Fed auctions $75 billion to banks to ease credit stresses

Fed auctions $75 billion to banks to ease credit woes, total is $435 billion since December

WASHINGTON (AP) — Battling to relieve stressed credit markets, the Federal Reserve said Tuesday it has provided a total of $435 billion in short-term loans to squeezed banks since December to help them overcome credit problems.

The central bank announced the results of its most recent auction — $75 billion in short-term loans — the 11th such auction since the program started in December.

It’s part of an ongoing effort by the Fed to help ease the credit crunch, which erupted last August, intensified in December and January and took another turn for the worst in March.

The housing, credit and financial crises have weakened the economy and threaten to push it into recession.

In the latest auction, commercial banks paid an interest rate of 2.220 percent for the loans.

There were 71 bidders for the slice of the $75 billion in 28-day loans. The Fed received bids for $96.62 billion worth of the loans. The auction was conducted on Monday with the results released Tuesday.

In mid-December the Fed announced it was creating an auction program that would give banks a new way to get short-term loans from the central bank and to help them over the credit hump. A global credit crisis has made banks reluctant to lend to each other, which has crimped lending to individuals and businesses.

Read moreFed auctions $75 billion to banks to ease credit stresses

GM to close 4 plants, focus on small cars


GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner (AP)

General Motors Corp. officially blew up its old business model Tuesday, closing four pickup truck and sport utility vehicle factories, announcing a new small car that could get 45 miles per gallon and shedding 8,350 jobs in the process.

Now the world’s largest automaker by sales needs to figure out how it can sell enough cars to make money in a shrinking U.S. market and stay ahead of the bill collectors.

The automaker said it would idle pickup and SUV factories in Janesville, Wis.; Oshawa, Ontario; Moraine, Ohio; and Toluca, Mexico, as it tries to deal with a shift to smaller vehicles brought on by $4 per gallon gasoline. GM also took aim at the Hummer, one off the largest vehicles on U.S. highways, saying it would either be sold or get a remake.

The move cuts about 2,900 jobs in Oshawa, about 2,800 in Janesville, about 2,400 in Moraine and about 250 in Toluca, said GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson.

GM said the truck plant cuts, which will reduce capacity to produce pickups and large SUVs by about 35 percent, will save the company $1 billion per year, and when combined with earlier measures, by 2011 will save $15 billion over 2005 costs.

GM’s moves, which come after a series of restructuring measures since 2005, are the result of a huge shift in U.S. consumer preferences for small cars and crossovers during the past two months.

“We at GM don’t think this is a spike or temporary shift,” Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said. “We believe that it is, by and large, permanent.”

Read moreGM to close 4 plants, focus on small cars

Banks’ credit crisis solutions have echoes of 1929 Depression

As banks look to shore up their balance sheets in the wake of the credit squeeze, Philip Aldrick asks whether it is all short-term trickery


Investors gather in New York’s financial district after the stock market crash of 1929, which heralded the onset of the Great Depression

‘We are in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s,” warns the eminent financier George Soros in his latest book, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets. It’s a rather extreme view, but the man who broke the Bank of England is not alone in his dark funk. At a recent event, one banker laced Soros’s sentiment with a little gallows humour, ruefully predicting “10 years of depression followed by a world war”.

Comparisons with the great crash of 1929 are inevitable and the parallels manifold. Then it was an over-inflated stock market that burst before wider economic malaise ushered in the Great Depression.

This time, in the words of Intermediate Capital managing director Tom Attwood, sub-prime was merely “a catalyst” for the inevitable pricking of the credit market bubble as “disciplines were bypassed in favour of loan book growth at almost any cost”. Again the talk is of recession, certainly in the US and possibly in the UK.

Perhaps the most intriguing parallel, though, is the crude attempt at self-preservation made by the investment trusts in 1929 and the banks now.

In the great crash, investment trusts with vast cross-holdings in each other tried to stem their collapse by buying up their own stock in what the economist JK Galbraith in his book, The Great Crash 1929, described as an act of “fiscal self-immolation”. At the time, “support of the stock of one’s own company seemed a bold, imaginative and effective course,” Galbraith wrote, but ultimately the trusts were just “swindling themselves”.

Modern economists have compared the trusts’ actions with what the banks are now doing. “They seem to be just papering over the cracks,” says Brendan Brown, chief economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities.

Read moreBanks’ credit crisis solutions have echoes of 1929 Depression

Don’t Be Afraid Buy Gold

As the price of gold has taken some lumps since it crashed into the symbolically significant $1,000 per ounce mark back in March, those on Wall Street who had consistently underplayed its potential on its way up are now assuring its continued retreat. According to these gold market spectators, prices have risen solely as a result of financial panic, and now that the fear has apparently subsided, gold’s gains will evaporate as well.

I have been buying gold and gold stocks for myself and my clients since 1999 and not once did I buy out of fear. In fact, from my perspective the only fear I’ve observed in the gold market is from those who have been too afraid to buy.

While fear may from time to time play a role in creating price spikes in gold, the underlying bull market has been driven by solid fundamentals. Those who have been too afraid to buy simply do not understand the underlying dynamics and have instead decided that the market is irrational. As a result, gold continues to climb the classic wall of worry as any dip in its otherwise upward trajectory causes the speculative investors to jump ship.

Read moreDon’t Be Afraid Buy Gold

After years of increases, some fear a tipping point has finally been reached

Relentless rise in oil prices tests economy’s resilience

WASHINGTON — Only a few weeks ago, prominent policymakers and economists were cheerfully asserting that the U.S. economy would dodge recession and keep chugging forward despite a housing bust, a credit crunch and continuing job losses.

“The data are pretty clear that we are not in recession,” said President Bush’s chief economist, Edward Lazear. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. declared “the worst is likely to be behind us” and confidently predicted that more than $100 billion in tax rebates would help create half a million new jobs by the end of the year.

But instead of clearing, the skies over the economy have ominously darkened in recent days. The chief reason is oil. And there are signs the nation may have reached an economic tipping point after years of shrugging off the petroleum problem.

“We may finally have crossed the line where the price of crude actually matters for most companies,” said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at New York financial firm Miller Tabak & Co. “The stock market has been in la-la land when it comes to oil, but they got a pretty good dose of reality the last few days.”

The ill effects of the latest price hikes would not be so surprising if it were not for the fact that the nation’s economy and financial markets remained blissfully unruffled by oil’s upward march during most of the last five years. Until this week.

“The economic outlook has been taken hostage by the relentless surge in oil prices,” said Robert V. DiClemente, chief U.S. economist at Citigroup in New York.

“We’re seeing an inexorable increase, and it doesn’t seem like anybody’s in charge or can do anything about it,” added Bank of America senior economist Peter E. Kretzmer.

Big, small firms take hits

Among the signs that the economy may finally be feeling the effect of rising oil prices was Ford Motor Co.’s announcement Thursday that it was abandoning any hope of making a profit this year or next now that sales of its gas-guzzling pickup trucks and Explorer sport utility vehicles have plunged.

And experts said that the other two U.S. automakers, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler, may be in even greater trouble.

Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally said the industry had “reached a tipping point” where energy costs were fundamentally changing what kind of vehicles Americans buy.

Meantime, to cope with higher energy prices, American Airlines and United Airlines both raised ticket prices, and American announced plans to impose a new baggage-handling fee. But experts say the price hikes barely begin to make up for recent losses.

“The airline industry is devastated. It can’t survive $130-a-barrel oil,” said industry analyst Ray Neidl at Calyon Securities in New York.

Read moreAfter years of increases, some fear a tipping point has finally been reached

Big stores start to ration rice purchases

Supermarket chains have begun rationing rice as the effects of rising prices and disruptions to supply spill over from specialist grocers and suppliers to larger stores.

Netto, the Danish-owned discount store, has been restricting sales of larger bags of rice to one per person in all stores in recent weeks across the UK.

Mike Hinchcliffe, marketing manager for Netto UK, said: “We’re temporarily limiting our larger 10 kg bags of rice to one per customer because, like most other UK supermarkets, we are having to manage and minimise the impact the global rice shortage is having on our suppliers.

“We are experiencing a high demand for rice and have introduced this measure across our 184 UK stores to ensure that all of our customers have a fair opportunity to make their regular rice purchases. Our smaller 1kg packs remain on free sale with no restrictions planned at this time.” It expects the restriction to continue “indefinitely”.

By Lucy Killgren
Published: May 30 2008 23:45 | Last updated: May 30 2008 23:45

Source: Financial Times

Eurozone inflation reaches 16-year high

Eurozone inflation surged to the highest rate for 16 years on the back of sharply higher oil prices as consumer spending in the 15-country region showed further signs of weakness.

Annual inflation in the eurozone reached 3.6 per cent in May, according to official data released on Friday, up from 3.3 per cent in the previous month. That appeared to rule out any chance of an early cut in interest rates by the European Central Bank, which aims to keep inflation “below but close” to 2 per cent.

Evidence also emerged that higher prices were wreaking economic damage by forcing households to retrench. Germany reported a surprise 1.7 per cent drop in April retail sales, extending a 2.2 per cent fall in March.

This week, the European Commission reported eurozone consumer confidence had plunged in May to its lowest level for almost three years.

As well as driving inflation higher, the soaring cost of fuel has led to Europe-wide protests this week – with fishermen blocking ports in France and on Friday giving out fish free in Madrid.

Read moreEurozone inflation reaches 16-year high

Wall Street May Get Permanent Access to Fed Loans

May 30 (Bloomberg) — Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairman Donald Kohn raised the possibility of giving Wall Street securities firms permanent access to loans from the central bank, as long as regulators tighten oversight of the companies.

Kohn also advocated continuing Fed auctions of funds to commercial banks and loans of Treasuries to Wall Street dealers even after markets stabilize. Such channels would stay open “either on a standby basis or operating at a very low level,” he said in a speech in New York yesterday.

The remarks go beyond Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, who has indicated the central bank would shut lending to investment banks when the credit crisis passes. Lawmakers and regulators are debating how to approach the supervision of investment banks in the aftermath of the Fed’s rescue of Bear Stearns Cos. in March.

“If you are a bondholder in one of these Wall Street firms, you know you have a big `Sugar Daddy’ now called the Federal Reserve that’s going to back you up,” said Jeff Pantages, chief investment officer of Alaska Permanent Capital Management in Anchorage, which oversees $1.8 billion in assets.

“But if you are a stockholder this kind of worries you” because investment banks “will be more highly regulated and won’t be able to use leverage as much as” before, he said.

Kohn said he hasn’t decided whether securities firms should continue to gain access to loans from the central bank.

More Extensive

“The more extensive the access, the greater the degree to which market discipline will be loosened and prudential regulation will need to be tightened,” Kohn said in his speech to a conference hosted by the New York Fed. “Unquestionably, regulation needs to respond to what we have learned about the importance of primary dealers and their vulnerabilities to liquidity pressures.”

Read moreWall Street May Get Permanent Access to Fed Loans

US banks likely to fail as bad loans soar

US banks set aside a record $37.1bn to cover losses on real estate loans and other credits during the first quarter in a sign of the growing economic pain being caused by the global credit crisis, regulators said on Thursday.

Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, said it was likely loan-loss provisions and bank failures would rise in coming quarters as the fallout from market turmoil hits the real economy.

“While we may be past the worst of the turmoil in financial markets, we’re still in the early stages of the traditional credit crisis you typically see during an economic downturn,” she said, adding: “What we really need to focus on is the uncertainty surrounding the economy . . . and again it is all about housing.”

Ms Bair spoke as the FDIC released its quarterly banking profile, which showed loan-loss provisions in the first quarter were more than four times higher than last year’s level. That was the main reason bank earnings fell 46 per cent to $19.3bn from the first quarter in 2007 for the commercial banks and savings institutions where the FDIC insures customer deposits.

Following restatements by banks, the FDIC revised the industry’s net income for the fourth quarter of last year from $5.8bn to $646m – the lowest since the end of 1990.

Meanwhile, the FDIC said the number of “problem” banks rose in the first quarter from 76 to 90, with combined assets of $26.3bn. Three US banks have failed this year, compared with three for the whole of last year and none in 2005 and 2006.

Ms Bair said she expected more bank failures but emphasised that the number of problem institutions remained well below the record levels of the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s – when one in 10 banks were in that category.

However, she said one worrying trend was the declining “coverage ratio”, which compares bank reserves with the level of loans that are 90 days past due. This ratio fell for the eighth consecutive quarter, to 89 cents in reserves for every $1 of noncurrent loans, the lowest level since the first quarter of 1993.

“This is the kind of thing that gives regulators heartburn,” said Ms Bair. “We also want them to beef up their capital cushions beyond regulatory minimums given uncertainty about the housing markets and the economy . . . It’s only prudent to be building up capital at a time like this.”

In a sign that some US banks may have underestimated the cost of the housing slump, KeyCorp this week doubled its forecast for loan losses – its second revision in as many months – sending its share price tumbling by more than 10 per cent. During the property boom, KeyCorp expanded in fast-growing regions such as southern California and Florida, where problem loans are now growing.

By Joanna Chung and Saskia Scholtes in New York
Published: May 29 2008 20:43 | Last updated: May 29 2008 20:43

Source: Financial Times