Keeping it in the family: Citigroup’s top economist tapped for Treasury post

Posted on March 18th, 2009 by bile
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Citigroup’s chief economist is being tapped for a job at the short-staffed Treasury Department, which is at the center of the Obama administration’s efforts to battle the financial crisis.

Lewis Alexander will become a counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement has not been made. Alexander will work on domestic finance matters, the official said.

Alexander had worked at the Federal Reserve and also served as the Commerce Department’s chief economist in the 1990s.

Geithner so far has battled the crisis with no key deputies in place. That’s made for a rocky start for the man President Barack Obama put on the front lines of the financial crisis.

Treasury’s handling of a $700 billion financial bailout fund has drawn fierce criticism from Congress and the American public. The government has put up hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars to rescue troubled financial companies, including American International Group, Bank of America and Lewis Alexander’s own Citigroup Inc.

In late February, the government said it will exchange up to $25 billion in emergency bailout money it provided Citigroup for as much as a 36 percent ownership stake in the struggling bank, a move that could put taxpayers at greater risk. The deal represented the third rescue attempt for Citigroup in the past five months. It’s contingent on private investors agreeing to a similar swap.

As a Wall Street insider from a bank that has been one of the largest recipients of government rescue funds, Alexander’s appointment could raise some eyebrows. In December 2007, he was quoted as saying that while he believed the housing market would remain weak well into 2008, it was more likely that the economy would keep growing than head into recession, adding that the housing bubble was “correcting on its own.”

The same Citigroup which is now partially nationalized? The one that made lots of bad business decisions on his watch? He’s now going to work for an institution with even more economic power?

And yet people are pissed over some AIG bonuses?

Third Bank of the United States?

Posted on January 20th, 2009 by bile
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The incoming Obama administration is considering setting up a government-run bank to acquire bad assets clogging the financial system, a person familiar with the Obama team’s thinking said on Saturday.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, Treasury and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp have been in talks about ways to ease a banking crisis that is once again deepening — and a government-run “aggregator bank” is among the options.

Outgoing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair both said on Friday a government bank was one of a number of ideas U.S. regulators had been discussing.

The source said advisers to President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office on Tuesday, were also considering the idea of an aggregator bank among a range of options that could be pursued.

David Axelrod, a top adviser to Obama, told Reuters the new administration would have something to say about a fresh approach to the financial crisis in “the next few days.”

Yes… because the first two worked out so well.

The story is a few days old but I’ve not seen much coverage. It seems doubtful to me something like this would occur. Those in power and coming to power seem to prefer fascism to socialism.

Rather scary propositions

Posted on January 12th, 2009 by bile
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Grabbed from Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis blog:

Things are looking pretty bleak. There is bad news in housing, the stock market, commercial real estate, jobs, and wages . Unfortunately, no matter how bad things are, someone always comes along to propose a “solution” that is guaranteed to make the situation much worse. Please consider the following ideas.

Punish savers and make them spend money: Near-zero interest rates and even a tax on bank deposits are necessary to force those with cash to use it productively

Assuming interest rates are reduced to about 1 per cent today, it will make little difference to savers if they fall all the way to zero. To all intents and purposes, income from bank accounts will be reduced to nil.

The next logical step, although it may be politically controversial, would be to do the opposite of what the Tories suggest. Instead of reducing taxes on interest payments, the Government could tax all bank deposits and other risk-free savings. This would create a negative risk-free interest rate, encouraging savers either to invest in property, shares and other productive assets – or simply to save less and consume more. In either case, the result would be more consumption and physical investment, less unemployment and faster recovery from the slump.

The Case for Bigger Government

Thirty years ago, Americans were told that government was part of the problem, not the solution. We bet on the magic of the marketplace, but the magic proved illusory. Every major part of the economy – health care, energy, transportation, food and finance – is deeply troubled. Now we are ready to invite government back in to help solve our problems, if the price is right and the strategies are convincing. By spending more through government and treating government as a partner rather than an enemy of the private sector, we can potentially save vast sums in the long run through a more efficient health-care system, safer climate, more competitive economy and more secure country.

A big difference between the U.S. and the rest of the rich world is that for the past 30 years or so, Americans consistently rejected “government solutions” to the problems of health, poverty, education and the environment.

What Hath Big Government Wrought?

  • It was big government that brought us Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
  • It was big government that sponsored the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq.
  • It was big government that gave us nightmare problems we face with Medicaid and Medicare.
  • It was big government that gave us overlapping hundred billion dollar systems in the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
  • It is big government that sponsored 10′s of thousands of pork barrel projects and bridges to nowhere.
  • It is big government that gave us the Davis Bacon Act and the insanity pf prevailing wages.
  • It was big government sponsorship of the rating agencies that created the “AAA” rated securities that went to zero.
  • It was big government that took us off the gold standard and illegally confiscated citizen’s money.
  • It was big government that allowed fractional reserve lending and theft by inflation this is the root cause of a shrinking middle class today.
  • It was big government that created the Fed, and it was the Greenspan Fed that blew serial bubble after bubble culminating in the housing crash we are in today.

Big government either created or made worse every problem we have today. Yet Time Magazine and free lunch proponents like Krugman propose an even bigger government is necessary to fix the enormous problems of an already too big government.

I’d like to add that the idea that “Americans consistently rejected “government solutions” to the problems of health, poverty, education and the environment” is completely fallacious and ridiculous. Medicare, medicaid, the war on poverty, from little or no federal involvement to No Child Left Behind, huge federal college subsidies, the increase of scope and power of the EPA, etc. Just because Americans didn’t jump on board as quickly as other socialist / fascist States doesn’t mean such ideas were rejected.

Italian Prime Minister says political leaders discussing closing markets, creating a new international monetary system

Posted on October 10th, 2008 by bile
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Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said political leaders are discussing the idea of closing the world’s financial markets while they “rewrite the rules of international finance.”

“The idea of suspending the markets for the time it takes to rewrite the rules is being discussed,” Berlusconi said today after a Cabinet meeting in Naples, Italy. A solution to the financial crisis “can’t just be for one country, or even just for Europe, but global.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell as much 8.1 percent in early trading and pared most of those losses after Berlusconi’s remarks. The Dow was down 0.5 percent to 8540.52 at 10:10 in New York.

Group of Seven finance ministers and central bankers are meeting in Washington today, and will stay in town for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings this weekend. European Union leaders may gather in Paris on Oct. 12, three days before a scheduled summit in Brussels, Berlusconi said today, while Group of Eight leaders may hold a meeting on the crisis “in coming days,” he said.

Berlusconi didn’t give any details about what kind of rules leaders were looking to change, except to say that leaders are “talking about a new Bretton Woods.”

The Bretton Woods Agreements were adopted to rebuild the international economic system after World War II in a hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The aim of the agreements was to establish a monetary management system, initially by pegging currencies to gold. The IMF was set up later to help manage the international financial system.

A market holiday is bad enough… but a new monetary system is huge. The UK was king prior to WWII. Since it’s been the USA. Will the dollar continue to rule? Just about every currency is having problems. I’m really at a loss for what they would change. Perhaps an international currency?

While everyone else is occupied by Wall Street bailout Congress authorizes $25b loan to auto industry

Posted on September 28th, 2008 by bile
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The US Senate Saturday approved 25 billion dollars in loan guarantees for the financially strapped US auto industry, intended to spark a wave of automotive innovation.

The loan guarantees were included in a continuing resolution that included funding for the US government and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

President George W. Bush has indicated that he intends to sign the bill.

“We’re very pleased Congress has chosen to act at this critical time,” said Greg Martin, director of communications for General Motors Corp’s Washington office.

GM had been subject of much speculation that it could be forced into bankruptcy.

The bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, are the first loan guarantees for US carmakers since Congress approved a similar 675 million dollar measure for Chrysler Corp. in 1980.

Chrysler Chairman Robert Nardelli, however, said this week the loan guarantees should not be considered a rescue package for struggling carmakers. “This is not a bailout,” he said.

Under provisions of the new legislation, not only US carmakers are eligible for the guarantees but also suppliers and foreign automakers with plants in the United States that are more than 20 years old — Nissan and Honda’s US operations qualify.

Not a bailout?

Bailout in economics and finance is a term used to describe a situation where a bankrupt or nearly bankrupt entity, such as a corporation or a bank, is given a fresh injection of liquidity, in order to meet its short term obligations. Often bailouts are by governments, or by consortia of investors who demand control over the entity as the price for injecting funds.

Obviously Mr. Robert Nardelli and I have different definitions of ‘bailout.’

How about we let them burn just like the banks? The unions want to complain about it? Let’em! They have brought this on themselves by using the guns of government to minipulate and regulate the auto industry out of competitiveness. Though luck.

Say goodbye to the investment bank, Glass-Steagall Act

Posted on September 22nd, 2008 by bile
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Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the last big independent investment banks on Wall Street, will transform themselves into bank holding companies subject to far greater regulation, the Federal Reserve said Sunday night, a move that fundamentally reshapes an era of high finance that defined the modern Gilded Age.

The firms requested the change themselves, even as Congress and the Bush administration rushed to pass a $700 billion rescue of financial firms. It was a blunt acknowledgment that their model of finance and investing had become too risky and that they needed the cushion of bank deposits that had kept big commercial banks like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase relatively safe amid the recent turmoil.

It also is a turning point for the high-rolling culture of Wall Street, with its seven-figure bonuses and lavish perks for even midlevel executives. It effectively returns Wall Street to the way it was structured before Congress passed a law during the Great Depression separating investment banking from commercial banking, known as the Glass-Steagall Act.

By becoming bank holding companies, the firms are agreeing to significantly tighter regulations and much closer supervision by bank examiners from several government agencies rather than only the Securities and Exchange Commission. Now, the firms will look more like commercial banks, with more disclosure, higher capital reserves and less risk-taking.

I’m fine with this outcome in that the Glass-Steagall Act has been effectively nullified as far as I can tell. However, it makes me wonder if this was all part of some plan. Yes these firms will become more regulated in some ways but in what way does it harm them vs harming smaller firms. Morgan Stanley has had its Utah based industrial bank and word is they have been looking at the benefits of becoming a bank holding company for a while now.

So now they are a net less risky. They claim revenue will be down as a result as will bonuses and perhaps pay. We shall see. How long till the government forgets what led us here and creates the environment for a bubble again? If we make it out of this one… likely not long.