the Fed saw it coming, least of all Janet Yellen.

And then the banking system was “rescued” by the “program” (free money bailouts) enacted by congress called TARP, while the Fed set up a carry trade system that would enable the floundering (now) too big to fail banks to convert massive volumes of zero-interest no-risk loans into a dependable revenue flow to “build reserves,” that is, allow them to appear solvent while engaging in new dodges, swindles, and manipulations of markets, currencies and interest rates.

Which brings us very near the present. Fed chairperson Yellen gave a marathon six-hour audience to the House Committee on Financial Services last week. It was so devoid of substance and meaning that the TV network covering it switched the feed a few times to the exciting Olympic event of curling, in which “athletes” wield brooms to induce giant polished stones to glide across a length of ice at a scoring target — that is, an entirely artificial and purposeless activity aimed at producing a trance of contentment among viewers who have nothing better to do in the middle of the day.

Last May’s remarks by then Fed Chairperson Ben Bernanke that the Fed might consider “tapering” its gigantic monthly purchases of US Treasury bonds plus an equal amount of stranded mortgage paper made the markets so nervous that stock indexes had a seizure and the interest rate on the lodestar ten-year treasury bill shot up 150 basis points — into a zone that would cripple the government’s ability to keep its credit revolving. These dire portents prompted Bernanke to take back what he’d said, but then three months later, in the fall, he restated the taper guidance. By then, market watchers and playas were sure that he was just juking them, and anyway they were too busy stuffing their Christmas bonus stockings to take him seriously.

Lo, the taper is still on under Wizard Yellen, for the simple reason that if she backed out of it now, before she officially chaired her first meeting of the Fed governors, her outfit would lose whatever shreds of credibility it still hangs onto. Even with the taper on, it is for now still pumping over half a trillion dollars a year into the banking system. There is some reason to think that it made the markets puke two weeks ago. But then a really bad employment number came out, and in the inverse climate of bad-news-being-good-news for bubble markets, that was construed as a sure sign that the Fed might have to un-taper sometime around late spring with Yellen’s chairpersonship fully established.  I suspect they’ll do something else: they’ll continue to taper down purchases of treasuries and mortgage detritus via the direct TBTF bank channel and they’ll establish a new “back door” for shoveling money into the system. Nobody knows what this is yet, and it may be some time even after it starts that the mechanism is discovered. In the meantime, the seeming placidity of the renewed “risk on” mood should be a warning to market cheerleaders. Something’s got to give and I think it will be the US dollar index, which has been in Zombieland since November. The world has never been so ready for a change in direction. Expect no real guidance from your leaders.

Why This Harvard Economist Is Pulling All His Money From Bank Of America | Zero Hedge

Why This Harvard Economist Is Pulling All His Money From Bank Of America | Zero Hedge.

A classicial economist… and Harvard professor… preaching to the world that one’s money is not safe in the US banking system due to Ben Bernanke’s actions? And putting his withdrawal slip where his mouth is and pulling $1 million out of Bank America? Say it isn’t so…

From Terry Burnham, former Harvard economics professor, author of “Mean Genes” and “Mean Markets and Lizard Brains,” provocative poster on this page and long-time critic of the Federal Reserve, argues that the Fed’s efforts to strengthen America’s banks have perversely weakened them. First posted in PBS.

Is your money safe at the bank? An economist says ‘no’ and withdraws his

Last week I had over $1,000,000 in a checking account at Bank of America. Next week, I will have $10,000.

 

Why am I getting in line to take my money out of Bank of America? Because of Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, who officially begins her term as chairwoman on Feb. 1.

Before I explain, let me disclose that I have been a stopped clock of criticism of the Federal Reserve for half a decade. That’s because I believe that when the Fed intervenes in markets, it has two effects — both negative. First, it decreases overall wealth by distorting markets and causing bad investment decisions. Second, the members of the Fed become reverse Robin Hoods as they take from the poor (and unsophisticated) investors and give to the rich (and politically connected). These effects have been noticed; a Gallup poll taken in the last few days reports that only the richest Americans support the Fed. (See the table.)

Gallup poll

Why do I risk starting a run on Bank of America by withdrawing my money and presuming that many fellow depositors will read this and rush to withdraw too? Because they pay me zero interest. Thus, even an infinitesimal chance Bank of America will not repay me in full, whenever I ask, switches the cost-benefit conclusion from stay to flee.

Let me explain: Currently, I receive zero dollars in interest on my $1,000,000. The reason I had the money in Bank of America was to keep it safe. However, the potential cost to keeping my money in Bank of America is that the bank may be unwilling or unable to return my money.

They will not be able to return my money if:

  • Many other depositors like you get in line before me. Banks today promise everyone that they can have their money back instantaneously, but the bank does not actually have enough money to pay everyone at once because they have lent most of it out to other people — 90 percent or more. Thus, banks are always at risk for runs where the depositors at the front of the line get their money back, but the depositors at the back of the line do not. Consider this image from a fully insured U.S. bank, IndyMac in California, just five years ago.
  • Some of the investments of Bank of America go bust. Because Bank of America has loaned out the vast majority of depositors’ money, if even a small percentage of its loans go bust, the firm is at risk for bankruptcy. Leverage, combined with some bad investments, caused the failure of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and would have caused the failure of Bank of America, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, and many more institutions in 2008 had the government not bailed them out.

In recent days, the chances for trouble at Bank of America have become more salient because of woes in the emerging markets, particularly Argentina, Turkey, Russia and China. The emerging market fears caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to lose more than 500 points over the last week.

Returning to my money now entrusted to Bank of America, market turmoil reminded me that this particular trustee is simply not safe. Or not safe enough, given the fact that safety is the reason I put the money there at all. The market turmoil could threaten “BofA” with bankruptcy today as it did in 2008, and as banks have experienced again and again over time.

If the chance that Bank of America will not return my money is, say, a mere 1 percent, then the expected cost to me is 1 percent of my million, or $10,000. That far exceeds the interest I receive, which, I hardly need remind depositors out there, is a cool $0. Even a 0.1 percent chance of loss has an expected cost to me of $1,000. Bank of America pays me the zero interest rate because the Federal Reserve has set interest rates to zero. Thus my incentive to leave at the first whiff of instability.

Surely, you say, the federal government is going to keep its promises, at least on insured deposits. Yes, the Federal Government (via the FDIC) insures deposits in most institutions up to $250,000. But there is a problem with this insurance. The FDIC currently has far less money in its fund than it has insured deposits: as of Sept. 1, about $41 billion in reserve against $6 trillion in insured deposits. (There are over $9 trillion on deposit at U.S. banks, by the way, so more than $3 trillion in deposits is completely uninsured.)

It’s true, of course, that when the FDIC fund risks running dry, as it did in 2009, it can go back to other parts of the federal government for help. I expect those other parts will make the utmost efforts to oblige. But consider the possibility that they may be in crisis at the very same time, for the very same reasons, or that it might take some time to get approval. Remember that Congress voted against the TARP bailout in 2008 before it relented and finally voted for the bailout.

Thus, even insured depositors risk loss and/or delay in recovering their funds. In most time periods, these risks are balanced against the reward of getting interest. Not so long ago, Bank of America would have paid me $1,000 a week in interest on my million dollars. If I were getting $1,000 a week, I might bear the risks of delay and default. However, today I am receiving $0.

So my cash is leaving Bank of America.

But if Bank of America is not safe, you must be wondering, where can you and I put our money? No path is without risk, but here are a few options.

  1. Keep some cash at home, though admittedly this runs the risk of loss or setting yourself up as a target for criminals.
  2. Put some cash in a safety box. There is an urban myth that this is illegal; my understanding is that cash in a safety box is legal. However, I can imagine scenarios where capital controls are placed on safety deposit box withdrawals. And suppose the bank is shut down and you can’t get to the box?
  3. Pay your debts. You don’t need to be Suze Orman to know that you need liquidity, so do not use all your cash to pay debts. However, you can use some surplus, should you have any.
  4. Prepay your taxes and some other obligations. Subject to the same caveat about liquidity, pay ahead. Make sure you only pay safe entities. Your local government is not going away, even in a depression, so, for example, you can prepay property taxes. (I would check with a tax accountant on the implications, however.)
  5. Find a safer bank. Some local, smaller banks are much safer than the “too-big-to-fail banks.” After its mistake of letting Lehman fail, the government has learned that it must try to save giant institutions. However, the government may not be able to save all failing institutions immediately and simultaneously in a crisis. Thus, depositors in big banks face delays and defaults in the event of a true crisis. (It is important to find the right small bank; I believe all big banks are fragile, while some small banks are robust.)

Someone should start a bank (or maybe someone has) that charges (rather than pays) interest and does not make loans. Such a bank would be a good example of how Fed actions create unintended outcomes that defeat their goals. The Fed wants to stimulate lending, but an anti-lending bank could be quite successful. I would be a customer.

(Interestingly, there was a famous anti-lending bank and it was also a “BofA” — the Bank of Amsterdam, founded in 1609. The Dutch BofA charged customers for safe-keeping, did not make loans and did not allow depositors to get their money out immediately. Adam Smith discusses this BofA favorably in his “Wealth of Nations,” published in 1776. Unfortunately — and unbeknownst to Smith — the Bank of Amsterdam had starting secretly making risky loans to ventures in the East Indies and other areas, just like any other bank. When these risky ventures failed, so did the BofA.)

My point is that the Federal Reserve’s actions have myriad, unanticipated, negative consequences. Over the last week, we saw the impact on the emerging markets. The Fed had created $3 trillion of new money in the last five-plus years — three times more than in its entire prior history. A big chunk of that $3 trillion found its way, via private investors and institutions, into risky, emerging markets.

Now that the Fed is reducing (“tapering”) its new money creation (now down to $65 billion a month, or $780 billion a year, as of Wednesday’s announcement), investments are flowing out of risky areas. Some of these countries are facing absolute crises, with Argentina’s currency plummeting by more than 20 percent in under one month. That means investments in Argentina are worth 20 percent less in dollar terms than they were a month ago, even if they held their price in Pesos.

The Fed did not plan to impoverish investors by inducing them to buy overpriced Argentinian investments, of course, but that is one of the costly consequences of its actions. If you lost money in emerging markets over the last week, at one level, it is your responsibility. However, it is not crazy for you to blame the Fed for creating volatile prices that made investing more difficult.

Similarly, if you bought gold at the peak of almost $2,000 per ounce, you have lost one-third of your money; you share the blame for your golden losses with Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen. They removed the opportunities for safe investments and forced those with liquid assets to scramble for what safety they thought they could find. Furthermore, the uncertainty caused by the Fed has caused many assets to swing wildly in value, creating winners and losers.

The Fed played a role in the recent emerging markets turmoil. Next week, they will cause another crisis somewhere else. Eventually, the absurd effort to create wealth through monetary policy will unravel in the U.S. as it has every other time it has been tried from Weimar Germany to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Even after the Fed created the housing problems, we would have been better of with a small 2009 depression rather than the larger depression that lies ahead. See my Making Sen$e posts “The Stockholm Syndrome and Printing Money” and “Ben Bernanke as Easter Bunny: Why the Fed Can’t Prevent the Coming Crash” for the details of my argument.

Ever since Alan Greenspan intervened to save the stock market on Oct. 20, 1987, the Fed has sought to cushion every financial blow by adding liquidity. The trouble with trying to make the world safe for stupidity is that it creates fragility.

Bank of America and other big banks are fragile — and vulnerable to bank runs — because the Fed has set interest rates to zero. If a run gathers momentum, the government will take steps to stem it. But I am convinced they have limited ammunition and unlimited problems.

What is the solution? For you, save yourself and your family. For the system, revamp the Federal Reserve. The simplest first step would be to end the dual mandate of price stability and full employment. Price stability is enough. I favor rules over intervention. We don’t need a maestro conducting monetary policy; we need a system that promotes stability and allows people (not printing presses) to make us richer.

Bailout Architect Runs For California Governor; World Laughs | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

Bailout Architect Runs For California Governor; World Laughs | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone.

I want to apologize for this space being blank for quite some time. I actually spent the bulk of the last two days on a long blog post about the “Dr. V.” story in Grantland. But then I got all the way to the end, and realized I was completely wrong about the entire thing.

So, I spiked my own piece. Now I’ve been in Talk Radio-style “This is totally dead air, Barry” territory for about two weeks. I could swear I saw a cobweb when I logged on this morning.

So thank God for Neel Kashkari, and the news that this goofball footnote caricature of the bailout era has decided to run for Governor of California. Never in history has there been an easier subject for a blog post.

If you don’t remember Kashkari’s name, you might be excused – he was actually better known, in his 15 minutes of fame five years ago, as “The 35 year-old dingbat from Goldman someone put in charge of handing out $700 billion bailout dollars.”

Now you remember. That guy! Neel Kashkari when he first entered the world of politics was a line item, usually the last entry in a list of ex-Goldman employees handed prominent government and/or regulatory positions, as in, “. . . and, lastly, Neel Kashkari, the heretofore unknown Goldman banker put in charge of the TARP bailout program . . .”

Kashkari was not just a former Goldman banker handed a high government post – he was a former Goldman banker handed a high government post by a former Goldman banker, in this case former Goldman CEO and then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.

Neel was also the human parallel to the original TARP proposal written by Paulson, which was famously just three pages long.

Paulson’s TARP proposal was essentially the last, unaired episode of Beavis and Butthead,with the three pages of script just containing a single scene in which Butthead walks into the U.S. Senate and says, “Can you, uh, like, give us 700 billion dollars? Uh-huh-huh.”

Kashkari then was more or less an equally blank slate, a little-known tech banker from Goldman’s San Francisco office who somehow ended up being Paulson’s choice to administer a bailout that Paulson wanted to feature no oversight whatsoever. The original three-page proposal specified no review “by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

It never came to that, not exactly – Paulson had to expand his three-page proposal – but it’s worth remembering now that the Treasury’s original plan for the bailout was to give literally unlimited powers to distribute $700 billion of taxpayer money to a low-level banker that prior to 2006, even Hank Paulson had never heard of.

So Kashkari takes the job as bailout czar and starts hurling fistfuls of cash at the banks, in a fashion that turned out later to have been beyond haphazard. Critically, even though the Treasury promised only to give out TARP funds to institutions that were “healthy” and “viable,” Kashkari had no protocol in place to even decide whether a bailout recipient was solvent or not.

They forked over billions in cash to failing institutions and then failed to enforce crucial provisions, like for instance measures put in place to prevent executives from bailout-out companies from giving themselves huge bonuses.

This latter failure was what led to one of Kashkari’s more infamous public appearances, in which Maryland congressman Elijah Cummings raked Kashkari over the coals for allowing AIG executives to give themselves $503 million in bonuses. “I wouldn’t want to be asking my friend for some money to stay afloat,” hissed Cummings. “Then my friend, who can barely afford to go to McDonald’s, sees me in a restaurant costing $150 a meal. There’s absolutely something wrong with that picture!” He added:

I’m just wondering how you feel about an AIG giving $503 million worth of bonuses on the one hand, and accepting $154 billion from hard-working taxpayers. You know, because I’m trying to make sure you get it. What really bothers me is all these other people who are lined up. They say, well, is Kashkari a chump?

After this “chump” episode, and others, Kashkari apparently became despondent. He and his wife reportedly were particularly upset by a snickering item in GawkerThe item read, “Financial Crisis Taking a Toll on Our Favorite Asshole Banker,” and made the neatly cruel observation that that Kashkari, who was a fit/lean/bald banker of Paulsonian persuasion when he arrived in Washington, had begun “putting on classic stress-related weight under his chin.”

The item featured before and after photos. The “after” photo was shot from just below chin level. It was brutal.

Now, a lot of people have been ripped in Gawker. I think everyone with a Q rating above 0.00003 has been ripped in Gawker. I personally remember having to Google-image Peter Beinart because Gawker described me as looking like the computer-generated love child of Beinart and Ashton Kutcher. It’s an Internet-age rite of passage and they give great service – I mean, Gawker’s insults are almost always really good. Probably most people who get ripped on the site flip out at first, and then laugh about it later.

Not Kashkari. He was so mortified by items like the Gawker bit that he literally disappeared into the woods like Ted Kaczynski and committed himself to a vengefully ascetic fitness regimen, apparently determined to return someday to society and have the last word.

This is not a joke. The Washington Post actually tracked Kashkari down in the woods after the bailouts. They photographed the tiny shed he’d built for himself in Nevada County, California. They were shown the incredible list-of-things-to-do he’d written on his way out of Washington. I have to keep repeating this, but this isn’t a joke:

1. buy shed
2. chop wood
3. lose twenty pounds
4. help with Hank’s book

The Post was then invited to watch as Kashkari lived out his hilarious homage to Rocky IV,getting in shape by his lonesome in the woods, fiercely splitting log after log with an ax, recalling a past slight with each blow:

Kashkari raises his ax.

“It felt like I got jumped.”

“Like three guys beat the crap out of me.”

Whack, whack.

The massive block of sugar pine breaks, the crack bouncing off the mountain.

Kashkari is recalling his testimony before Congress, while splitting logs to feed the stove for the winter. He is down to his last two chain-sawed trees.

“Members of Congress will tell you they agree with you, and then in public they blast you. I understand their anger, but the playing at politics when so much was at stake — ”

Whack. The ax blade flies off its wooden handle.

After enough of this, there was no more stress-related neck-jelly, no sir!

Kashkari, in shape again, soon-re-entered the finance world, taking a high-profile job with the bond fund PIMCO, run by notorious Wall Street insider Bill Gross.

The new choice of employer was significant because as numerous critics havesubsequently pointed out, PIMCO was one of the major beneficiaries of the government’s rescue of Wall Street. In December 2008, the Fed hired PIMCO to be one of four investment firms put in charge of managing a Fed program to buy up the toxic mortgage-backed securities that were threatening to tank the economy at the time.

Gross, at the time, warned that the government would have to “open up the balance sheet of the U.S. Treasury” (i.e. the state would need to cough up taxpayer money) in order to prevent “continuing asset and debt liquidation” (to prevent Wall Street jerks from being blown up by their own bad bets). Conveniently, Bill Gross and PIMCO happened to be sitting on $500 million of mortgage-backed holdings at the time. Which meant, as Babson College professor Peter Cohan put it:

Bill Gross, who manages $830 billion, has convinced the U.S. Treasury to use your taxpayer dollars to bail him out of his bad investments.

So Neel Kashkari was the administrator of the biggest corporate welfare program in history, took shit for it (“Beating on the Hill,” he would pencil for certain times in his calendar), went into the wilderness to get his mind and body right after the experience, then re-emerged to take a high-paying job with a company that was a significant beneficiary of government largesse.

While at PIMCO, Kashkari dipped a little toe in the lake of politics once again by penning aneditorial for the Post (“No more me-first mentality on entitlements,” July, 2010) denouncing government aid programs. He argued – and again, this is no more a joke than the Rocky-IV-cabin-in-the-woods thing was – that even though we have an economy successfully founded on self-interest, accepting government benefits, by which one assumes he means things like Medicare, is the wrong kind of selfish:

Our belief in free markets is founded on the idea that each individual acting in his or her self-interest will lead to a superior outcome for the whole. The financial crisis has reminded us that free markets are not perfect — but they do allocate capital better than any other system we know. A “me first” mentality usually makes markets more efficient.

But this “me first” mentality can also lead to shortsighted political decision making . . .

Kashkari’s solution? People who accept government benefits should take the long view and just say no:

Cutting entitlement spending requires us to think beyond what is in our own immediate self-interest. But it also runs against our sense of fairness: We have, after all, paid for entitlements for earlier generations. Is it now fair to cut my benefits? No, it isn’t. But if we don’t focus on our collective good, all of us will suffer.

Again, this came from a guy who handed out hundreds of billions of dollars of welfare to Wall Street companies, effectively subsidizing the massive compensation packages of Wall Street executives. This same person then went to work for a company that got a fat government contract to help other Wall Street investors unload their bonehead investments on the taxpayer.

Then, after all that rescue money disappeared, Kashkari made the interesting observation that there was not enough left over to pay benefits for other people. So, he effectively said to Americans on benefits, stop being so selfish. Tighten your belts. All of us will suffer otherwise.

This is the person who has now decided to run for Governor of California. It seems Jerry Brown has become his own personal Dolph Lundgren. A friend of mine sent me the news by email and suggested I say nothing at all about his decision, other than to post the headline above the following clip:

Kashkari’s platform seems to be centered around restoring jobs and schools, but also seems targeted at waste – he called Jerry Brown’s $68 billion high-speed rail project a “crazy train” and said it reflected “misplaced priorities.”

Humorously, and predictably, Kashkari’s campaign has already sprouted serious leaks. It turns out he has a somewhat spotty voting record (I do, too, to be honest, but I’m not running for governor), and he’s already had to acknowledge publicly that he has not always voted – although, he says, “I believe voting is very important.”

The Kashkari story is a perfect little allegory about the arrogance and cluelessness of the people who run the American economy. Kashkari talks passionately about free markets, forgetting that he was the individual who was actually in charge of the biggest-in-American-history government program to subvert the free market, bailing out countless institutions that should otherwise have gone out of business due to their own incompetence and corruption.

He talks about how the “free markets” allocate capital better than any system we have, but then again he was the person who had to step in when that system failed and institute a different system of capital allocation, one in which public treasure was unorganically re-allocated from taxpayers to private companies. His complaints about “misplaced priorities” are almost beneath comment – there’s just not much to say about someone who committed public funds to million-dollar bonuses but believes regular people accepting government benefits have a “me-first” mentality.

Anyway, having this guy run for public office is like a gift from the blogging gods. How funny will this get? Will this one go to 11?  I’m taking the over.

Chris Martenson: “Endless Growth” Is the Plan & There Is No Plan B | Peak Prosperity

Chris Martenson: “Endless Growth” Is the Plan & There Is No Plan B | Peak Prosperity.

After five years of aggressive Federal Reserve and government intervention in our monetary and financial systems, it’s time to ask: Where are we? 

The “plan,” such as it has been, is to let future growth sweep everything under the rug. To print some money, close their eyes, cross their fingers, and hope for the best.

On that, I give them an “A” for wishful thinking – and an “F” for actual results.

For the big banks, the plan has involved giving them free money so that they can be “healthy.” This has been conducted via direct (TARP, etc.) and semi-direct bailouts (such as offering them money at zero percent and then paying them 0.25% for stashing that same money back at the Fed), and indirectly via telegraphing future market interventions so that the big banks could ‘front run’ those moves to make virtually risk-free money.

This has been fabulously lucrative for the big banks that are in the inner circle. As we’ve noted somewhat monotonously, the big banks enjoy “win ratios” on their trading activities that are, well, implausible at best.

Here’s a chart of J.P. Morgan’s trading revenues for the first three quarters of 2013, showing how many days the bank made or lost money:

(Source)

Do you see the number of days the bank lost money? No? Oh, that’s right. There weren’t any.

Now, for you or me, trading involves losses, or risk. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. There appears to be zero risk at all to JP Morgan’s trading activities. They won virtually all of the time over this 9-month period.

That’s like living at a casino poker table for months and never losing.

Of course, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and a few other U.S.-based banks were able to turn in roughly similar results. Pretty sweet deal being a bank these days, huh?

So one might think, Well, that’s just how banks are now. Bernanke’s flood of liquidity is allowing them to simply ‘win’ at trading. If true (which it appears to be), we can’t call this trading. The act of “trading” implies risk. And it’s clear that what the big banks are doing carries no risk; otherwise they would be posting at least some degree of losses. We should call it sanctioned theft, corporate welfare, cronyism  the list goes on. And it is most grossly unfair, as well as corrosive to the long-term health of our markets.

Therefore, sadly, I have to give Bernanke an A++ on his objective of handing the banks a truly massive amount of risk-free money. He’s done fabulously well there.

But will this be sufficient to carry the day? Will this be enough to set us back on the path of high growth?

And even if we do magically return to the sort of high-octane growth that we used to enjoy back in the day, will that really solve anything?

Endless Growth Is Plan A Through Plan Z

The problem I see with the current rescue plans is that they are piling on massive amounts of new debts.

These debts represent obligations taken on today that will have to be repaid in the future. And the only way repayment can possibly happen is if the future consists of a LOT of uninterrupted growth upwards from here.

It’s always easiest to make a case when you go to silly extremes, so let’s examine Japan. It’s no secret that Japan is piling on sovereign debt and just going nuts in an attempt to get its economy working again. At least that’s the publicly stated reason. The real reason is to keep its banking system from imploding.

After all, exponential debt-based financial systems function especially poorly in reverse. So Japan keeps piling on the debt in rather stunning amounts:

(Source)

That’s up nearly 40% in three years (!).

It’s the people of Japan who are on the hook for all that borrowing, now standing well over 200% of GDP. So here’s the kicker: In 2010, Japan had a population of 128 million. In 2100, the ‘best case’ projected outcome for Japan is that its population will stand at 65 million. The worst case? 38 million.

So…who, exactly, is going to be paying all of that debt back?

The answer: Japan’s steadily shrinking pool of citizens.

This is simple math, and the trends are very, very clear. Japan has a swiftly rising debt load and a falling population. Whoever it is that is buying 30-year Japanese debt at 1.69% today either cannot perform simple math, or, more likely, is merely playing along for the moment but plans on getting out ahead of everybody else.

But the fact remains that Japan’s long-term economic prospects are pretty terrible. And they will remain so as long as the Japanese government, slave to the concept of debt-based money, cannot think of any other response to the current economic condition besides trying to shock the patient back to vigorous life by borrowing and spending like crazy.

If, instead, Japan had used its glory days of manufacturing export surpluses to build up real stores of actual wealth that would persist into the future, then the prognosis could be entirely different. But it didn’t.

The U.S. Is No Different

Except for some timing differences, the U.S. is largely in the same place as Japan twenty years ago and following a nearly identical trajectory.  Currently, it’s an economic powerhouse, folks are generally optimistic on the domestic economic front (relatively speaking), and its politicians are making exceptionally short-sighted decisions. But the long-term math is the same.

There’s too much debt representing too many promises. The only possible way those can be met is if rapid and persistent economic growth returns.

However, even under the very best of circumstances, where the economy rises from here without a hitch  say, at historically usual rates of around 3.5% in real terms (6% or more, nominally)  we know that various pension and entitlement programs will still be in big trouble.

Worse, we know that the environment is screaming for attention based on our poor stewardship. Addressing issues such as over-farming, water wastage, and oceanic fishery depletion  to say nothing of carbon levels in the atmosphere – will be hugely expensive.

Likewise, a complete focus on consumer borrowing and spending at the exclusion of everything else (except bailing out big banks, of course), along with a dab of excessive state security spending, has left the U.S. with an enormous infrastructure bill that also must be paid, one way or the other. That is, short-term decisions have left us with long-term challenges.

But what happens if that expected (required?) high rate of growth does not appear?

What if there are hitches and glitches along the way in the form of recessions, as is certain to be the case?  There always have been moments of economic retreat, despite the Fed’s heroic recent attempts to end them. Then what happens?

Well, that’s when an already implausible story of ‘recovery’ becomes ludicrous.

If we take a closer look at the projections, the idea that we’re going to grow – even remotely – into a gigantic future that will consume all entitlement shortfalls within its cornucopian maw becomes all but laughable.

Of course, the purpose of this exercise is not to make fun of anyone, nor to mock any particular beliefs, but to create an actionable understanding of the true nature of where we really are and what you should be doing about it.

In Part II: Why Your Own Plan Better Be Different, we examine more deeply the unsustainability of our current economic system and why it is folly to assume “things will get better from here.”

Given the unforgiving math at the macro altitudes, the need for adopting a saner, more prudent plan at the individual level is the best option available to us now.

Click here to access Part II of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

Treasury’s deceit exposed by this ballsy government official

Treasury’s deceit exposed by this ballsy government official. (source)

October 29, 2013
Sovereign Valley Farm, Chile

Do you remember the $700 billion bailout of the financial system in 2008?

It seems these days that most investors do not. People are partying like it’s 1929… as if all the issues and challenges that plagued the banking sector just a few years ago have miraculously vanished.

This thinking is absurd, and even a casual glance at the balance sheets of so many banks in the West shows objectively that the entire system is still precariously leveraged, undercapitalized, and illiquid.

In the wake of the bailout, Congress created a special position to oversee how the funds were spent. Like anything else in government, they used an unnecessarily long name followed by a catchy acronym–

Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or SIGTARP.

(The first SIGTARP was a former federal prosecutor who had previously indicted 50 leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia… just the right man to keep a watchful eye on bankers.)

SIGTARP just released its quarterly report to Congress… and it’s scatching, suggesting that “the toxic corporate culture that led up to the crisis and TARP has not sufficiently changed.”

There are some real zingers in the 518 page report, including:

  • “[F]raudulent bankers. . . sought TARP bailout dollars to have taxpayers fill in the holes on their fraud-riddled books.”
  • “Some bankers cultivated a culture of self dealing, criminally concealing that the bank was funding their luxury lifestyles, believing they were entitled to the finest money could buy. . .”
  • “They were trusted to exercise good judgment and make sound decisions. However, they abused that trust. Many times they abused that trust for their own personal benefit.”

Moreover, the report calls into question the Treasury Department’s administration of the bailout.

For example, many banks have been delinquent in making TARP payments, or payments to one of TARP’s sub-programs.

Yet while many banks are delinquent by 1-2 quarters, according to the report, roughly 3% of the banks who received funds under the Community Development Capital Initiative are more than –two years– behind in their payments.

Yet the Treasury Department has done nothing to enforce terms on behalf of taxpayers.

Most alarmingly, though, the report throws a giant red flag on the Treasury Department’s deceit.

In 2011, the report states, 137 banks took in billions of dollars of funding from the Treasury under the Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF). They then used those funds to repay their TARP loans.

In other words, they repaid taxpayer money with more taxpayer money.

But the Treasury Department still reported that TARP was being repaid, suggesting in a May 2013 press release: “Taxpayers have already earned a significant profit from TARP’s bank programs.”

Total BS, says the report.

SIGTARP writes that “Treasury should not. . . call these funds “repayments” or “recoveries”. Treasury owes taxpayers fundamental, clear, and accurate transparency and reporting on monies actually repaid.”

Something tells me this woman isn’t going to have a particularly long career in government.

And given the Obama’s administration’s track record against whistleblowers, SIGTARP had better start booking her flight to Moscow. Or better yet, marry a Brazilian.

 

%d bloggers like this: