I love the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” because you tell a lot of people a complicated story in a short amount of time with just one look. The “Other Real Estate Problem” I am talking about in the headline is commercial real estate such as malls, hotels, office space and industrial sites. You have not heard too much about this problem, and most people believe it does not affect them, but it does! As commercial real estate goes so goes the economy and that could very well mean continued job losses. The picture below is from the The National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries:
This graph is included in an excellent article written by Brian Pretti of Financial Sense Observations. Please note in the lower left hand corner of the chart,”We have NEVER seen anything like this.” That means this is big folks! This chart shows what is happening to the value and the income generated for about 6,000 properties with nearly 300 billion in value. For the rest of the story about commercial real estate, please read Pretti’s well done in depth article by clicking this link.
The Friday headline in the Wall Street Journal reads “Job Losses Moderate But Unemployment Hits 9.7%.” This is just a short post to give you the “Real” number according to John Williams at shadowstats.com. He recreates government statistics the way they were done before the Bureau of Labor Statistics changed methods to make things look better than they really are. According to shadowstats.com, the unemployment rate using the BLS method in 1994 would be 21.1%, an increase of .5%. By the way, Williams predicted there would be a negative surprise two days ago. (see USAWatchdog post “Alert! No Substance to Economic Recovery) He was right on target!
There are so many reasons why this stock market should be hitting a wall. Just a few are: high unemployment, plummeting tax revenues, major real estate declines, defaults in both residential and commercial properties, hundreds of banks are expected to fail this year and next, cities and states going broke and wars fought on 2 fronts. There is no end or resolution in sight for any of these problems.
Yet, the stock market has “climbed a wall of worry” to produce one of the biggest bear market rallies in history. The DOW is up about 50% in just 5 months. The market by most standards is not cheap. So is everybody crazy? Well, apparently corporate insiders are not. They were dumping their stocks at a rate of 30 to 1 during the month of August according to TrimTabs Investment Research. That means for every insider buying shares of stock, there were 30 insiders selling shares of stock! According to TrimTabs, that is a record. Take a deep breath…that is the smell of the money harvesting Wall Street machine revving it’s engine! Nowhere is the buy low and sell high mentality more apparent than in this chart of the S & P 500 below :
The S&P 500 is at about the same level as it was in 1997. And consider this, people have been stuffing around 5 to 10 percent a year into their pre-tax retirement accounts (which amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars.) So shouldn’t the market be much higher? Where did all that cash go? The money was ” harvested” by insiders, hedge funds and big banks! These folks sold high, took your contributions and left you holding the losses. All the while, “the experts” told you to be a “long term investor” and be “diversified.” What happened in the last 12 years? Isn’t that enough time to make some money? Isn’t a group of 500 top stocks diversified? Well look at the picture above and any 3rd grader can see THAT DIDN’T WORK!!! You could have beaten S&P 500 returns by a mile by just putting your money in an FDIC insured bank account during the last 12 years!! On top of that, you would not have paid a management fee (1 percent on average) which would have saved you another 12 percent! What a rip-off!!!
Also, consider the fact there are a whole lot of companies that are no longer in the S&P 500 because they have either gone bankrupt or the share price has evaporated. That means the “investing” picture for the little guy is actually a whole lot worse than the S&P shows. Let’s name just a few companies in the past 11 years that delivered a big loss to anyone holding them: Lehman, Bear Stearns, Fannie, Freddie, AIG, GM, Chrysler, Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, Wachovia and WaMu. That is only a few I can name off the top of my head. I think you get the point.
Fast forward to today and reconsider the 50% increase in the market in just 5 short months. Still, most people are down at least 30 percent from the high. If you are a trader or insider, you love this market! If you are a “buy an hold” investor, get ready to sit on another big loss in the old 401k or sell some stock and you too can harvest some money just like the big guys!
By Greg Hunter’sUSAWatchdog.com John Williams of shadowstats.com put out an alert today (9/2/09). It read, in part,”Something Brewing in Systemic Solvency Crisis?” Part of what Williams does is give forecasts to clients, some of which are big companies and hedge funds. He bases his predictions on government statistics but not the way they are done now. Williams rebuilds government stats the way they were computed before they were distorted. In other words, the way government statistics are done now makes things look better than they really are. For example, the official unemployment rate stands at 9.4% , but if you compute UE as it was done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) prior to 1994 it would be 20.6%. By the way, Williams predicts unemployment will reach 34% in 2 years! Williams says money growth is slowing which is probably why he thinks there is “no substance to economic recovery.” Slowing money growth equals big problems for the financial system and it will force the Fed to act again. So what will the Fed do? It appears create more money. Williams says the monetary base…”surged” at the end of August . Also, Williams thinks the reappointment of Ben Bernanke is another yellow flag. Even though there were rumors of replacing him, it just does not make sense considering the problems on the horizon. My take: There are plenty of shoes that will be dropping and it’s probably best to give the appearance of continuity and stability in the face of a new wave of financial turmoil. Finally, Williams thinks there is going to be a negative surprise with Friday’s (9/4/09) unemployment number. In other words, there is going to be a bigger unemployment number than expected. For the complete report and other accurate recreated government statistics, subscriptions are available at John Williams’ site: http://www.shadowstats.com/ I did not get paid to write this article or to push shadowstats.com. I just think Williams knows what he’s talking about and backs it up with facts. What shadowstats.com does is something you will not see much of in mainstream media. John Williams has appeard on network and cable TV and has been quoted in many national publications.
FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair dropped a small bomb on CNBC last night. She said, “Commercial real estate will be more of a driver of bank failures.” What! You mean more than the imploding residential real estate market? Oh… at that point I felt a little sick at my stomach. There already is a huge unrelenting problem in housing. (see my post from last week “Real Estate at a bottom?…Not!”) Now there is going to be an even bigger drag on the banks! It will be a colossal second wave of commercial property defaults that will kill bank balance sheets. I have to admit, Larry Kudlow did a good job of pressing Bair for a true picture of the banks’ financial health both big and small. When she started mentioning “full faith and credit,” she looked nervous to me. Just give it a look right up until they start talking about the “Super Regulator.” (This is kind of long so you can also just skip it and read on after the video.)
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has about 4.5 trillion in insured deposits with only 10.4 billion in net worth. Said another way, that is 10.4 billion to insure 4,500 billion dollars. No wonder Bair looked nervous. The FDIC does have a direct line of credit to the Treasury of 500 billion. There is no doubt she will be tapping that money to pay depositors in this next wave of commercial real estate collapse. There are about 3.5 trillion in commercial real estate loans held by banks. Commercial property owners are defaulting at rates not seen since the 90’s. Banks are getting stuck with malls,office buildings and industrial sites. Add the ongoing residential real estate meltdown to the equation and you have big losses and inevitable bank failures. The question is how many and which ones? “The bottom line: Defaults are exploding,” said Richard Parkus, an analyst with Deutsche Bank. “It’s terrible. It’s going to be worse than in the early ’90s.”
Then, there is this wrinkle. Earlier this year, Congress and the big banks got the Financial Accounting Standards Board or FSAB to change the rules. Instead of “mark to market” accounting where a bank is required to value an asset at the price you can sell it today, banks can price assets at what they might get in the future. I and a few other people call it “mark to fantasy.” I also think it’s government sanctioned accounting fraud. There is no way for the government, an investor or a depositor to really know the financial health of the banks. That is sad and a little scary. Remember it was about a year ago that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson told members of Congress that if he did not get the TARP money, there would be a “systemic” failure. There is simply no way of knowing how bad this could get or if the government can keep things under control. So what can you do? I check my bank every 6 months. Here is a free link to The Street.com Banks and Thrift Screener. This is a fast simple way to see if your bank is headed for trouble.
This is a tale of 2 stories the press started covering last week. One, let’s call it the “Kidnapped Girl” story. It’s about a young woman who escaped after being kidnapped and held against her will for 18 years. The other, let’s call it “The Fed Secrets” story. It’s about the Federal Reserve losing a court decision that will force it to say who it gave trillions of dollars to during the financial meltdown.
No doubt, the young girl who was kidnapped 18 years ago will get plenty of coverage. Every news organization will be fighting for the first exclusive interview with the victim and the children. They will spare no expense. Already there have been live shots, aerial footage and front page stories. Before it is through, you will know every detail imaginable of this sad story, from the food she ate to the birth of the 2 children she allegedly was forced to have with her abductor. The “Kidnapped Girl” story will be followed right up to the end of the criminal trial. Mark my words, this story will be covered for months. Heck, the kidnapped girl may even get her own reality TV show.
On the other hand, there is “The Fed Secrets” story. The Fed lost a Federal case last week that could force its secret actions into the light of day. Also, considering the Federal Reserve is responsible for the value of every dollar you spend or save, this should be a very big deal with worldwide implications! Still, “The Fed Secrets” story is barely a blip on the mainstream media radar.
The Fed will file an appeal. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve asked Manhattan Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska to delay enforcement.
“The immediate release of these documents will destroy the board’s claims of exemption and right of appellate review,” the motion said. “The institutions whose names and information would be disclosed will also suffer irreparable harm.” It went on to say The Fed’s “ability to effectively manage the current, and any future, financial crisis” would be impaired, according to the motion.
Does The Fed think lying and concealing will help the public? It certainly will help the insolvent banks. I think it is very likely the Fed also bailed out foreign banks, and these “loans” are not loans at all but taxpayer giveaways. If the Fed was forced to reveal facts such as those, then the very existence of the Central Bank could be in question. In short, most Americans would be angry and outraged!
It is up to the media to cover stories so the public is informed and it does this by the allocation of resources. On one side of the scale, you see an “anvil” of journalistic weight. Much has and will go for the coverage of the “Kidnapped Girl” story. On the other side of the scale, you see a “feather” weight of commitment for “The Fed Secrets” story. So little being spent to cover a something that could affect the lives of every American goes to show you how out of touch the mainstream media can be. Masters of the media may be scared to tell the truth or are downright dishonest and know full well what they are doing.
Both the “Kidnapped Girl” and “The Fed Secrets” stories deserve to be covered. There is nothing wrong with lopsided coverage as long as the highest priority is put on the story with the biggest impact on the lives of the people. Instead, the biggest story is getting the “feather” treatment and the smaller story is just more of the infotainment that keeps the public in the dark.
John Crudele is one of the good guys when it come to telling the truth and protecting your investments. The article below is nothing short of brilliant, concise and adds real clarity with what stinks about the economy. When I say stinks, I mean fishy. If you have money invested in the stock market, you should read this until the very end because Crudele offers a warning everyone should give serious thought to. I have been reading Crudele’s column in the New York Post for years, and he has a habit of speaking his mind and backing it up with fact! See his must read article below:
HOW GOLDMAN SACHS’ PROBLEMS ARE HURTING YOU
By John Crudele/ NY Post 8/27/09
AMERICANS should boycott the stock market. No, I’m not kidding. And this isn’t going to be one of those funny columns. In fact, I’m deadly serious that investors shouldn’t risk any more of their money until there are promises of a thorough investigation of Goldman Sachs.
Over the past few years I’ve looked into the much-too-cozy relationship between Goldman and Washington. I’ve suspected that this Wall Street firm has been acting, in essence, as an arm of the government. And I am also pretty sure that if Goldman and Washington have something secret going on, the investment firm isn’t doing it for altruistic reasons. There’s money to be made.
In 2007 I reported in this column that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson let the cat out of the bag when he confessed on a cable TV show that it was “my job to talk regularly to market participants . . .” Paulson had been the chairman of Goldman right before taking the job as head of Treasury. So, if he felt it was his “job” to talk with people on Wall Street then who else would he speak with if not his old friends at Goldman? The head of the US Treasury would, of course, know lots of secrets. In the olden days, this would be called “inside information.”
And despite Paulson’s contention it would be entirely inappropriate for him to discuss sensitive matters with people who could profit from the information. It is, in fact, illegal. And the penalty could be jail time. More on the story…
The country has lost one of the most influential members of the U.S. Senate in the last 50 years. Ted Kennedy was called the “Lion of the Senate” for good reason. Even though he was a staunch Republican opponent, he was also known as the “go to” member of the Senate to get bipartisan support for legislation. Few of Kennedy’s big bills did not have at least one big name Republican sign on to it. This morning, I heard Hard Ball host Chris Matthews say on television he did not see anyone in the Senate with his “stature” and that the President “didn’t really have a quarterback on the field that could carry out the play.” Still, Ted Kennedy will probably serve the Democrats in death on the health care legislation. The health care reform bill will now likely bare Kennedy’s name, at least that’s what Democratic leaders in the Congress are saying today. In a statement, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi said, “Ted Kennedy’s dream of quality health care for all Americans can be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration.” Pelosi is planning to push the legislation that the late Senator called “the cause of my life.”
But not all Democrats are as optimistic as Pelosi. Just last week, according to the Lakeland Times in Wisconsin, Senator Russ Feingold told a large crowd in his state, “Nobody is going to bring a bill before Christmas, and maybe not even then, if this ever happens.” He reportedly went on to say, “We’re headed in the direction of doing absolutely nothing and I think that’s unfortunate.”
On top of that, there was more bad news on the economic front according the White House budget Chief Peter Orszag. He says because the recession was deeper and longer than expected, unemployment will surge to more than 10 percent and the budget deficit will be 1.5 trillion dollars next year. That is more than 3 times bigger than the Bush administration deficit in 2008. A far as the real unemployment rate, John Williams at Shadowstats.com says it is already 20.6 % figured the way the government did it before 1994. Williams says within the next 2 years unemployment will soar to 34%.Yes, he told me 34%!
Couple the ballooning deficit and skyrocketing unemployment along with declining tax revenues and the Obama health care plan will have a hard time finding funding. This bill will likely collapse under its own financial weight not to mention most of the public is against it. Sorry, Ted.
Yesterday, the Federal Reserve lost a big decision regarding it’s transparency. Bloomberg, a financial news organization, filed a Freedom Of Information Act last year to get records to find out where the Fed spent trillions bailing out big banks in the financial crisis. When the Fed refused the request, Bloomberg sued and now won. Every American should want to know what the Fed is doing and who it is helping by printing trillions of dollars out of thin air. After all, the Federal Reserve is ultimately responsible for the value of every dollar you save and spend. Look for the Fed to fight giving up it’s secret information to the death! I predict it will appeal the case. This story is not being covered today in the mainstream media. Not covering this type of important story is part of the reason why the public is in the dark about what is going on with their money. More about this case and why the mainstream media is not fully informing the public in “The Soft Truth” posted below. Meanwhile, here’s more on the Fed losing it’s case to keep you in the dark.
In July comedian Jon Stewart, anchor of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, was voted the “Most Trusted” Newscaster. He had almost as many votes as Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams combined. Katie Couric, according to the Time Magazine poll, came in dead last. Boy, if that is a not a wake up call to mainstream media I do not know what is.
I don’t think it’s as much of a put down of the anchors as it is what they put on the air for news content. The Daily Show is comedy but it also can be hard hitting, reveal conflicting statements by politicians and hold people accountable for their actions. Look at the now famous exchange between Stewart and Jim Cramer from CNBC’s Mad Money. The public has lost a fortune in the stock market and the “experts” telling us to buy, buy, buy are never held accountable. What the Daily Show does with comedic license has taken a back seat in the mainstream media bandwagon.
You see, what the media heads have done over the years is cut expenses. For example, look at the “Fleecing of America” segment that used to appear regularly on NBC Nightly News. It’s now, according to the company web site, “a continuing occasional series.” NBC is simply not doing much of this kind of reporting. “Fleecing of America” was very good government watchdog reporting that took time and money and no one in the government was your friend after one of these revealing segments. Now, Brian Williams got what he called “unprecedented access” to the President in June and, as far as I can tell, Williams never asked a single tough question. The interview was so light that President Obama made Williams the butt of a joke at the Annual Correspondent’s Dinner.
Obama said, “I have to admit though, it wasn’t easy coming up with fresh material for this dinner. A few nights ago, I was up tossing and turning trying to figure out exactly what to say. Finally, when I couldn’t get back to sleep, I rolled over and asked Brian Williams what he thought.” If Williams would have done his job, there would not have been any jokes. In June, 60 Minutes did an updated profile of Fed Chief Ben Bernanke. Good time to do this story because we are suffering through what former Fed Chief Paul Volker says is “the mother of all crises.” The Fed has denied Freedom of Information requests by two different news networks to get the Fed to reveal which banks got trillions of dollars to avoid systemic collapse. When U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders asked Ben Bernanke in a March Congressional hearing, “Will you tell the American people to whom you lent $2.2 trillion of their dollars?” Bernanke simply said, “No.”
Who got 2.2 trillion dollars is a secret and, according to Bloomberg, that is not the only one. It has also been reported and discussed in Congressional hearings that there is an additional 9 trillion dollars in off-balance sheet transactions that the Fed can not or will not account for. When asked about the trillions the Fed wants to keep secret, the Federal Reserve Inspector General fumbled for answers. Why 60 minutes did not press the Fed Chief about the secrecy of vast sums of money is troubling to me. Should the American taxpayer expect the Fed to “fix” the system behind closed doors without public scrutiny? We did get to see Bernanke’s childhood home in the CBS story and that is what’s really important!
Doing superficial event type news programming is something I call “The Soft Truth”. It is more or less superficial news and is cheap, fast to produce, and you will not make enemies. The news in mainstream media has mostly become just the stuff between the commercials. Then, there is what I call “The Hard Truth”. This story is not cheap, it ties up the company lawyers and management and, if done right, you will piss some people off. And even if there are cutbacks because of advertising shortfalls, you can still ask hard questions. It seems to me the reporters have gone soft or stupid or have been told not to rock the boat.
Take, for example, the July press conference at the White where the last question was about Harvard Professor Henry Gates getting arrested in his own home. I was shocked to see the President even answer it. I don’t blame the President; he just answered a question he probably should have passed on. I blame the Press for bringing up something so trivial to a nation with huge geopolitical and financial problems. We are fighting two wars. We’ve spent or committed nearly 13 trillion dollars in an ongoing financial crisis. The Special Inspector General claims it will take 23.7 trillion to fix the problem caused by reckless bankers. (By the way, a trillion bucks is a stack of 1,000 dollar bills 67.9 miles high.) There are serious risks to the nukes in Pakistan and Israel is dying to drop a Daisy Cutter on Iran’s head!!! So we get this stupid Henry Gates question that the mainstream media covers for days! WHAT!!!! The Gates incident is hardly a “Rodney King moment” in America. Most people have probably already forgotten this non- story. I do have few questions that the White House Press Corps should have asked:
Mr. President, July was the highest month for American causalities since the Afghanistan war started. Can you tell us why the United States should shoulder this cost in lives and money?
You fired the head of General Motors. Why have you not fired a single banking CEO; after all, aren’t they the ones that caused the financial crisis?
Do you approve of the bankers paying themselves big bonuses after a taxpayer bailout while so many Americans are losing their jobs?
Do you approve of the Federal Reserve keeping secret the trillions of taxpayer dollars given to the banks to avoid financial collapse?
What is America prepared to do if the Taliban is successful in gaining control of the nuclear weapons in Pakistan?
If Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear sites, what is America prepared to do?
Of course we did not hear any of those questions at the press conference and probably never will. When my Dad was disgusted with someone he would say, “He doesn’t know sh*t from shinola.” My favorite poster ever hung in the Programming Office of a Beaumont TV station I worked at in my early days. It was a blow up of a Shinola Shoe Polish bottle. The caption at the bottom of the poster simply said in bold letters, “There’s a Difference.” I think people can see the difference between the “Hard and Soft Truth.” One is good and is the real thing and the other is, well, crap and people can tell the difference. Maybe that’s why Jon Stewart is the most trusted newscaster in America.
Glen Beck’s problems with his advertisers started on “Fox & Friends” the morning of July 28th when he said President Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people,” adding, “This guy is, I believe, a racist.” Since then, it has been reported no less than 20 advertisers have asked The Fox News Channel not to place their ads in his show. Colorofchange.org is taking credit for the ad exodus from GB. It’s a group that says it “exists to strengthen Black America’s political voice.” I would not have said what Beck said because I do not believe The President is a racist but that is not really the point. What is important is preserving the right to say what is on your mind no matter who gets angry or disagrees. Shaming, threatening or coercing advertisers not to advertise on a particular TV show because you do not like what the host says about the guy you voted for is nothing more than an end run around the First Amendment.
I remember back in the early 90’s there was a Ku Klux Klan march in Lexington, North Carolina, and I was sent to cover the event as a young reporter. I begged my news director not to send me but he did anyway. It became an opportunity for me to really see the First Amendment in action. The streets were lined with African Americans looking on as a group of 30 or so Klansmen were marching and shouting things like “I hate N…s!” I thought what the Klan yelled out was repugnant but that is the beauty and the ugly of freedom of speech. There was not a single fight and the whole thing ended peacefully. There was no way to punish the Klan for what they said even if most people thought it was wrong. In America, even if someone doesn’t like what you are saying, you can still say it.
After Kanye West made his now famous accusation that, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” during a Hurricane Katrina telethon, there was not a push to boycott his records.
Many people thought that comment was over the top. After all, there was plenty of blame to go around for the way that disaster was handled. West’s comment implied that President Bush was a racist. I don’t believe that either, but I do defend West’s right to say it without having some group organize a boycott to shut him up.
I’m sure the folks at Colorofchange.org think that they are doing the right thing by trying to shut Beck up by getting his ads pulled. I am equally sure Beck’s comment offended plenty of people, but preserving the right of free speech without physical or economic reprisal takes a higher precedence. If we lose sight of how important freedom of speech is to our Republic then we will weaken all of America’s political voice.
I keep hearing the constant drone of real estate being “at a bottom” or “finding a bottom.” I started to really notice this chatter by the talking heads of financial television in the middle of June when I heard Jim Cramer declare that “real estate has bottomed!” Yes, we just got some good news on the home front about exsisting home saIes jumping more than 7 percent in July. It is the 4th consecutive increase in sales. However, factor in 31 percent of all sales are foreclosures and short sales and that yearly median house prices have dropped 15 percent and there is not that much to celebrate. Also, the numbers are being artificially pushed up because of an 8 thousand dollar first time home buyers credit that will expire in November. I wish as much as the next person that the worst is behind us and better days are ahead, but that does not square with the facts. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and the one below from Credit Suisse says plenty about where we are in the real estate downturn.
It could not be any clearer that there is a tsunami of mortgages that are going to reset to higher payments between now and mid 2112! There will no doubt be families that will be able to pay increased monthly payments, but there will undoubtedly be many who will not. This will not help the foreclosure problem or support prices!!
I bet you the Fed and the Treasury are very familiar with this chart. Officials must be scared to death that resets and possibility of rising rates would kill any long term recovery. The Fed is spending (or printing) 300 billion dollars to buy their own notes to create demand and that is what is holding rates down! This is called Quantitative Easing or QE, but what will happen when the program expires this fall? What will happen to housing prices if the 30 year fixed mortgage, which is now around 5.5 percent, rises to say just 7 percent? Prices would definitely go down.
Some other recent news about real estate points to anything but a bottom. A little more than 13 percent of residential mortgage holders nationwide were at least one payment overdue or in foreclosure last quarter, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
A Deutsche Bank report claims that 25 million homeowners will probably owe more than their mortgage is worth by 2011. That will be nearly half of all homeowners in the U.S. The bank estimates 26 percent of homes are currently underwater.
Also, there is the recent news from Realty Trac where foreclosures are up 32percent nationwide from July of last year. In fact, home foreclosures failed at a record pace despite the ongoing state and federal programs to help people to stay in their homes. Finally, commercial real estate is another 2 to 3 trillion dollar meltdown and that is not going to end well either.
This does not mean there are not bargains out there in the market, but let’s not confuse a plateau on a downward trend as a bottom. Please keep the picture above on your “favorites” and every time you hear “the real estate crisis has bottomed” take a long look at it. When I gaze at the Credit Suisse chart, I do not see a bottom until at least 2012. I hope I am dead wrong!
“Eat the Bankers” was written on a sign I saw in the background of the media coverage of the G20 meeting in London. To me the sign embodies the outrage working people have with the bankers. Not because there is an economic downturn but because the bankers are being put on a pedestal while the working stiff is being thrown under the bus. Nothing gets the attention of working people more than their jobs, income, pensions and savings being destroyed. It’s been reported that global financial assets lost 50 trillion dollars last year. Meanwhile, the bankers get unlimited bailouts and backdoor payouts for removing toxic assets from their balance sheets. For the most part, these are worthless or near worthless securities they themselves created and profited from. Bill Gross of PIMCO recently said that the Federal Reserve would have to expand its balance sheet to “5 or 6 trillion dollars.” The Fed currently has 2.2 trillion in these toxic assets bought from the banks to clear their balance sheets of bad debt. In total, the U.S. has already spent or committed in the neighborhood of 10 trillion dollars to “fix” the financial crisis. That’s enough money to just about pay off every mortgage in America!! Even with this massive amount of money spent or committed, the “powers” still say the credit markets are “clogged.” Is that like a giant log jam of money that needs to be blown up to get credit flowing again? My question is simple: How many more trillions will it take before the greedy incompetent bankers, who wrecked the world economy, will loan us our own money back? The answer is– no one really knows and even if they did know, they would not tell you because the number is just way, way too scary.
Tuesday President Obama said this, “We can not continue to excuse poor decisions. We can not make the survival of our auto industry dependent on an unending flow of tax payer dollars.” The White House asked GM CEO Rick Wagoner to step down. (Don’t feel bad for Mr. Wagoner, he will get more that 20 million in accrued compensation.) On top of that, President Obama even threatened bankruptcy for GM and Chrysler. Some speculate that was a ploy to get the bondholders and the UAW to take a haircut and keep GM from the taint of filing Chapter 11. Right on Mr. President! Now apply that kind of tough love to the financial institutions. But that is not what is happening to the folks who caused this mess. Instead of taking insolvent financial institutions into receivership, the banks, insurance companies and brokerage firms are getting TARP money from Treasury and toxic assets taken in trade for Treasury Bills from the Fed. No tough love there, just an… “industry dependent on an unending flow of taxpayer dollars.”
Meanwhile, back in the streets of London a protester holds a sign that says, “Capitalism isn’t Working.” Philip Jennings, UNI Global Union General Secretary, whose group represents 20 million workers, told CNBC that, “It isn’t working people that got us into this mess but it is working people paying the price.” Jennings predicts 50 million new unemployed and 200 million more will go into poverty. If that happens, civil unrest could breakout on a global scale and the financial crisis will morph into a catastrophe where no one, especially the bankers, will be safe.
My wife and I were out to lunch with a friend of ours and she asked me,”When is the economy going to get better?” If you saw Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s testimony in the Senate yesterday, the answer is 2010. Of course that answer came with big caveats such as the 787 billion dollar stimulus package works to revive the economy. Many say it will not work but I hope it does. My answer to,”When is the economy going to get better?” is “It’s not going to get better; it is going to get different.” Meaning, the economy will not return to what we have grown to consider “normal.” There is going to be a new “normal.” This is not a recession, a dip or a temporary very bad economic condition. We are witnessing a “hard right turn” in a new direction on a global scale. Many of the jobs lost in this downturn will be gone forever. A couple of changing industries I can think of are financial services and the automotive sector. The good news is that people are going to be forced to live within their means. Almost everybody rich and poor will consume less and save more. There is going to be a new age of frugality and that, as Martha Stewart says, “Is a good thing.” Thrift is the new black and this mindset is going to be in vogue for a generation or more!
Most people I come in contact with do not understand what is unfolding right in front of them. You can’t really fault them because, after all, look at the recent conflicting message President Obama sent out. He just signed the biggest spending bill in history and is now calling for the return of a Pay as you go Policy. This bill was passed without budget cuts or increased taxes. On top of that, the Treasury has a trillion dollar plan to “fix” the banking sector. Where are we getting the money for all of this spending? We are borrowing and printing it at the moment. In Senate testimony yesterday, Chairman Bernanke was asked a simple question, “How much money will it take to fix the banks?” Bernanke said that the Senator would have to ask, “The Treasury or the FDIC.” This was the answer from the man who is in charge of monetary policy for the United States. In my opinion, he either does not know or is afraid to give a number. My guess is the amount of money it will take to “fix” the banks will be many trillions of dollars and that is a down right scary repair.
I am not the only one who is concerned. George Soros, renowned billionaire investor, recently said, “We witnessed the collapse of the financial system…It was placed on life support, and it’s still on life support. There’s no sign that we are anywhere near a bottom.” I do not profess to be able to forecast the future but I do know that given the circumstances surrounding the biggest economic mess in history, one thing is for sure. Forget about the economy you saw in the past, we are not going back there. Everything in the future is going to change and that includes the value of our money.
As I watch the News out of Washington today, I see the heads of our nation’s biggest banks being grilled in Congress on the causes of the economic problems we are facing. None of those guys can say they are there because their bank is flush with cash and great investments. The banks and the economy are in the shape they are in because of greedy incompetent bankers who paid lobbyists to erase all regulation to allow them to make reckless highly leveraged investments into toxic assets. Now taxpayers are being asked to clean up the mess and pick up the tab. Many people are asking what is going to happen next?
One of my jobs as a journalist is to break things down so people can understand what is going on. I don’t always hit the mark, but I can sure appreciate people who can do that task well. What is going to happen next was brilliantly summed up recently by Martin Armstrong an investment pro. He says, “We are headed into the debt tsunami that is of historical proportions unheard-of in history.” Succinctness and clarity all rolled up into one sentence. That is the simple truth.
A lot of that tsunami is coming from distressed homeowners facing resets of mortgage payments. Last year while I was working for CNN, I asked a 76 year old woman whose mortgage was resetting to higher payments why in the world she agreed to an adjustable rate mortgage when she knew the resets would force her into foreclosure. She told me the mortgage lender promised when the higher payments came she could simply refinance. Multiply that logic by millions of Americans and you can see where the flood of bad debt is coming from. The simple truth is best summed up by Richard Benson,” We got here because far too many loans were priced based on the probability of being refinanced and not the ability of being repaid! As long as liquidity was flowing, bad loans could be rolled over into bigger bad loans, but now the music has stopped for refinancing these loans.”
To address the economic crisis we are facing, the new Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is proposing the taxpayer to commit up to a trillion dollars for the Fed to guarantee more illiquid loans. He admitted to Brian Williams this week on CNBC he did not know how much money it would take to fix the financial problem. Geithner has been widely criticized for announcing a “plan” this week with few details on how it would work. I did not find the simple truth in anything Geithner said this week. I just saw deep black water.
At the same time the bankers were being grilled to well done on Capitol Hill, the House and Senate were putting the final touches on a “stimulus bill” that is now headed for the President’s desk. Susan Collins the Republican Senator from Maine was one of three who broke ranks with the GOP and negotiated a compromise with the Democrats. She announced the bill was only “789 billion dollars” which was billions less that the House or Senate versions. Then with a straight face, she said the bill was “fiscally responsible.” Fiscally responsible is how the biggest single spending bill in history is characterized. I hear water.