Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ben Bernanke Confirmed to 2nd Term

Ben S. Bernanke won Senate approval for a second term as Federal Reserve chairman, as supporters who credited his actions to stem the financial crisis and recession overcame opponents saying he failed to prevent them.

The Senate voted 70 to 30 to confirm the 56-year-old former Princeton University professor, the most opposition since the chamber started confirming Fed chiefs in 1978.

4th Quarter GDP 5.7%

Restaurant Performance


Comparing Recessions


Larry Summers on the Economy

President Barack Obama's top economic adviser says the United States is experiencing an economic recovery on paper, but a "human recession" because of job losses.

Lawrence Summers, director of the White House National Economic Council, told a panel at the World Economic Forum Saturday that the latest figures showing strong U.S. economic growth suggest Obama's policies to prevent economic collapse are working.

But the level of unemployment in the U.S. is disturbing, with one in five men between the ages of 25-54 not working.

"What we see in the United States and some other economies is a statistical recovery and a human recession."


Bank Failures

183 in the current period.

Paul Volcker on Financial Reform

We have after all a system that broke down in the most serious crisis in 75 years. The cost has been enormous in terms of unemployment and lost production. The repercussions have been international.

Aggressive action by governments and central banks — really unprecedented in both magnitude and scope — has been necessary to revive and maintain market functions. Some of that support has continued to this day. Here in the United States as elsewhere, some of the largest and proudest financial institutions — including both investment and commercial banks — have been rescued or merged with the help of massive official funds. Those actions were taken out of well-justified concern that their outright failure would irreparably impair market functioning and further damage the real economy already in recession...

read the essay

Government Mortgage Support

To the extent that the crisis was fueled by a “bubble” in the housing market, the Federal Government’s concerted efforts to support home prices risk re-inflating that bubble in light of the Government’s effective takeover of the housing market through purchases and guarantees, either direct or implicit, of nearly all of the residential mortgage market.

Cartoon: Wall Street

Cartoon: Underwater Mortgages

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Keynes v Hayek

Budget Freeze (Sorta)

President Barack Obama intends to propose a three-year freeze in spending that accounts for one-sixth of the federal budget—a move meant to quell rising concern over the deficit but whose practical impact will be muted.
To attack the $1.4 trillion deficit, the White House will propose limits on discretionary spending unrelated to the military, veterans, homeland security and international affairs, according to senior administration officials. Also untouched are big entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

The freeze would affect $447 billion in spending, or 17% of the total federal budget, and would likely be overtaken by growth in the untouched areas of discretionary spending. It's designed to save $250 billion over the coming decade, compared with what would have been spent had this area been allowed to rise along with inflation.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Peter Schiff on Banking Reform

Once again, President Obama completely missed the mark on the causes of and solutions to the financial crisis. In his speech this morning, the President outlined a major initiative to increase regulation of banks. He claims the financial crisis was caused by reckless speculation by greedy bankers in search of quick profits. What he fails to acknowledge is that this behavior was the direct result of the cheap credit supplied by the Federal Reserve and the moral hazard supplied by government regulations and subsidies.

In his efforts to prevent the next financial crisis, the President is focused on the symptoms rather than the disease. Therefore, his attempt to prevent future financial crises is doomed to failure, as the misguided policies that led to the last crisis are preserved while even more damaging policies are added. Current Fed policy is more reckless than before; continued subsidies to the mortgage market and the bailouts for banks are creating even bigger moral hazards; and, as a result, the economy is even more leveraged and more vulnerable to rising interest rates than ever.

The only way to prevent another financial crisis would be to reverse the fiscal and monetary policies that lead to the last crisis, and which now threaten to bring on an ever larger one. However, this Administration seems to lack the brains or the guts to do it.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Saving Jobs

And the White House came right out and with a straight face said it had saved 2 million jobs. How do you like that? More than 7 million jobs have disappeared in the correction so far. But the total would have been more than 9 million, had it not been for the feds.

Let’s see, $700 billion worth of stimulus spending…hey, that’s $350,000 per job. But every dollar of deficit is actually ‘stimulus spending.’ At that rate, each job cost about $800,000. And what about all the Fed’s pump priming? What about all the loan guarantees and toxic asset purchases…and bailouts of the auto industry, AIG, the banks, mortgage holders, Fannie and Freddie…etc. etc? That’s all stimulating too, isn’t it? The total is said to be around $13 trillion, putting the cost at $65 million for each job saved.


The Housing Bust is Not Over


Monday, January 11, 2010

The Economic Debate

The domestic debate, which I and many other libertarians have addressed several times in the past, involves the question of what has caused America’s economic woes.

One side — the statist side — claims that the problem lies in freedom and free enterprise.
The other side — the libertarian side — contends that our nation’s economic woes lies in the failure of the welfare-state, regulated-economy way of life that America has embraced since at least the 1930s.

The different diagnoses lead to two completely different solutions.

The statists say that since the problem is rooted in too much economic freedom and not enough regulation, the solution is to establish more government control over economic activity.

The libertarians say that since the problem is rooted in socialism and interventionism, the solution is to dismantle the welfare-state and regulatory programs (and the taxation funding them) and let genuine economic liberty reign...

What is that motivates U.S. statists to blame America’s economic woes on “freedom and free enterprise” rather than on America’s 70-year experiment with welfare-statism and regulation.

read the entire essay

Saturday, January 9, 2010

December 2009 Unemployment: 10%

The Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate held steady at 10.0 percent in December and nonfarm payrolls declined by 85,000, much worse than analysts' estimates.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Recession is Over...Depression Continues

If you read the papers you’re likely to think that the recession is over…we’re in full recovery mode…with rising sales, rising production, and rising prices. This year is going to be a good one for stocks…and the US economy is coming back stronger than expected.

Is it true?

Well, it’s sort of true. The recession is over…the depression continues. As we keep saying, if you’re going to make a royal mess of things, you need taxpayer support. And with the unwitting and unwilling support of millions of American taxpayers, the federal authorities are busily making a bad situation worse.

read the essay

Economic Recovery???

We’re in a depression. It won’t end until it has done its work. And, with the feds trying to block it, prevent it, hold it off, deflect it and retard it, it could take years before this depression has finished its job.

Martin Feldstein, an expert on business cycles:

“The recession isn’t over.” In a Bloomberg Radio interview on December 17th.

David Rosenberg explains that 90% of the ‘growth’ in the third quarter came from stimulus measures. And that still only produced a 2.2% annualized GDP increase, far below the rates typical at the end of a recession.

“What is normal is that the first quarter of post-recession growth is that real GDP expands at a 7.3% annual rate; 2.2% is really nothing to get excited about – it’s actually quite worrisome...

The US is fast becoming the worst kind of banana republic…one with ice storms and no bananas.

read the entire essay

John Taylor v. Ben Bernanke

John Taylor, creator of the so-called Taylor Rule for guiding monetary policy, disputed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s argument that low interest rates didn’t cause the U.S. housing bubble.

“The evidence is overwhelming that those low interest rates were not only unusually low but they logically were a factor in the housing boom and therefore ultimately the bust,” Taylor, a Stanford University economist, said in an interview today in Atlanta...

Under former Chairman Alan Greenspan, the Fed lowered its benchmark rate to 1.75 percent from 6.5 percent in 2001 and cut it to 1 percent in June 2003. The central bank left the federal funds rate for overnight interbank lending at 1 percent for a year before raising it in quarter-point increments from 2004 to 2006.

“It had an effect on the housing boom and increased a lot of risk taking,” said Taylor, 63, who was attending the American Economic Association’s annual meeting.

Taylor echoed criticism of scholars including Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, who say the Fed helped inflate U.S. housing prices by keeping rates too low for too long. The collapse in housing prices led to the worst recession since the Great Depression and the loss of more than 7 million U.S. jobs.

read the article

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Keynesianism and the Lost Decade

The Austrian free-market economists use common sense principles. You cannot spend your way out of a recession. You cannot regulate the economy into oblivion and expect it to function. You cannot tax people and businesses to the point of near slavery and expect them to keep producing. You cannot create an abundance of money out of thin air without making all that paper worthless. The government cannot make up for rising unemployment by just hiring all the out-of-work people to be bureaucrats or send them unemployment checks forever. You cannot live beyond your means indefinitely. The economy must actually produce something others are willing to buy. Government growth is the opposite of all these things...

It is time to be honest about our problems.

The tragic reality is that this fatally flawed, but widely accepted, economic school of thought called Keynesianism has made our country more socialist than capitalist. While the private sector in the last ten years has experienced a roller coaster of booms and busts and ended up, nominally, about where we started in 2000, government has been steadily growing, because Keynesians told politicians they could get away with a tax, spend and inflate policy. They even encouraged it! But we cannot survive much longer if government is our only growth industry...

but if we continue to listen to Keynesians in the next decade instead of those who tell us the truth, zero will start to look pretty good. The end result of destroying the currency is the wiping out of the middle class. Preventing that from happening should be our top economic priority.

read the entire essay

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ben Bernanke's Speech

“When historical relationships are taken into account, it is difficult to ascribe the house price bubble either to monetary policy or to the broader macroeconomic environment.”
-Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, Federal Reserve

read the entire speech

Barry Ritholtz responds:

An honest assessment of the crisis’ causation (and timeline) would look something like the following:

1. Ultra low interest rates led to a scramble for yield by fund managers;

2. Not coincidentally, there was a massive push into subprime lending by unregulated NONBANKS who existed solely to sell these mortgages to securitizers;

3. Since they were writing mortgages for resale (and held them only briefly) these non-bank lenders collapsed their lending standards; this allowed them to write many more mortgages;

4. These poorly underwritten loans — essentially junk paper — was sold to Wall Street for securitization in huge numbers.

5. Massive ratings fraud of these securities by Fitch, Moody’s and S&P led to a rating of this junk as TripleAAA.

6. That investment grade rating of junk paper allowed those scrambling bond managers (see #1) to purchase higher yield paper that they would not otherwise have been able to.

7. Increased leverage of investment houses allowed a huge securitization manufacturing process; Some iBanks also purchased this paper in enormous numbers;

8. More leverage took place in the shadow derivatives market. That allowed firms like AIG to write $3 trillion in derivative exposure, much of it in mortgage and credit related areas.

9. Compensation packages in the financial sector were asymmetrical, where employees had huge upside but shareholders (and eventually taxpayers) had huge downside. This (logically) led to increasingly aggressive and risky activity.

10. Once home prices began to fall, all of the above fell apart.

It became readily clear to me once I dug into the data, legislative history, market activities, etc, that there was no one single factor that caused the collapse. Rather, an honest reading of events was that there were many, many failures occurring in a very specific order that contributed to what occurred.


The Lost Decade

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mark Thornton on the Economy

It would seem that under "normal" conditions that most of the economic crisis would have been over by now and that prospects for the future would be brightening. However, the world wide stimulus and bailouts have significantly slowed and distorted the normal correction process and may have set us up for the possibility of more stock market volatility and crashes, foreclosures, and unemployment in 2010.

If you take all the reporting about the economy and you delete everyone but those who actually study the real workings of the economy, rather than just statistics and government reports, the common themes are that government programs have failed to address the problems of the real economy and that things are actually getting worse, not better.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Who is to Blame fo the FY 2009 Deficit?

Some Republicans, for instance, complain that Obama tripled the budget deficit in his first year. This assertion is understandable, since the deficit jumped from about $450 billion in 2008 to $1.4 trillion in 2009. As this chart illustrates, with the Bush years in green, it appears as if Obama's policies have led to an explosion of debt. But there is one rather important detail that makes a big difference. The chart is based on the assumption that the current administration should be blamed for the 2009 fiscal year.

While this might make sense to a casual observer, it is largely untrue. The 2009 fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2008, nearly four months before Obama took office. The budget for the entire fiscal year was largely set in place while President Bush was in the White House.

So if we update the chart to show the Bush fiscal years in green, we can see that Obama is mostly right in claiming that he inherited a mess.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Stock Market: Good Year, Bad Decade

For the year:

Dow 18%
S&P500 23.5%
Nasdaq Comp 44%

For the Decade:

Dow -8.34%
S&P500 -0.9%
Nasdaq Comp -44.2%

“It’s been a decade of delusion,” said Richard Tedlow, professor of business administration of Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “In many ways, we’re worse off than the 1930s, we’ve created problems of moral hazard and we’re faced with an astounding public debt.”

source and source and source

Cartoon: Mission Accomplished