28 February 2009
"That chart is the most striking piece of evidence that I have that what is happening to us is something that goes way beyond toxic assets in banks. It's something that has little to do with the mechanics of mortgage securitization, or ethics on Wall Street, or anything else," Beim says. "It says: The problem is us. The problem is not the banks, greedy though they may be, overpaid though they may be. The problem is us."
We have overborrowed, Beim says: "We've been living very high on the hog. Our living standard has been rising dramatically in the last 25 years. And we have been borrowing much of the money to make that prosperity happen."
In other words, the problem the banks are facing is the problem we, as a society, are facing: We all have too much debt. And getting rid of it is going to be painful.
If you want a solution in which those who bear the most guilt for the financial crisis pay the most to fix it, while the innocent don't have to pay anything, that's not going to happen.
It seems that the U.S. economy is way past that point. Americans are going to spend a lot of money. The government may bail out some banks that some people wish it wouldn't. There is no magical solution where the U.S. gets out of this mess without any pain.
While they might disagree on who will bear the brunt of that pain, all the experts interviewed for this report say the longer the U.S. waits, the worse it will be for everyone.If only we'd all be willing to face the fact that this mess isn't just about corporate greed, poor regulation, too much regulation, or failure to help out the 'little guy.' It's about our national addiction to easy credit, an economy based solely on debt, and our love of spending. Until we come to grips with that, we'll never solve our problems.
26 February 2009
24 February 2009
He nails it: "The strength of America is NOT found in our government .... the way to lead is not to raise taxes ... The way to lead is to empower you." The Democratic leadership, "... instead of trusting us with our money ... passed the largest spending bill in history."
I love the hit on Sen. Reid's mag-lev train to Disney Land.
He then lays out the alternatives: tax cuts, promoting business and industry to grow jobs, increased energy development combined with conservation and innovation, universal health care access that is privately run, performance-based education, etc.
He calls for a true transparency in government - one which rejects political favors for money and rejects the corrupting earmark process.
I'm looking forward to seeing his career evolve.
The text of the entire response is here.
A few musings along the way.
The checks are in the mail for the tax cuts: all $13 per household.
Ahh - bribery for service - a higher education for all. I'm not totally opposed as long as service is determined by the individual and not the state, and no brown shirts or jack boots are required. I'm still a little worried about that non-voluntary, as-strong-as-the-military, not-the-police, civilian 'security force' the President talked about on the campaign trail.
The markets were up for the first time a few weeks today after the Fed Chair, Ben Bernanke, managed to calm fears that the Administration is planning on a wholesale takeover of the banking sector. Instead, Bernanke implied, there would be a partial and temporary government stake in the most troubled institutions.
Note to the President: find a way to not have Nancy Pelosi smirking at the Republicans right behind you when you're trying to look dignified and Presidential. She either looks like she's in rictus, or trying not to sneer. Either way, it's really undignified.
Remember that second debate when Sen. McCain slammed the earmark process of an example of wasteful spending in Washington? The one where the President poo-pooed the notion of earmarks contributing all that much, but than said he would be the better champion against them? That was the same debate (the video of the entire debate is in my blog archive) where the now President claimed he would go through the entire budget "line by line." Now we have a 'stimulus' bill that was never read or parsed, a new $410 billion spending bill (that by the way was introduced while the President was conducting the "Fiscal Responsibility Summit" - see yesterday's blog), and talk of yet another stimulus bill for later in the year.
From the title linked article:
"We need earmark reform," Obama said in September during a presidential debate in Oxford, Miss. "And when I'm president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely."
President Barack Obama should prepare to carve out a lot of free time and keep the coffee hot this week as Congress prepares to unveil a $410 billion omnibus spending bill that's riddled with thousands of earmarks, despite his calls for restraint and efforts on Capitol Hill to curtail the practice.
The bill will contain about 9,000 earmarks totaling $5 billion, congressional officials say. Many of the earmarks — loosely defined as local projects inserted by members of Congress — were inserted last year as the spending bills worked their way through various committees.Here's what Obama promised on the stimulus bill (from the Change.gov website, which perversely still says the Office of the President-Elect):
President-elect Barack Obama said today in a meeting with members of his budget team that he will ban earmarks from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that will soon go before Congress.
The President-elect also said he expects his administration to inherit a budget deficit of up to $1 trillion.
He was joined in the meeting by Peter Orszag, Director-designate, Office of Managment and Budget; Christina Romer, Christina Romer, Director-designate, Council of Economic Advisors and Lawrence Summers, Director-designate, National Economic Council, among others.
I don't believe anyone read anything line-by-line, will do so or had any intention of every doing so. I think we can put the whole promise of transparency in the ground now.
23 February 2009
Spreading the Poverty Around?
Dear Congressional Wealth Destruction Followers,
President Obama announced last week his preliminary plan to stop foreclosures for seven to nine million American families. The key components are granting bankruptcy judges the power to reduce mortgage amounts, subsidizing mortgage servicers and owners to offer reduced principal and interest payments for homeowners in trouble, rewarding homeowners who stick to a reduced payment plan with bonus payments, giving Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac more flexibility to lend up to the current value of the house, and, as already provided in the $ 787 billion stimulus package, offering genuine first time home buyers up to $ 8,000 in tax credits if they purchase a home this year.
The Wall Street Journal estimates the plan will cost up to $ 275 billion. In its core assumptions, the overall plan has several main premises that are hostile to freedom and property. This Congressional Wealth Destruction Monitor points out several ways this new, larger government intrusion will actually make us all poorer. As Tom Paine might have put it, that government is worst that governs most.
One Congressional Wealth Destruction that will occur here is giving bankruptcy judges the power to override settled law and existing contracts: what banks thought was collateral is no longer collateral. This is tantamount to a seizure of the collateral by the government. The most likely unintended consequence of this is that new mortgages will be made at increasingly higher rates that reflect what risks unsecured creditors have--somewhat like credit card rates which are typically 10% to 15% higher than mortgages.
What will higher mortgage rates do for housing prices? Kill them. Under current Congressional proposals, some estimate the immediate write down of Alt-A and prime loans at up to 1/3 of certain loan pools--with immediate losses in the many billions. As the stock market digested this and other proposals since the election, bank stocks have fallen by 62% and since January 1, the S&P 500 Index is down 15.3%. In about a year and a half, the aggregate market capitalization of the financial stocks has dropped from $ 1.4 trillion to less than $ 300 billion, with much of the loss ultimately caused by Congressional intrusion. And what will falling housing prices do in terms of financial harm to first time home owners who misread risk and misallocated capital by buying a huge asset that has gone down sharply, and is more likely than not to continue going down due to increasing government intrusion?
Another premise implicit in the housing plan's structure is that all money belongs in principle first to the government and may be doled back out to the populace as a reward for servitude. The plan's tax credits are like that, and the bonuses for sticking to your payment plan are like that. But these carrots may be illusory, because they phase out for people with incomes over $150,000--that is to say, the people who are most likely to actually get fresh credit and therefore could actually act.
But the part of the plan that got Rick Santelli's fabulous outburst so much attention is that the plan requires the 92% of homeowners who are on time with their payments, and all the people who rent (many of whom wish they could own a home) to subsidize those who are in trouble at this moment. As Santelli said "the plan promotes bad behavior." It is not hard to sit across the kitchen table and come up with a master plan to get behind in your payments if the government will step in and cram the loss down the bank's throat and require your neighbor to cover your losses. Tax plans that assume that people will keep their behavior static and not respond to incentives are futile.
President Obama was adamant that those who gamed the system to speculate would not receive a penny under the plan. But this will require Herculean effort and lead to more unintended consequences. Is the government going to investigate every modifying borrower's historical financials to look back in time to see if they were utterly accurate about their income, assets and prospects at the time they got the loan. Sheila Bair, head of the FDIC, said last week "I think it's just simply impractical to try to do a forensic analysis of each and every one of these delinquent loans that may have been originated two or three years back to find out whether income had been appropriately stated at that time." The plan also does not apply to large mortgages, re-financed mortgages, or private mortgages.
While President Obama claims that between seven and nine million families will get to re-structure their loans under the plan, there are so many requirements, qualifications and gotchas in the housing plan that it is not likely to help as many people as intended, but harm many more than thought possible. Perhaps we could also do forensic investigations of the campaign promises of our politicians.
Another terrible aspect of the plan is that it mainly seeks to aid government agencies with this relief, and leave the half of the mortgage market that was privately loaned in the lurch. Private banks will not be eligible for refinance aid but have all the follow on liability from the destruction of their collateral and so on.
Perhaps this is what Secretary Treasury Geithner means when he refers to a "Public-Private" partnership. Investors for the last 50 years have been the victims of a "public-private" partnership with respect to their stock market gains and losses. Capital gains are fully and immediately taxable. Capital losses are limited to $3,000 per year. The government gets to expand at the expense of private business trying to compete with it. And now the government proposals appear to be self-fulfilling, because they have so destroyed the bank stocks that many no longer have enough access to equity capital to meet their regulatory requirements. For example, this Monday morning we were greeted with the de facto creeping nationalization of Citibank.
So we have arrived at a vastly complicated Rube Goldberg contraption designed to pick a moment in time and to prevent the collapsed housing prices from resulting in mortgage defaults, and in particular, foreclosures. But at the prices many of the defaulting borrowers paid for their homes, in financial terms, they never really owned their homes. They only had an option. Now their option has expired and they must go back to renting. It's not the end of the world. In fact, now that the myth of ever rising real estate prices has been shattered, for many people it may be a better financial deal. Postponing foreclosures and restructurings only adds to uncertainty and prolongs the pain. We may be transforming a recession into a depression. When this fix does not work, things will get worse, not better, because as a country we will have thrown good money after bad.
The President cited a study that foreclosure signs induce an average of a 9% drop in housing prices. But in an economy that self heals, that drop should be temporary. In effect, the government is using taxpayer wealth to attempt to permanently support housing prices and more sinisterly support the property tax scheme associated with them. Because if people abandon property, who will pay the property taxes? The beleaguered banks left holding the bag? Certainly not.
Think of it as wage and price controls for housing. It didn't work for Nixon. It didn't work when Roosevelt and Hoover tried to fix wages. It didn't work for Hammurabi. The beauty of the free market is its spreading of hope. Anyone can participate. The horror of a government controlled market is the extinguishment of hope. Anything the government can do for you, it can also undo if it so chooses. And as we continue to abandon the rule of law and the sanctity of contract, the corrosive effect on the confidence of the markets will get ever more sour.
What is required are free market oriented solutions that get capital flowing and enfranchise the 92% of homeowners that are on time to begin to think positively about the housing market. There is $ 9,000,000,000,000 on the sidelines in cash deposits, money market funds, and treasuries. That is a better place to look for help than our overstretched government.
Eric T. Singer
Congressional Effect Management
The Congressional Effect Fund seeks to avoid market destabilizing uncertainty and the effects of news of potentially wealth damaging legislation by investing in the market (via the S&P 500 Index) only when Congress is on recess, and primarily in interest bearing instruments when Congress is in session.
The Congressional Effect Fund is the culmination of my many years of frustration with government folly, and I am delighted to have launched and be managing a vehicle I hope will reward investors and, in so doing, also highlight the deleterious effects of poor Congressional action. It is my sincerest hope that strong investor support of this endeavor will promote and further freedom in America as our founding fathers intended.
If you need assistance completing the investment application, or have additional questions about the Fund, please do not hesitate to contact me directly. Or, you may contact the Fund's distributor, Matrix Capital Group at 1.888.553.4233.
Investments in mutual funds involve risks. Read the prospectus and consider the Fund's investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses carefully before investing or sending money. The Congressional Effect Fund is a newly-formed entity, and although the Advisor’s portfolio manager, Eric T. Singer, has been a portfolio manager for private investment vehicles in the past, he does not have previous experience running a registered investment adviser or managing a mutual fund. Accordingly, investors in the Fund bear the risk that the Fund may not be successful in implementing its investment strategy and investors in the Fund bear the risk that the Advisor’s inexperience managing a firm may limit its effectiveness. There is no assurance the Fund’s investment objectives will be achieved. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Investment return and value will fluctuate so that when redeemed, shares may be worth more or less than the original cost.
It seems every time President Obama, Sen. Dodd, Sen. Reid, Rep. Pelosi or any of the President's economic team speaks about the economy, the markets slide even further. Maybe they should just be quiet.
Meanwhile, the President insists he can cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term (talk about optimism), and is set for a third shot at the Secretary of Commerce with Gov. Locke of Washington State. He also managed to add on to his growing list of promises yet to be fulfilled, by promising that states would receive the first portion of the stimulus bill by the end of this week.
So, we're going to spend a ton of money on untested programs, most of which have nothing to do with stimulating anything except re-election campaigns, starting this week. Why would would any of us be surprised that the markets are reacting badly?
UPDATE 1: Reuters calls it like it is: the grand-standing today on the debt was an "all day talk fest."
UPDATE 2: Fox News is reporting that a good many of those at today's Fiscal Responsibility Summit were representing various special interests, none of which are more interested in fiscal responsibility than in promoting their own interests. The transparency pledge takes yet another hit.
19 February 2009
He then got down to business, saying "I love this country ..." However, Canada's current love of the President may be short-lived if he follows through on his interest in renegotiating NAFTA. The Guardian reported on ongoing tension between the US and Canada that began when the President was running for office. At that time, he made clear that his support for and by labor unions would necessitate a retreat from some of our trade obligations. Since winning the election however, he's backed away from some of his more hard-line statements, hinting that he would merely be interested in modifying some of the terms of NAFTA.
The president muddied his position on Nafta at the press conference by adding something positive. "Now is a time where we have to be very careful about any signals of protectionism," he said, adding a promise that the US will meet its international trade obligations.
Harper was equally anxious to avoid signs of a split. "I'm quite confident that the United States will respect those obligations and continue to be a leader on the need for globalised trade," he said, though he did not sound totally convinced.
As well as concern over Nafta, the Canadian government has been alarmed by other protectionist moves by Obama such as the "buy America" provisions in his $787bn economic stimulus package, which originally proposed only US steel be used for infrastructure projects. The "buy America" provisions have since been watered down, with Obama saying the US would not do anything that ran counter to existing trade agreements.If the President is to continue our good relationships with our closest neighbors, as well as those in Europe and elsewhere, he is going to have to avoid falling into the trap of protectionism and retreat. Indeed, the recent issue of The Economist warns against just such a trap (February 7, 2009). In the cover article titled, "The return of economic nationalism," the journal argues that the 'spectre' of 'economic nationalism' will sink the world into depression if given free reign. This argument is all too correct. We must avoid the isolationist tendencies that damaged both the US and the globe following WWI and leading up to WWII. I just hope President Obama is listening. Sinking into this trap would be a far more serious stumble.
18 February 2009
The GOP is raising important questions about the foreclosure plans.
The Obama Administration apparently thinks that money grows on trees!
Doubling the aid to Fannie and Freddie, propping up failing industries no matter the cost, $75 billion in foreclosure backing (separate from the Fannie/Freddie bailout), a stimulus bill with little in the way of direct stimulus spending - it never ends.
The President has made it clear that this is only the beginning.
17 February 2009
The CBO Director's blog can be found in the blogroll on this site.
15 February 2009
The newly sworn-in Senator from Illinois, Roland Burris, is now in hot water himself. He is now being called to task (the word perjury is being bandied about) for his testimony before a House panel at which he denied inappropriate contacts with Blago's administration.
"I did not donate one single dollar nor did I raise any money or promise any favors for the governor," he said, adding that anyone who suggested otherwise was "playing partisan politics."
Anytime a politician says things like this (think, "I did not sleep with that woman..."), I become suspicious. Call it my cynical nature, which was honed by living near DC (when a certain mayor was brought low by a drug and prostitution ring), Chicago (when a certain governor was brought low by a complex funding scandal that included license plate for illegal truckers out of Florida), and South Florida (hanging chads anyone?).
Burris is denying that he committed perjury, but the Republicans in Illinois smell blood in the water:
Earlier Sunday Burris issued a statement.
"I wish to supplement my answer with other events that I have been able to recall, to make certain the record is complete. ... I recall that Governor Blagojevich's brother, Rob Blagojevich, called me three times to seek my assistance in fund-raising for Governor Blagojevich," he wrote.
The disclosure reflects a major omission from his testimony in January. Burris, who entered the Senate the same week he testified at the panel, said he filed the affidavit because he didn't have the opportunity to lay out all the facts during his live testimony, a claim Durkin rejected.
Durkin said the information was evidence withheld by Democrats. Cross said he only learned about the affidavit after reading about it in the news on Saturday, even though the Illinois Democratic Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Currie received the affidavit on Feb. 5.
"I think somebody in the Burris camp finally realized that these conversations were probably on tape," Cross said explaining why he thinks the information became public.The Chicago Sun-Time broke this story today, and Illinois lawmakers are already talking about hearings and removal from office.
Here we go again!
Burris is insisting that his amended statement to the House panel is consistent with his original statement, and that he has done nothing wrong, and that he did not file the affidavit out of fear that his conversations with Blagojevich had been recorded.
Burris is apparently losing all trust and respect, even among his own party members, as he changes (or 'amends') his story repeatedly. The Chicago Tribune is now calling for his resignation, as are members of both parties in the Illinois Congress. One wonders if Illinois will ever get a government that even approaches honesty.
This has become a joke. Illinois is now the laughingstock of the nation. Sen. Burris must put his state and nation ahead of himself and resign. If he's incapable or unwilling to be that responsible, than the Senate should remove him - now!
12 February 2009
In particular, the Senator has been known to be uncomfortable with the gigantic spending bill otherwise known as a stimulus, and abstained from the vote yesterday. Given the continued widespread opposition to the frivolous spending provisions in the bill, it's not surprising that any Republican would be concerned about taking on this particular position, but it's gratifying that the senator was willing to take a public stand.
Almost as important in the long run, is the power grab by the White House, which is attempting to move control of the census from Commerce to the White House. Some have speculated that part of this move was due to the nomination of Sen. Gregg to Commerce, but the White House has yet to make any announcement reversing its position.
Given the Gov. Richardson withdrew under a cloud last month, one wonders if President Obama will be able to fill this position anytime soon. Since he's now 'met' his promise of a bipartisan cabinet, he may feel no obligation to select another Republican.
10 February 2009
Meanwhile, our erstwhile President seems content to blame President Bush and the GOP, despite the massive Congressional spending under a Democratic Congress (of which he was a part).
I'm talking about the Democratic Party, which is making a grab for control of the census by having it run out of the White House. This would mean data used to determine the composition of the Electoral College, re-districting maps, and government spending programs would be managed and determined by a partisan for the first time. In a power-grab intended in part to make Judd Gregg's new position, peripheral, the White House has announced that the hyper-partisan, Rahm Emanuel, will now run the census as part of
You can link to the Census Bureau performance assessment at "ExpectMore.gov." It would be just perfect if they'd expand it to: Expect More Government. Their 'mission' statement reads:
Now, why don't I take that seriously? Is it just me, or have two whole branches of the government been completely co-opted by power-hungry hacks?
Anyone get the feeling that they want the Presidency for Life?
09 February 2009
08 February 2009
07 February 2009
While speaking to fellow party members, the President indulged in some partisan ranting, making an open mockery his vaunted lack of ideology. When addressing the Republican opposition to the proposed new fleet of cars, the President mocked concerns that such a massive expenditure would do nothing to quickly stimulate the economy and is overspending. Listen to the whole speech when you get a chance.
The President seems willing to assume that anything less than full capitulation is due to sheer stubborness and lack of intelligence. He went on to mock recent statements by Republicans that the stimulus bill is nothing more than a 'spending bill,' saying 'what do you think a stimulus is.'
Well, gee, Mr. President. I thought a stimulus was supposed to help stimulate economic activity NOW, not two years from now and at the expense of the GDP. I thought it should help lots of people get jobs, not a few producing extremely expensive products. I thought you were all for 'shovel-ready' projects, not expenditures that are meaningless to the majority of the country. That would be a stimulus. What you have now is a pork-laden bill, which will only stimulate moderate activity, laden us with generation of debt, and which is a gift to every liberal whose ever dreamed of all-encompassing power.
So much for bipartisanship.
05 February 2009
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has revised its forecast on the effects of the Senate stimulus bill should it pass as is today. The overall effect on the economy is now projected to be negative in both the near and long-term outlooks, especially as regards GDP. Why? That's right Virginia - debt!
The last paragraph of the director's blog sums it up:
Including the effects of both crowding out of private investment (which would reduce output in the long run) and possibly productive government investment (which could increase output), CBO estimates that by 2019 the Senate legislation would reduce GDP by 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent on net.
Get your pork here!
I wonder what catastrophe will befall if I refuse to pay my taxes come April, simply because I don't want to sod any lawns, ensure that people suit up before sex, or pay for new cars that I won't get to drive. He sure doesn't sound very hopeful to me. Maybe if everyone of the candidates had paid their taxes, and were working together without backbiting, it would go down a little easier. But just as most taxpayers don't want their money going to spa visits and bonus packages for failed CEOs, most of us don't want our money being managed by Washington insiders and tax evaders. Not even a spoon full of sugar could help with this mess.
03 February 2009
02 February 2009
Side note: if you haven't already done so, write or call your Senators and demand that the pork be stripped from this bill before it can go forward.
The Boston Globe is practically slavering at President Obama's feet as he tries to win over GOP support for the bill, saying that he's 'bending over backwards,' in his attempts to 'ease concerns.' Do you think you could be a little less obvious?
Senator Reid is doing a fantastic job of bringing the doubters by allowing even more pork to be loaded onto the bill.
Senator Mitch McConnell is promising to at least delay passage of the bill until GOP concerns are taken into account.
It looks to be an interesting day tomorrow.
While I'm overjoyed that the Steelers won, I'd like to extend a hand to Kurt Warner on an amazing game for the Cardinals (although he almost gave my entire family a collective heart attack).
Santonio Holmes - we love you!