Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Banking Situation in the US Continues to Decline

For those out there that think the economy will turn around in the 2nd half of this year, it will require a much healthier banking system then we have and things at the banks continue to deteriorate. Personally, I think we will be lucky to be of the current recession by mid-2010. As an aside the article below from Market Watch is validated by what I am hearing from contacts at the banks. Text in bold is my emphasis.

Bank loans were going bad at a faster pace in the fourth quarter of the year, forcing banks to charge-off a record $34.5 billion in delinquent loans, the Federal Reserve reported Tuesday.

The seasonally adjusted delinquency rate for all bank loans rose to 4.6% in the fourth quarter from 3.7% in the third quarter. That's the highest delinquency rate since 1992 in the aftermath of the savings & loan crisis. A year ago, the delinquency rate was 2.4%.


Delinquencies were growing faster last quarter than at any other time since the Fed started collecting the delinquency data in 1985.

For residential real estate, the delinquency rate rose to a record 6.3% in the fourth quarter from 5.2% in the third quarter and 3% a year earlier.

Consumer credit card delinquencies rose to a record 5.6% from 4.8% in the third quarter.
Delinquencies for commercial real estate loans increased to 5.4% in the fourth quarter from 4.7% in the third, and double the rate a year earlier.
(The next she to drop in 2009.)

The charge-off rate increased to 1.9% from 1.5% in the third quarter, with banks charging off a record $35.5 billion, up from $24.2 billion in the third quarter and $13.9 billion in the fourth quarter a year earlier.

European View of the Economic Crisis in Eastern Europe

To give the European perspective on the situation in eastern Europe I have included an article from the UK Telegraph. Text in bold is my emphasis.

The unfolding debt drama in Russia, Ukraine, and the EU states of Eastern Europe has reached acute danger point.

If mishandled by the world policy establishment, this debacle is big enough to shatter the fragile banking systems of Western Europe and set off round two of our financial Götterdämmerung.

Austria's finance minister Josef Pröll made frantic efforts last week to put together a €150bn rescue for the ex-Soviet bloc. Well he might. His banks have lent €230bn to the region, equal to 70pc of Austria's GDP.


"A failure rate of 10pc would lead to the collapse of the Austrian financial sector," reported Der Standard in Vienna. Unfortunately, that is about to happen.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) says bad debts will top 10pc and may reach 20pc. The Vienna press said Bank Austria and its Italian owner Unicredit face a "monetary Stalingrad" in the East.

Mr Pröll tried to drum up support for his rescue package from EU finance ministers in Brussels last week. The idea was scotched by Germany's Peer Steinbrück. Not our problem, he said. We'll see about that.

Stephen Jen, currency chief at Morgan Stanley, said Eastern Europe has borrowed $1.7 trillion abroad, much on short-term maturities. It must repay – or roll over – $400bn this year, equal to a third of the region's GDP. Good luck. The credit window has slammed shut.

Not even Russia can easily cover the $500bn dollar debts of its oligarchs while oil remains near $33 a barrel. The budget is based on Urals crude at $95. Russia has bled 36pc of its foreign reserves since August defending the rouble.

"This is the largest run on a currency in history," said Mr Jen.

In Poland, 60pc of mortgages are in Swiss francs. The zloty has just halved against the franc. Hungary, the Balkans, the Baltics, and Ukraine are all suffering variants of this story. As an act of collective folly – by lenders and borrowers – it matches America's sub-prime debacle. There is a crucial difference, however. European banks are on the hook for both. US banks are not.

Almost all East bloc debts are owed to West Europe, especially Austrian, Swedish, Greek, Italian, and Belgian banks. En plus, Europeans account for an astonishing 74pc of the entire $4.9 trillion portfolio of loans to emerging markets.

They are five times more exposed to this latest bust than American or Japanese banks, and they are 50pc more leveraged (IMF data).

Spain is up to its neck in Latin America, which has belatedly joined the slump (Mexico's car output fell 51pc in January, and Brazil lost 650,000 jobs in one month). Britain and Switzerland are up to their necks in Asia.

Whether it takes months, or just weeks, the world is going to discover that Europe's financial system is sunk, and that there is no EU Federal Reserve yet ready to act as a lender of last resort or to flood the markets with emergency stimulus.

Under a "Taylor Rule" analysis, the European Central Bank already needs to cut rates to zero and then purchase bonds and Pfandbriefe on a huge scale. It is constrained by geopolitics – a German-Dutch veto – and the Maastricht Treaty.

But I digress. It is East Europe that is blowing up right now. Erik Berglof, EBRD's chief economist, told me the region may need €400bn in help to cover loans and prop up the credit system.

Europe's governments are making matters worse. Some are pressuring their banks to pull back, undercutting subsidiaries in East Europe. Athens has ordered Greek banks to pull out of the Balkans.

The sums needed are beyond the limits of the IMF, which has already bailed out Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Iceland, and Pakistan – and Turkey next – and is fast exhausting its own $200bn (€155bn) reserve. We are nearing the point where the IMF may have to print money for the world, using arcane powers to issue Special Drawing Rights.

Its $16bn rescue of Ukraine has unravelled. The country – facing a 12pc contraction in GDP after the collapse of steel prices – is hurtling towards default, leaving Unicredit, Raffeisen and ING in the lurch. Pakistan wants another $7.6bn. Latvia's central bank governor has declared his economy "clinically dead" after it shrank 10.5pc in the fourth quarter. Protesters have smashed the treasury and stormed parliament.

"This is much worse than the East Asia crisis in the 1990s," said Lars Christensen, at Danske Bank.

"There are accidents waiting to happen across the region, but the EU institutions don't have any framework for dealing with this. The day they decide not to save one of these one countries will be the trigger for a massive crisis with contagion spreading into the EU."

Europe is already in deeper trouble than the ECB or EU leaders ever expected. Germany contracted at an annual rate of 8.4pc in the fourth quarter.

If Deutsche Bank is correct, the economy will have shrunk by nearly 9pc before the end of this year. This is the sort of level that stokes popular revolt.

The implications are obvious. Berlin is not going to rescue Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal as the collapse of their credit bubbles leads to rising defaults, or rescue Italy by accepting plans for EU "union bonds" should the debt markets take fright at the rocketing trajectory of Italy's public debt (hitting 112pc of GDP next year, just revised up from 101pc – big change), or rescue Austria from its Habsburg adventurism.

So we watch and wait as the lethal brush fires move closer.

If one spark jumps across the eurozone line, we will have global systemic crisis within days. Are the firemen ready?

Problems in Eastern Europe and How It Could Spill Over Into the US

The following from the NY Times addresses an often disregarded issue of the financial problems in eastern Europe. Often in the US we are so consumed with our mortgage problems that we fail to recognize that other parts of the world have their own problems, which could spill over on to the US. Text in bold is my emphasis.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the countries of Eastern Europe have emerged as critical allies of the United States in the region, embracing American-style capitalism and borrowing heavily from Western European banks to finance their rise. Now the bill is coming due.

The development boom that turned Poland, Hungary and other former Soviet satellites into some of Europe’s hottest markets is on the verge of going bust, raising worrisome new risks for the global financial system that may ricochet back to the United States.

Last week, Wall Street plunged after
Moody’s Investors Service warned that Western banks that had recently beat a path to Eastern Europe’s doorstep now faced “hard landings,” spooking investors with new fears that the exposure could spread beyond Europe’s shores.

“There’s a domino effect,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a professor at Harvard and former chief economist of the
International Monetary Fund. “International credit markets are linked, and so a snowballing credit crisis in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries could cause New York municipal bonds to fall.”

The danger is on several fronts. The big European economies, including Britain, France, Germany and Spain, are already in recession, and many of their largest banks have curbed lending at home and abroad.

For Central and Eastern Europe, which enjoyed breakneck growth thanks to a wave of credit from these banks, the squeeze could not have come at a worse time. Already bruised by the global downturn, they are on the verge of a downward spiral as the flow of credit dries up. Average growth among countries in the region slid to 3.2 percent last year, from 5.4 percent in 2007. This year, it is forecast to contract by 0.4 percent — and very likely more.

“These numbers will be coming down,” said Charles Collyns, deputy director of the research department at the International Monetary Fund.

Add to that a new worry: International finance officials fret that the worst regional economic crisis since the Berlin Wall came down could set off a contagion among the region’s currencies, with echoes of the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Then, emerging markets like Thailand borrowed in foreign currencies to fuel growth, but suddenly owed more than they could afford to pay back once their own currencies lost value.

Since peaking last summer, Poland’s currency has slumped 48 percent against
the euro; Hungary’s has fallen 30 percent and the Czech Republic’s is off 21 percent. “Very simply, Eastern Europe has become Europe’s version of the subprime market,” said Robert Brusca of FAO Economics in New York.

On Monday, the central banks of Poland, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic sought to restore calm by issuing statements arguing that the recent sell-off was not justified by economic fundamentals.

In addition, Western banks could very likely suffer a further increase in nonperforming loans. “Most of the banks in this region are from the euro countries and will have to undergo further recapitalization,” Gillian Edgeworth, an economist with
Deutsche Bank in London, said.

Another problem is that big institutional investors in Western Europe — banks, pension funds and insurance companies — have large holdings of East European debt. If the banks need further infusions of capital from Western governments already straining to pay for stimulus packages and to maintain their social safety nets, it could put additional pressure on the euro as well.

“The threat to more developed economies goes through the banking channel,”
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the monetary fund, said in a recent interview.

As the downturn worsens across the Continent, Mr. Rogoff explained, risk aversion can quickly spread to other parts of the world. Some investors hurt by plunging markets in Europe are having to sell American assets to raise money, adding pressure to a United States stock market already weakened by fears of nationalization.

“It’s one big trans-Atlantic money market out there, and these banks lend money to each other all the time,” said Simon Johnson, another veteran of the monetary fund who is a now a professor at the Sloan School of Management at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Deutsche Bank and UBS and Goldman Sachs and Citi are all intertwined.”

In Eastern Europe itself, the risks for Western companies doing business there have also surged.

Until recently, for example, Eastern Europe and Russia were rare bright spots for the beleaguered American automakers
Ford Motor and General Motors. In Poland, where G.M. has a major factory, sales rose 10 percent last year to 38,000 cars, while sales in Russia soared 30 percent to 338,000 vehicles.

Since then, demand has fallen sharply. In the Baltic countries, which were among the first to feel the chill, G.M.’s sales dropped an average of 57 percent in the final months of 2008.

Among the biggest victims of the crisis are tens of thousands of workers who had clawed their way to more prosperity, only to see their dreams crumble as jobs and the financial system eroded.


Because their declining currencies make it more expensive to import goods and to pay off foreign debts, governments have cut spending and reduced public services, leading to a wave of increasingly violent protests across the region that is threatening governments.

On Friday, the coalition government in Latvia — where the economy contracted more than 10 percent on an annualized basis last month — became the second European government, after that of Iceland, to collapse.

Meanwhile, in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, demonstrators took to the streets Friday as depositors rushed to pull their money out of local banks.

The crisis has forced the monetary fund to step into the breach. In recent months, it has extended Ukraine, Iceland, Hungary and Latvia billions in aid. “I’m expecting a second wave of countries to knock at the door,” Mr. Strauss-Kahn said.

Two years ago, “the idea was very, very consistently projected that the I.M.F. would not have to help emerging countries any more,” and that the “financial markets would take care of it,”
Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, said Friday. Now, he said, this has proved to be “totally false.”

For Mr. Johnson and other students of financial history, the latest developments in Europe — especially in Austria, whose banking industry is heavily exposed to its Eastern neighbors — raise eerie parallels with the 1930s. Mr. Johnson notes that it was the failure of a Viennese bank, Creditanstalt, in 1931 that was a turning point in what became
the Great Depression.

Mr. Johnson said he did not expect a repeat of that calamity, but he does foresee a long period of minimal growth, akin to Japan’s “lost decade” of the 1990s, in both the United States and Europe.

And while the United States may have been the trigger for this international financial crisis, it is hardly alone in shouldering the blame. “We set off the sticks of dynamite, but a lot of people had tinderboxes under their houses,” he said.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Manufactruing is Down Significantly in Many Countries

People usually don't discuss the manufacturing sector of our economy, or any one else's for that matter, but it is down significantly across the globe. This is a very important sector for two reasons: 1) it is the Gross Domestic Private Investment (GDPI) portion of GDP and 2) it is a major supplier of jobs. This sector is down significantly because demand is down driven by both a decline in personal consumption and the reluctance of the retail/wholesale portion of businesses to carry inventory. The article below from the Economist discusses just how dismal the numbers are. Text in bold is my emphasis.

$0.00, not counting fuel and handling: that is the cheapest quote right now if you want to ship a container from southern China to Europe. Back in the summer of 2007 the shipper would have charged $1,400. Half-empty freighters are just one sign of a worldwide collapse in manufacturing. In Germany December’s machine-tool orders were 40% lower than a year earlier. Half of China’s 9,000 or so toy exporters have gone bust. Taiwan’s shipments of notebook computers fell by a third in the month of January. The number of cars being assembled in America was 60% below January 2008.

The destructive global power of the financial crisis became clear last year. The immensity of the manufacturing crisis is still sinking in, largely because it is seen in national terms—indeed, often nationalistic ones. In fact manufacturing is also caught up in a global whirlwind.

Industrial production fell in the latest three months by 3.6% and 4.4% respectively in America and Britain (equivalent to annual declines of 13.8% and 16.4%). Some locals blame that on Wall Street and the City. But the collapse is much worse in countries more dependent on manufacturing exports, which have come to rely on consumers in debtor countries. Germany’s industrial production in the fourth quarter fell by 6.8%; Taiwan’s by 21.7%; Japan’s by 12%—which helps to explain why GDP is falling even faster there than it did in the early 1990s
. Industrial production is volatile, but the world has not seen a contraction like this since the first oil shock in the 1970s—and even that was not so widespread. Industry is collapsing in eastern Europe, as it is in Brazil, Malaysia and Turkey. Thousands of factories in southern China are now abandoned. Their workers went home to the countryside for the new year in January. Millions never came back.

Having bailed out the financial system, governments are now being called on to save industry, too. Next to scheming bankers, factory workers look positively deserving. Manufacturing is still a big employer and it tends to be a very visible one, concentrated in places like Detroit, Stuttgart and Guangzhou. The failure of a famous manufacturer like General Motors (GM) would be a severe blow to people’s faith in their own prospects when a lack of confidence is already dragging down the economy. So surely it is right to give industry special support?

Despite manufacturing’s woes, the answer is no. There are no painless choices, but industrial aid suffers from two big drawbacks. One is that government programmes, which are slow to design and amend, are too cumbersome to deal with the varied, constantly changing difficulties of the world’s manufacturing industries. Part of the problem has been a drying-up of trade finance. Nobody knows how long that will last. Another part has come as firms have run down their inventories (in China some of these were stockpiles amassed before the Beijing Olympics). The inventory effect should be temporary, but, again, nobody knows how big or lasting it will be.

The other drawback is that sectoral aid does not address the underlying cause of the crisis—a fall in demand, not just for manufactured goods, but for everything. Because there is too much capacity (far too much in the car industry), some businesses must close however much aid the government pumps in. How can governments know which firms to save or the “right” size of any industry? That is for consumers to decide. Giving money to the industries with the loudest voices and cleverest lobbyists would be unjust and wasteful. Shifting demand to the fortunate sector that has won aid from the unfortunate one that has not will only exacerbate the upheaval. One country’s preference for a given industry risks provoking a protectionist backlash abroad and will slow the long-run growth rate at home by locking up resources in inefficient firms.

Some say that manufacturing is special, because the rest of the economy depends on it. In fact, the economy is more like a network in which everything is connected to everything else, and in which every producer is also a consumer. The important distinction is not between manufacturing and services, but between productive and unproductive jobs.

Some manufacturers accept that, but proceed immediately to another argument: that the current crisis is needlessly endangering productive, highly skilled manufacturing jobs. Nowadays each link in the supply chain depends on all the others. Carmakers cite GM’s new Camaro, threatened after a firm that makes moulded-plastic parts went bankrupt. The car industry argues that the loss of GM itself would permanently wreck the North American supply chain
. Aid, they say, can save good firms to fight another day.

Although some supply chains have choke points, that is a weak general argument for sectoral aid. As a rule, suppliers with several customers, and customers with several suppliers, should be more resilient than if they were a dependent captive of a large group. The evidence from China is that today’s lack of demand creates the spare capacity that allows customers to find a new supplier quickly if theirs goes out of business. When that is hard, because a parts supplier is highly specialised, say, good management is likely to be more effective than state aid. The best firms monitor their vital suppliers closely and buy parts from more than one source, even if it costs money. In the extreme, firms can support vulnerable suppliers by helping them raise cash or by investing in them.


If sectoral aid is wasteful, why then save the banking system? Not for the sake of the bankers, certainly; nor because state aid will create an efficient financial industry. Even flawed bank rescues and stimulus plans, like the one Barack Obama signed into law this week, are aimed at the roots of the economy’s problems: saving the banks, no matter how undeserving they are, is supposed to keep finance flowing to all firms; fiscal stimulus is supposed to lift demand across the board. As manufacturing collapses, governments should not fiddle with sectoral plans. Their proper task is broader but no less urgent: to get on with spending and with freeing up finance.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Former Australian Prime Minister Speaks Out About the Economic Crisis.

The comments by Paul Keating, former Australian Pime Minister, are very good. He does not beat around the bush, he just comes out and states in position. He starts off the interview by calling the economic crisis a catastrophe. My kind of person.

http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200902/r335492_1519593.asx

The Global Downturn in Graphics

If you get a chance examine the graphs and charts from the BBC that explain the economic downturn. This will not take long and it will give you a good perspective on the downtown and how everyone will could fare.

Here is one of my favorites:








http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7893317.stm


More Bank Failures Ahead


Given the track record in 2008 and so far this year plan on more bank failures this year and for the next 3 to 5 years. No need to wring your hands about it, this is just the natural consequence of of the de-leveraging of the economy and the resulting deflation in asset values. Text in bold is my emphasis. From CNNMoney.com:

If it's Friday, there must be a bank failing somewhere across the country.

For six consecutive weeks, industry regulators have seized control of a bank after the market closed on Friday, bringing the total number of failed banks so far this year to 14.

To put that into perspective, 25 banks failed in 2008, suggesting that the rate of failures is quickening as the economic crisis deepens.
"We'll have a banner year [of failures] this year," said Stuart Greenbaum, retired dean and professor emeritus at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.

At the current rate, nearly 100 institutions -- with a combined $50 billion in assets -- will collapse by year's end.

The latest is Oregon's Silver Falls Bank, which was
closed by U.S. regulators Friday.

With more consumers and businesses likely to default on loans as the recession drags on, some industry observers think the pace of bank failures could accelerate further.

Gerard Cassidy, managing director of bank equity research at RBC Capital Markets, upped his expectations for bank failures earlier this month, warning that he anticipates 1000 institutions could fail over the next three to five years.

"The sooner the bank regulators can shut down the troubled banks, the faster the industry will get back on its feet, in our view," he wrote.

Still, the current crop of bank failures hardly comes close to what happened during the savings & loan crisis two decades ago.

More than 1,900 financial institutions went under during 1987-1991, peaking with the failure of 534 banks in 1989.

And many experts are quick to draw distinctions between the two eras.

During the last crisis, many savings and loans were coping with an inability to adapt to higher interest rates, while many banks were significantly undercapitalized to deal with losses.

"That is not our problem here," noted Ann Graham, a professor of law at Texas Tech who spent part of her career as a litigator for the FDIC and Texas' Department of Banking during the 1980s.
Instead, she said the main problem now is that banks have been stuck with assets in their loan and investment portfolios that have quickly soured.

It's also worth remembering that when banks fail, they don't close down for good. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. guarantees deposits up to $250,000 in single accounts. Also, the FDIC often is able to find a willing buyer for the failed bank immediately, which means little, if any, disruption for the failed bank's customers.

Still, regulators face a crisis of significantly larger proportions today that promises to keep the nation's banking industry strained for some time.

Even though the overwhelming majority of the banks that have gone under since the beginning of 2008 are smaller community banks, there have been two notable big bank failures.

Last year, the California-based mortgage lender IndyMac failed. That was followed by the collapse of savings and loan Washington Mutual, the largest bank failure in history. The FDIC seized WaMu and immediately sold its banking operations to JPMorgan Chase.

Several experts fear the potential for another large bank failure. While the U.S. government has repeatedly said it will not allow major institutions to fail, namely Citigroup and Bank of America, some embattled regional banking giants may be too far gone to save.


"Conceivably, we'll see some larger names fail as we go forward," said Frank Barkocy, director of research with Mendon Capital Advisors, a money management firm that invests primarily in financial stocks.

Regulators have indicated they are gearing up for tougher times. In addition to requesting an increase in its borrowing authority from the Treasury, the FDIC has maintained that it expects its deposit insurance fund to suffer $40 billion in losses through 2013. Last summer's collapse of IndyMac wiped out $8.9 billion from the fund.

Fearful of drawing down the fund any further, banking authorities may attempt to broker more assisted acquisitions like JPMorgan Chase's purchase of Washington Mutual, where the purchaser acquires the deposits and a portion of the failed bank's bad assets.

"The [FDIC's] incentive is not to have a bank failure at all," said Jack Murphy, a long-time partner at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, who previously served as general counsel for the agency. "If it is possible to have a private market solution, that is ideal."

Next week, regulators are expected to provide a better glimpse of the health of the banking sector, when the FDIC presents its quarterly banking profile for the fourth quarter of 2008.

One highlight of the report will be the agency's so-called "problem bank" list. That number is expected to climb from 171, where it stood at the end of the third quarter.

Some have charged that the list is hardly reliable, given that only a fraction of the banks that are included ever actually reach the point of collapse.

Nevertheless, a big jump in the number of banks on the problem list could serve as an indicator that there will many more Friday failures to come this year.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The View From the UK

Below is an article written by my favorite author Ambrose Evans-Pritchard from the UK Telegraph. From time to time it is good to get the European prespective on the economic crisis, regardless of how dire the comments. Text in bold is my emphasis.

The yield on 10-year US Treasury bonds – the world's benchmark cost of capital – has jumped from 2pc to 3pc since Christmas despite efforts to talk the rate down.

This level will asphyxiate the US economy if allowed to persist, as Fed chair Ben Bernanke must know. The US is already in deflation. Core prices – stripping out energy – fell at an annual rate of 2pc in the fourth quarter. Wages are following. IBM, Chrysler, General Motors, and YRC, have all begun to cut pay.

The "real" cost of capital is rising as the slump deepens. This is textbook debt deflation. It was not supposed to happen. The Bernanke doctrine assumes that the Fed can bring down the whole structure of interest costs, first by slashing the Fed Funds rate to zero, and then by making a "credible threat" to buy Treasuries outright with printed money.

Mr Bernanke has been repeating this threat since early December. But talk is cheap. As the Fed hesitates, real yields climb ever higher. Plainly, the markets do not regard Fed rhetoric as "credible" at all.

Who can blame bond vigilantes for going on strike? Nobody wants to be left holding the bag if and when the global monetary blitz succeeds in stoking inflation. Governments are borrowing frantically to fund their bail-outs and cover a collapse in tax revenue. The US Treasury alone needs to raise $2 trillion in 2009.

Where is the money to come from? China, the Pacific tigers and the commodity powers are no longer amassing foreign reserves ($7.6 trillion). Their exports have collapsed. Instead of buying a trillion dollars of extra bonds each year, they have become net sellers. In aggregate, they dumped $190bn over the last fifteen weeks.

The Fed has stepped into the breach, up to a point. It has bought $350bn of commercial paper, and begun to buy $600bn of mortgage bonds. That helps. But still it recoils from buying Treasuries, perhaps fearing that any move to "monetise" Washington's deficit starts a slippery slope towards an Argentine fate. Or perhaps Bernanke doesn't believe his own assurances that the Fed can extract itself easily from emergency policies when the cycle turns.

As they dither, the world is falling apart. Events in Japan have turned deeply alarming. Exports fell 35pc in December. Industrial output fell 9.6pc. The economy is contracting at an annual rate of 12pc. "Falling exports are triggering a downward spiral of production, incomes and spending. It is important to prepare for swift policy steps, including those usually regarded as unusual," said the Bank of Japan's Atsushi Mizuno.

The bank is already targeting equities on the Tokyo bourse. That is not enough for restive politicians. One bloc led by Senator Koutaro Tamura wants to create $330bn in scrip currency for an industrial blitz. "We are facing hyper-deflation, so we need a policy to create hyper-inflation," he said.

This has echoes of 1932, when the US Congress took charge of monetary policy. We are moving to a stage of this crisis where democracies start to speak – especially in Europe.

The European Central Bank's refusal to follow the lead of the US, Japan, Britain, Canada, Switzerland and Sweden in slashing rates shows how destructive Europe's monetary union has become. German orders fells 25pc year-on-year in December. French house prices collapsed 9.9pc in the fourth quarter, the steepest since data began in 1936. "We're dealing with truly appalling data, the likes of which have never been seen before in post-War Europe," said Julian Callow, Europe economist at Barclays Capital.

Spain's unemployment has jumped to 3.3m – or 14.4pc – and will hit 19pc next year, on Brussels data. The labour minister said yesterday that Spain's economy could not "tolerate" immigrants any longer after suffering "hurricane devastation". You can see where this is going.

Ireland lost 36,500 jobs in January – equal to a monthly loss of 2.3m in the US. As the budget deficit surges to 12pc of GDP, Dublin is cutting wages, disguised as a pension levy. It has announced "Rooseveltian measures" to rescue the foundering companies.

The ECB's obduracy has nothing to do with economics. It fears zero rates as a vampire fears daylight, because that brings the purchase of eurozone bonds ever closer into play. Any such action would usher in an EMU "debt union" by the back door, leaving Germany's taxpayers on the hook for Club Med liabilties. This is Europe's taboo.

Meanwhile, Eastern Europe is imploding. Industrial output fell 27pc in Ukraine and 10pc in Russia in December. Latvia's GDP contracted at a 29pc annual rate in the fourth quarter. Polish homeowners have had the shock from Hell. Some 60pc of mortgages are in Swiss francs. The zloty has halved against the franc since July.

Readers have berated me for a piece last week – "Glimmers of Hope" – that hinted at recovery. Let me stress, I was wearing my reporter's hat, not expressing an opinion. My own view, sadly, is that there is no hope at all of stabilizing the world economy on current policies.

Roubini and Taleb Talk About the Current Financial Crisis

Below is a video of an interview with both Nouriel Roubini and Taleb Nassim (author of the book The Black Swan). These are people that predicted the current economic crisis, so their comments are worth considering. From Youtube:

Comments About Last Fall's Meeting with Paulson and Bernanke

Do you remember last fall when several members of Congress were called into a meeting with Paulson and Bernanke to hear about why they should support the original TARP plan? But, no one would talk about the meeting. Well, the first Congressman (that I have seen) is talking about parts of one of the meetings. This came out on Monday (2/9/09) on C-SPAN. Below is an unofficial transcript of the comments and a link to the video on Daily Kos so you can hear it for yourself. The comments begin about 2:10 into the video. Also below is the same video found on Youtube.

I was there when the secretary and the chairman of the Federal Reserve came those days and talked to members of Congress about what was going on... Here's the facts. We don't even talk about these things.

On Thursday, at about 11 o'clock in the morning, the Federal Reserve noticed a tremendous drawdown of money market accounts in the United States to a tune of $550 billion being drawn out in a matter of an hour or two.

The Treasury opened up its window to help. They pumped $105 billion into the system and quickly realized that they could not stem the tide. We were having an electronic run on the banks.
They decided to close the operation, close down the money accounts, and announce a guarantee of $250,000 per account so there wouldn't be further panic and there. And that's what actually happened.

If they had not done that their estimation was that by two o'clock that afternoon, $5.5 trillion would have been drawn out of the money market system of the United States, would have collapsed the entire economy of the United States, and within 24 hours the world economy would have collapsed.

Now we talked at that time about what would have happened if that happened. It would have been the end of our economic system and our political system as we know it.





Thursday, February 12, 2009

Without a Viable Credit Market the Recession will last into 2010 and Possibly 2011

Below is a short obscure article from YahooNews.com that basically states that without credit markets that are willing and able to lend the "Great Recession" will last into 2011. This is certainly in the range of of what most banks see occurring. Many of them anticipate a recession/deflation economy with a very sluggish recovery lasting until 2015. I also agree with one comment in the article that the current situation presents an unprecedented buying opportunity for those with cash. Text in bold is my emphasis.

The current recession will last at least three years and possibly longer absent a revival in credit markets, according to investors who specialize in distressed debt and bankruptcy.

"This is going to be a three- to four-year disaster," said Michael Psaros, managing partner at KPS Capital Partners, at a restructuring conference in New York.

The United States is going through a "Great Recession," which will provide investors in distressed assets with unprecedented opportunities, he said.

"We are going to invest an awful lot of money this year," Psaros said on Thursday. "There is an inexhaustible supply of bad management out there."

KPS Capital, which manages special situations funds and private equity funds with capital exceeding $1.8 billion, largely sat on the sidelines last year. The firm is ramping up its investments this year, he said.

"We're just very excited about this year and next," he said.

Holly Etlin, a managing director at AlixPartners with 30 years of experience in restructuring, said financial distress will last three to five years due to a lack of liquidity in credit markets and lack of debtor-in-possession financing, or DIP loans, used by bankrupt companies to reorganize operations.

"Stuff has got to start moving off the bank balance sheets," Etlin said. "I talk to colleagues and friends who are just sitting on their money. Until banks start clearing off their balance sheets, they aren't going to be in a position to lend."

Etlin reported seeing very little bankruptcy financing and asked the audience of 180 participants if anyone in the room was doing any DIP loans. No one in the room rose their hand.

"That is not viable," Etlin said. "We see continued distress for three to five years."


Among potential investment plays, Etlin said consolidation in the media industry, particularly print media, may provide good investor returns.

Jonathan Pertchik, chief restructuring officer at WCI Communities, also said the ethanol industry as a burgeoning sector may provide some opportunities.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Past Financial Crises and What They Tell Us About Today

The following from the WSJ is a very interesting comparison of past financial crises to the current in which the US finds itself. This comparison includes GDP, housing, unemployment, stock market, and government debt. Needless to say, we still have a ways to go. A copy of the academic (very readable) can be found at Harvard University.

Perhaps the Obama administration will be able to bring a surprisingly early end to the ongoing U.S. financial crisis. We hope so, but it is not going to be easy. Until now, the U.S. economy has been driving straight down the tracks of past severe financial crises, at least according to a variety of standard macroeconomic indicators we evaluated in a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) last December.

In particular, when one compares the U.S. crisis to serious financial crises in developed countries (e.g., Spain 1977, Norway 1987, Finland 1991, Sweden 1991, and Japan 1992), or even to banking crises in major emerging-market economies, the parallels are nothing short of stunning.

Let's start with the good news. Financial crises, even very deep ones, do not last forever. Really.

In fact, negative growth episodes typically subside in just under two years. If one accepts the NBER's judgment that the recession began in December 2007, then the U.S. economy should stop contracting toward the end of 2009. Of course, if one dates the start of the real recession from September 2008, as many on Wall Street do, the case for an end in 2009 is less compelling.

On other fronts the news is similarly grim, although perhaps not out of bounds of market expectations. In the typical severe financial crisis, the real (inflation-adjusted) price of housing tends to decline 36%, with the duration of peak to trough lasting five to six years. Given that U.S. housing prices peaked at the end of 2005, this means that the bottom won't come before the end of 2010, with real housing prices falling perhaps another 8%-10% from current levels.

Equity prices tend to bottom out somewhat more quickly, taking only three and a half years from peak to trough -- dropping an average of 55% in real terms, a mark the S&P has already touched. However, given that most stock indices peaked only around mid-2007, equity prices could still take a couple more years for a sustained rebound, at least by historical benchmarks.

Turning to unemployment, where the new administration is concentrating its focus, pain seems likely to worsen for a minimum of two more years. Over past crises, the duration of the period of rising unemployment averaged nearly five years, with a mean increase in the unemployment rate of seven percentage points, which would bring the U.S. to double digits.

Interestingly, unemployment is a category where rich countries, with their high levels of wage insurance and stronger worker protections, tend to experience larger problems after financial crises than do emerging markets. Emerging market economies do have deeper output falls after their banking crises, but the parallels in other areas such as housing prices are quite strong.

Perhaps the most stunning message from crisis history is the simply staggering rise in government debt most countries experience. Central government debt tends to rise over 85% in real terms during the first three years after a banking crisis. This would mean another $8 trillion or $9 trillion in the case of the U.S.

Interestingly, the main reason why debt explodes is not the much ballyhooed cost of bailing out the financial system, painful as that may be. Instead, the real culprit is the inevitable collapse of tax revenues that comes as countries sink into deep and prolonged recession. Aggressive countercyclical fiscal policies also play a role, as we are about to witness in spades here in the U.S. with the passage of a more than $800 billion stimulus bill.

Needless to say, a near doubling of the U.S. national debt suggests that the endgame to this crisis is going to eventually bring much higher interest rates and a collapse in today's bond-market bubble. The legacy of high government debt is yet another reason why the current crisis could mean stunted U.S. growth for at least five to seven more years.

Yes, there are important differences between the current U.S. crisis and past deep financial crises, but they are not all to the good. True, for the moment the U.S. government is in the very fortunate position of being able to borrow at lower interest rates than before the crisis, and the dollar has actually strengthened. Still, deep financial crises in the past have mostly been country-specific or regional, allowing countries to export their way out.

The current crisis is decidedly global. The collapse in foreign equity and bond markets has inflicted massive losses on the U.S. external asset holdings. At the same time, weak global demand limits how much the U.S. can rely on exports to cushion the ongoing collapse in domestic consumption and investment.

Can the U.S. avoid continuing down the deep rut of past financial crises and recessions? At this point, effective policy prescriptions -- such as coming up with realistic costs of the size of the hole
in bank balance sheets -- require a sober assessment of where the economy is going.

For far too long, official estimates of the likely trajectory of U.S. growth have been absurdly rosy and always behind the curve, leading to a distinctly underpowered response, particularly in terms of forcing the necessary restructuring of the financial system. Instead, authorities should be prepared to allow financial institutions to be restructured through accelerated bankruptcy, if necessary placing them under temporary receivership, and only then recapitalizing and reprivatizing them. This is not the time for the U.S. to avoid painful but necessary restructuring by telling ourselves we are different from everyone else.