Bailing Out Banks – Congressman Ron Paul

There has been a lot of talk in the news recently about the Federal Reserve and the actions it has taken over the past few months. Many media pundits have been bending over backwards to praise the Fed for supposedly restoring stability to the market. This interpretation of the Fed’s actions couldn’t be further from the truth.

The current market crisis began because of Federal Reserve monetary policy during the early 2000s in which the Fed lowered the interest rate to a below-market rate. The artificially low rates led to overinvestment in housing and other malinvestments. When the first indications of market trouble began back in August of 2007, instead of holding back and allowing bad decision-makers to suffer the consequences of their actions, the Federal Reserve took aggressive, inflationary action to ensure that large Wall Street firms would not lose money. It began by lowering the discount rates, the rates of interest charged to banks who borrow directly from the Fed, and lengthening the terms of such loans. This eliminated much of the stigma from discount window borrowing and enabled troubled banks to come to the Fed directly for funding, pay only a slightly higher interest rate but also secure these loans for a period longer than just overnight.

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The Face of a Prophet

George Soros will not go quietly.

At the age of 77, Mr. Soros, one the world’s most successful investors and richest men, leapt out of retirement last summer to safeguard his fortune and legacy. Alarmed by the unfolding crisis in the financial markets, he once again began trading for his giant hedge fund — and won big while so many others lost.

Mr. Soros has always been a controversial figure. But he is becoming more so with a new, dire forecast for the world economy. Last week he rushed out a book, his 10th, warning that the financial pain has only just begun.

“I consider this the biggest financial crisis of my lifetime,” Mr. Soros said during an interview Monday in his office overlooking Central Park. A “superbubble” that has been swelling for a quarter of a century is finally bursting, he said.

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IMPORT PRICES STILL SOARING

Today’s update on import prices once again paints a troubling picture on pricing pressures.

Import prices jumped 2.8% last month, the U.S. Labor Department reports. That’s the highest since last December’s unnerving 3.2% spike. More troubling is the fact that the 2.8% rise in March is in the upper range for monthly changes going back to the 1980s. Adding insult to injury, import prices soared 14.8% measured over the 12 months through last month, as our chart below shows. That’s the highest 12-month rate in the Labor Department’s archives, which goes back to 1982 as per the web site.

The “good news,” if we can call it that, is that much of the rise in import prices was due to higher energy costs. And energy prices can’t rise forever–we hope. In any case, the 14.8% surge in import prices over the past year falls to 5.4% after stripping out energy. But the lesser rise in non-petroleum import prices is hollow comfort once you recognize that the 5.4% annual pace is the highest since the 1980s. The basic trend, in short, is not in doubt, no matter how you slice the import-price pie.

How troubling is a 5.4% rise in non-petroleum imports? In search of an answer, consider that inflation generally in the U.S. is climbing by 4.0%, based on the annual rise in consumer prices through February. And the nominal (pre-inflation adjusted) annualized pace of economic expansion in 2007’s fourth quarter was 3.0%. In other words:

* non-petroleum import prices are advancing at a roughly 33% faster rate than general inflation
* non-petroleum import prices are rising 80% faster than the nominal growth of GDP

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On the brink of disaster

The three newbies – the term auction lending facility, the primary-dealer credit facility, and the term securities lending facility – total more than half-a-trillion dollars, with more if needed. Much of this money is available not only to commercial banks but also to investment banks, which normally aren’t allowed to borrow from the Fed.

How can the Fed afford this largesse? Easy. Unlike a normal lender, the Fed can’t run out of money – at least, I don’t think it can. It can manage monetary policy while in effect creating banking reserves out of thin air and lending them out at interest.

That’s how the Fed reported a $34 billion profit in 2006, the last available year, of which $29 billion was sent to the Treasury. The Fed can even add to its $800 billion stash of Treasury securities by borrowing more of them from other big players.

Then there’s the Treasury. In March the Treasury – which failed this past winter to get private firms to establish a $100 billion “superfund” (please, no giggles from people who equate the term with Love Canal) to keep things called “structured investment vehicles” from having to sell their holdings in a bad market – unleashed Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500) and the Federal Home Loan Banks to buy hundreds of billions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities.

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Brace for $1 Trillion Writedown of `Yertle the Turtle’ Debt

Be it ever so devalued, $1 trillion is a lot of dough.

That’s roughly on a par with the Russian economy. More than double the market value of Exxon Mobil Corp. About nine times the combined wealth of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

Yet $1 trillion is the amount of defaults and writedowns Americans will likely witness before they emerge at the far side of the bursting credit bubble, estimates Charles R. Morris in his shrewd primer, “The Trillion Dollar Meltdown.” That calculation assumes an orderly unwinding, which he doesn’t expect.

“The sad truth,” he writes, “is that subprime is just the first big boulder in an avalanche of asset writedowns that will rattle on through much of 2008.”

Expect the landslide to cascade through high-yield bonds, commercial mortgages, leveraged loans, credit cards and — the big unknown — credit-default swaps, Morris says. The notional value for those swaps, which are meant to insure bondholders against default, covered about $45 trillion in portfolios as of mid-2007, up from some $1 trillion in 2001, he writes.

Morris can’t be dismissed as a crank. A lawyer, former banker and author of 10 other books, he knows a thing or two about the complex instruments that have spread toxic debt throughout the credit system. He once ran a company that made software for creating and analyzing securitized asset pools. Yet he writes with tight clarity and blistering pace.

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Derivatives Have Become the World’s Biggest Black Market

Buffett and Gross warn: $516 trillion bubble is a disaster waiting to happen

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. – “Charlie and I believe Berkshire should be a fortress of financial strength” wrote Warren Buffett. That was five years before the subprime-credit meltdown.

“We try to be alert to any sort of mega-catastrophe risk, and that posture may make us unduly appreciative about the burgeoning quantities of long-term derivatives contracts and the massive amount of uncollateralized receivables that are growing alongside. In our view, however, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.”

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Global “Oil Shock” Rattles World Stock markets

Cleaning up the mess that Mr Greenspan left behind was never going to be easy. Banks and brokers around the world face more than half-trillion dollars in write-offs as a consequence of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis, which is spreading from the US property market and roiling global stock markets. It’s toppled the US economy into a recession and the tremors are also rattling Asian stock markets.

Roughly $7 trillion has been wiped from world stock markets since the beginning of the year amid fears of a severe US economic recession and financial institutions reporting more mega losses. “The market crisis will preoccupy us well into 2008,” he said German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck on Feb 15th. “The financial risks securitized by banks contained packaged explosives,” and he accused rating agencies of having a conflict of interest in the role they played in the process.

So far, the Bernanke Federal Reserve has pumped more than half-a-trillion dollars into the markets with open market operations and special emergency lending schemes, to help cushion the blow to the US economy and stock markets. However, there’s evidence that the Fed’s prescription for dealing with the sub-prime debt crisis, is actually making matters much worse, and leading to “Stagflation.”

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Foreclosures hit all-time high

Over 900,000 borrowers are losing their homes, up 71% from a year ago, and a record number of home owners are behind on payments.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — More home owners than ever are losing the battle to make their monthly mortgage payments.

Over 900,000 households are in the foreclosure process, up 71% from a year ago, according to a survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association. That figure represents 2.04% of all mortgages, the highest rate in the report’s quarterly, 36-year history.

Another 381,000 households, or 0.83% of borrowers, saw the foreclosure process started during the quarter, which was also a record.

Additionally, the number of mortgage borrowers who were over 30 days late on a payment in the last three months of 2007 is at its highest rate since 1985.

“Boy, that was ugly,” said Jared Bernstein, an Economic Policy Institute economist of the data.

“It’s another reminder that anyone who thought we had hit bottom was wrong. This was a huge bubble, and when a bubble of this magnitude breaks, it creates a huge mess,” he said.” It could take a lot longer for the correction to work through the system.”
Housing rescue: What you need to know

One reason it may take so long is that there seems to be no end in sight for falling home prices.

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The Bush Bust of ’08: “It’s All Downhill From Here, Folks”

On January 14, 2008 the FDIC web site began posting the rules for reimbursing depositors in the event of a bank failure. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is required to “determine the total insured amount for each depositor….as of the day of the failure” and return their money as quickly as possible. The agency is “modernizing its current business processes and procedures for determining deposit insurance coverage in the event of a failure of one of the largest insured depository institutions.” The implication is clear, the FDIC has begun the “death watch” on the many banks which are currently drowning in their own red ink. The problem for the FDIC is that it has never supervised a bank failure which exceeded 175,000 accounts. So the impending financial tsunami is likely to be a crash-course in crisis management. Today some of the larger banks have more than 50 million depositors, which will make the FDIC’s job nearly impossible. Good luck. – Mike Whitney

Read moreThe Bush Bust of ’08: “It’s All Downhill From Here, Folks”