reality is only those delusions that we have in common...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

week ending Aug 29

Economists React: Bernanke Reappointment Is ‘Good News’

Critically Assessing Bernanke's Record - Now that Bernanke has been renominated to lead U.S. monetary policy his time at the Fed is being critically assessed by a number of observers. Here are five assessments:

The case against Bernanke - "While most economists have come out in favor of Barack Obama’s decision to re-appoint Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Stephen Roach has penned an Op-Ed in today’s Financial Times which highlights the case against Bernanke. It is must reading."

The troubling side of Ben Bernanke - He has saved the world but he helped cause the crisis in the first place...indeed, he was picked to join the Fed because he provided academic cover for Greenspan's view that asset bubbles do not matter.

Ben Bernanke's version of history is incomplete - Telegraph - In a speech to the global conference of central bankers at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the leading member of the profession blamed investors for the crisis and praised - would you believe it? - central bankers for their response. As far as he is concerned, the reason things got so bad so fast was that investors freaked out.

Which Bernanke? Whose Bubble? - Ben Bernanke will be nominated for a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. But which Bernanke are we getting? There are at least three.

Bernanke’s Next Tasks Will Be Undoing His First - NYTimes - most of those bold actions — lending hundreds of billions of dollars to banks and businesses, slashing overnight interest rates to nearly zero, having the Fed almost single-handedly finance the mortgage market — will have to be reversed or rolled back over the next few years.

The Dangers Ahead for Bernanke - NYTimes economists symposium

Court Orders Fed to Disclose Emergency Bank Loans (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve must for the first time identify the companies in its emergency lending programs after losing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Federal Reserve Says Disclosing Loans Will Hurt Banks - (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve argued yesterday that identifying the financial institutions that benefited from its emergency loans would harm the companies and render the central bank’s planned appeal of a court ruling moot.

ECB's Trichet warns on complacency as economy heals - Reuters - Speaking at the close of a two-day annual Federal Reserve retreat, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet warned policy-makers from around the world on Saturday not to forget the lessons of the devastating financial crisis now that the worst has passed.

Union Official Becomes N.Y. Fed Chairman - NYTimes - The bank said Monday that Denis Hughes, who is president of the New York State AFL-CIO labor union, will lead the bank’s board. Hughes has been serving as acting chairman since May.

Central bankers content to keep rates low most officials indicated they believed that rates could be maintained at ultra-low levels for a considerable time without generating excess inflation, in spite of better economic data and a return of “animal spirits” in financial markets.

Get Ready for Interest Rate Shocks - One of the important messages coming out of the central banker's annual retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming is that once the crisis is over the Federal Reserve's tightening of monetary policy may be abrupt. If so, increases in short term interest rates will not be gradual but jarring.

Fed’s Kohn Defends Pledge to Keep Rates Low -
The commitment to low rates is meant to keep inflation from falling, Kohn said during a discussion on monetary policy at an annual Kansas City conference being held here at a lodge in Wyoming.

Geithner: "Fed Audit Would Be Problematic For The Country" - It is the esteemed Treasury Secretary's opinion, that anything that has to do with demystifying why the Fed is hell bent on destroying the US dollar, killing the middle class, and allowing Lloyd Blankfein to purchase Larry Ellison's yacht collection, is squarely in the "problematic for the country" camp.

Fed Raises Mortgage-Bond Purchases as Lacker Suggests Slowdown - (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve disclosed that it bought a greater-than-average amount of mortgage bonds for a second straight week, following a period of reduced purchases. Comments from an official today suggested the U.S. central bank’s purchases may slow. Net purchases totaled $25.4 billion in the week ended yesterday.

The Fed balance sheet: it is a-growin' I know that it's a bit cheesy relating the Fed balance sheet to Bob Dylan lyrics, but it just happened. The Fed's exit strategy is policy talk numero uno these days; but that's just it, talk. The balance sheet is still growing!

The Next Credit Bubble Is Now - Are you ready for a replay? ...the difference with this "boom" is the center of gravity has shifted: from giddy, cowboy bankers to the Federal Reserve.

Andy Xie: New Bubble Threatens a V-Shaped Rebound - In a normal economic cycle, an inventory-led recovery would be followed by corporate capital expenditure, leading to employment expansion. Rising employment leads to consumption growth, which expands profitability and more capex. Why won’t it work this time? policymakers think in terms of creating another bubble to fight the recessionary impact of a bubble burst.

The Spend-And-Borrow Economy - Roubini - Governments have been spending and borrowing like never before. The question now is: how do they stop?

There’s no will to fight inflation –
As we're already seeing outside the US, central banks won't stop printing money if it means choking off growth. Don't expect anything different from the Fed. Money printing is just too easy (and seemingly painless) for central planners-cum-bankers to resist.

Is the output gap showing? Atlanta Fed macroblog - the usual measures of economic slack (output gap measures) suggest that there is so much excess production capacity that prices and wages are under great—and increasing—disinflationary pressure. All this is occurring at a time when inflation measures are trending below the FOMC's longer-term projection. The public may come to believe that the combined efforts of the monetary and fiscal authorities to prop up a sagging economy will ultimately lead to a familiar place—rising inflation—and if inflation expectations begin to move higher, so too will inflation.

The Burden Is on the Inflation Hawks - What I always find remarkable about these discussions is that proponents of early tightening essentially (sometimes explicitly) argue that the expected loss from too much inflation (that is, the loss weighted by the probability of it happening) is greater than the expected loss from a double-dip recession.

PIMCO Says Dollar to Weaken as Reserve Status Erodes (Update4 - (Bloomberg) -- Pacific Investment Management Co., the world’s biggest manager of bond funds, said the dollar will weaken as the U.S. pumps “massive” amounts of money into the economy.

The market-perceived monetary policy rule In a new paper co-authored with Federal Reserve economist Seth Pruitt and Office of Immigration Statistics economist Scott Borger, I take a look at what monetary policy rule the market perceived the Fed to be following over different historical periods.

No sign of bond vigilantes, despite soaring U.S. deficit estimates -
The long-term outlook for the federal budget deficit has worsened dramatically, the Obama administration conceded today. But in the short run, investors’ appetite for U.S. Treasury debt shows no sign of waning. If Uncle Sam is addicted to red ink he still has plenty of enablers around the globe.

US bonds give insight into long-term prospects
US government bond yields dipped quietly to their lowest levels in a month this week, suggesting that some investors are distinctly less bullish than the ones that drove Wall Street to its highest levels of the year.

Insight: Do not fear falling bond prices - Despite the deafening chorus of warnings about rising public debt and inflation, investors have little cause to fear either for the time being, or maybe for a considerable time. In a deleveraging, low nominal world, most bonds won’t generate high returns, and default rates and refinancing problems will continue to rise, but the much-feared imminent collapse in bond prices is much exaggerated.

Obama to Raise 10-Year Deficit to $9 Trillion - The Obama administration will raise its 10-year budget deficit projection to approximately $9 trillion from $7.108 trillion in a report next week, a senior administration official told Reuters on Friday. See also Your Federal Budget, in Pictures (NY Times - Economix)

Obama Continues Peddling Fantasy Deficit Numbers - I don't need to look at the ever-changing (and ever-worsening) estimates of future deficits, I only need to look at their past accounting – where the numbers are not “estimates” but (supposedly) the actual “balance sheet” for the U.S. can any (honest) government justify any “off-balance sheet” accounting?

Paul Krugman: The burden of debt - in 1950, federal debt in the hands of the public was 80 percent of GDP, which is in the ballpark of what we’re looking at for 2019. By 1960 it was down to 46 percent — and I haven’t heard that anyone considered America a debt-crippled nation when JFK took office...we’re talking about the height of the Cold War (with a hot war in Korea along the way), and federal spending actually rose as a share of GDP.

Debt is bad, but... - the Economist - Paul Krugman makes the right points here concerning the forecast $9 trillion addition to the American national debt over the next decade: "So we’re talking about adding debt that will be equal to around 40% of GDP. Right now, federal debt is about 50% of GDP. So even if we do run these deficits, federal debt as a share of GDP will be substantially less than it was at the end of World War II."

Don't Succumb to Deficit Hysteria - Robert Reich - as expected, the same old group of deficit hystrics went ballistic. "A 10-year deficit of $9 trillion is $30,000 for each man, woman and child in the United States!" kabaam. "Public debt will total a whopping $17.5 trillion by 2019 — three-quarters of the nation's entire economy!" Kaboom!

CBO Warns of Higher Unemployment: Washington Worries About the Deficit - The real story in the new CBO projections should be the more dire economic outlook. CBO now expects the unemployment rate to be near 10 percent through most of 2010. Its new projections will show that the unemployment rate will only return to more normal levels in 2013 or even 2014...

Failed Banks and the Deposit Insurance Fund - "The graph shows the cumulative estimated losses to the FDIC Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) and the quarterly assets of the DIF (as reported by the FDIC). Note that the FDIC takes reserves against future losses in the DIF, and collects fees and special assessments - so you can't just subtract estimated losses from assets to determine the assets remaining in the DIF"

FDIC Running Out of Cash - Given the enormous increase in bank failures — some estimates are for more than 300 this year — we will very likely see some taxpayer support of the deposit insurer. That has happened only once before — during the savings-and-loan crisis of the early 1990s, when the FDIC was forced to borrow $15 billion from the Treasury and repay it later with interest.

FDIC to Ease Entry for Private-Equity Firms Buying Failed Banks - (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is poised to make it easier for private-equity firms to buy banks after the fastest pace of bank closings in 17 years cost the agency’s insurance fund more than $21 billion.

Barbarians back at bank gates - As failing banks pressure the FDIC's deposit insurance fund, regulators reach out to private equity investors for help. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s board voted 4-1 to set new rules governing the terms under which private investors such as buyout firms may invest in failed banks.

FDIC lowers capital rule, but there’s a twist
The previous proposal was that banks in the hands of private equity would have to maintain Tier 1 capital of 15%, triple the standard of 5% that is currently considered “well-capitalized.” Under the rule that was adopted, such banks will have to maintain a 10% capital ratio, but the definition of capital isn’t Tier 1, it’s Tier 1 common equity.

The FDIC is not bust, ok? - FT - The FDIC published its quarterly banking profile on Thursday, and it appears that while things are certainly pretty dismal, the agency is not exactly about to go bust anytime soon. In fact, the agency reckons the fund movement is somewhat irrelevant as it still has the ability to borrow up to another $500bn from the US Treasury.

The FDIC to draw on its line of credit at Treasury soon - The FDIC has just released a press statement outlining the second quarter results for the fund and the financial institutions it regulates. What was particularly notable in the statement was the decrease in funds available to deal with failed institutions and the increase in the number of problem institutions to 416.

Meredith Whitney’s Good News… Only 300 Bank Failures (BAC, C) » Notorious bank analyst Meredith Whitney of Meredith Whitney Advisory Group is out with some new harsh predictions calling for the demise of more banks. So far there have been 78 bank closures and Whitney’s firm now projects that there are going to be more than 300 bank closures and also 5% to 8% of bank liquidity taken out of the system before this is all done.

1,000 Banks to Fail In Next Two Years: Bank CEO - The US banking system will lose some 1,000 institutions over the next two years, said John Kanas, whose private equity firm bought BankUnited of Florida in May.

Almost 1/3 of Banks Rated F - Chris Whalen (via The Big Picture) provides an update of Institutional Risk Analytics latest bank stress test results. Before we dive in, here is a breakdown of what defines an F bank (a full description of all ratings can be found here):
F: At this degree of stress, one or more of the key elements of the business model has reached failure mode. What concerns exist are probably already public...

New Wave Of Bank Failures Show We Got The Crisis All Wrong - Via: NYtimes - The severity of the current string of bank failures shows that many of the proposed remedies batted about since the financial crisis erupted would have done nothing to stem this wave of closures. These banks did not get in over their heads with derivatives or hide their bad assets in off-balance sheet vehicles. Nor did their traders make bad bets. What they did do is see loans go bad, in some cases with stunning rapidity, in volumes that they never thought possible.

Bank Holding Companies Ranked by Commercial Real Estate Loans -list of 150
Insurers’ Biggest Writedowns May Be Yet to Come - Via: Bloomberg: How many legs would a calf have if we called its tail a leg? Four, of course. Calling a tail a leg wouldn’t make it a leg. Nor does calling an expense an asset make it an asset. This brings us to the odd accounting rules for the insurance industry...

Roubini On U Shaped Recovery: More Statesmanlike or Less Certain? - Parsing Roubini's latest piece at the Financial Times (with his characteristic list), his bottom line is we seem to be on track to an anemic recovery, but also says another drop could be in the works...Roubiini was early on to the U shaped recovery, but he is not calling for a Japan rerun (the L shape, for alphabet fans). But this is his second possibility:"...there is a rising risk of a double-dip W-shaped recession. For a start, there are risks associated with exit strategies from the massive monetary and fiscal easing..." This second possibility is not getting the play it deserves.

Why the Austrian, Keynesian, Marxist, Monetarist, and Neo-Liberal Economists Are All Wrong
US Personal Income has taken its worst annual decline since 1950.This is why it is an improbable fantasy to think that the consumer will be able to pull this economy out of recession using the normal 'print and trickle down' approach. Until the median wage improves relative to the cost of living, there will be no recovery. And by cost of living we do not mean the chimerical US Consumer Price Index.

No Recovery, Not Now… Not Ever - In this age of miracles, people seem ready to believe that anything is possible. Recklessly crossing the street at the end of the Late Bubble Epoque, the world economy got hit by a cross-town bus. Now, the feds propose to reverse and run over the poor fellow again. It will be as if they had reversed the film; the economy will be as good as new, they say.

A Stimulating Train Wreck - In this excellent, short-and-sweet report, the case is made that a 3.5% boost to GDP from government stimulus spending alone will hit in the third quarter of 2009. This means that whatever reading is turned in, you should mentally subtract 3.5% from it, because "growth" resulting from government deficit spending is not real growth at all, it is merely consumption borrowed from the future.
Philly Fed State Coincident Indicators: Still a Widespread Recession in July - On a one month basis, activity decreased in 35 states in June, and was unchanged in 8 states. Here is the Philadelphia Fed state coincident index release for July.

Lost cause purgatory - Paul Krugman has proposed the term "economic purgatory" for the current situation of jobless recovery. It's a lost cause arguing with Krugman, but let me record a dissent for posterity. I'm no closer to to a mediaeval Catholic than he is, but Dante's and Aquinas' concept of purgatory is quite clear...

Economic View - How Cuts in State and Local Spending Endanger a Recovery - The more than $15 billion excised from California’s budget last month was just a small fraction of recently announced cuts.

Economic recovery in Europe: Rhetoric and reality - the German business newspaper Handelsblatt declares, “The harshest downturn since the Second World War is over. The nightmare is at an end.” With a “powerful growth of 0.3 percent” in the second quarter, he continues, the economy has “awakened from its state of shock,” and done so “more rapidly than anyone had reckoned.”

Bank bail-outs weigh on some states - Financial Times - Governments around the world are still sitting on multi-billion dollar losses from their direct shareholdings in banks, in spite of a strong rebound in equity markets in recent months. The US government, by contrast, is sitting on a paper profit of almost $11bn on its 34 per cent shareholding in Citigroup, its only direct stake in a large financial institution.

Asia’s Recovery Highlights China’s Ascendance - NYTimes - In past global slowdowns, the United States invariably led the way out, followed by Europe and the rest of the world. But for the first time, the catalyst is coming from China and the rest of Asia, where resurgent economies are helping the still-shaky West recover from the deepest recession since World War II.

The global financial crisis one year after - Stimulus packages are controversial, because they increase budget deficits, and thus imply the need to cut spending or raise taxes sometime in the near future. The question is whether they successfully boost output and jobs in the short term, and, if so, whether they do enough to compensate for the inevitable budget problems down the road.

A Plunge in Foreign Net Capital Inflows Preceded the Break in US Financial Markets - The peak of foreign capital inflows into the US was clearly seen in the second quarter of 2007, just before the crisis in the US that has rocked its banking system and driven it deeply into recession.Are the two events connected? Had the US become a Ponzi scheme that began to collapse when new investment began to wane, and the growth of returns could not be maintained?

The timing of fiscal interventions - VoxEU - The composition and timing of the fiscal stimulus is a major concern for policymakers. This column presents research showing that anticipated tax cuts result in reduced economy activity before they take effect. During the current downturn, that constitutes a strong argument against stimulus policies that phase in tax cuts over time.

America’s Exhausted Paradigm: Macroeconomic Causes of the Financial Crisis and Great Recession This report traces the roots of the current financial crisis to a faulty U.S. macroeconomic paradigm...pdf

Financial and Monetary Issues as the Crisis Unfolds - A group of experts associated with the Economists for Peace and Security and the Initiative for Rethinking the Economy met recently in Paris to discuss financial and monetary issues; their viewpoints, summarized here by Senior Scholar James K. Galbraith, are largely at odds with the global political and economic establishment [more)

Overmighty finance levies a tithe on growth - The protracted debate over how to clean up after the financial crisis – and how to reform our accident-prone financial system to prevent another such episode – is stuck on the problem of how to regulate markets without undermining the benefits they bring. What is sorely missing is any real discussion of what function our financial system is supposed to perform and how well it is doing that job – and, just as important, at what cost.

Finance: Before the Next Meltdown - If finance is the lifeblood of our economy, then figuring out new ways to pump blood through the economy should foster investment, entrepreneurialism, and progress. Right? This, in any case, has been the mantra throughout three decades of deregulation and expansion of the financial sector. And yet today, financial innovation stands accused of being complicit in the financial crisis that has created the first global recession in decades...

How toxic finance created an unstable world - two French economists describe in great detail how money from European and Asian exporters ended up in US consumer or mortgage debt and how risk was transformed in the process. The main point is that global imbalances would not have become so extreme if global finance had not provided exotic new instruments.

Fun with Derivatives review of Traders, Guns, & Money, the anecdote-packed overview of derivatives by Satyajit Das: "We needed ‘innovation’, we were told. We created increasingly odd products. These obscure structures allowed us to earn higher margins than the cutthroat vanilla business. The structured business also provided flow for our trading desks. The more complex products were stripped down into simpler components that traders hedged. …New structures that clients actually wanted were not that easy to create. Even if somebody came up with something, everybody learned about it almost instantaneously. They reverse-engineered the structure and then launched identical products."

ARE YOU KIDDING? Toxic Waste Becomes Triple-A Again… What to do about hundreds of billions of dollars in mortgages that are still choking the system and making bankers reluctant to make new loans? In recent months, banks have tiptoed toward a possible solution, one in which the really good bonds get bundled with some not-quite-so-good bonds. Banks sweeten the deal for investors and, voila, the newly repackaged bonds receive AAA ratings, a stamp of approval that means they're the safest investment you can buy.

We should put sand in the wheels of the market - The secret that few in the industry would like you to know is that financial transaction taxes are not only commonplace, but have become easier to enforce. The real question today is not their feasibility; but their desirability.

A case for (even) more transparency in the OTC markets - VoxEU - Over-the-counter (OTC) markets produced most of the toxic assets that played a prominent role in the ongoing crisis. This column advocates further transparency in OTC markets regulation, arguing that it would make participants apply appropriate risk controls, lower systemic risk, and better situate regulators to address failures of large institutions.

Subprime Lenders Getting U.S. Subsidies - WaPost - Many of the lenders eligible to receive billions of dollars from the government's massive foreclosure prevention program helped fuel the housing crisis by issuing risky subprime loans, according to a report to be issued Wednesday by the Center for Public Integrity.

Greed & The Other Seven Deadly Sins! - Greed is back already, perhaps it never went away. On the back of revived earnings, compensation for star bankers is looking up. Even signing and guaranteed bonuses are stirring. Excessive executive remuneration is widely viewed as a symptom of ‘greed’, one of the seven deadly sins. For some, excessive pay contravenes ideas of ‘equality’

Financial pay shouldn’t be left to the market - should governments step back and let financial firms reform themselves? The answer is clearly no. In the post-crisis financial order, governments must take on the role of monitoring and regulating pay in financial firms; otherwise, the perverse incentives that contributed to the current crisis could easily recur.

Wall Street pay disclosure looms as flash point - Reuters - Wall Street salaries have become everybody's business lately, but the Obama administration's pay czar, Kenneth Feinberg, has said he is uncertain how much information will be made public.

Power and pragmatism - OUR friends on the other blogs are having an interesting discussion about the inherent tension between moral purity and political ambitions. Free Exchange adds that there is a whole apparatus in DC working to provide the ethical comfort and cover for politicians who already want to vote a certain way for selfish political reasons.

Common Sense 2009 - Larry Flynt, Huffington Post - "I'm calling for a national strike, one designed to close the country down for a day. The intent? Real campaign-finance reform and strong restrictions on lobbying. Because nothing will change until we take corporate money out of politics. Let's set a date. No one goes to work. No one buys anything. And if that isn't effective -- if the politicians ignore us -- we do it again. And again. And again. The real war is not between the left and the right. It is between the average American and the ruling class. If we come together on this single issue, everything else will resolve itself. It's time we took back our government from those who would make us their slaves."

CNBC Host: Tax Havens ‘Help Prevent Tyranny’ (video) - "I wrote yesterday that UBS’ acquiescence is a victory for the U.S., and a small first step in the much larger fight against tax evasion. But CNBC’s Michelle Caruso-Cabrera did not see it that way "

FBI Protects Fortune 500 - [DWR] had made a fortune by allegedly gulling dozens of consumer product giants, including Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, and Hershey, in exquisitely orchestrated scams...It used to amaze me how readily the DOJ prosecutes when a Fortune 500 company is the victim as opposed to the perpetrator. That's how it is. DWR's actions are not new...

Tyler Cowen: Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate
That's the new book by Diego Gambetta and it is the best applied book on signaling theory to date. "Given these propensities, one wonders how criminals ever manage to do anything together. On one hand they wish to signal a certain untrustworthiness, namely that they are criminals in the first place. This is useful for both meeting other criminals and also for intimidating potential victims. On the other hand, the criminals wish to signal that they are potentially cooperative, for the purpose of working with other criminals."

California spends $216,000 annually on each inmate in the juvenile justice system. It spends $8,000 on each child attending the Oakland public school system. The United States incarcerates people at nearly five times the world average. Of those sentenced to state prisons, 82 percent were convicted of nonviolent crimes.

NY Fed: US Credit Conditions Map - Check out the updates to the NY Fed Credit Conditions map. Another tool from the NY Fed: New York Fed Launches Expanded U.S. Credit Conditions Section of Website

A comment on House Prices - Calculated Risk - I've seen story after story today suggesting the bottom is in for house prices. In some areas prices have probably already hit bottom - like some non-bubble areas, and some bubble areas with significant foreclosure activity. But I think many areas, especially the mid-to-high priced bubble areas, there will be further price declines.

House Sales and Mortgage Applications - Something Doesn't Add Up - Now we only get to read the weekly percentage and yearly changes, without the confusing benefit of an absolute number to guide our perceptions. So for those without the time or the inclination to dig through the data, it is what it is. For me? The only way to resolve this was to obtain all the base data, hand-enter it into a spreadsheet, and see what was up.

Existing Home Sales Far Worse Than Advertised -
"In the past, I have gone so far as to imply the Realtors group are spinmeisters. This month, I will be more blunt: Their actual data has become untrustworthy, their spokesmen lie for a living, and their “news releases” is little more than misleading junk. Investors who rely on the NAR version of the news do so at their own great financial peril." (charts & analysis)

Clunkers and Home Sales – It’s All the Same Thing - Did the clunker program just steal from future consumption, or has there been a permanent increase in demand that reflects a stronger economy? I visited a car dealer on Tuesday and they had not seen a customer. Without the rebate there are no buyers. There is another clunker like program that is out there stimulating demand. It is focused on the low end housing market.

Homebuilders Buying Land After Three Years of Cutting Inventory (Bloomberg) Homebuilders that spent the past three years selling off land and writing down the value of property holdings are scouring markets in Sacramento, Phoenix, Denver and Orlando — cities synonymous with the real estate bubble — looking for deals on ready-to-build lots as they prepare for a rebound.

You Broke It, You Fix It? - Subprime Players Get Tax Money To Fix Subprime Mess -
Firms that fed off the subprime lending frenzy that devastated the banking system are lining up to collect more than $21 billion in taxpayer funds meant to help bail out borrowers now in trouble on their loans.

Adjustable Mortgages Loom as Threat to Housing Recovery - NYTimes - more than a half-million option ARMs are scheduled to reset in the next four years, at rates many homeowners cannot afford.

Fewer Catching Up on Lapsed Mortgages - Homeowners who fall behind on their mortgage payments have become much less likely to catch up again, a new study shows. Fitch found that the cure rate for prime loans dropped to 6.6% as of July from an average of 45% for the years 2000 through 2006. For so-called Alt-A loans -- a category between prime and subprime -- the cure rate has fallen to 4.3% from 30.2%.

Banks Sitting on Bad Mortgages, And They Aren't Getting Any Better - Fitch found that the cure rate for prime loans dropped to 6.6% as of July from an average of 45% for the years 2000 through 2006. For so-called Alt-A loans the cure rate has fallen to 4.3% from 30.2%....banks have gone from foreclosing on about 45% of their severely delinquent Alt-A loans each month to 20%. So if you own a house that’s underwater, in practice you can probably keep living there for a year or so without making payments to the bank...

American Housing, 1900-1990 - Via Brad DeLong, an interesting illustration of improved standards of living across the 20th century: (imbedded table) It strikes me as noteworthy that the trend toward bigger-and-bigger houses has continued apace over the past 20 years even though by 1990 the problem of overcrowded housing had become the exclusive province of the very poor...

The Incredible Shrinking Boomer Economy - I'm sure you've heard the expression "spend money like there's no tomorrow." That's precisely what the Boomers did. It was unprecedented debt-fueled spending spree made possible by easy credit. See my Don't Buy Stuff You Can Not Afford for some details. As Bill Bonner put it at the Daily Reckoning, that household debt now "represents spending that has been taken from the future."

Another Jobless Recovery, Even with a Deficit Spike - The Office of Management and Budget just came out with their revised Mid-Session Review budget of the U.S. The projections are for a "recovery" with a 9.7% unemployment rate in 2010 and 8.6% in 2011.

Job Losses Are Not the Problem a lot of useless jobs in finance, real estate, and construction were destroyed, as well as perhaps old manufacturing jobs that hadn’t caught up with the latest technology, and jobs in retail trade that needed to be replaced by the Internet...there weren’t an unusually large number of total jobs being destroyed...relative to the overall level of employment, job destruction was happening at a faster rate during the boom of the late 1990s than it was during the last quarter of 2008...

Real US unemployment rate at 16 pct: Fed official "If one considers the people who would like a job but have stopped looking -- so-called discouraged workers -- and those who are working fewer hours than they want, the unemployment rate would move from the official 9.4 percent to 16 percent, said Atlanta Fed chief Dennis Lockhart.

34 Percent of U.S. Workers Surveyed Have Only One Week or Less of Savings
* 2-4 Weeks: 16%
* 1-2 Months: 16%
* 3-5 Months: 14 %
* 6 Months or Longer: 20%

The Wage Freefall (chart)

U.S. Economy Probably Contracted More Than Initially Estimated - Gross domestic product shrank at a 1.5 percent annual rate from April to June compared with the 1 percent drop reported last month, according to the median forecast of 75 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

Another Sign of the Futility of the 2005 Bankruptcy Law - A big feature of the 2005 changes to the U.S. bankruptcy law was supposed to be a means test that would get people into chapter 13 instead of chapter 7. Anyway you measure it, chapter 13s have returned to their historical level.

Searching for the Depression and Finding It
Economic Stress Is Hidden, But It’s There in a Recovery That Isn’t.

The End of a 30-Year Wealth Bubble? - the cutoff to qualify for the highest-earning one ten-thousandth of households was roughly $2 million, in inflation-adjusted, pretax terms. By 2007, it had jumped to $11.5 million. The cutoff to be in the top 1 percent doubled since the late 1970s, to roughly $400,000. By contrast, pay at the median — which was about $50,000 in 2007 — rose less than 20 percent, Census data shows. Near the bottom of the income distribution, the increase was about 12 percent.

Death of the Consumer - Moving forward, the most critical indicator of the viability of our economy will be consumer spending. Simply put, without a buoyant consumer, there will be no recovery. Due no doubt to the negative characteristics of consumer data, the death of the consumer is receiving scant coverage. (data & charts follow)

Report: Car Sales Slump 11% Below June Levels - From the Financial Times: ‘Cash-for-clunkers’ sales disappoint Detroit - Signs are already emerging that overall sales will fall back sharply now that the incentives have expired.[] estimates that, based on visits to its websites, “purchase intent” is down 11 per cent from the average in June...

Follow up on debt-fueled consumption growth - Wow, this post got a lot of attention/criticism on the web (see comments on RGE Economonitor, Investment Postcards from Cape Town, and of course News N Economics). I guess it's hard to believe that the mortgage buildup over the last decade was financing health care rather than durable-goods consumption.

This Isn’t Reform, It’s Robbery - any debate about health care must acknowledge that the for-profit health care industry is the problem and must be destroyed. This is an industry that hires doctors and analysts to deny care to patients in order to increase profits. It is an industry that causes half of all bankruptcies. And the 20,000 Americans who died last year because they did not receive adequate care condemn these corporations as complicit in murder.

Dying for affordable healthcare — the uninsured speak - For 35 years Manley had a thriving health clinic in Kansas...eventually his lack of motor control interfered with his work to the degree that he was forced to give up his practice. He fell instantly into a catch 22 that he had earlier seen entrap many of his own patients: no work, no health insurance, no treatment.

Squandered Honeymoon: How Botched Bailouts Hamper Healthcare Reform - Instead, we got a plan-to-have-a-plan in early February, followed by the announcement of PPIP and infinite forbearance through an intravenous-drip system of capital injections so that the behemoth banks, their executives, their stockholders--and most profoundly, their unsecured creditors-could hold onto their money.

Five Myths About Health Care in the Rest of the World - Washington Post - I've traveled the world from Oslo to Osaka to see how other developed democracies provide health care.

The Public Option? It's About Accountability - Let's be blunt. The public option -- emphasis on the word "option" -- is a way to hold the insurance companies accountable should they (entirely unexpectedly, of course) fail to live up to their promises, ignore the rules, and keep doing things the way they have for the past several decades. By contrast, the core of the argument against the public option is nothing more than a sort of whiny plaint of "Leave the insurance companies alone!"

A Public Option That Works Today, almost all residents in the city have affordable access to a comprehensive health care delivery system through the Healthy San Francisco program. Covered services include the use of a so-called “medical home” that coordinates care at approved clinics and hospitals.

Fixing Health Care Is Good for Business - WSJ - You have probably heard the horror stories about President Barack Obama's health-care proposals leading to rationed care and bankrupt businesses and governments. Those claims are flat wrong. The real horror story is not what health-care reform will bring. It's what's already happening.

Trillion Dollar Health Reform, $3 Trillion in Tax Cuts - It is interesting, and perhaps worth noting, that while political opposition seems to be hardening against the $1 trillion, ten-year cost of the early versions of health reform, barely a peep of concern has been raised about the $3 trillion price tag for President Obama’s plan to extend most of the Bush-era tax cuts.

The Deficit Isn't A Distraction: It's A Subterfuge - The budget deficit isn't being used as a distraction; it's being used to hide the real purpose of the accusation: defeating an Obama priority. Neither the deficit nor health care reform are what's important here.

There Are Some Things That (Government) Money Can’t Buy, But Medical R&D Isn’t One Of Them (I think)

Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why. - The fact that taking a faux drug can powerfully improve some people's health—the so-called placebo effect—has long been considered an embarrassment to the serious practice of pharmacology.
It's not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger. The fact that an increasing number of medications are unable to beat sugar pills has thrown the industry into crisis. The stakes could hardly be higher. In today's economy, the fate of a long-established company can hang on the outcome of a handful of tests.

Millions face shrinking Social Security payments - By law, Social Security benefits cannot go down. Nevertheless, monthly payments would drop for millions of people in the Medicare prescription drug program because the premiums, which often are deducted from Social Security payments, are scheduled to go up slightly.

Elders Leading the Charge, Frugality-Wise - Yesterday, Gallup released the results a new poll. It explains how different generations have pulled back spending since 2008. The results are interesting, though not entirely unsurprising...

Here Comes Trouble: Three Problems : The CBO's annual Social Security Update is out, and its pretty ugly: (chart) we were not supposed to have a negative income-to-outlay view on Social Security for another decade or so. That's bad. Now let's add the other two issues to the mix for the "worse." We'll start with China: China plans to tighten capital requirements for banks, threatening to curb the record lending. Finally, we have the Eurozone putting up a surprise this morning...

The Global Crisis and the Implications for Developing Countries and the BRICs: Is the B Really Justified? The term BRIC was first coined by Goldman Sachs and refers to the fast-growing developing economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China–a class of middle-income emerging market economies of relatively large size that are capable of self-sustained expansion. Their combined economies could exceed the combined economies of today’s richest countries by 2050. [more]

China edges ahead of Germany on exports - China’s exports narrowly edged ahead of those from Germany in the first six months of the year, new figures showed on Monday, in a fresh sign that the latter’s status as the world’s leading exporter is at risk.

China’s 2% Inflation Estimate Puzzles Economists as Prices Fall - Bloomberg) -- A Chinese government estimate that inflation may be 2 percent for 2009 is puzzling economists after prices fell for six of the past seven months. The Ministry of Commerce made the estimate in a statement on its Web site yesterday, citing rising demand and gains in commodity prices.

China: Bogus Boom? - Make no mistake: China's 8 percent growth target for 2009 will be achieved, almost by definition. Whether or not that is a healthy outcome depends upon how you look at it and upon understanding just how China's economy functions and what China's growth "accomplishment" means. Chinese economic data are constructed very differently from the roughly comparable U.S. statistics. China has a planned economy; policymakers have substantial control over the path the economy takes and certainly over the path of reported data...

World faces hi-tech crunch as China eyes ban on rare metal exports - Beijing is drawing up plans to prohibit or restrict exports of rare earth metals that are produced only in China and play a vital role in cutting edge technology, from hybrid cars and catalytic converters, to superconductors, and precision-guided weapons.

Baltic Dry Index Down 45% From High in June - Some investors see the Baltic Dry Index, a proxy for the shipping rates for dry bulk cargoes, as an indicator of international trade activity. BDI is admittedly noisy, and so needs to be interpreted along with other information. Chinese imports have been a driving factor in commodities demand, which drives the BDI

US trade’s transmission of the global recession - VoxEU - International trade has played a major role in the global recession especially in transmitting demand contractions across national boundaries. According to standard trade-linkages reasoning, countries “catch” recessions from their major export partners while transmitting recessions to their major import suppliers.

Japan exports dip, stimulus effect may be waning - Reuters - Japan’s exports slipped in July as annual drops in exports to the United States and China accelerated, in a sign that the impact of stimulus measures in major economies worldwide may be starting to wane.

Japan reports record unemployment rate for July(MarketWatch) -- Japan issued sobering July economic data on Friday, including a record unemployment rate and the biggest decline in consumer prices in roughly 38 years.

Dive in business investment raises fears for recovery - Independent - UK -Business investments crashed at a record-breaking rate in the second quarter, adding to fears that recovery from recession will be weak and protracted. Investment fell 10.4 per cent compared with the previous three months, its fastest rate for nearly 25 years, and by 18.4 per cent compared with the previous year, the biggest fall since records began in 1966

Pemex Output Fell 7.8% in July as Cantarell Plunged - (Bloomberg) -- Petroleos Mexicanos, the state-owned oil company, said oil output in July fell 7.8 percent to 2.561 million barrels a day as production from its Cantarell field kept sinking. Cantarell, once the world’s third- largest field, accounted for 23 percent of total output, the lowest level since Pemex began publishing monthly records for the field in 1990.

Mexico's Declining Oil Production: Clarion Call for Cantarell - The eighth largest oil field in the world will be dead by the end of next year...Saga North America: How The North American Oil Crisis Will Force Ottawa, Washington, and Mexico City to Confront One Another As Never Before. In that report, I forecast the next oil crisis will unfold as Mexico loses the ability to export oil, starting sometime in late 2011. However, as so often is the case in this era of peak oil, that forecast now looks optimistic...

US offshore rigs - Baker Hughes rig counts chart. Total offshore rigs for the last 10 years

OIL: The Long Goodbye - a Foreign Policy Special Report - links to a dozen articles...

Entropy gets no respect - (energy bulletin) - None of these new resources can actually provide the cheap abundant energy needed to maintain the kind of society we have today. Still, it’s worth noting that every alternative energy resource that’s actually been brought into production has turned out, at best, to provide a modest increment to existing energy supplies, and that only if you don’t keep track of the energy subsidy the new resource gets from fossil fuels...

Peak Water - The notion of peak water probably sounds crazy to most people. The earth is 70% covered by water. The water cycle replenishes water on a continuous basis. The global warming enthusiasts tell us that glaciers are melting and oceans are rising. This should make water more plentiful. But, as they say in the real estate business – Location, Location, Location...

a perfect storm of shortages - from John Beddington, the UK government's chief scientific adviser: As the world's population grows, competition for food, water and energy will increase. Food prices will rise, more people will go hungry, and migrants will flee the worst-affected regions.

China Leading World in Green Energy - Yves Smith - This idea of China being ahead of the game in anything environment protection related probably strikes readers as ironic, given reports of extensive industrial pollution, such as air pollution on a scale that is changing weather patterns, large scale lead poisoning, and cadmium in the soil. But China is running away with the green technology prize. It has conquered a third of the world market for solar cells and is on a breakneck course to build 100 gigawatts of wind turbines by 2020, doubling again the global capacity for wind power across vast stretches of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.

China moves to address overcapacity in emerging sectors like wind power – Xinhua - China’s State Council, the Cabinet, warned Wednesday of overcapacity in emerging sectors such as wind power, saying the country would move to "guide" development troubled by overcapacity and redundant projects. Overcapacity has persisted in the steel and cement sectors, while redundant projects have surfaced in the emerging sectors of wind power and polysilicon...

U.S. Biofuel Boom Running on Empty - wsj subscriber content - The biofuels revolution that promised to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil is fizzling out. Two-thirds of U.S. biodiesel production capacity now sits unused, reports the National Biodiesel Board. Biodiesel, a crucial part of government efforts to develop alternative fuels for trucks and factories, has been hit hard by the recession and falling oil prices.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce seeks trial on global warming - The business lobby, hoping to fend off potentially sweeping emission limits, wants the EPA to hold a 'Scopes'-like hearing on the evidence that climate change is man-made.

Nonlinear Temperature Effects Indicate Severe Damages to U.S. Crop Yields Under Climate Change

Global forest destruction seen overestimated - The amount of carbon emissions caused by world forest destruction is likely far less than the 20 per cent figure being widely used before global climate talks in December, said the head of the Brazilian institute that measures Amazon deforestation.

Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change - 27 pp pdf UK - commissioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, reporting to both the Chancellor and to the Prime Minister, as a contribution to assessing the evidence and building understanding of the economics of climate

A brief history of climate change and conflict - Article Highlights:
The interaction between climate change and conflict started as early as 35,000 years ago.
The Neanderthals, Vikings, and Mayans all benefited and suffered from a changing climate that affected resources such as water, game, and agriculture.
By analyzing historical case studies of climate and societal collapse, we can identify a set of discernible lessons for today.

Science Blogs: Effect Measure -Primer on greenhouse gases, I.
Primer on greenhouse gases, II.
Primer on greenhouse gases, III.

In hot water: World sets ocean temperature record - July was the hottest the world's oceans have been in almost 130 years of record-keeping. The heat is most noticeable near the Arctic, where water temperatures are as much as 10 degrees above average.

Warming ocean contributes to global warming - more than 250 plumes of bubbles of methane gas are rising from the seabed of the West Spitsbergen continental margin in the Arctic, in a depth range of 150 to 400 metres. the warming of the northward-flowing West Spitsbergen current by 1° over the last thirty years has caused the release of methane by breaking down methane hydrate in the sediment beneath the seabed.

Research finds higher ocean acidification off Alaska that could threaten fishing industry - Oceans absorb 22 million tons of carbon dioxide from human activities per day, removing 30 percent emitted to the atmosphere each year and mitigating the harmful impact of greenhouse gas. When carbon dioxide dissolves in sea water, it forms carbonic acid. That decreases the amount of calcium carbonate, used by marine creatures to construct shells or skeletons.

Scientists find 'great Pacific Ocean garbage patch' - Discover extensive plastic debris floating 1,000 miles from land.

Federal study shows mercury in fish widespread - The toxic substance was found in every fish sampled, a finding that underscores how widespread mercury pollution has become.

Laughing Gas: The Latest Threat to the Ozone Layer - A study published in the Aug. 28 Science found that N2O — a by-product of agricultural fertilizer and a number of other industrial processes — is now the biggest ozone-depleting gas in the air, and could present a real threat to the ozone layer in coming decades.

The Continuing Militarization of Biological Sciences Via: Nature: We will be, as the British Medical Association concluded in its 2007 study, The Use of Drugs as Weapons, “knowingly moving towards the top of a ’slippery slope’ at the bottom of which is the spectre of ‘militarization’ of biology” including “intentional manipulation of peoples’ emotions, memories, immune responses or even fertility”

How to Publish a Scientific Comment in 1 2 3 Easy Steps - actually 123 steps plus addendum (comic relief)

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