1--Fresh Crises Loom in Europe and the U.S., Simon Johnson, New York Times
Excerpt: Most experienced watchers of the euro zone are expecting another serious crisis in early 2011, tied to the rollover funding needs of its weaker governments. With debts coming due from March through May, the crisis seems much more predictable than what happened to Greece or Ireland in 2010.
And the investment bankers who fell over themselves to lend to these countries on the way up now lead the way in talking up the prospects for a serious crisis....
One or more weaker countries will drop out of the euro zone, probably becoming rather like Montenegro, which uses the euro as its currency but does not have access to the European Central Bank-run credit system. Greece is probably the flashpoint; when it misses a payment on government debt, why should the central bank continue to accept Greek banks’ bonds, backed at that point by a sovereign entity in default?
2--2011 New year's predictions, Robert Reich blog via patrick.net
Excerpt: In a typical recovery, profits lead to more hiring. That’s because in a typical recovery, American consumers head back to the malls — and their buying justifies more hires. Not this time. All the hype about Christmas sales over the last few weeks masked the fact that American consumers demanded bargain-basement prices. And the price-cutting dramatically reduced sellers’ margins. In short, profits aren’t coming from American consumers — and profits won’t be coming from American consumers in 2011.
Most Americans don’t have the dough. They’re still deep in debt, can’t borrow against their homes, and have to start saving for retirement.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is rising because of foreign sales. General Motors is now making more cars in China than in the US, and two-thirds of its total sales are coming from abroad. When it went public last month it boasted that soon almost half its cars will be made around the world where labor is less than $15 an hour.
3-- How MERS Toasted the Banks, Randall Wray, Huffington Post
Excerpt: In a series of pieces I have argued that MERS, a creation of the mortgage banking industry, has effectively destroyed the institution of private property in America. Ironically, MERS was created to facilitate quick and easy and cheap securitization of mortgages -- what are called mortgage-backed securities. In fact, what it did was to eliminate any backing of the securities by mortgages. Of the total securitized asset universe, something like $7 trillion are (supposedly) backed by residential mortgages. However, MERS helped to delink the securities from the mortgages. At best, they are unsecured debt -- there is no property backing the securities. What this means is that foreclosure is not permitted. As I have said before, it is likely that most or even all foreclosures occurring in the US are illegal seizures of property -- home thefts. We are talking about 100,000 completed home thefts per month, with another 250,000 new foreclosures started to steal homes every month. Projections are that 13 million homes will have been "foreclosed" (read: stolen) by 2012.
If the notes cannot be found and a Lost Note Affidavit can not reestablish the indebtedness, then foreclosure is not possible and collecting of the indebtedness is also not possible. Homeowners still can be sued for collection of owed moneys upon a "proved up" note or lost note affidavit but a current perfected lien is required to foreclose.
6. However since the mortgage-backed securities are governed by PSAs (pooling and service agreements), the practices above make the securities unsecured debt and there is no solution. The securities are no good....
What does all this mean? In plain simple language, the banks are royally screwed. They cannot foreclose on the properties. Holders of the "mortgage-backed" securities can turn them back to the banks because they are actually unsecured debt....
So, in short, banks have got to take the whole lot of toxic waste securities back. Trillions of dollars worth. The banks are toast. There is no cooking of the books that will turn this blackened toast back to bread.
4--For-Profit Colleges Charging More While Doing Less for Poorest, Bloomberg
Excerpt: As state budget cuts lock students out of community-college classrooms or force them to stand in class, for-profit colleges are attracting hundreds of thousands of poor and minority students, charging up to 10 times as much for the same degree.
The industry, including Washington Post Co.’s Kaplan University, has tripled enrollment to 1.8 million in the past decade by pouring billions of dollars into marketing and recruiting, offering flexible online classes and outfitting more-modern campuses while states slash funding for community colleges. As much as 90 percent of revenue at each for-profit college comes from federal student aid....
Today, one in seven minority students attends a for-profit college, as does one in four poor students who receive federal Pell grants for low-income families, according to the U.S. Department of Education and an industry group. Students in for- profit college programs graduate or stay in school less than those at community colleges, according to a study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and released this month.
Students in two-year programs at for-profit colleges are also eight times likelier to be in debt than those at community colleges, according to a report last month from the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Washington.
“One of the reasons the for-profits have grown so much is that the community colleges are filled to capacity and even turning people away,” said Thomas Bailey, director of the New York-based Community College Research Center. Bailey provided information on community colleges for a White House conference on Oct. 5.
5--Ex-Treasury chief Paulson loses $1 million on DC home, Reuters
Excerpt: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson sold his three-bedroom home in a tony Washington neighborhood last week for close to a third less than his initial asking price and more than $1 million below what he paid for it more than four years ago.
The villa-style home near the official vice president's mansion and the National Cathedral sold for $3.25 million on Dec. 21. Paulson put it on the market for $4.6 million in April, later lowering the asking price to $4.15 million, according to real estate industry records. He paid $4.3 million in August 2006, according to government records.
"A jewel-like facade, reminiscent of a Provencal villa, gives way to a remarkable interior with living space on three levels and expansive common areas," gushed the listing......The value of Paulson's house fell 24.4 percent during his ownership.
6--Why the rich are getting richer, Robert C. Lieberman, Foreign Affairs
Excerpt: The U.S. economy appears to be coming apart at the seams. Unemployment remains at nearly ten percent, the highest level in almost 30 years; foreclosures have forced millions of Americans out of their homes; and real incomes have fallen faster and further than at any time since the Great Depression. Many of those laid off fear that the jobs they have lost -- the secure, often unionized, industrial jobs that provided wealth, security, and opportunity -- will never return. They are probably right.
And yet a curious thing has happened in the midst of all this misery. The wealthiest Americans, among them presumably the very titans of global finance whose misadventures brought about the financial meltdown, got richer. And not just a little bit richer; a lot richer. In 2009, the average income of the top five percent of earners went up, while on average everyone else's income went down. This was not an anomaly but rather a continuation of a 40-year trend of ballooning incomes at the very top and stagnant incomes in the middle and at the bottom. The share of total income going to the top one percent has increased from roughly eight percent in the 1960s to more than 20 percent today.
This is what the political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson call the "winner-take-all economy." It is not a picture of a healthy society. Such a level of economic inequality, not seen in the United States since the eve of the Great Depression, bespeaks a political economy in which the financial rewards are increasingly concentrated among a tiny elite and whose risks are borne by an increasingly exposed and unprotected middle class. Income inequality in the United States is higher than in any other advanced industrial democracy and by conventional measures comparable to that in countries such as Ghana, Nicaragua, and Turkmenistan. It breeds political polarization, mistrust, and resentment between the haves and the have-nots and tends to distort the workings of a democratic political system in which money increasingly confers political voice and power.
7-- The New Voodoo, Paul Krugman, New York Times, via Economist's View
Excerpt: Hypocrisy never goes out of style, but, even so, 2010 was something special. For it was the year of budget doubletalk — the year of ... railing against deficits while doing everything they could to make those deficits bigger. ...
In the first half of 2010, impassioned speeches denouncing federal red ink were the G.O.P. norm. And concerns about the deficit were the stated reason for Republican opposition to extension of unemployment benefits, or for that matter any proposal to help Americans cope with economic hardship.
But the tone changed during the summer, as B-day — the day when the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy were scheduled to expire — began to approach. My nomination for headline of the year comes from the newspaper Roll Call, on July 18: “McConnell Blasts Deficit Spending, Urges Extension of Tax Cuts.”
8--Will housing return to the mean price?, Pragmatic Capitalism
Excerpt: “This huge and growing surplus inventory of houses will probably depress prices considerably from here, perhaps another 20% over the next several years. That would bring the total decline from the first quarter 2006 peak to 42%.This may sound like a lot, but it would return single-family house prices, corrected for general inflation and also for the tendency of houses to increase in size over time, back to the flat trend that has held since 1890...
Furthermore, our forecast of another 20% fall in house prices may be conservative. Prices may well end up back on their long- term trendline (Chart 26), but fall below in the meanwhile. Just as they way overshot the trend on the way up, they may do so on the way down, as is often the case in cycles.....
As gauged by an aggregate of housing indexes dating to 1890, real home prices rose 85 percent to their highest level in August 2006. They have since declined 33 percent, falling short of most predictions for a cumulative correction of at least 40 percent. In fact, home prices still must fall 23 percent if they are to revert to their long-term mean..... (from Business Insider)
9--U.K. Think Tank Sees 20% Chance Of Euro’s Survival, Wall Street Journal
Excerpt: Europe’s common currency, battered for more than a year by a sovereign debt crisis, is unlikely to survive the next decade in its current form, the Center for Economics and Business Research warned Friday.
In a list of top 10 predictions for 2011, the CEBR, a U.K.-based think-tank, gave the euro a slim one-in-five chance of being preserved in its present incarnation as the legal tender for the 16 nation currency bloc. That number will increase to 17 on Monday, when Estonia accedes to the euro zone.
The organization sees brewing debt problems in Spain and Italy as the catalyst for a new downturn. While economists have long warned that Spain and Portugal are two of the most vulnerable economies in the euro zone, Italy’s heavy debt load — approximately 115% of GDP — and sluggish growth have made some analysts wary about the country’s long-term prospects.
Douglas McWilliams, the CEBR’s chief executive said in a statement that the specter of a full-fledged break-up can’t be completely ruled out. “I suspect that what will break up the euro will be the failure of most of the countries to take the tough medicine necessary to make their economies competitive over the longer term,” he said.