Saturday, July 4, 2009

Japanese Version of Fannie and Freddie

The United States didn't just export CDOs and MBSs around the world. It also exported the system to create such securities. Japan's Housing Finance Agency is one such system.

I don't how I got to that site, but after a series of clicking through different sites I landed on the homepage of Japan Housing Finance Agency. This used to be a government agency with full government backing to issue low-interest mortgages to home buyers. Now the agency has been turned into an "an Incorporated Administrative Agency" (another iteration of government-industry collaboration/collusion) as the result of "privatization" of government services under Prime Minister Koizumi in 2007 (which also saw the privatization of Japan's postal service), and guess what their main business is these days: mortgage securitization.

In Japan, the most common mortgage type for residential properties is Adjustable Rate Mortgage, with 3-year, 5-year, or 10-year fixed. Now under Japan Housing Finance Agency's securitization and guarantee programs, Japanese banks are encouraged to issue 35-year fixed mortgages. It is virtually risk-free for the mortgage issuing banks, as they don't need to carry the mortgages on their books.

Yes, you guessed it. The agency is modeled after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Japan Housing Finance Agency has AA rating from Standard & Poors, and the mortgage backed securities (MBS) that they issue carries AAA rating. (Well that sounds familiar.) As of August last year, the agency's president was very confident that Japan wouldn't be affected by the sub-prime loan debacle in the United States. (That sounds familiar, too, like the U.S. Fed chairman Bernanke saying sub-prime loan problem will not affect other loans or economy at large.)

On their site, I also found the names of the analysts who cover MBSs issued by the Agency. Usual suspects there, among a smattering of Japanese brokerages: Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Deutche Bank, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase, UBS. (Many of them happen to be advising the privatized Japan Post Bank, the largest bank in the world measured by total assets. What a surprise.)

The U.S. always leads, Japan follows. That pattern hasn't changed after all these years. It has also been said that when the U.S. sneezes, Japan develops full-blown cold. To be sure, there is no sub-prime lending in Japan. I hope I am over-sensitive because of the disaster that hit the world that resulted from debt securitization (CDO, MBS, ABS) and derivatives.

By the way, have you noticed an increasing number of analysts and traders saying Japan is a buy? (Hope for another bubble never dies.)

OT: Forth Of July for Marines In Afghanistan

Whether you are against the war or for the war, you would probably agree this is not the way to celebrate the Fourth of July, even if they chose to be in the military.

Marines march in grueling Afghan sun for July 4
(7/4/09 AP via My Way News)

"Taliban militants were nowhere in sight as the columns of U.S. Marines walked a third straight day across southern Afghanistan. But the desert heat proved an enemy in its own right, with several troops falling victim Saturday to temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

"The Marines carry 50-100 pounds (23-45 kilograms) on their backs. But because they are marching through farmland on foot, they can't carry nearly as much water as their thirst demands.

"The high heat, heavy packs, limited water and three straight days of walking through tough farmland terrain were taking a toll, he said. Several Marines threw up or were dry-heaving from the heat. Three passed out, and other Marines rushed to share the weight and pour water on overheated bodies.

"It's pretty taxing on your body. There's no way to prepare for this," said [HM3 Navy Medic from Dallas] Trujillo.

"One cruel irony: A helicopter dropped off a load of water to the Marines early Saturday, but because they hadn't yet reached their final destination, they took only what they could carry and left hundreds of bottles behind for Afghan villagers to drink."

These Marines are marching in desert heat as part of President Obama's new Afghanistan initiative: Operation Khanjar ("sword strike"). It is General McChrystal's first major move in Afghanistan since his appointment.

The president says "America’s Key Goals Can Be Completed ‘Without Us Increasing Our Troop Levels’". (That sounds awfully familiar. It is also difficult to believe, as the US is to build a new embassy in Islamabad bigger and pricier than the one in Baghdad.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Views On Cap And Trade

Gerald Celente

Warren Buffett

Pravda: Obama To Stay At 13,000 Dollar Suite at Moscow Ritz-Carlton

This from Pravda:

Barack Obama to stay at 13,000-dollar luxury suite at Moscow's Ritz-Carlton Hotel (7/3/09 Pravda)

The article is actually a summary of the interview Obama gave to Itar-Tass news agency and Russia TV Channel, but the editor at Pravda was apparently more interested in speculating where Obama would stay in Moscow, hence the title.

Pravda has done some intelligence work:

"Most likely, the US President will stay in Moscow at Ritz-Carlton Hotel." Because..

"Ritz-Carlton has closed the booking for July 5-8, whereas Marriott does not seem to be taking any special preparations at the moment."

"If Obama chooses Ritz, he will be accommodated in a five-room Kremlin view luxury suite with huge panoramic windows." How nice.

"The presidential suite at Ritz-Carlton Hotel costs 430,000 rubles a night ($13,870). " So that's for the prez, and

"cheapest suite at the hotel costs 35,000 rubles a night ($1,129)." That's for the entourage.

I know and understand the argument that the president of the U.S. cannot just stay any cheapo hotel - there's prestige, there's security. Still, it would be refreshing to see the multimillionaire president cut back on luxury just a bit, a token gesture to save the US taxpayers' money in tough times would be just fine with me.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Reporters Grill Gibbs Over Prepackaged Question To Obama

"The point is the control from here. We have never had that in the White House. And we have had some control but not this control. I mean I'm amazed, I'm amazed at you people who call for openness and transparency and have controlled..." veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas said Wednesday.

The venerable Helen Thomas was referring to a now-famous preplanned question by Obama to a Huffington Post reporter.

And Mr. Press Secretary laughed at her from the podium. I totally fail to see what was so funny that made him laugh like that.

7 Banks Closed By FDIC In 1st Week Of July 2009

7 banks failed today, according to FDIC. That many banks failed in entire month of May, and this is just the 1st week of July.

The closures will cost FDIC $314.3 million. FDIC's reserve ratio as of March 31, 2009 was 0.27%.

Unemployment Number By The Duration

This is not your ordinary recession.

The graph below shows the number of people unemployed by the duration of unemployment. It was created at St. Louis Fed's FRED site. Shaded areas indicate recessions.

The spiking blue line is the number of civilians unemployed for 15 weeks and over. For the first time since 1980s, people out of work for 15 weeks and over zipped past people out of work for less than 15 weeks. And it happened early on in the recession.

In the recession in early 80's, people out of work for 15 weeks and over didn't surpass the other two categories until at the very end of the recession. In early 90's and 2000's, the blue line never went above the other two lines until after the recessions were over.

A sudden, spectacularly huge spike like this reminds me of other data like bank excess reserve, and monetary base. Another indication that this recession is "credit-driven". Debt-driven is probably more apt description, though.

June Job Loss Sinks US Stock Market

So a "lagging" indicator is spooking the market again. Job loss in June was larger than expected, at 467,000. The unemployment rate was 26-year high, at 9.5%.

467K jobs cut in June; jobless rate at 9.5 percent
(7/2/09 AP via Yahoo Finance)

"Employers cut a larger-than-expected 467,000 jobs in June and the unemployment rate climbed to a 26-year high of 9.5 percent. Workers also saw weekly wages fall, suggesting Americans will have little appetite to spend and the economy's road to recovery will be bumpy.

"The Labor Department report, released Thursday, showed that even as the recession flashes signs of easing, companies likely will want to keep a lid on costs and be wary of hiring until they feel certain the economy is on solid ground.

"June's payroll reductions were deeper than the 363,000 that economists expected and average weekly earnings dropped to the lowest level in nearly a year.

However, the "real" unemployment rate, as many call, which includes people who have stopped looking for job or settled for part-time jobs, is much higher: 16.5%.

"If laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have settled for part-time work are included, the unemployment rate would have been 16.5 percent in June, the highest on records dating to 1994."

PLEASE read the post below about "credit-driven" recession by Karl Denninger (or click here). We are looking at the WRONG parameter (unemployment number) to assess the depth and severity of the current "credit-driven" recession.

As of 9:35 AM PST, Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 177 (over -2%) to 8,326. S&P 500 is down 21 (-2.3%) to 901. Nasdaq is down 45 (-2.5%) to 1,799.

On my stock screen, greens are scarce. TLT (20-year+ Treasury bond ETF), POT (Potash, fertilizer company), UUP (long US dollar ETF), MA (Mastercard), AIG.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Karl Denninger On Credit-Driven Ressession (and Swipe at Dennis Kneale)

On his Market Ticker on Tuesday, Karl Denninger took a swipe at CNBC's Dennis Kneale, whose harangue against bloggers has been widely disseminated over the Internet (like my post below). But his ticker also has a very good explanation of why the current resession may be very different from the previous recessions in the U.S., except for the Big One in 1930s.

Here is his take on "inventory-driven ressession" and "credit-driven recession". We are in the latter, credit-driven recession.

To Dennis Kneale: You're An Idiot (6/30/09 Market Ticker)
[emphasis is mine]

"Inventory-driven recessions are primarily about excessive industrial capacity for demand. That is, manufacturers and suppliers of services get too bullish about prospects, build too much capacity and inventory, and wind up engaging in a destructive price war in an attempt to "win". This drives down profits and ultimately forces the weaker firms out of business, ergo, recession - GDP and employment decline. Having cleansed itself of the excess, the economy recovers. The trigger for these recessions is often (but not always) an external shock such as the oil embargo in the 1970s or the collapse of the Internet fraud-and-circuses games in 2000.

"The second sort of recession is a credit-driven recession. Excessive credit creation - that is, loans going too far toward "fog a mirror" qualifications (and in some cases, such as the most recent event, actually reaching "fog a mirror") drives one or more asset bubbles. These pop when effective interest rates in the economy reach an effective level of zero, usually because the amount of leverage available becomes for all intents and purposes infinite (Bear and Lehman at 30:1, Fannie/Freddie at 80:1, AIG at god-knows-what, and duped "home buyers" buying with zero down for a true infinite leverage ratio.) This excessive credit creation drives a speculative asset bidding war which in turn causes prices to go sky-high for one or more types of asset."

"Recessions cannot end until the conditions that caused the recession are removed from the economy. This is elementary logic and obvious to anyone with an IQ larger than their shoe size.

"For an inventory recession growth returns when enough capacity is destroyed through layoffs and inventory selloffs to bring capacity and demand back into balance. Employers then hire new workers and the economy recovers.

"For a credit recession, however, there is a much larger problem: The reason real interest rates went negative is that debt has a carrying cost and consumes free cash flow; so long as the debt taken on in the credit binge remains the cash flow impact also remains.

"Default and bankruptcy clears excessive credit (debt) from the system - if it is allowed to occur. But if it is not, then the bad debt remains on the balance sheets somewhere and the cash flow impact remains in the economy. Employment remains weak, capital spending restart attempts falter as demand fails to return and credit quality continues to remain insufficient to support new credit demand."

So, when we see the inventory number reduced and unemployment number stop going down further, and we say "Look, the economy bottomed!", we are looking at TOTALLY WRONG PARAMETERS to assess our CREDIT-DRIVEN RECESSION.

Almost all economists being paraded on TV, or writing for big newspapers and magazines, take it for granted that the recession we are in is INVENTORY-DRIVEN recession, the one most of them are familiar with. If Denninger is right (I think he is), it doesn't matter if the inventory level is reduced to zero or the unemployment number stops going down. Until the bad debt is purged from the system somehow, there will be no recovery. As Denninger says, at best we'll be turning Japanese. At worst, worse than the Great Depression.

In addition, Denninger has this to say about U.S. consumers "saving": [emphasis is his]

"Consumers are not saving, they are paying down debt in a furious attempt to avoid defaulting on nearly $1 trillion in outstanding credit card balances that have gone from 11% interest to 29.6% along with OptionARMs that are experiencing a tripling of payments while the home's value is underwater and precludes refinance, all while consumers are being laid off by the hundreds of thousands monthly."

In other words, consumers are barely treading water. And the likes of Dennis Kneale are wondering why consumers are not spending, so that we can get out of this inconvenient pesky little recession. Hope and fortitude. LOL.

Increasing Noise Against Bloggers And Alternative Media

from so-called mainstream media (MSM), in case you haven't noticed. Here are two latest "attacks" from the professional, high-caliber high-standard media personalities.

Dennis Lets Zero Hedge Have It (6/30/09 Zero Hedge)

CNBC host Dennis Kneale calling bloggers "digital dickweed, including Zero Hedge.

(Sorry but his whole rant does sound like a skit in Saturday Night Live rejected by the SNL producer.)

Murdoch CEO Labels Bloggers “Political Extremists" (7/1/09

John Hartigan, the CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited, labels bloggers and alternative media outlets as “political extremists”.

"... the blogosphere is all eyeballs and no insights..."

And let me remind you that the government wants to monitor the blogsphere:

Blog Czar Is Next? FTC plans to monitor blogs for claims, payments

And let me also remind you that Obama's Cyber Czar is yet to arrive, and the front runner is not very promising for cyberspace freedom or what's left of it:

Cyber Security Czar Front-Runner No Friend of Privacy (6/22/09 Wired)

GM Reminds Holders That Common Stock Has No Value

Another bit stock, GMGMQ, General Motors' pinksheet, has been trading rather well since bankruptcy, as it shouldn't. The value of common stock will be zero in all likelihood. So the company put out the warning today.

GM Statement re: GM stock price and volume (7/1/09 GM)

"GM management has noticed the continuing high trading volume in GM's common stock at prices in excess of $1. GM management continues to remind investors of its strong belief that there will be no value for the common stockholders in the bankruptcy liquidation process, even under the most optimistic of scenarios. Stockholders of a company in chapter 11 generally receive value only if all claims of the company's secured and unsecured creditors are fully satisfied. In this case, GM management strongly believes all such claims will not be fully satisfied, leading to its conclusion that GM common stock will have no value. "

That seems to have done the trick. GMGMQ is trading at 85 cents, down 23 cents or 21% from yesterday's close. (The chart to the right is an intraday chart of GMGMQ.)

AIG's 1-20 Reverse Split Not Working Miracles...

American International Group (AIG) did the 1 for 20 reverse split, hoping that would boost the stock price. Today is the first day that the stock is traded after the reverse split. So far, it is not working as they hoped.

AIG is currently trading at $18.79, or pre-reverse split price of $0.94, down 19% from Tuesday's close of $1.16. It is down 36% from Monday's open, which was $1.46.

The U.S. government has 79.9% stake in AIG, 0.1% short of 80% so that the government doesn't have to bring AIG's books on to the government's equally dismal books. So in two short trading days U.S. taxpayers lost about $20 billion. Nice trade, if you were shorting.

China's Manufacturing Expands A Fourth Month

Remember the article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of Telegraph on Monday, saying China is having a credit bubble and not a real economic recovery?

No, says Bloomberg, it is the real growth and real recovery, and it's only beginning.

China Manufacturing Expands a Fourth Month, PMI Shows (7/1/09 Bloomberg)

"China’s manufacturing expanded for a fourth month as a 4 trillion yuan ($585 billion) stimulus plan and record bank lending revive the world’s third-largest economy.

"The official Purchasing Managers’ Index rose to a seasonally adjusted 53.2 in June from 53.1 in May, the Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said today in Beijing in an e-mailed statement. A reading above 50 indicates an expansion. "

"China’s economy may keep improving in the third and fourth quarters, enabling the nation to meet its 8 percent economic growth target for this year, central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said this week. Export orders expanded for a second month, adding to signs that the global economy may be over the worst of its slump."

They have the 8 percent growth target to meet - after all, it is still a Communist country. But wait, "export orders"?? To where? Who is buying?

In case anyone doubts the official government statistics in China, we have analysts from Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase who vouch for the validity of the numbers:

"“China’s recovery is gathering further momentum,” said Lu Ting, an economist with Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong. “It has been recovering faster than the market had expected.”"

"“China’s stimulus program is having a demonstrable effect on domestic spending, which has resulted in increased manufacturing activity,” said Jing Ulrich, Hong Kong- based chairwoman of China equities at JPMorgan Chase & Co."

Domestic spending? Increased manufacturing activity? It feels like we're reading about two different countries: one according to Telegraph, which is blowing a credit bubble resulting in speculation in stock and commodity markets, the other according to Bloomberg, which looks set to pull out of recession by producing goods.

Both can't be true, can it? Remember Telegraph's Evans-Pritchard:

"China's banks are veering out of control. The half-reformed economy of the People's Republic cannot absorb the $1,000bn (£600bn) blitz of new lending issued since December.

"Money is leaking instead into Shanghai's stock casino, or being used to keep bankrupt builders on life support. It is doing very little to help lift the world economy out of slump."

I tend to side with Telegraph that it is a destructive bubble that China is having. But with their economy and their stock markets going nowhere fast, many Americans and many more Japanese may be wishing they too had a bubble, any bubble - ah the good old days when every asset class kept going up in price until one day the sky fell ....

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Bubble Machine - Carbon Emission Allowance

Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in its analysis of the climate bill titled "The Estimated Costs to Households From the Cap-and-Trade Provisions of H.R. 2454" says the following about the emission allowance under the Cap and Trade provision of the bill:

"CBO estimates that the price of an allowance, which would permit one ton of GHG emissions measured in CO2 equivalents, in 2020 would be $28.2. H.R. 2454 would require the federal government to sell a portion of the allowances and distribute the remainder to specified entities at no cost. The portions of allowances that were sold and distributed for free would vary from year to year. This analysis focuses on the year 2020, when 17 percent of the allowances would be sold by the government and the remaining 83 percent would be given away. Entities that received allowances could sell them or use them to meet their compliance obligations."

One of the big problems (there are many) with the Cap and Trade way of reducing the pollution (whether it's sulphur dioxide or nitrogen oxide or carbon dioxide) is how the initial allowance is priced and allocated. Initial allowance will be arbitrarily set by the government, both allowance amount and price. And when the allowance is not auctioned off entirely but is given away free to certain companies/industries as seen appropriate by the government, the entire process is screaming "manipulation", "corruption", "collusion".

So, entities that received free allowances from the government could sell them for profit if they don't need them. Get them for free, sell them for some price: infinite return on the money. Or they can choose to keep them, waiting for future price appreciation as the emission limit gets lower and lower. Some entities may get 4 free allowances for 1 paid allowance, others may get 2 free for 1 paid, yet others may get 10 free for 1 paid. Who knows? No one knows.

Is it just me, or do you also see a dot-com bubble era practice of investment banks giving pre-IPO shares to certain people at a low price so that these people can turn around and sell after IPO for filthy profits?

Now comes valuable middlemen (like Goldman Sachs) who will offer to manage the allowances. I can envision a whole set of derivatives coming out of this allowances business. Futures market, options on the futures to start. Then, to smooth out the allowance cost over the years and hedge against allowance price fluctuation, they will develop an allowance swap, much like interest rate swap. Since the number of allowances are set to decrease over the years, the price of allowances is assumed to be increasing all the time. So what better product, if they can package it right, to sell to pension funds and college endowments who want to hold long positions only (like they did during the oil bubble in 2008)?

Just like CDS, at some point there will be buyers and sellers of derivatives on allowances without underlying commodity (in this case, source of pollution), even if there is no intrinsic value to the allowance other than what the government mandates. (U.S. dollar bill does not have intrinsic value either, other than as a piece of paper and the word from the Federal Reserve "Trust us".)

No wonder big businesses support this bill. If E.U.'s experience is any indication, the carbon emission will not decrease because of the cap and trade (in E.U.'s case, it decreased by 3% but not due to the cap and trade; it is due to the recession), but the taxpayers will be presented with increased energy bills and attendant price increase on just about every product with no appreciable benefit.

This is the new bubble that the government wants to blow. It is set to feed on the money of people who have hardly any say in the matter: the taxpayers money. So the bubble will keep on blowing at the expense of the taxpayers until they realize they've been had.

Consumer Confidence Dipped Unexpectedly In June

According to the Conference Board, consumer confidence in June dipped unexpectedly, and that's supposed to be the cause for today's sizeable dip in the stock market.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index™ Retreats (6/30/09 The Conference Board)

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index is based on a monthly survey of 5,000 U.S. households. The Conference Board says in the above announcement that consumer sentiment soured in all parameters:

  • Consumer Confidence Index in June was 49.3, down from 54.8 in May
  • Present Situation Index in June was 24.8, down from 29.7 in May
  • Expectation Index in June was 65.5, down from 71.5 in May
Consumers' assessment of present and future situations in business conditions and job prospect deteriorated, with increasing number of people answering conditions are bad/will get worse, while number of people answering conditions are good/will get better decreased.

But wait, haven't we been told that consumer confidence is a lagging indicator, along with unemployment data? We've been told over and over again that these two indicators remain bad even after the underlying economy has turned around. So why worry if the numbers are bad?

I personally believe that an effort to relate economic news of the day to the day's stock market movement is utterly futile. Economic numbers, whether they are unemployment numbers or quarterly GDP numbers, are interpreted by market participants AFTER the fact. Let's say unemployment number is announced and it's bad, or worse than expected. But for some reason that day the market goes up. The commentary at day's end is "The market looked past the unemployment number, which is a lagging indicator...". If the market goes down, then the commentary becomes "The market went down amid worries about deepening recession..."

So far today, it's the latter. Articles written about consumer confidence as of mid-day all take the latter tone. If for any reason the market turns around and ends up green, the end of the day articles will say the former, "The stock market looked past worsened consumer confidence in June..."

The market does what it wants to do (or what its big participants want it to do - have you seen this from Zero Hedge?). As of 9:50 AM PST, Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 108 to 8,421 (-1.26%), S&P 500 is down 11 to 916 (-1.19%), Nasdaq is down 13 to 1,830 (-0.73%).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lending Bubble In China

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes for Telegraph U.K.; he is known for his British version of "Doom and Gloom", which, amid global proliferation of "green shoots", has fallen out of favor somewhat. Now the stock markets around the world seem to be hitting the wall at the same time, and people have started to doubt if green shoots were just weeds.

In this article, Evans-Pritchard casts grave doubt about the global "growth engine" that the rest of the world seem to depend on to pull out of recession. Instead of the stimulus money going to the real productive economy as many analysts and investors have claimed, China seems to have created a huge credit bubble.

China's banks are an accident waiting to happen to every one of us (6/28/09 Telegraph) [emphasis is mine]

"China's banks are veering out of control. The half-reformed economy of the People's Republic cannot absorb the $1,000bn (£600bn) blitz of new lending issued since December.

"Money is leaking instead into Shanghai's stock casino, or being used to keep bankrupt builders on life support. It is doing very little to help lift the world economy out of slump."

"Fitch Ratings has been warning for some time that China's lenders are wading into dangerous waters, but its latest report is even grimmer than bears had suspected.

"Fitch's "macro-prudential risk" indicator for China threatens to jump from category 1 (safe) to category 3 (Iceland, et al). This is a surprise to me but Michael Pettis from Beijing University says China's public debt may be as high as 50pc-70pc of GDP when "correctly counted".

"The regime is so hellbent on meeting its growth target of 8pc that it has given banks an implicit guarantee for what Fitch calls a "massive lending spree".

"Bank exposure to corporate debt has reached $4,200bn. It is rising at a 30pc rate, even as profits contract at a 35pc rate.

"Fitch traces the 2009 bubble to the central bank's decision to cut interest on reserves to 0.72pc. Bankers responded to this "margin squeeze" by ramping up the volume of lending instead. Over half the new debt is short-term. Roll-over risk is rocketing. China's monetary stimulus since November is arguably more extreme than the post-Lehman printing of the US Federal Reserve, though less obvious to the untrained eye."

So the Chinese central bank did what the Fed has been unwilling to do so far: cut interest on reserves, or even charge a fee on reserves. This is a sure-fire way to squeeze banks so that they increase lendings. And since the U.S. government's, and this administration's, expressed concern is that the money/credit is not going to the real world, I expect this to happen in the U.S. in non-too-distant future.

"... New loans doubled in May from a year earlier, almost entirely to companies.

"China's Banking Regulatory Commission fired a warning shot last week. "The top priority at the moment is to stop explosive lending. Banks should carefully monitor the process of credit approval and allocation, and make sure that loans flow into the real economy," it said."

Well, the Chinese government unleashed the "hot money" by cutting interest on reserves. What did they expect banks to do? Hold on to the money while they carefully evaluate the credit-worthiness of the borrowers? Then the banks will risk being accused of "hoarding" money and probably penalized in some way (like being charged fees for reserves).

Given all that, I don't quite understand Evans-Pritchard's deflationary stance. Probably he means price deflation, but even there, it's simply hard to picture 10% or even 5% price contraction in the face of massive monetary inflation around the globe. But this topic will be another post entirely.

Traders Have No Doubts About Manipulation By Government

Good to see Steve Liesman (many people spell Steve LIESman) getting outnumbered in green shooting CNBC.

Goldman Sachs - The Great American Bubble Machine

(Update: 7/13/09 Here's the link to the article at Rolling Stones magazine. Finally.)

This is a much talked-about article by Matt Taibbi that appeared in Rolling Stones magazine. As Rolling Stones magazine didn't post it online, someone OCR'ed it and now it's all over the net. I saw the article on, which had a link pointed to In case you haven't read it, here it is:

The Great American Bubble Machine (by Matt Taibbi)

"From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression - and they're about to do it again."

The article is LONG. If you want to read it, I suggest you print it out.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

300 Pages of Climate Bill (H.R. 2454) That Were Missing

Has anyone read it (other than Mr. Boehner who read it on the House floor)? For that matter, has anyone at all read the entire bill?

Here's the PDF file of what was missing.

I watched the youtube video linked above of House Minority Leader reading the bill while following the pages on the PDF file.

  • Definition of biomass
  • Renewable energy usage percentage mandate for federal agencies
  • High-efficiency gas turbine research and development
  • New housing standards (based on California's)
  • Energy rating for houses (that sounds like a death knell to the existing house market)
That's up to about page 46. It seems like the federal government is going to dictate everything from housing standard to building permit price.

California housing standards that Mr. Boehner is referring to is 2008 Building Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings, a.k.a. Title 24. It looks monstrous, unless you revel in a bureaucratic maze and/or you are on the receiving end of increased fees for the various permits.

It seems we have a new bubble. Instead of resulting in asset price inflation like the previous bubbles did, this one may collapse everything else but itself. The bubble that's taking shape is a government bubble, which will grow and grow at the expense of everything else.

U.S. Sweeping Financial Overhaul & Financial Stability Board

Financial Regulatory Reform - A New Foundation. Do we even remember such a thing was announced? It was announced by the president of the U.S. on Wednesday, June 17, 2009, a mere 10 days ago. (Can you believe it?) It is said to be the largest, the most comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. financial system since 1930s.

I forgot all about it as the administration's blitzkrieg or "shock and awe" continued unabated - health care system reform, climate bill that just passed the House, talk of comprehensive immigration reform, cyberspace regulation (military and bloggers), to name a few.

But I just saw a headline on Bloomberg that started a chain reaction in my brain:

FSB’s Draghi Sees Signs of Improvement in Economy
(6/27/09 Bloomberg)

"The world economy is showing “convincing signs of recovery,” Mario Draghi, chairman of the newly created Financial Stability Board, said today after its first meeting. "
Mario Draghi? Who's this? Financial Stability Board? What is this? So I searched the net.

It turns out that Dr. Draghi is the governor of Bank of Italy (Italy's central bank) who has strong ties to the U.S., and Financial Stability Board was set up as the result of G20 London summit in April. The Board consists of central banks and financial regulatory authorities in G20 countries plus Hong Kong SAR, Singapore, the Netherlands, Korea, Spain and Switzerland. International institutions like BIS, ECB, IMF, World Bank, EC, OECD are also its members, along with another set of international standard setting bodies.

But "financial stability".... Where did I see this two words together like this? Then I suddenly remembered. That's the name of the new website set up by the U.S. Treasury Department after the June 17 announcement by the president! The site is

Coincidence? The two words, financial stability, are generic enough. But I decided to dig a little bit more. Here's what I found about what the Board is supposed to regulate or monitor, from the Financial Stability Board's own website and from the article that appeared in Guardian UK when the Board was set up back in April:
  • Monitoring and regulation of "systemically important" (too big to fail) institutions
  • Regulation of highly leveraged institutions (hedge funds)
  • Regulation of derivatives market (CDS)
  • Regulation of offshore financial centers
  • Sound compensation practice
  • Cross-border cooperation on crisis management
These look awfully familiar. Let's go to the U.S. Treasury's own "" site:
  • Supervision and regulation of all large, interconnected firms that pose systemic risk
  • Closing of loopholes in banking regulation (offshore financial centers)
  • Regulation of hedge funds and private capital pools (dark pools)
  • Regulation of securitization market, OTC derivatives including CDS
  • Better compensation practice
  • International regulatory standard and cooperation

Familiarity can't be denied. So which came first? I'd say Financial Stability Board, which existed in other forms since 1999. The largest, most comprehensive financial overhaul in the U.S. is to be based on the international template.

What's uniquely American (so far anyway) is the provisions for:

  • Creation of a consumer protection agency
  • Increased oversight on insurance industry

The second item is now very curious to me, with this news on Friday (6/26) that New York Fed is taking $25 billion stake in preferred shares in two of A.I.G.'s two Asian operations:

"The troubled insurance giant, which has received multiple federal bailouts since September, said that it would give the New York Fed preferred stakes in two of the company's crown jewels -- Asian-based American International Assurance, or AIA, and American Life Insurance Co., or Alico, which operates in more than 50 countries. "

Alico may operate in more than 50 countries, but half of its revenues comes from its Japanese operation. Japanese insurance companies are crying foul because of "unfair" advantage this gives to Alico (implicit guarantee from the U.S. government). So New York Fed will own insurance companies and they want to regulate insurance industries. (Is a Federal Reserve Bank allowed to own a private company?)