How Long Before You Wake Up, Politicos?

From market-ticker.org:

I’m going to write today about a very somber subject.  It will be, as it usually is here in one form or another, about math.

First, some background.  If you believe that we have “escaped” from the mess that gripped this nation in 2008 and 2009, or that said mess “suddenly appeared” and “nobody saw it coming”, stop reading now and have your Thorazine dosage checked.  It’s way off.

Assuming you accept the truth – that this mess was 20 year or more in the making, that it involved creating credit (that is, debt) which the debtor could never pay, and that it still exists because our government policy has been to extend, pretend and allow lies that should be considered accounting fraud and result in prison sentences, then you’re on the right page to understand the rest of this missive.  Again, if not, go check your Thorazine dosage.

Yes, I know all about the stock market rally from last March.  I know all about the claimed GDP “improvement.”  But I also know that we got both by adding more than $2 trillion in debt to the United States – or roughly 14% of GDP – over the space of the last 18 months.  That’s about 10% of GDP annualized, and incidentally, a 10% GDP contraction is the common economist’s definition of an Economic Depression.

So let’s cut the crap – we are in a Depression right now.  We are pretending we are not, just like you can pretend you didn’t really lose your job so long as your credit card does not reach its limit.  We have been in that depression for about 18 months and there is no evidence that we will exit it, as we have yet to find a way to pull back the deficit spending without an instantaneous collapse in the economy.

Yet at some point we must and will stop.  We will either do so of our own volition, or we will do so when the cost of borrowing skyrockets, as others get tired of funding our profligacy.  If we attempt to “print” our way out of it the cost of petroleum products will shoot the moon and destroy our economy anyway.

You haven’t seen the half of what happened though – not yet.  It appears that AIG – the company we have bailed out (thus far) to the tune of some $100 billion plus, in fact isn’t done. It appears they may have written credit protection on Greece.  If this allegation by the German equivalent to The New York Times is true Americans are going to be asked to pay billions of dollars – or more likely, hundreds of billions (since Greece is almost certainly not the only place – try Spain, Portugal, Ireland, etc) to bail out a bunch of FOREIGN NATIONS.

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Democrats Vote To Give ACORN Regulatory Authority Over Financial Institutions

From TradingMarkets.com:

Democrats Vote To Give ACORN Regulatory Authority Over Financial Institutions

WASHINGTON – During consideration of H.R. 3126, legislation to establish a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee voted to pass an amendment offered by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) that will make ACORN eligible to play a role in setting regulations for financial institutions.

The Waters amendment adds to the CFPA Oversight Board 5 representatives from the fields of “consumer protection, fair lending and civil rights, representatives of depository institutions that primarily serve underserved communities, or representatives of communities that have been significantly impacted by higher-priced mortgages” to join Federal banking regulators in advising the Director on the consistency of proposed regulations, and strategies and policies that the Director should undertake to enforce its rules.

By making representatives of ACORN and other consumer activist organizations eligible to serve on the Oversight Board, the amendment creates a potentially enormous government sanctioned conflict of interest. ACORN-type organizations will have an advisory role on regulating the very financial institutions from which they receive millions of dollars annually in direct corporate contributions and benefit from other financial partnerships and arrangements. These are the same organizations that pressured banks to make subprime mortgage loans and thus bear a major responsibility for the collapse of the housing market.

In light of recent evidence linking ACORN to possible criminal activity, Democrats took an unprecedented step today to give ACORN a potential role alongside bank regulators in overseeing financial institutions. This is contrary to recent actions taken by the Senate and House to block federal funds to ACORN.

A recent inquiry into bank funding of ACORN activities by three House Committees found that institutions that would be regulated by the CFPA have provided millions of dollars to the organization in the form of direct donations, lines of credit, cash, and other assets over the last 15 years.

For full details for FISI click here.

Bailout May Cost $23.7 Trillion: Barofsky

From The Huffington Post:

WASHINGTON – The federal government has devoted $4.7 trillion to help the financial sector through its crisis, a level of assistance equal to about one-third of the overall U.S. economy, a watchdog report said Monday.

Under the worst of circumstances, the report said, the government’s maximum exposure could total nearly $24 trillion, or $80,000 for every American.

The figures are part of a tough new quarterly report to Congress from special inspector general Neil Barofsky, who accuses the Treasury Department of repeatedly failing to adopt recommendations aimed at making one component of the government financial rescue effort more accountable and transparent.

The $4.7 trillion commitment to the industry takes into account about 50 initiatives and programs set up since 2007 by the Bush and Obama administrations as well as by the Federal Reserve. Barofsky oversees one of the initiatives — the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Much of the government assistance is backed by collateral and Barofsky’s $23.7 trillion estimate represents the gross, not net, exposure that the government could face. Continue reading

Brokedown Palace: The Undermining of Property Rights in America

From ZeroHedge:

Zero Hedge recently highlighted the TPG raid on CDOs.  This action puts into focus the alarming trend of the undermining of creditor rights.  When even the Courts are in on the gang bang, what hope do we have?

The battlefield: CDOs, mortgages, corporate debt
The players: hedge funds, management teams, elected officials, lobbyists, unions
The weapons: loopholes, new precedents, bankruptcy court, political pressure

The Chrysler debacle was stink enough, but the trend of collateral tampering is an outright stench today.  Property rights have allowed the U.S. to flourish.  They are bedrock of our economy.  They allow facilitate the spread of credit and economic growth that some other countries cannot match.
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Wall Street’s Naked Swindle

From Rolling Stone:

A scheme to flood the market with counterfeit stocks helped kill Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers — and the feds have yet to bust the culprits
On Tuesday, March 11th, 2008, somebody — nobody knows who — made one of the craziest bets Wall Street has ever seen. The mystery figure spent $1.7 million on a series of options, gambling that shares in the venerable investment bank Bear Stearns would lose more than half their value in nine days or less. It was madness — “like buying 1.7 million lottery tickets,” according to one financial analyst.

But what’s even crazier is that the bet paid.

At the close of business that afternoon, Bear Stearns was trading at $62.97. At that point, whoever made the gamble owned the right to sell huge bundles of Bear stock, at $30 and $25, on or before March 20th. In order for the bet to pay, Bear would have to fall harder and faster than any Wall Street brokerage in history.

The very next day, March 12th, Bear went into free fall. By the end of the week, the firm had lost virtually all of its cash and was clinging to promises of state aid; by the weekend, it was being knocked to its knees by the Fed and the Treasury, and forced at the barrel of a shotgun to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase (which had been given $29 billion in public money to marry its hunchbacked new bride) at the humiliating price of … $2 a share. Whoever bought those options on March 11th woke up on the morning of March 17th having made 159 times his money, or roughly $270 million. This trader was either the luckiest guy in the world, the smartest son of a bitch ever or…

Or what? That this was a brazen case of insider manipulation was so obvious that even Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman of the pillow-soft-touch Senate Banking Committee, couldn’t help but remark on it a few weeks later, when questioning Christopher Cox, the then-chief of the Securities and Exchange Commission. “I would hope that you’re looking at this,” Dodd said. “This kind of spike must have triggered some sort of bells and whistles at the SEC. This goes beyond rumors.”

Cox nodded sternly and promised, yes, he would look into it. What actually happened is another matter. Although the SEC issued more than 50 subpoenas to Wall Street firms, it has yet to identify the mysterious trader who somehow seemed to know in advance that one of the five largest investment banks in America was going to completely tank in a matter of days. “I’ve seen the SEC send agents overseas in a simple insider-trading case to investigate profits of maybe $2,000,” says Brent Baker, a former senior counsel for the commission. “But they did nothing to stop this.”

The SEC’s halfhearted oversight didn’t go unnoticed by the market. Six months after Bear was eaten by predators, virtually the same scenario repeated itself in the case of Lehman Brothers — another top-five investment bank that in September 2008 was vaporized in an obvious case of market manipulation. From there, the financial crisis was on, and the global economy went into full-blown crater mode.

Like all the great merchants of the bubble economy, Bear and Lehman were leveraged to the hilt and vulnerable to collapse. Many of the methods that outsiders used to knock them over were mostly legal: Credit markers were pulled, rumors were spread through the media, and legitimate short-sellers pressured the stock price down. But when Bear and Lehman made their final leap off the cliff of history, both undeniably got a push — especially in the form of a flat-out counterfeiting scheme called naked short-selling.

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TARP deadbeats

From Reuters:

Posted by: Rolfe Winkler

Thirty-three TARP recipients missed a scheduled dividend payment to taxpayers last month, according to the Treasury Department, including 18 banks that missed a payment for the first time. It’s a powerful indication that the U.S. banking system remains troubled. And it throws cold water on talk that taxpayers are “making money” on the bailout.

(Click to enlarge in new window)

tarp-dividends-missed

“It’s too early to tell if we’re making money on TARP,” according to Eric Fitzwater, an associate director at SNL Financial in Virginia. “Certainly the vast majority of the bailout money is still outstanding. While a lot of larger recipients say they plan to pay it back, we’re still waiting.”

The 33 banks that missed dividend payments in August have received $4.5 billion of TARP money. The biggest is CIT. Previously it paid $44 million of dividends, but with a bankruptcy filing looking likely, Treasury’s $2.3 billion investment seems headed toward zero.

A few of the banks may ultimately be able to pay what they owe, according to Fitzwater. These newer banks — “de novo” in regulator parlance — actually are not allowed to pay dividends.

Still, the bigger issue is the ultimate cost of the bank bailout, which we may not know for years.

When stronger banks including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and American Express repurchased warrants at modest premiums after paying back TARP, most news reports suggested that taxpayers were profiting from the bailout. But those reports didn’t tell the whole story.

For one, they ignored adverse selection, the propensity for the best borrowers to exit the program first, leaving Treasury holding the poorest performing investments. According to the latest data from Treasury, 42 banks have paid back some or all of the cash they got from TARP’s Capital Purchase Program, $70.7 billion in total. But more than 600 banks remain in the CPP program. Together, they still owe $134 billion.

And this excludes other TARP bailout programs that are likely to cost billions. The automotive industry owes TARP $80 billion. And AIG owes TARP $69.8 billion. Much of that isn’t coming back.

It’s also myopic to view TARP in isolation. Take Citigroup. After converting its preferred equity investment to 7.7 billion common shares at $3.25, Treasury is showing a paper profit of $11 billion. Sounds great, right?

But Citigroup’s common equity would long ago have fallen to zero if other bailouts, in particular FDIC’s debt guarantee program, weren’t insulating shareholders from losses.

Citigroup is the only large bank still using the FDIC’s program. Two weeks ago, the bank sold another $5 billion worth of guaranteed debt, bringing its total issued under the program to $49.6 billion.

The bottom line is that the government still stands behind the banking sector. While the cost of this “no more Lehmans” policy may not be known for years, our experience with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac tells us that such implicit guarantees ultimately prove very expensive. The fact that more banks are falling behind on dividend payments reminds us the tab is growing.

Goldman to be paid $1bn if CIT fails

From FinancialTimes:

By Henny Sender and Saskia Scholtes in New York

Published: October 4 2009 22:30 | Last updated: October 4 2009 22:30

Goldman Sachs stands to receive a payment of $1bn – while US taxpayers would lose $2.3bn – if embattled commercial lender CIT files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, people familiar with the matter said.

The payment stems from the structure of a $3bn rescue finance package that Goldman extended to CIT on June 6 2008, about five months before the Treasury bought $2.3bn in CIT preferred shares to prop it up at the height of the crisis. The potential loss for taxpayers would be the biggest to crystalise so far from the government’s capital injection plan for banks.

The agreement with Goldman states that if CIT defaults or goes bankrupt, it “would be required to pay a make-whole amount” that totals $1bn, the people familiar with the matter said.

While Goldman is entitled to demand the full amount, it is likely to agree to postpone payment on a part of that sum, these people added. A CIT filing last week said that it was in negotiations with Goldman “concerning an amendment to this facility”.

Goldman said: “This would not be a windfall payment. The make-whole payment is simply the present value of the spread to be earned over the life of the facility.”

CIT declined to comment. In an effort to prevent bankruptcy, it is working on a debt exchange offer that would virtually wipe out equity holders. In the event of bankruptcy, Goldman would reap more than $1bn because it also holds credit insurance that would be paid off.

Goldman said: “The credit default swaps Goldman Sachs purchased to prudently manage the risk associated with the CIT financing are not a directional ‘bet’ on CIT, but were bought to protect against the possibility of a precipitous decline in the value of the collateral.”