Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Today's links

1--EU Weighs Direct Aid to Banks as Antidote to Crisis, Bloomberg

Excerpt:  The European Commission challenged Germany’s remedies for the financial crisis, calling for direct euro-area aid for troubled banks and demanding a path to common bond issuance.


The commission, the European Union’s central regulator, sided with Spain in proposing that the planned permanent rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, inject cash to banks instead of channeling the money via national governments......

Proposals for more liberal use of European bailout money face resistance in creditor countries such as Germany, Finland and the Netherlands, the scenes of growing taxpayer opposition to adding to the 386 billion euros ($479 billion) already pledged to fight the crisis.


Germany showed no signs of easing its stance, as Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman, told reporters in Berlin that “the German position on the direct recapitalization of banks out of the European rescue funds is known.” ...

The commission packaged the bank-aid ideas along with a call for a European deposit-insurance program, designed to break the spiral of faltering governments and failing banks. It said it will make concrete proposals for common bond issuance -- also opposed by northern European donor countries -- and singled Spain out as the only country entitled to more time to cut its budget deficit....

The commission appealed for a “banking union” that would more tightly integrate supervision and create a pool of European funds to clean up banks with cross-border exposure and segregate their underperforming assets.

2--Barney Frank: Obama Rejected Bush Administration Concession to Write Down Mortgages, naked capitalism

Excerpt: Here’s Barney Frank, in an exit interview recently in New York Magazine, revealing unwittingly that Obama during the transition rejected a Bush administration concession to write down mortgages. Here’s what Barney said.


The mortgage crisis was worsened this past time because critical decisions were made during the transition between Bush and Obama. We voted the TARP out. The TARP was basically being administered by Hank Paulson as the last man home in a lame duck, and I was disappointed. I tried to get them to use the TARP to put some leverage on the banks to do more about mortgages, and Paulson at first resisted that, he just wanted to get the money out. And after he got the first chunk of money out, he would have had to ask for a second chunk, he said, all right, I’ll tell you what, I’ll ask for that second chunk and I’ll use some of that as leverage on mortgages, but I’m not going to do that unless Obama asks for it. This is now December, so we tried to get the Obama people to ask him and they wouldn’t do it.

This is consistent with other accounts. There were policy debates within Obama’s economic team about what to do about the mortgage crisis. The choices were to create some sort of legal entity to write down mortgage debt or to allow the write-down of mortgage debt through a massive wave of foreclosures over the next four to six years. He choice the latter. That choice was part of what led to roughly $7 trillion of middle class wealth gone, with financial assets for the elites re-inflated.

Since I pointed out that the growth of income inequality under Obama is worse than that under Bush, many people have responded by saying that somehow this is not Obama’s responsibility, that it was an inherited crisis and structural problems that caused a widening of inequality. They simply do not want to accept that policy matters, or, if it does, that Obama had any choice in the policy choices he made.


In fact, crisis response is the single most significant policymaking time imaginable, because all structural barriers are swept away. Think about it – this was literally a deal offered by Hank Paulson – one guy – to Barack Obama, with a multi-trillion dollar impact. No 60 votes in the Senate. No hearings. No confirmations. Just a handshake, basically. In other words, policy does matter, and Obama had a variety of choices and leverage, and he did what he thought was best. He did not want to write down mortgages, even though he was offered that choice by the Bush administration and Barney Frank. So he didn’t.

So yes, Barack Obama is worse than George Bush on economic inequality.

3--National Bank warns of dire Grexit fallout, athens news

Excerpt: If the country left the euro, living standards would plummet, incomes would be slashed by more than half, and inflation and unemployment would skyrocket, the country's biggest bank warned on Tuesday.Lower provisions for loan losses and higher noninterest income were responsible for most of the year-over-year improvement in earnings.


In a 16-page report, the privately owned National Bank of Greece said the risk of a Greek euro exit was no longer just a theoretical possibility, warning that the fallout from such a move would be dramatic.

"An exit from the euro would lead to a significant decline in the living standards of Greek citizens," the NBG wrote.

The bank said per capita income would collapse by at least 55 percent, the new national currency would depreciate by 65 percent against the euro and a recession, now in its fifth year, would deepen by 22 percent.

Painting a dire picture of a post-euro landscape, it added that unemployment would jump to 34 percent of the work force from around 22 percent now and that inflation would rise to 30 percent from its current level of 2 percent.

4--Housing Recovery - Hope and Reality, dshort

Excerpt: Every year for the past three years there have been recurring calls for a housing bottom and recovery. The importance of an eventual recovery in housing should not be dismissed as it is a critical component of an economic recovery due to the large multiplier effect of each dollar spent. The recovery in housing would signal that a foundation for a more lasting economic recovery would be in place. That is the hope anyway.
One issue that will continue to confound the real estate market in the near term is the level of inventory that is being held off market for various reasons. This does not include the shadow inventory held by banks which is an additional issue. As we have stated in previous reports the housing market is driven by the activity "at the fringes" between those actively seeking to buy a house versus those with "for sale" signs in their yard. Today, roughly 1/3 of all homeowners are under water on their mortgages. Therefore, it is no surprise that many are holding homes as long as possible hoping for a price recovery. However, at some point these "vacant" houses, along with the excess shadow inventory and trapped homeowners, will come to market either due to force or desperation. The excess supply will continue to pressure home prices, more supply than demand, in the future further exacerbating the problem for those already drowning in their home....

Ultimately there is only one truth to whether there is really a housing recovery or not. How many people own a home? If new and existing home activity, as seen in recent reports, is truly on the rise then we should see the number of individuals that are "home owners" on the rise as well.
5--What record low 10-year rates tell us about the toxic effects of permanent zero, credit writedowns

Excerpt:  If the central bank is telling you that zero rates are practically permanent i.e. permanent zero, wouldn’t you expect the term structure to eventually flatten? That’s what has happened, folks – just as in Japan.


So what does this mean for you and me? Well, first of all, what’s your savings account statement saying? Is it telling you you can spend a lot more because you are flush with interest income or is it telling you you better save more if you expect to retire without having to live on cat food? Here’s another question: does this bode well for consumption or ill? Clearly, it bodes ill via the interest income channel but it could bode well if you and I leverage up a bit as debt service costs are down. And that is the point of low rates, by the way.

The Fed is squeezing interest rates down to levels where you see private portfolio preference shifts, a euphemism for the risk seeking return mentality that arises from artificially low real fixed income returns and that forces up risk assets. But this can only go one for so long.

See, eventually there will be another recession and the question should be what happens to all those toxic assets on bank balance sheets. What happens if new loans go sour too? If you recall, US FDIC-insured institutions recorded $35 billion in Q1 2012 accounting gains. But the quality of those accounting gains was dubious. Here’s the key line to note:




That means FDIC insured institutions are under-provisioning and earning money through non-lending channels. These institutions are taxpayer guaranteed by the FDIC because they take deposits and lend that money in support of economic activity. Yet, what the FDIC is telling you is that institutions are not earning money through the traditional interest income channel which is the source of their FDIC guarantee. And that’s as you should expect in a permanent zero environment.

6--Most Aid to Athens Circles Back to Europe, NY Times

Excerpt:  Its membership in the euro currency union hanging in the balance, Greece continues to receive billions of euros in emergency assistance from a so-called troika of lenders overseeing its bailout.

But almost none of the money is going to the Greek government to pay for vital public services. Instead, it is flowing directly back into the troika’s pockets.


The European bailout of 130 billion euros ($163.4 billion) that was supposed to buy time for Greece is mainly servicing only the interest on the country’s debt — while the Greek economy continues to struggle.

If that seems to make little sense economically, it has a certain logic in the politics of euro-finance. After all, the money dispensed by the troika — the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission — comes from European taxpayers, many of whom are increasingly wary of the political disarray that has afflicted Athens and clouded the future of the euro zone....

In an elaborate payment system that began after the May 6 election that brought down the Greek government and is meant to ensure that the Greeks do not touch the cash, the big three creditors are now wiring bailout payments to an escrow account in Greece. There the money sits for two or three days — before much of it is sent back to the troika as interest payments on the Greek bonds that Europe accepted under terms of the bailout deal struck in February.


About three-quarters of Greece’s debt, or $229 billion, is now effectively owned by one of the three troika members, according to estimates by the investment bank UBS....

On its face, the situation seems absurd. The European authorities are effectively lending Greece money so Greece can repay the money it borrowed from them.


“You send the money, you call it a ‘loan’ — you get it back and call it an ‘interest rate,’ ” said Stephane Deo, global head of asset allocation in London for UBS. Mr. Deo said such arrangements were common in situations where governments were in danger of defaulting on their debts....

Only a third has been earmarked to finance government operations, with only a tiny sliver spent on stimulus projects for the anemic economy.


This circular lending is all about risk management.

7--Mysteries of the ELA, acting man


Excerpt:  The European Central Bank is trying to limit the flow of information about so-called Emergency Liquidity Assistance, which is increasingly being tapped by distressed euro-region financial institutions as the debt crisis worsens. Focus on the program intensified last week after news leaked that the ECB moved some Greek banks out of its regular refinancing operations and onto ELA until they are sufficiently capitalized....

European stocks fell and the euro weakened on May 16 as investors sought clarity on how the Greek financial system would be kept alive. The episode highlights the ECB’s dilemma as it tries to save banks without taking too much risk onto its own balance sheet. While policy makers argue that secrecy is needed around ELA to prevent panic, the risk is that markets jump to the worst conclusion anyway.

“The ELA is a perfect life-support system, but it’s not a system for what happens after that,” said Lorcan Roche Kelly, chief Europe strategist at Trend Macrolytics LLC in Clare, Ireland. “What you need is a bank resolution mechanism, a method to get rid of a bank that’s insolvent. In Ireland, and perhaps in Greece as well, the problem is that you’ve got banking systems that are insolvent.”

8--Squatters rent?, Bloomberg
 
Excerpt:  So-called “squatter’s rent,” or the increase to income from withheld mortgage payments, will be an estimated $50 billion this year, according to Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York. The extra cash could represent a boost to spending that’s equal to about half the estimated savings generated by cuts to payroll withholding in December’s bipartisan tax plan.


“We’ve had a lot of government transfers to the household sector; this is a transfer from the business sector to households,” Feroli said. “It’s a shock absorber that has helped the consumer ride out the storm.”

9--Greece economy "in depression" is best, infowars

Excerpt:  The article, entitled Greece to Leave Euro Zone on June 18: Wealth Manager, focuses on Integral Asset Management’s Nick Dewhirst’s contention that Greece will exit the single currency the day after national elections on June 17 if the populist party is victorious.


However, in the very last paragraph of the story we read;

“Kit Juckes, global head of foreign exchange at Societe Generale, told CNBC’s “Worldwide Exchange” (see video above) that the best outcome was “the status quo.” “A Greek economy in depression, austerity that guarantees they’ll stay in depression and living on life support from the rest of Europe is the best,” he said.”

As the representative of Societe Generale, one of Europe’s biggest banks, Juckes is brazenly admitting that the elite would rather see Greece rot and decline into a failed state than allow her to leave the euro and become economically independent once again.

10--Greek Leftist Leader Alexis Tsipras --'It's in Europe's Interest to Lift the Austerity Diktat', Der Speigel

Excerpt:  SPIEGEL: Which "others" do you mean? The Greek economy is already in a shambles.


Tsipras: What I mean by that is if our economic foundation is completely destroyed and the decisions of an elected Greek government are not responsible for it but, rather, certain political forces in Europe. Then they too will be guilty, for example Angela Merkel.

SPIEGEL: Are you seriously claiming that the reforms which Europe is demanding as a precondition for loan assistance are the reason for Greece's miserable situation?

Tsipras: If we are once again pushed and blackmailed into an austerity program that has so obviously failed, then it won't be long before Greece is in fact no longer capable of paying its creditors. The result will be a halt in payments, one into which we were practically forced. This would not only be dangerous for Greece, but for the entire European economy. These days, the financial systems of all countries are so closely intertwined with each other that one can't limit the crisis geographically. It's a problem of all countries and of all national economies.

SPIEGEL: If Greece ultimately exits the euro, you will also bear some of the blame. You promised your voters the impossible: retaining the euro while breaking Greece's agreements with the rest of Europe. How can such a plan find success?

Tsipras: I don't see any contradiction in that. We simply don't want the money of European citizens to vanish into a bottomless pit. The fact that there is financial assistance is the principle of European solidarity and a mark of being part of a community. That's good. But we think these resources should also be put to sensible use: for investments that can also generate prosperity. Only then will we in fact be able to pay back our debts.

SPIEGEL: For you, other people are always the scapegoat. It's other people's fault that the economy is languishing, so other people also have to rescue it …

Tsipras: That's not correct; we naturally also take a critical look at ourselves. We bear significant responsibility for our situation. We've accepted politicians who have destroyed our country's manufacturing base and created a corrupt state. We have elected the very people who have stashed their money away abroad and not only allowed tax evasion to occur, but also fostered it. Of course we are responsible for that; we allowed it all to happen. But we also have the responsibility to change exactly that right now.

SPIEGEL: Given your dependence on financial support and your rejection of vital structural reforms -- such as that of the public administration -- already agreed on, how do you propose doing so?

Tsipras: We're not opposed to reforms. We're only saying what so many economists, what many German newspapers and what even former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt are saying -- and what the OECD has now reconfirmed in a study: The austerity policies we've been implementing for two years -- the policy of solely relying on drastic belt-tightening -- have failed. We now find ourselves in the fifth year of the recession. This year too, our economy will once again contract by at least 6 percent.

The political reality is simple: The austerity programs, as constructed thus far, have failed, partly because they've been based on a false model, namely, that of domestic devaluation. But we're not an exporting country. It is much more the case that most of what we produce, we consume. Our ability to compete doesn't only depend on labor costs, as so many people say; they also depend on other parameters, such as the infrastructure and the mind-set of people and politicians. We really do long for a bit more meritocracy




 



 



 















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