Sunday, September 20, 2009


I'm getting very tired of listening to the media "parrot" conservative economists' concerns about the size of the deficit.

Without "parroting" economists much smarter than myself, let me say that there is no avoiding considerable deficit spending in the short term without throwing this economy into a depression.
In the longer term, when UNEMPLOYMENT eases, we will need to dial back our government spending considerably or risk forcing draconian actions in monetary policy.
As for the money the government is currently spending, we need to make sure we're spending on programs that improve EMPLOYMENT. Progressive politicians should not be using the crisis as an excuse to fund "pet rocks"! (I don't consider Health Care a pet rock as it's wrapped up in the problem of unemployment... another post on that later).
Pet Rocks are bad because, if we don't pay attention, our debt will reach levels that will be very painful to service in the future. Yes, Yes, we can grow out of debt, but think about the demographics of our nation that differ from the patterns of the last 50 years.
We have a large "boomer" population that is thinking about downsizing and reducing spending as they move into retirement (or semi-retirement). How fast do you think the US economy can grow in the coming 25 years?
We need to solve the unemployment problem as our #1 priority. This is important folks!

Too Big To Fail

Finally, this topic is getting a little more attention in the press. The facts are clear. We basically have 4 major banks: Wells Fargo, Citi, BOA, and Chase. In another financial crisis, could any of these be allowed to fail without throwing the economy into the dark ages?

Is it me? Or, is this just nuts?
Shouldn't we work for a situation where we have many, many "athletic" banks that can service the market's needs? They could team up on specific large deals. We could regulate the number that could get involved an any one deal, and/or the number that could/should get involved in specific segments of the business and financial markets.
Whatever the outcome, a break up of these banks is required. Hell, we broke up "Ma Bell" for reasons less critical to the world economy .

Friday, June 12, 2009

Inflation Expectations = Reality for Interest Rates

I've been very busy and haven't posted for a while, but mortgage rates have me concerned.Yes, they are low based on historic averages, but they are not low enough NOW. 
As most people know, the price for debt in the T-bond market is determined by inflation expectations. If investors expect the value of the dollar to decrease they demand that Treasury bonds to yield more. Mortgage securities compete with 10 year T-bonds (since the maturity is about the same on average) hence the historic correlation between their rates.  Mortgage backed securities investors typically get a higher yield from MBS because you and I are more likely to default than the US Government (hopefully).  So, mortgage rates are almost always a little higher (more or less) than 10 bonds.
As far as I can tell, unfounded inflation expectations are what is driving up T-bond, and hence mortgage, rates.  However, as Paul Krugman explains, interest rates should not be rising because there is an excess in global savings looking for a place to go - money should be cheap. This should keep interest rates down.  What's going on?
The answer must be risk.  The risk of inflation (percieved or not) in the bond market, and the investment risk in the corporate market is keeping rates higher.  While expectations of growth are good on the one hand, higher mortgage rates could choke the economy.  The current 30-year fixed rate of about 5.6% is still pretty low, but it can't go much higher to quickly.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Roberts - NOT a wingnut! (non-economics)

Brad DeLong's favorite moniker for right-wingers with intellectual laziness is "wingnut".  Indeed, he challenges any intellectual foundations of modern conservatism.
However, in the case of Roberts, Professor DeLong is wrong.  John Roberts, in my reasoning, is very much a "constructionist" intellectually.  He definitely approaches from the right, but his arguments are well reasoned.  It's the formation of his underling assumptions, the basis of his constructionist arguments, that go against most liberal ideals.
As an instance, Roberts' famous statement: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race" is not that of a wingnut.  The point, most obvious to me, is that we can't choose when it is "ok" to treat people differently based on the color of thier skin.  It should never be "ok".  It certainly should not be ok for segregation, but then perfectly ok for integration.
When discrimination is observed and proved (statistically, or through evidence of direct action), it should be punished and repairations made as appropriate.
This is where I disagree with President Obama.  I don't not agree with his view that affirmative action is an appropriate reaction to the nations history of slavery and discrimination.  As ugly as that history is, affirmative action is inherently inconsistent for the reasons above.
It's time to put our ugly history behind us, and move forward blindly, in every way, to the color of our skin.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Council on Foreigh Relations can do better!

This article is a bait and switch! Benn Steil and his Council keep conflating the argument. The stimulus is not about the governemnt spending more on consumption goods in the private sector, as this cock-eye'd paragraph suggests
The Obama administration and Congress justify the vast new government borrowing and spending by asserting that it constitutes “fiscal stimulus.” Not only would each
dollar the government borrowed and spent produce a dollar of GDP that would
never have been created had the dollar been left in private hands (a fiscal
“multiplier” of 1.0), but it would stimulate a wave of new private sector
spending, investment and employment that would generate 30, 40, 50 cents or more
of additional new wealth per dollar (a multiplier above 1.0).
Instead the stimulus is about the government spending on public goods that the private sector will never provide. Paul Krugman makes the point! More to the point the private sector is simply not spending, so the govenment must ... temporarily.

One More Data Point on the (Lack of a) Recovery

Starting in September of 2007, my company saw it's sales fall off dramatically. It was a very visible indicator of a change in the economy. Mostly, at that time, our customers were pushing contract decisions into 2008. Much of that business never materialized in 2008 due to the unfolding crisis (businesses were "hunkering down") and the slowness in sales has continued with a flat trend. Q1 of 2009 was one exception with a small increase in sales. My business does not directly correlate with corrections in inventory, so I was hopful that this was a "green shoot" for our business. However, Q2 2009 is looking to drop back to the flat level of 2008.

Bottom line, I'm not seeing any signs of a recovery yet. It still looks very "L" shapped to me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Elizabeth Warren is on the right track

Niall Ferguson continues to hawk his free market snake oil. I think Elizabeth Warren is on the right regulatory track. The financial products market IS broken. We need more regulation on the front end. The productization and resulting demand for CDO's drove the market for sub-prime mortgages. Anyone who thinks consumers drove the sub-prime mortage market is delusional. The CDO market was PROFITABLE and the financial services industry couldn't get enough of them. If the right regulations were there for mortgage origination, the market would never have developed. Yes, that's Monday morning quarterbacking. And, yes, that exactly the kind of lesson we need to learn to provide the RIGHT reglulatory environment in the future.

California Proposition 1A

Vote No. We shouldn't be modifying the state constitution in response to the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Tax increases are the last thing California needs right now. We should "Cowboy Up" in classic Californina fashion and live with less services for a few years.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cramdown Inequality

So the Times reports that the mortgage cramdown legislation died.  This is such a blatant example of the stranglehold that that banking lobies have on our government.  Moreover, the cramdown double standard is staggering.  Isn't the conversion of bank debt to equity a cram down for the tax payer? Of course it is.  If it's fair for us it should be fair for them. 

So far, the housing market is showing signs of life.  However, if things turn for the worse again, we're going to need a way to clear the housinig market quickly and a key component of that will need to be restructuring of subprime mortgages.

Niall Ferguson is confused (at best)

On the same link below, Naill evidently complained that our Fiscal and Monetary policies are at odds.   He really needs to read Brad DeLong (who has very impressive analytical skills).  Read this post from Dr. DeLong.  

Bill Bradley has a great idea!

If Citi doesn't straighten up and begin to fly right, the government should just buy them!  Citi has a market cap of $17B but has sucked up $400B.  Seems like a no brainer to me.  Read more at Roubini's link

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I'm not getting a good feeling....

So, while Bernanke is telling us that the banks will be able to raise the additional capital they need, the WSJ says that a survey of BANKS says the worst of the downturn is yet to come!  So on the one hand, the banks argue with the Fed regarding their "grades" on the stress test.  On the other hand, they respond to a Fed survey that the worst is yet to come.  Has anyone in the Fed reconciled the results of the survey with the assumptions underlying the stress tests (i.e. another 22% decline in housing prices this year)?  I doubt it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Do These Staff at Berkeley Have Any Business Experience?

On my drive home today, I heard one of Robert Reich's collegues at Berkeley (unfortunately, I missed the name) reinforce his point: if the Government is bailing out GM & Chrysler, then they should find a way to do it while preserving jobs! As an example, the speaker tried to draw a parallel with the Edsel! Specifically, that Edsel downsized itself out of business. While this is false, Edsel was produced by Ford, it's also a very poor atttempt at an analogy. The Edsel was a crappy car, if GM and Chrysler start producing crappy products, they too should cease to exist.

Let's perform a little "thought experiment". The hypothesis of the experiment is that GM and Chrysler can restructure successfully without downsizing their work force. A precondition for this hypothesis to be true would be that the current labor force from ALL their brands could be reorganized to produce higher quality, more reliable cars with designs that are profitable and competitive in the marketplace. Currently, GM & Chrysler are "main lining" cash from the Government! How much additional subsidizing do you think the tax payers will need to provide before GM & Chrysler accomplish such a reorganization? Let me give you a hint: it would take years!

A more pragmatic approach would be to keep the very best of GM & Chrysler, the most talented labor and the most successful models, and build a profitable company from those fundementals. Does anyone really think Pontiac can be made profitable in anything like the near term? Let's build GM & Chrysler from solid bedrock, not the shifting sand it's sitting on today.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bank's Are Out Of Control

The banks should not be arguing with the Government over the stress tests.  By all accounts, the test scenarios were constructed with pretty rosey growth scenarios.  These banks are exhibiting way too much political power for my liking. 

The Banks Are Too Big So Break'em Up!

Wow, I hope President Obama is reading James Kwak and Zephyr Teachout.  Here is a great post on Baseline Scenario by James Kwak discussing how anti-trust laws might be applied to break up the big banks.  A great quote from Teachout is "Economies of scale [of large corporations] might work all too well when it comes to influencing government."
How would this argument be made against other corporations that aren't, at least at the moment, so threatening such as Walmart or IBM?  Some large corporations don't consider themselves as "US Companies" - this is not a new problem.  Compliance with any new anti-trust laws will need to be a precondition to doing business in the US market, regardless of loop-holes on "nationality" based on esoteric criteria.

Geithner And The Banks (again)

This article by Henry Bloget reinforces my first post below.  The banks need to be restructured.  "Too big to fail" should mean that these large banks should be too big to exist.  Again, Geithner is too cozy with the banks!

GM & Chrysler

The Auto Bailout Is Going Off Yhe Road:

Robert Reich makes a fair point.  If the public is footing the bill for the auto bailouts, why should we accept all the layoffs.  However, while fair, it misses the practicality of the situaiton.  Both GM's and Chrysler's costs are just too high.  The argument can be made that they are selling too many types, the wrong types, etc.  The reality is that jobs are going to have to be cut if GM and/or Chrysler are to be saved.  If a business doesn't have the revenue comming in, and it doesn't have a realistic plan to get cash comming in fast (a long term investor of some kind - not Uncle Sam), it has no choice but to cut its cost - for GM and Chrysler that means closing facilities, cutting expenses, and reductions in the work force.  Sorry Dr. Reich.

First Post

Here's my first post: I like Tim Geithner, but he's just too cozy with the banks. I realize he has a thin line to walk, but the banks are basically turning thier backs on him and his plans.  He needs to find ways to get tough.