Posted tagged ‘recession’

Social Security crunch coming fast

August 18, 2009

From MSN Money (emphasis added):

house_ablaze

By Bill Fleckenstein

The debate over health care has captured everyone’s attention, but it appears the next big government program that needs to be addressed will be Social Security. That’s the focus of the July 30 article “The next great bailout: Social Security” by Allan Sloan, Fortune’s senior editor at large.

Those who’ve been paying attention have long known there is no money in the Social Security Trust Fund — it’s all been spent. Thus, former Vice President Al Gore’s famous assessment that Social Security receipts should be placed in a “lockbox” was actually correct.  

Given that so few people really understand the Ponzi nature of the current Social Security financing scheme — created in 1983 by a commission chaired by none other than the world’s greatest serial blower of bubbles, Alan Greenspan — I decided to reprise Sloan’s article. (The Social Security problem is especially important because it likely will put additional pressure on the dollar and on bonds, and exacerbate the funding crisis down the road.)

The story begins: “In Washington these days, the only topics of discussion seem to be how many trillions to throw at health care and the recession, and whom on Wall Street to pillory next. But watch out. Lurking just below the surface is a bailout candidate that may soon emerge like the great white shark in ‘Jaws‘: Social Security.

Perhaps as early as this year, Social Security, at $680 billion the nation’s biggest social program, will be transformed from an operation that’s helped finance the rest of the government for 25 years into a cash drain that will need money from the Treasury. In other words, a bailout.

Continue reading…

US Deficit Over $1 Trillion for the First Time Ever

July 13, 2009

debt_star1

AP WASHINGTON – Nine months into the fiscal year, the federal deficit has topped $1 trillion for the first time.

The imbalance is intensifying fears about higher interest rates and inflation, and already pressuring the value of the dollar. There’s also concern about trying to reverse the deficit — by reducing government spending or raising taxes — in the midst of a harsh recession.

The Treasury Department said Monday that the deficit in June totaled $94.3 billion, pushing the total since the budget year started in October to nearly $1.1 trillion.

The deficit has been propelled by the huge sum the government has spent to combat the recession and financial crisis, combined with a sharp decline in tax revenues. Paying for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also is a major factor.

The country’s soaring deficits are making Chinese and other foreign buyers of U.S. debt nervous, which could make them reluctant lenders down the road. It could force the Treasury Department to pay higher interest rates to make U.S. debt attractive longer-term.

“These are mind boggling numbers,” said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at the Smith School of Business at California State University. “Our foreign investors from China and elsewhere are starting to have concerns about not only the value of the dollar but how safe their investments will be in the long run.”

Government spending is on the rise to address the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and an unemployment rate that has climbed to 9.5 percent.

Congress already approved a $700 billion financial bailout and a $787 billion economic stimulus package to try and jump-start a recovery, and there is growing talk among some Obama administration officials that a second round of stimulus may be necessary.

This has many Republicans and deficit hawks worried that the U.S. could be setting itself up for more financial pain down the road if interest rates and inflation surge. They also are raising alarms about additional spending the administration is proposing, including its plan to reform health care.

President Barack Obama and other administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, have said the U.S. is committed to bringing down the deficits once the country has emerged from the current recession and financial crisis.

As if a deficit of more than $1 Trillion wasn’t bad enough, “Debt Day” (the point in the fiscal year when government spending exceeds revenue) was less than three months ago. Zero to -1 Trillion in less than three months.

How much deeper in debt can we go? A lot deeper if the federal government insists on going through with Cap & Trade, Universal Health Care, and maybe – just maybe – another round of stimulus.

Shhh – you can almost hear the Chinese from here…Spend, baby, spend!

Economic Report Card: Fail, Fail, Fail, Fail

June 5, 2009

Fail, Fail, Fail, Fail
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

How about a bit of reality? Not the ridiculous promises from Washington, the absurd talk of “green shoots” while unemployment soars and investment falls, the silly guarantees that GM has a bright future even as its stock price falls to less than the price of a Snickers bar, the nonsense about how if we spend more and inflate more, recovery will come tomorrow morning.

The war on recession is a flop. Fail, fail, fail.

The full-scale war on recession began in January 2008. Unemployment was climbing and house prices were falling, and George Bush, whose entire persona was the war mode since 2001, decided he wouldn’t tolerate declining economic conditions.

That’s when the Fed started pushing down interest rates to ridiculous lows and started gunning the money supply as much as possible. Bush put on his solemn/determined face and started talking to the American people about how he was going to destroy this recession monster in its crib.

Now, there are things politicians can do in the face of trends they don’t like. If kids aren’t learning to read, bureaucrats can cobble together carrots and sticks and gin up the scores a bit for a while. They can have their hirelings shoot consumers of illegal substances and bomb foreigners who don’t love America. They can pass out goodies to friends and take them away from enemies. From time to time, they can experience moderate success in these actions.

But the economy? Now, here is a force too big even for the biggest government in the history of the world, which is the U.S. government. That’s because economic trends are embedded in the structure of the material world and operate according to laws akin to gravity. They are social laws, if you will, features of the world that operate in all times and all places, and they are generated by the implacable fact of scarcity and the need for a system of production and allocation.

In other words, economic trends are finally beyond the control of the political class. This is the great lesson that economics has been teaching for some 700 years, generation after generation.

As Bastiat wrote, economic laws “act on the same principle whether we take the case of a numerous agglomeration of men or of only two individuals, or even of a single individual condemned by circumstances to live in a state of isolation.”

They are unavoidable features of the world, ones which the political class is forever attempting to override. The economy had been on a false foundation for some years, and the housing sector in particular had become wildly overbuilt and rested on bad debt. What can politicians do about this? Absolutely nothing. Economic foundations are built by private investment. Government has no resources of its own to build a foundation. It can only rob people of their property and thereby divert resources from where they belong to where they ought not to be.

When prices of houses started falling, we began to see only the most conspicuous sign of the rot underneath it all. But the political class blamed the symptom instead of the disease, and started trying to prop up prices, which is probably the stupidest thing these birds could ever attempt. It is utterly futile to attempt to change the direction of prices. It is about as successful as attempting to replace the water in one ocean with another or rearranging the order of the planets. It is beyond their capacity.

Bastiat said of the attempts of his time: “Modern reformers! when I see you desiring to replace this admirable natural order by an arrangement of your own invention, there are two things (although they are in reality one and the same) that confound me – namely, your want of faith in Providence, and your faith in yourselves – your ignorance, and your presumption.”

It’s not just that the attempt to undo economic law doesn’t work. It ends up mucking up the system even more, and prolonging the suffering. That is precisely what has happened. There can be no question that we would have been out of this recession by now had the politicians not intervened. But an election was coming and Bush tried to rig the system. Not only that, but after seven years of ridiculous marauding around like King of the Universe, he was flush with power and arrogance.

Bush attempted to reverse the economic river by waging a war on recession, about which I was writing back in March 2008: “All this nonsense about digging ourselves out of recession through government intervention began with the New Deal. But here is the amazing fact: not once has this strategy worked.”

By the fall and winter, it became clear that the War on Recession was not working and the economy was sinking further. Rather than give up, Bush pushed so hard that he managed to throw us all in the arms of a socialist who knows nothing about economics and has surrounded himself with big shots who affirm him in his ignorance – people like Paul Krugman, who are wedded to antique mythologies about the glories of government power.

And so we live through it again. We see the fools trying this and that with our lives and liberty, promising glorious results around the corner. Well, by now, we’ve been around the corner, the next one and the next one, and it gets worse with each turn. These people are driving us right into the abyss, and let’s be clear that this is not the fault of private investors or savers or foreigners or stock jobbers. It is the fault of the managers of this recession: the government, whoever is or has been in charge, and the Fed that operates on government authority.

They are strangling free enterprise just as surely as a mugger chokes his victim, and with it the capacity for the American worker and producer to do the hard work of restoring prosperity.

We are a generation that proudly shows off its accomplishments in all areas of science, and we preen about our love of facts and our detachment from mythology. Yet our culture is imbued with the most ridiculous faith in government to turn stones into bread, to accomplish miracles with a printing press before our very eyes. This is the age of folly.

Source link.

April Economic Picture

May 4, 2009

Corporate Earnings

First quarter corporate earnings statements were released throughout April. Here are the ones I caught as they were announced:

Losses

3M 1st-quarter profit slips 48%
Altria Group 1Q profit drops, but beats view
AMD posts deeper loss, shares fall
AmEx 1Q profit drops 63 percent
AT&T earnings fall
Boeing posts 50 pct decline in 1Q profit
CAT reports first loss since ’92, cuts forecast
Charles Schwab 1Q earnings fall 29 percent
Chevron 1Q profit falls 64 pct
Coca-Cola 1st-quarter profit falls
ConocoPhillips says profit down 80 percent
Delta posts $794 million 1Q loss
Dow Chemical 1Q profit drops 97 percent
DuPont 1Q profit falls, cuts outlook
EBay 1st-qtr profit, sales fall on weak economy
Exxon profit sinks on slumping oil demand
Gannett 1Q profit tumbles as ad declines deepen
GE Q1 earns fall 36 pct, hurt by finance
Kodak posts wider 1Q loss, suspends dividend
MasterCard 1Q profit falls 18 pct
Mattel posts wider loss in 1st quarter
Merck sees 57 percent drop in first-quarter profit
Morgan Stanley loses $578M in 1st quarter
New York Times posts quarterly loss
Nokia profit plunges 90 percent in Q1
Pfizer profit dips 2 percent, sales fall much more
Procter & Gamble profit falls as consumers cut back
Shell 1Q profit down 62 percent
Sony Ericsson posts loss, to cut 2,000 jobs
Southwest Airlines posts 1Q loss
Time-Warner post 1Q loss
Toshiba expects bigger loss, contract job cuts
UPS 1Q profit plunges more than 55 pct
US Bancorp’s 1Q profit falls, but beats estimates
Whirlpool 1Q profit drops on weakening demand
Yahoo Posts 78% Profit Drop, Cuts Jobs

Gains

Amazon 1Q profit, revenue jump on strong sales
Bank Of America Posts $4.2 Billion Profit
Citi Posts A Profit
Goldman $1.66B 1Q earns beat Wall Street estimates

Google Solid Q1
Humana 1Q profit more than doubles
Microsoft Earnings Weak, But No Disaster
Netflix post solid Q1 sales
Pre-Easter bounce helps lift Hershey 1Q profit
Verizon 1st-qtr profit, revenue beat expectations
Wells Fargo Announces Strong Earnings

Don’t get too excited about those bank profits, though. Bank earnings are actually very weak so far. It’s all just accounting magic, mostly due to the FASB suspension of the mark-to-market rule. Wells Fargo made billions on the mark-to-market change. Goldman’s big numbers are also mostly meaningless.

But don’t take it from me. Here’s former bank regulator and current University of Missouri – Kansas City economics professor William Black:

Banking

Since William Black talked about the stress tests in the above video, let’s start with that topic.

As posted previously, the stress tests are asinine for a number of reasons, not the least being that they are designed by the same geniuses who did not see the housing bubble burst coming. Meaningless as they are, however, they did generate a lot of news in April.

Early in the month we were told that all 19 of the nation’s largest banks passed the stress test. But we couldn’t be certain of that because the Fed ordered all the banks to keep silent about their results.

By the end of April there was a leak. The whisper was that Citi and Bank of America actually failed the stress test and both were being told to raise more capital.

The next day, word was that six banks failed the stress test and now need to raise funds. And now, as of today, Bloomberg is reporting that 14 of the 19 stress tested banks are in trouble.

But there’s nothing to worry about – if you’re a bankster, that is.

The Fed says the 19 companies that hold one-half of the loans in the U.S. banking system won’t be allowed to fail — even if they fared poorly on the stress tests.

Continue reading

004-0123231011-money_burningA source at Treasury said no banks will close based on stress test results. None, even though Citi needs $10 billion more bailout dollars and Bank of America needs $70 billion more.

After several delays, stress test results will be released Thursday, May 7.

 

Failed Banks

Eight banks were added to the FDIC failed bank list in April, bringing the current total for this year to 29 and surpassing the total of 25 for all of 2008. Also in 2008, only 2 banks had failed by April. This means that bank failures are up more than 1000% this year.

sheilabair-sad_tbi-0_74x0_74With so many banks already seized by the FDIC this year, some are wondering, who’s going to bail out the FDIC?

 

Credit Card Crisis

It was only a matter of time before credit card defaults and other concerns bubbled up to the top of the news.

The Greatest Credit Card Debt Plunge Ever

Consumer credit plunged far faster than expected in February, with Americans taking on far less credit card debt.  Credit card debt fell at an annual rate of $7.8 billion, or 9.7 percent. That is the sharpest drop in dollar terms ever (although the records only go back to 1968.) It’s the  steepest percentage fall since 1978.

Continue reading

Capital One says their current credit card default rate is 8.4% and it is expected to “surge past 10%”.

It should be no surprise that millions of unemployed people are finding it difficult to make their credit card payments. That’s just common sense. And yet, Citibank said higher unemployment won’t lead to credit card losses.

TARP

What was the idea behind the TARP program again? To help banks get back to lending money? So much for that plan. The banks are now lending even less than when the TARP was first launched.

The entire TARP program is becoming very unpopular with the very banks it was supposedly designed to help. Some banks that took (or were forced to take) TARP funds want to pay it back in order to get out from under the government’s thumb. Although Treasury Secretary Geithner doesn’t want the banks to repay TARP, he may not have any legal means to refuse them.

You can’t blame the banks that are healthy enough on their own for wanting to be left alone. Citi has had to go to Treasury to ask permission to pay retention bonuses. The discussion is ongoing.

It’s all about control.

Treasury

geithner3Treasury reported in April that it still has about $110 billion of the original $700 billion bailout fund. Expect that to be used up by the banks that need more capital based on their stress test results.

If the TARP bailout money is almost gone, why is Geithner refusing to let banks pay back the TARP funds they got? Weren’t the taxpayers supposed to be repaid as soon as the banks could manage it?

PPIP

The long-awaited Geithner plan for dealing with legacy securities toxic assets is doing, well, nothing really. Potential investors have shied away, with good reasons. So the deadline for investment applications was extended and the requirements for applicants were loosened.

As of April 29, 2009, Treasury is proud to announce over 100 applications to participate have been received. Wow.

Expanding TARP?

Early in April, Treasury announced it may expand TARP to bail out life insurance companies. It’s a plan scam that helps only bondholders, period.

Fraud?

Say it ain’t so! Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the TARP, has already launched twenty investigations into possible securities fraud, tax violations, insider trading and other crimes related to the bailout funds.

In the 250-page report Barofsky submitted to Congress he also expressed serious concerns about Treasury’s latest bailout propgram, the PPIP. As Reuter’s blogger Felix Salmon observed, “not only is Barofsky worried about PPIP participants gaming the system, he’s also worried that the whole thing could easily become a front for money launderers”.

Federal Government

000-0404012252Q1 GDP -6.1%.

Budget

Congress passed the $3.5 trillion budget proposed by President Obama, “a level of spending over 10% more than the final year of the Bush administration… [with] almost all of Obama’s wish lists intact.”

President Obama has also asked Congress for a supplemental spending package of $83.4 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With the largest budget in history passed and two ongoing wars to fund, we learned that the federal budget deficit grew to a record $956.8 billion while federal tax receipts are off 28%.

Revenue

The federal government ran out of cash on Sunday, April 26th, making this the earliest “debt day” ever. With no cash on hand and tax revenue shrinking at an alarming rate, federal borrowing quadrupled.

But the President wants you to know he’s serious about cutting the deficit and spending responsibly. That’s why he ordered his Cabinet to cut $100 million from their combined budgets in the next 90 days. Translated into numbers more like the ones you and I deal with on a daily basis, that’s like cutting “a latte or two out of your annual budget“.

As my dear granny would have said, “oh boy, could you spare it?”

Bailouts

The Congressional Budget Office raised its estimate of what the bailouts will cost taxpayers. As of April 4, the new estimate is $356 billion ($167 billion more than earlier estimates).

Surprise

“And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.” – Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois

Retail and Commercial Real Estate

3ff5d97338b1d48cMarch retail sales overall fell 1.8 percent. Excluding Wal-Mart, sales fell 5 percent. And Wal-Mart itself saw less of an increase than expected at 1.4 percent in March.

“Strip malls, neighborhood centers and regional malls are losing stores at the fastest pace in at least a decade” and “ghost malls are scaring suburbs“. Commercial real estate defaults quintupled.

The second largest US mall owner, General Growth, declared bankruptcy in April.

On a somwhat related note, office vacancies rose to 12.5 percent in Q1 – the highest they’ve been in three years.

US Auto Industry

Auto sales fell to near 30-year lows in April.

Chrysler

Chrysler

Chrysler made the President happy when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the end of April. This means Chrysler will get another $8 billion of taxpayer money to help them “restructure”.

But not everyone is happy with the bankruptcy terms Chrysler proposed.  A group of non-TARP senior hedge fund creditors are fighting to get their clients the settlement they are legally due in a bankruptcy situation. These creditors did not make the President happy.

gm_03181GM

GM will cut 1600 more jobs, force more than 1000 dealerships to close and shut down its plants for most of the summer in order to qualify for more government aid. And indeed, GM received another $2 billion from the Treasury to keep it going another month or so.

GM’s CFO announced that the company will not be making its June 1st debt payment of $1 billion. Instead, they will have “an open debt-for-equity exchange offer for bondholders on June 1”.

Bankruptcy is still a possibility for GM. Preparations are being made for this contingency, with a taxpayer cost $70 billion.

Yet another possibility for GM is a proprosal it made to Treasury that would give the UAW 39% of the company, the federal government 51% and bondholders 10%. Treasury is still mulling the idea over but my bet is that this is how it will go down. A deal that gives the government and a major labor union ownership of the company will be much to enticing for Geithner and Obama to pass up.

fordFord

Meanwhile, Ford is quietly making due without government money, capturing 16 percent of a severly limited car market in March, thanks primarily to its hybrid vehicle, Fusion.

So while Ford is still losing money as most automakers are in this economy, Ford’s stock shares were up in April.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Ford. If they can survive this crisis without taking any taxpayer money they will be heroes in my book.

Housing and Personal Finance

Housing

house_ablazeForeclosures were up 24% in Q1. More than 10% of recent FHA loans are delinquent. Even prime mortgage losses are exceeding expectations, at least for JP Morgan.

Housing prices continue to decline according to the Case Shiller Home Price Release for March 2009. Take a look at Mish’s excellent analysis here.

The government’s mortgage modification program seems to be doing little or nothing which should be no surprise to anyone who looked at the details of that program.

Personal Finances

Consumer Prices Suffer First Annual Decline Since 1955, yet consumer spending still fell for the first time in three months, down 0.2%. Americans are re-learning thrift, it seems.

Bankruptcies are still rising, both business and individual. 130, 831 bankruptcy cases were filed in March 2009 – an increase of 46% over March 2008 and an 81% increase over March 2007.

And somehow, in spite of all the bad news surrounding them, consumer confidence rose in April to its highest level since last November. Huh?? My guess is that the average consumer has been watching the Dow and taking it as an indication of the economy’s general health. That and Bernanke’s “green shoots” along with Barack Obama’s “glimmers of hope”.

Having watched the stock market and other economic news much more closely over the past six months than ever before in my life, I can tell you that gauging the nation’s economic health by the stock market is stupid. Wall Street is completely disconnected from reality.

Unemployment

souplineUnemployment rose again in all US metro areas in March. Continued claims remain at an all-time record, 6.27 million.

The government’s official unemployment rate is now at 8.5% but in reality it is now 15.6%.

Unemployment figures combined with housing reports points to an extended period of recession still ahead of us.

Last Words

Trying to figure out what’s happening in the economy and what is ahead is a difficult proposition, perhaps even impossible. A New York Times reporter went to a number of conferences and talks and wrote about the conflicting information he heard – all based on the same data.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has blunt criticism of the Obama administration’s economic programs so far. Read the eye-opening Bloomberg interview here.

And finally, just to keep things real, have a look at “The Top 10 Signs You are Living in a Banana Republic“.

March Economic Picture

April 4, 2009

Let’s start with the good (?) news.

Stock Market

The stock market rallied at the end of March. The Dow had its worst January ever and worst February since the Depression, then, in March, turned in its best month in six years.

On March 23, 2009, Joe Weisenthal at Clusterstock wrote:

On the day when Geithner first announced the non-details of his bank plan, the stock market began a hard tumble.

Today, as the government confirms that taxpayer money will be used to replenish bank coffers and help hedge funds make huge profits, stocks are soaring.

Continue reading…

Naturally, some “experts” like Doug Kass and Jim Cramer were quick to call the bottom.  But let’s see where we really are.

four-bears-large1

Judging by dshort.com‘s “Four Bad Bears” chart, it looks like the bottom callers are being a bit hasty. They just may end up on a modern version of the “1927 – 1933 Chart of Pompous Prognosticators“, especially considering that Nouriel Roubini is still predicting an L-shaped recovery.

Banking

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reported in March that banks lost $9.2 billion in derivatives trading losses in the 4th quarter.

Citigroup saw its shares drop below $1.00 and hover there for much of March.

Five banks were added to the FDIC ‘s failed bank list.

But good news (for banksters anyway) came from the Financial Accounting Standards Board when it relaxed the “mark to market” rule for bank assets on April 2. With banks no longer required to value assets based on reality, April at least will probably be a good month for banks.

Retail

retailyoyfeb2009

February Retail Sales Chart from Calculated Risk

Retailers reported continued sales declines in February, though not quite as steep as those seen in January.

Call me a doom-and-gloomer, but I suspect most sales increases seen in February and perhaps March (we should see those numbers soon) are due primarily to people getting – and spending – tax refunds. Let’s wait and see what the reports look like later this spring before we get too optimistic.

Wal-Mart, on the other hand, showed February growth of approximately 5% (about twice what was expected). Wal-Mart is doing so well, that on March 19, it announced $2 billion in bonuses to be given to hourly employees:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc is awarding approximately $2 billion to its U.S. hourly employees through financial incentives, including handing out $933.6 million in bonuses on Thursday, after the world’s largest retailer gained market share amid a recession.

In a memo distributed to Wal-Mart employees and obtained by Reuters, Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke said the retailer is awarding roughly $2 billion to U.S. hourly employees, which includes $933.6 million in bonuses, $788.8 million in profit sharing and 401(k) contributions, millions of dollars in merchandise discounts, and contributions to its employee stock purchase plan.

Continue reading…

And now the not so good news.

Unemployment

Unemployment Claims Chart from Calculated Risk

Unemployment Claims Chart from Calculated Risk

697,000 jobs were cut in February and 742,000 were cut in March. The total number of people claiming unemployment benefits is currently about 5.56 million – the highest number since May 1983.

Broader measures showed the February unemployment rate at 14.8%, or 1 out of 7 Americans unemployed. This figure includes the “discouraged” job seekers and those working part-time jobs who want full-time work.

Unemployment rates rose in all US metro areas in February, with 7 states reporting rates at or above 10%.

Recent photo taken in San Diego. Click for source.

Recent photo taken in San Diego. Click for source.

I keep hearing that unemployment is a “lagging indicator” of the overall economy. Maybe I didn’t get enough government sponsored education, but it seems to me that a real recovery can’t happen until people are working again, earning money they can then spend. When the unemployment rate starts dropping instead of increasing by such huge amounts every month, that is when I’ll start to believe the recovery has begun.

Housing and Personal Finance

With so many unemployed, you know there is nothing good happening in housing and personal finance.

Case Shiller House Prices for January Chart from Calculated Risk

Case Shiller House Prices for January Chart from Calculated Risk

Home prices are still falling.  “The national peak-to-trough decline is now 27%, and it will likely exceed 40% before we hit bottom.  If there’s any good news here, it’s that the rate of decline appears to be stabilizing.

While this is certainly bad news for individual homeowners, it’s actually good news for the economy in general. It is evidence that in spite of all the doomed efforts being made by the government and the Fed to reinflate the bubble, the market is doing its job and the necessary correction is proceeding quite well.

The January drop in home prices is record setting, however, and it does contribute to severe financial problems for individuals. A study released early in March showed one in five US mortgages to be underwater.

Another report said 12% of all mortgages (one in nine) are now delinquent or in some stage of foreclosure. In fact, the rate of foreclosures in February rose 30% over the previous year.

On March 31, an FHA spokesman said FHA loans were “seriously delinquent” at the end of February.

Not surprisingly, foreclosures are especially rising in California.

February New Home Sales Chart from Calculated Risk

February New Home Sales Chart from Calculated Risk

The February new home sales report showed a 4.7% increase, leading many to believe the bottom was in for housing. Not likely, though, since even with the increase the numbers are the lowest sales for February since the Census Bureau started tracking sales in 1963.

Existing home sales also increased slightly in February, though nearly half of those sales were buyers taking advantage of extreme savings on forclosed properties. Many of these buyers, apparently, are foreign investors.

According to a Labor Department report, consumer prices rose 0.4% in February.

The Administrative Office of the US Courts reported bankruptcy filing were up 31% in 2008.

Early in March it was reported that food stamp enrollment had climbed to a record 31.8 million people.

All of which leads to the unsurprising news that consumer confidence is still at nearly record lows and personal savings increased to 5%.

US Auto Industry

The US Auto Industry was all over the headlines again in late March, beginning with a $5 billion bailout for auto suppliers and reports of steep drops in auto sales – 37% in March.

But the biggest headlines appeared when the Obama administration, operating in a weird double standard, forced GM CEO Rick Wagoner to step down – a move that sent GM stocks freefalling to a 74-year low.

GM’s new CEO, Fritz Henderson (former head of GMAC mortgage finance), is apparently more open to the possibility of bankruptcy than Wagoner was.

The Obama administration now plans to take a key role in “reshaping” GM’s board of directors, though Obama also said he has “no intention” of running GM. Good thing, too, since the administration’s  “plan” for the auto industry is pretty lightweight.

A great many comments posted to online articles about the big news at GM boiled down to “if they’re taking government money, the government can do whatever it wants”. Right or wrong, such thinking only highlights the moral hazard of government bailouts of private industry in the first place.

Shortly after the government’s de facto takeover of GM, Ford announced that it would cover car payments for buyers who lose their jobs. GM quickly followed with a similar program.

The Obama administration also announced that the government will guarantee all GM car warrantees (but remember, they’re not running the company). Auto shops run by the DMV maybe? Sounds great!

One last related bit of auto news caught my attention in March. It seems that an increasing number of desperate people, unable to continue making their auto loan payments, are instead setting their vehicles on fire to collect the insurance money.

Federal Government Spending

Early in March, President Obama signed the pork-laden $410 billion government spending bill.

The US Deficit in Global Perspective

The US Deficit in Global Perspective

Also early in March, the national debt hit a record $11 trillion, or about $36,000 for every man, woman and child in America. In the fastest increase of debt in American history, in Barack Obama’s first 50 days as president the Congress voted to spend $1.2 trillion, or “$1 billion an hour”, according to Senator Mitch McConnell.

 

 

In an exclusive interview with the NY Times, Mr. Obama floated the idea of another $750 billion to be given to banks, even though the amount already spent on “financial rescue” is nearly equal to GDP – in other words, the same amount as the value of everything the US produced last year.

All of this was enough to make China worry that the US might not be able to repay its debts. Of course, our dear leader reassured the Chinese that we’re still good for it (even if it means we have to inflate our currency to the moon and back).

Big news was also made in March by AIG and its $218 million executive bonus payments. Taxpayers were outraged (sort of) and Congress moved quickly to pass a 90% tax on “TARP bonuses”.

Signing a retroactive tax would have been a political disaster for the Obama administration, plagued with questions of the “who knew what and when did they know it” variety. Luckily for Obama, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo managed to get the AIG executives to return the money before the 90% tax bill landed on his desk. Instead, the administration will look to limit pay at all businesses receiving government money.

If government is going to dictate employee pay, they need to start with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Freddie asked for another $30.8 billion after losing over $50 billion in 2008. Freddie’s $24 billion Q4 loss breaks down to $3000 per second lost yet Fannie and Freddie plan to pay more than $210 million in employee retention bonuses over the coming year.

And we want to retain these employees, why?

The “Newspaper Revitalization Act” was introduced in the Senate during the last week of March. The mainstream media bailout would rewrite tax law to allow newspapers to operate as tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, just as long as they don’t make official endorsements of political candidates. Critics say such a bailout would lead to government control of the news.

That would be different, how?

Also, the US Postal Service is going broke (again).

President Obama’s proposed budget was the main topic of a prime-time news conference in March. Fact checking afterwards showed the enormity of this president’s doublespeak capabilities.

Senator Judd Gregg, who turned down the nomination for Commerce Secretary, said “we’ll go bankrupt under Obama’s budget“. Sounds about right.

Obama Deficit in Pictures

Obama Deficit in Pictures

 

The Federal Reserve

With demand for US Treasurys declining, the Fed launched a “bold” plan to dump another $1 trillion into the US economy.

The Financial Times Alphaville blog posted some early reactions including one from Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism calling the Fed’s move “shock and awe” and comparing it to when that phrase was used at the start of the Iraq war.

Following the Fed’s “shock and awe” announcement, Treasurys continued to decline and the dollar fell dramatically against other currencies. It seems that more than a few analysts are certain the Fed’s plan has killed the dollar.

China and Russia are also skeptical, it seems. They are calling ever more loudly for a new reserve currency.

US Treasury

Tim “Tax Cheat” – “Markets won’t solve the crisis” Geithner (finally) announced his plan to resolve make taxpayers pay for banks’ toxic assets.

For a very limited amount of risk, private investors will “partner” with taxpayers to pay over-market-value for banks’ toxic assets, thus re-creating solvency for the banks. If it later turns out the assets really weren’t worth much, the private investors loses only their small (7%) investment in the deal. The taxpayers will be left holding the bag for the rest.

Even if the private investors make money on any of the deals, the taxpayers are still likely to get fleeced.

Here’s a more detailed explanation: Message from Cumberland Advisors.

Even though the Treasury said they don’t know if this plan will work, the stock market was overjoyed with it, closing up nearly 4% and kicking off the recent rally.

Geithner’s plan has been widely criticized by some heavy economic hitters including James Galbraith, Nassim  Taleb, and Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz.

And isn’t this plan really just a slightly modified version of the original Paulson-Bernanke plan from September – the one Paulson ended up scrapping, saying it couldn’t possibly work? Yes, actually, that’s just what it is.

Oh, by the way, the NewSpeak term for toxic assets is now “legacy assets“. After all, the only reason nobody wants these things is because we keep calling them “toxic”, right? It has nothing to do with the fact that they are piles of paper representing nearly worthless, defaulted loans. Right?

Last Words

The Quiet Coup by Simon Johnson in The Atlantic Magazine is highly recommended. Synopsis:

“The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming, says a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government—a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises. If the IMF’s staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression, we’re running out of time.”

And finally, if you have not yet seen Daniel Hannan’s heroic March 26, 2009 speech in the EU in which he calls British PM Gordon Brown (to his face) “the devalued Prime Minister of a devalued government”, click below and enjoy.

Mr. Hannan’s words could should be repeated to the governments and central bankers of every nation.

Peter Schiff Goes Viral

January 26, 2009
Nice article about Peter Schiff in Fortune magazine:

Peter Schiff: Oh, he saw it coming

(Fortune Magazine) — A couple of years ago, when Peter Schiff first began appearing regularly on TV to warn of an impending real estate collapse that would crash the U.S. economy and stock market, he was surprised and disappointed to find that he was rarely, if ever, approached by strangers in restaurants.

“I’d walk down the streets of New York and figure, ‘Gee, you know, I’m on CNBC, CNN,'” says the brash 45-year-old president of brokerage Euro Pacific Capital. “But nobody ever recognized me.”

Those days, as Schiff will triumphantly tell you, are over. Perhaps no market soothsayer has had his profile raised higher over the past six months. As one of the few talking heads who loudly, relentlessly, and more or less accurately sounded the alarm about the mortgage bubble and its consequences – in the process becoming the latest bearish commentator to earn the moniker “Dr. Doom” – Schiff has suddenly emerged as a cult hero and something of a minor celebrity.

Recently he’s even gone viral. One ten-minute video on YouTube that’s packed with some of his “greatest hits” – with, for instance, clips of Schiff predicting a brutal recession and massive credit crunch while prominent debate partners, such as writer and actor Ben Stein and former Reagan economic advisor Art Laffer, make what now sound like laughably optimistic counterarguments – has been viewed just over a million times at last count.

Read the rest: http://money.cnn.com/2009/01/20/maga…tune/index.htm

Over a million views on the video mentioned is fantastic news. I really hope people are starting to actually pay attention and trying to understand what is going on with this economy. And if they’re learning from Peter Schiff, they’ll be so much better off – and so will the rest of us who have known for quite some time that he was right all along.

There’s No Pain-Free Cure for Recession

December 27, 2008

Excellent op-ed by Peter Schiff in today’s Wall Street Journal. Schiff’s analogies and analyses are always right on target and this piece is no exception.

It would be irresponsible in the extreme for an individual to forestall a personal recession by taking out newer, bigger loans when the old loans can’t be repaid. However, this is precisely what we are planning on a national level.

I believe these ideas hold sway largely because they promise happy, pain-free solutions. They are the economic equivalent of miracle weight-loss programs that require no dieting or exercise. The theories permit economists to claim mystic wisdom, governments to pretend that they have the power to dispel hardship with the whir of a printing press, and voters to believe that they can have recovery without sacrifice.

As a follower of the Austrian School of economics I believe that market forces apply equally to people and nations. The problems we face collectively are no different from those we face individually. Belt tightening is required by all, including government.

Governments cannot create but merely redirect. When the government spends, the money has to come from somewhere. If the government doesn’t have a surplus, then it must come from taxes. If taxes don’t go up, then it must come from increased borrowing. If lenders won’t lend, then it must come from the printing press, which is where all these bailouts are headed. But each additional dollar printed diminishes the value those already in circulation. Something cannot be effortlessly created from nothing.

Continue reading…