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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 12, 2008 10:29 AM. The previous post in this blog was There oughta be a treaty against this. The next post in this blog is That's gotta hurt. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Reader poll: Is Bernanke the new "Brownie"?

The U.S. economy is imploding, thanks to the Chimp. And with all the herky-jerky moves that the Federal Reserve has pulled over the last month or two, I'm starting to sense some serious panic inside the Beltway. Just curious if you're on the same page as I am on this:

Does Ben Bernanke know what he's doing?
Yes
No
  
pollcode.com free polls

Comments (30)

I don't think it's a question of whether he knows what he's doing, it's a question of whether the tools he has at his disposal are enough to help the problem at hand.

It's not unlike the driver of a car skidding on black ice. You probably "know what you are doing" in the sense that you can drive, but none of the things you know how to do will help fix the fact that you have no traction.

Dave J. has a point, but I'm not sure I would give Bernanke that much credit. Most of us would be careful enough not to LOOK panicked.

I don't claim to know much of anything about this stuff, but I think Steve Forbes does. I heard him blast the Bush Administration's economic policies a while back. Seems like everything they are doing further weakens our dollar.

$100 a barrel oil would be $60 per barrel if the dollar was currently worth what it was just a few years ago.

What Dave J. said. The fundamentals are so bollocksed up that Helicopter Ben really has no option but to do what he's been doing. He's just the one paying a bill that's finally come due. The subprime mess is a nice flaming bag of poop left on his doorstep by Uncle Alan. The Fed currently is more fixated on growing the economy that fighting inflation, probably rightly. But that's another bill that's going to come due as well.

I had thought that the USSR's experiment in command economics proved that it was doomed to failure.

I would look to the ratio of aggregate economic activity that is not securitized as compared to that which is. If all economic activity gets securitized it becomes amenable to manipulation by an ever decreasing number of tools (fools). Don't sweat the ideological labels.

Houses, otherwise dead investment, are not burning to the ground . . . fictions of value are crashing . . . which is good, if you think government induced disequilibrium is bad.

Perhaps the best sanity check, ballpark check, for all things related to housing is to interchange oil for homes in the analysis. Like this: "The economy will collapse if oil prices fall."

Have you ever played Monopoly, the game, and experienced the endgame where the winner tries to prolong the agony (through debt) as the other players opt to go outside and play real games instead? It has to do with incentives, and at least the perception of a level playing field.

Bernanke is playing the game as any "winner" would. But he (they) will be left to play by himself . . . or is that play with himself, all alone.

Wake me when a fresh game begins.

Mister Tee, wherever you are, See . . .

The Theory of Business Enterprise
by Thorstein Veblen
1904
Chapter Five
The Use of Loan Credit
This should have you rolling on the ground laughing, where it almost seems super simpleton to not have one's arguments fully vetted for conformance with political loyalty X Y and Z (or) XYZ.

It is my humble opinion that the genesis beneath our weakening economy is the decades in the making reliance upon more and more irresponsible comsumption by credit.

Years ago the people bought cars with increasingly easy credit. Furniture and hot tubs followed suit with no payments till next year. Credit cards took over the frenzy of easy credit and all of sudden everyone had to have a Big Screnn TV and all of the other new stuff.
Then credit cards became source of income paying for everything including house payments.
Then the only way to rid the family of the large debts was through equity loans.
Sure enough, right on track the mortgage industry jumped into the vanguard of easy credit eager to help pay down those cards. For a fee or two.
Well naturally that got out of hand with loans in excess of value and subprime creations. And of course that didn't fix any problem or stop the credit demands because people ran up their credit cards again. With new maxed out cards, their equity gone and mortgage higher than their house is worth they're screwed.

All the while our economy was hitched to this consumption by credit addiction.

What's next?

I suspect there has to be a period of trickle up, trickle down, and trickle sideways economics where markets, industry and all who stayed prudent will be taking a hit.

Until sometime, hopefully soon, where our economy sees less reliance on credit spending and consuming.

I keep hearing credit's getting harder to get but the mail still delivers a healthy dose of credit card and mortgage loan offerrings.

Credit cards took over the frenzy of easy credit and all of sudden everyone had to have a Big Screnn TV and all of the other new stuff.

I don't think the entire debacle was caused by Joe Consumer wanting all the new toys. If that was the only problem, the market correction would have been manageable. The real problem came when the values of Joe Consumer entered the corporate boardroom (including stodgy banks) and they all decided THEY wanted the big screen tv. Except their "big screen TVs" were actually all these new market toys, such as bundled subprime mortgages, that promised great returns with minimal risk.

I hardly said that "the entire debacle was caused by Joe Consumer".

I was quite clear in the role easy credit offerings have payed. That would be corporate decisons.

And the "market correction" you say "would have been manageable" is hobbled by the inability of additional credit to be extended once there's nothing to borrow against and no way to pay current debt service.
Millions with maxed out cards and no more equity.
Along with the troubled corporate sector at the other end this is a bad recipe.

What we don't want is any tax increases curbing of investing any spending by employers, manufacturers and those on the higher rungs who need no credit.
It's best we let them keep investing, expanding and spending while this all sorts out.
They buy a lot of spendy things that are made, distributed, sold, repaired and remodeled by those seeking to deal with their debt.

He knows what he is doing.

Bernake is allowing inflation to increase dramatically. And, in turn, he is hoping that America keeps its jobs.

He's hoping to prop up the real-estate and financial industries by printing money. Thus, decreasing the value of the dollar, and allowing companies to stay in business.

As someone with little savings, a lot of student loan debt, and a good job, I'm A-okay with this plan.

However, if I was someone with a lot of savings who wanted to retire soon, I might be a little less supportive.

I'm not sure anyone Chairing the Fed following Greenspaaz could do much else. It isn't exactly a job with multiple options available. Greenspan led us down this rosy path and Ben is left trying to clean up the mess. Alan should be dragooned into returning to clean up the mess he's created instead of doing $50,000 per speech to libertarian fan clubs.

I'm not sure Ben can do a lot more than he's done already. Though an interest rate cut tomorrow would be of some help. I think the so-called "stimulus" package is a waste of money. Too little, too late. Given the pathetic employment numbers put out this month by the Commerce Dept.; it's pretty clear to me we're already in a recession - with lots more job fallouts to come. Just yesterday, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal that gave a preview of the layoffs expected from Wall Street firms.

As someone with little savings, a lot of student loan debt, and a good job, I'm A-okay with this plan.

Amen.

Bernanke continues the classic fix of lowering rates to increase the money supply and hence demand. But average folks no longer have collateral to borrow on and baby boomers are losing money on their interest bearing assets. The out of whack income disparity and the laissez faire "Reagan Revolution" and its illusory trickle down is coming home to roost. We need jobs and higher wages for the masses who have increased the nation's productivity and who buy things. The income stimulus will largely be spent keeping creditors at bay, not on things that make the economy go.

"We need jobs and higher wages for the masses..."

Just how do you propose doing that in this global economy? More government spending, perhaps?

You want to fire up our economy? Implement the Fair Tax Plan.

More government spending, perhaps?

It's been done. Check out Timberline Lodge.

I have to agree, I think he kind of got stuck with a situation driven by politics (I don't think Bush ever vetoed a spending bill in 7 years) and macro-conditions (the price of oil) and a weak dollar.

Having said that, the value of the dollar down has prob been driven a lot by bal of trade issues (just think how many dollars the CHinese have in their banks) chasing commodities like oil. Unfortunately, this means more dollars than oil, so up goes the price.

Again, I don;t see any of the 3 candidates focusing on either cutting spending or creating better economic conditions, so expect more of the same.

Unless you have other options for Mr Bernanke who only have the price and avaialbility of dollars as levers to use.

Ok here is my take on the whole mess-which took far more than 8 years in the making and alot of us are guilty in why we are where we are. However, there is no point in pointing fingers-
What I think is that Global World Economy or what ever you want to call it- isn't working so well.

Everyone is so worried about their "carbon footprint" but have they given ANY thought at all about the carbon footprint of all the material goods they buy let alone what they are eating?
If we want sustainability and possibly a more stable economy how about BUYING AND CONSUMING LOCALLY????
I kmow we cannot recreate what has been deconstructed when it comes to a lot of lost jobs and businesses-BUT maybe we can take a few baby steps in beginning to help our economy recover.
What if we just bought locally grown food? What if we made things ourselves from local products-if we have the time-or if we don't why not buy locally made goods? They are out there and they cost more-but they are probably made better.
What does everyone think of that?
It really bothers me that we have become so lazy and dependant on others who don't give a damn about us.

The U.S is definitely in a weak economic position currently. Decades of trade deficits have caused a weakening U.S dollar currency. But these trade deficits are in a very big way related to the environmental restrictions placed on domestic business and competitiveness. If we had developed oil production in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, for instance, the U.S trade deficit would be 3 to 5% lower today than otherwise. Then, there's restrictions on oil drilling in the waters off the South coast of Florida, which Cuba is planning to sink a straw into and suck our share away.

Half the U.S trade deficit is due to net energy imports, and a majority of this is oil imports. Both political parties have failed us in the area of energy balance. So, now it's a battle between pumping more U.S dollars into the domestic economy versus rising gasoline prices depressing consumer spending.

Conventional oil supplies may be near a peak but there's still a lot of oil left in them hills. If you don't think so, just think about the wells you see still working down in Orange county some 50 years or more after first production.

The triple deficits (trade/current accounts, federal budget, and private/consumer indebtedness) predate the Bush Administration.

The declining dollar is helping our trade deficit and corporate balance sheets have never been stronger. Nobody forced American homeowners to treat their home equity like an ATM machine. Perhaps the lending institutions have provided sufficient rope for some to hang themselves with, but the lenders didn't get to enjoy the new cars, SUV's, vacations, and lifestyle upgrades that the cash out refi's provided.

What is the individual's responsibility for borrowing money they can't afford to repay or living beyond their means?

I'm no economist, but I like this "Brownie"/Bernanke connection!

Maybe f-ing up New Orleans & Mississippi wasn't enough for Bush. Maybe he wants to wreck what's left of the US before his term ends? He's got a pretty good shot I have to admit!

Mister Tee,
Take a look at the compensation and severance packages for the recent CEO's of, for example, Merrill Lynch and Citibank, and tell me again how only the defaulting borrowers benefitted.

Take a look at the compensation and severance packages for the recent CEO's of, for example, Merrill Lynch and Citibank, and tell me again how only the defaulting borrowers benefitted.

Too long for a bumper sticker, Allan, but the thought was there.

Most CEO compensation is excessive and indefensible. But I doubt the CEOs of Citi or Merrill would have been compensated substantially less if they had sidestepped mortgage underwriting or securitizing.

I don't see a correlation between homeowners taking out loans they can't repay and financial conglomerate executive compensation.

That said, you have my permission to tar and feather the CEOs of the subprime mortgage lenders (WaMu, Countrywide, GMAC, New Century, Novastar, Indymac): clearly their underwriting standards were a joke. That doesn't relieve the borrowers from their individual responsibility for signing contracts for interest rate structures or loan amounts they were unable to understand or repay.

I had an ARM for six years, which saved me a lot of money. I refinanced into a fixed rate loan (at a higher rate) in advance of a reset that would have been uncomfortably high. If you don't understand the terms of a loan contract, you probably shouldn't sign it. If you take on more debt than you can afford to service, it will hurt you more than it's going to hurt the CEO who allowed the lousy underwriting to happen.

Much like the "turbotax ate my kicker" claims, I don't believe that millions of mortgage borrowers were hoodwinked by unethical mortgage brokers. If there houses continue to appreciate at 10% annual rates, they wouldn't be complaining about the ARM resets: they would be selling the house for a tidy profit.

The real estate agents have at least as much culpability at the underwriters.

As someone with little savings, a lot of student loan debt, and a good job, I'm A-okay with this plan.

Hmmm. Now I feel like an absolute fool for busting my ass for years, buying absolutely nothing on credit, and saving a few thousand dollars. Should have maxed out some credit cards, and went back to school on some of those loans...

As insane as it might sound, I'm seriously considering taking my rapidly devaluing US Dollars out of the bank, and purchasing either Euros or silver coins to hide in the old sock drawer.

Mister Tee, I don't think there's a whole lot of disagreement between us on this, except to note that the main topic here is widespread economic collapse, not the morality of an individual's high tolerance for leverage risk. If you're going to throw large quantities of cheap money at consumers with inadequate security, you have to expect quite a few of them to take the bait. This is about as predictable as a politician's visit to a prostitute. If you're a lender, you don't expect the borrower to cover debt service with unrealized appreciation in the mortgaged house. As between borrower and lender, the lender is in a much better position to understand the cash flow implications of negative amortization and interest rate resets. The lenders didn't protect themselves. For a time, they made lots of money and their executives were richly rewarded. Moralize all you want about feckless borrowers, but these lending practices were structured to exploit them, and it worked, and the rest of us are paying for it.

If the bank CEOs knew this would all come tumbling down, it was a short term strategy that rewarded them at the expense of their shareholders.

I am a shareholder of Washington Mutual (bought it at $30/share because it looked cheap!), so that's the only one that really bothers me. I eagerly await the day they s$!tcan their CEO.

While he may not have been able to anticipate the housing downturn, he certainly could have avoided entering into subprime (Long Beach Mortgage) just as the worm turned.

In the plus column, his paper losses are substantially higher than mine: if his goal was to loot the company and run, he made a very short sighted decision that cost him hundreds of millions. And he forgot to run.

Bernanke continues the classic fix of lowering rates to increase the money supply and hence demand.

WRONG! That does not increase demand. Demand for the USD is down, which is why you see the devaluation. This isn't really a "classic fix" at all. It's the opposite of what Paul Volker did in the 70s.

This is a bailout of the big corporate banks, which were deregulated systematically through the Reagan-Bush-Clinton/Gingrich era. The fed is opening the discount window with low rates, but the banks are not passing most of that rate decrease on to the consumer. Banks are keeping the spread and avoiding that natural, real laissez-faire response, which would be to sell their strategic treasuries on their good investments to cover the losses on their bad ones. They would also have to call in loans, which would contract the money supply, basically incinerate it with write offs. That would, however, lead to a major crash in the DOW which is the hand they want the common folk to be paying attention to as they pull off this trick.

This is an extremely loaded question by Jack. Essentially what is happening is that the transgressions of the banking elite are being spread across the whole economy. That's propping up your 401Ks, but not indefinitely. The one hint I will give here is that everybody look at their mutual funds. Many of the "value funds" in your retirement accounts contain securities like Countrywide, Citi, WaMu, etc. They were supposed to be good investments. Take my advise, go online with statement in hand and look at what you've really got. Then move it into US treasuries. That's what Wall St is doing right now while they tell us everything will be ok. This isn't just "subprime." When the credit crisis hits commercial paper, it will be too late.

Personally, I put a big percent of my savings into Euros, NEK, and SEK back in 2006. Wasn't hard to see this coming.

US treasuries (unlike bank interest rates) decline each time the FED lowers rates. In the heady days of real estate over-valuation, the lower rates translated to re-fi madness. The economy was stimulated by the perceived excess value of home equity which was ultimately tapped out. Now when the FED lowers rates, the Treasury takes a hit without the corresponding borrowing which stimulated the economy. Now the FED hopes investors will settle for a 3.5% ten year T-security to finance 20 billion in sub-prime lender bail out money. Sure hope it works.

Sorry, make that 200 billion in lender bail out money.Oops.

As insane as it might sound, I'm seriously considering taking my rapidly devaluing US Dollars out of the bank, and purchasing either Euros or silver coins to hide in the old sock drawer.

I'd put it in bonds or treasuries, and just ride it out.

In about five years, cash and good credit will probably get you a nice little home for half the price.


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David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 225
At this date last year: 71
Total run in 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269


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