Numerian's blog

Prickly Fed on QEII

By Numerian

 

This is the battlefield on which corporations and their customers are struggling for survival. If companies can make price increases stick, the consumer is going to bear the burden of inflation, and for a lot of consumers this can be the last gasp to bankruptcy.

Image:  Anonomyous

The Federal Reserve is on the defensive over its next round of Quantitative Easing, known as QE2. Over 20 distinguished economists and market analysts placed an ad yesterday in The Wall Street Journal urging the Fed to drop its plan to purchase $600 billion in Treasury securities over the next six months. Finance ministers around the world have deplored this policy for its tendency to generate global inflation and scupper the dollar on the foreign exchange markets. Even that noted financial expert Sarah Palin has published a Facebook criticism of the Fed’s “running the printing presses.”

Some Federal Reserve governors have warned about the potential inflationary implications of QE2, even though they voted for it. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and NY Fed President William Dudley have been in the media during the past week, justifying their QE2 decision. If you analyze their comments carefully, you realize they haven’t been helping their cause.

The QE2 Binge - Inflation on the Horizon

By Numerian

bernanke.jpg
Don’t these men know the nasty history of central banks which monetize government deficits as the Fed is now doing?

The QE2 left New York harbor yesterday, on its voyage to ports all around the globe. Captain Ben Bernanke has promised to shower the inhabitants of such diverse locales as Brazil, India, and China with up to $600 billion of free money. Following his departure, central banks in these countries announced that they did not want the money and will enact regulations to forbid the QE2 to land in their country. (Image)

Such is the bizarre state of monetary policy in the United States that the second round of Quantitative Easing by the Fed is already being feared and rejected by economists and financial analysts around the world before it is even implemented. It may be that the market has come to realize that QE1 did not perform as promised. Job creation remained anemic, economic growth declined, commodity inflation accelerated, and bubbles popped up in a variety of markets.


Pumping up the Marke
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Banking as the Scourge of Capitalism

By Numerian

Banksy

"The Federal Reserve is doing whatever it can – and some of this is against their charter – to revive the failed system of TBTF banks, securitization, and debt binges which will inevitably lead to another massive bubble, leaving the public on the hook for future bailouts." Numerian

Joe Nocera, financial columnist for The New York Times, had an interesting conclusion to his recent article on Bank of America:

I admit it: I want to see the banks feel some pain. Most people do, I think. Banks did terrible things during the subprime bubble, and they still haven’t paid any real price. I find myself rooting for judges to rule against banks in foreclosure cases. I would love to see these big investors put the serious hurt on Bank of America, which will encourage other investors to pile on. I know this colors my thinking. I can’t help it.

Yet I also know the flip side. If the foreclosure lawyers start winning a lot of cases, if judges halt foreclosures on a widespread basis, if investors start to extract billions upon billions of dollars from the banks — and if banks become seriously weakened as a result — we’ll be right back where we were two years ago. The banks will need to be saved for the good of the economy. The taxpayers will have to come to the rescue. That’s an appalling prospect too.

Banks: We can’t live with them, and we can’t live without them. It stinks, doesn’t it?

This brief flourish of disgust for the banking industry received a lot of attention, almost all of it favorable. Millions of Americans want to see “serious hurt” put upon the banks, especially the big banks that are in the Too Big To Fail category. Why do we hate the banks so?

What's Behind the Foreclosure Crisis

By Numerian

"MERS acts as nominee in the county land records for the lender and servicer. Any loan registered on the MERS® System is inoculated against future assignments because MERS remains the nominal mortgagee no matter how many times servicing is traded. MERS as original mortgagee (MOM) is approved by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, FHA and VA, California and Utah Housing Finance Agencies, as well as all of the major Wall Street rating agencies." About theMortgage Electronic Registration System, MERS

The foreclosure scandal surrounding the US financial industry is being portrayed by the banks as a technical problem which requires that some documentation errors be fixed. The White House has rejected the calls of many in the Congress for a nationwide moratorium on foreclosures on the grounds that there are quite a lot of them that are legitimate and should be processed. Government officials say it is going to take just a little bit of time to sort out these from the flawed foreclosures.

Corn, Quantitative Easing and the Coming Storm

By Numerian

Does Ben Bernanke make any connection between the asset bubble in a commodity like corn, and the economic pressures this creates for the middle class or poor people? Given their lofty and isolated position, and the fact that Fed officials talk only to businessmen and millionaires in Congress, one of the things most lacking in Fed policy debates, public or private, is any concern for the average person in the US. It’s as if these are the people of least concern to the Fed, or if they are of concern, it is only as economic factors in econometric models. You get the impression that the Fed has, for a long long time, forgotten about the real, and often immediate personal consequences its policies have for the average person. Numerian

Show me the title! Strategic Defaults and the Homeowners Revenge

By Numerian Posted by Michael Collins

If strategic defaults spread in part because of this new uncertainty over foreclosure and who has the title to the home, the banks and the mortgage backed securities market would be put in a dreadful position. The day in and day out cash flow expected from millions of mortgage principal and interest payments would be impacted far more than it is already, with the banks unable to access their collateral to stanch the bleeding. Insolvencies among the banks and the investors holding mortgage securities would certainly rise. Numerian

Fed begins monetizing the deficit

By Numerian

The Federal Reserve, in announcing the results of this week's meeting of the Open Market Committee, surprised the market by revealing it will begin purchasing US Treasury notes and bonds with the principal income it receives from its vast holdings of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage securities. This practice - wherein the Fed buys up US government securities and injects cash into the public market as payment for these securities - is a form of monetizing the debt.

The last time the Fed did this on a big scale was back in the 1960s when it attempted to mop up the excess Treasury securities that were flooding the market as a result of Lyndon Johnson's efforts to finance the Vietnam War. That Fed program was viewed at the time as a failure, since the cash the Fed put back into the economy in exchange for the securities was a big reason - perhaps the major reason - why price inflation accelerated from the late 1960s until a decade later, when Paul Volcker managed to squelch inflation once and for all with forbiddingly high interest rates.

Fraught with risk

What's a capitalist to do?

AIG's Joe Cassano - An American Tragedy

By Numerian

What’s a capitalist to do when he loses $500 billion and almost single-handedly destroys the global economy? In Japan you would bow deeply in public and express the deepest possible remorse and shame, that is if you already had not committed seppuku. In America, where the Ayn Rand ethos of objectivism reigns supreme, you weasel your way out of any explanation or regret, while riding off in the sunset with your undeserved fortune.

Joe Cassano, former CEO of AIG Financial Products, could have chosen the Ronald Reagan Alzheimers defense: “I have forgotten everything that happened.” That was the route taken by AIG Chief Risk Officer Robert Lewis, when he along with Cassano appeared yesterday before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. Lewis, unlike Reagan, had to act like he actually had Alzheimers to make this defense plausible.

Cassano could have used the “I was too dumb to know what I was doing” defense, which would have at least have been plausible. Instead he chose to brazen it out in front of the Commission, arguing that everything he did was perfectly correct and legal, and any losses were the fault of somebody else.

We know everything he did was perfectly legal, because both the SEC and the FBI have dropped any plans to charge Cassano with criminal activity, which was one reason he was able to appear before the Commission and be so openly unrepentant for what happened. We also know that nothing he did was correct, which even a cursory reading of the public record will reveal. Cassano built an untenable portfolio of credit default swaps, selling these insurance contracts to banks around the world anxious to protect themselves if the US housing market tanked. He earned billions in fees for AIG and $300 million in bonuses for himself, but when the housing market did indeed tank, his losses totaled half a trillion dollars and destroyed AIG in the process. AIG was taken into the bosom of the US Treasury, and the American taxpayer made good all the losses the banks would have experienced had AIG been thrown into the bankruptcy courts.

The Way the World Works

By Numerian
Chances are if you are a typical American consumer you have purchased something made by Foxconn Technology Group. This giant Taiwanese-owned company is under contract to make Sony’s Playstation, the Xbox 360, the Wii, motherboards for Intel, routers for Cisco, and Apple’s iPhone, iPod, and iPad. As profitable as Foxconn is, it is in a fundamental sense a failure of capitalism. At a time when machine tools and robotics are available to make these products at high speeds, Foxconn uses manual labor to craft tens of thousands of electronic devices each hour, 24 hours a day. (Image)

To accomplish this, Foxconn employs over 800,000 workers in mainland China alone, and 420,000 of them at a massive “campus” in Shenzen. The workers in Shenzen are required to live on campus in dormitories with bunk beds, cafeterias, a medical unit, and a few recreational facilities. The overwhelming number of them range in age from 18 to 24, have moved to Shenzen from rural villages with no job opportunities, work six days a week at the factory for 10 hours a day including overtime, and make about $130 a month.

Pecunia Emptor

By Numerian

Dig deep enough into any financial crash and you will find leverage – someone, somewhere has borrowed money to invest in the asset in speculation. In the US stock market crash of 1929, the main culprit was margin. Investors were allowed by their broker to buy shares with money borrowed from the broker, and to buy more shares with the profits on their existing shares. When prices peaked and began to fall, the brokers discovered their customers no longer had enough value in their shares to cover the loan to the broker, so they issued a “margin call”. If the customer couldn’t come up with more pure cash to restore a positive collateral value for the broker’s loan (and many couldn’t), the shares were sold and the loan repaid. As customer after customer faced margin calls, shares were pressured lower and lower, and hence the cascading price decline known as a market crash.