USA 2008: The Great Depression

Food stamps are the symbol of poverty in the US. In the era of the credit crunch, a record 28 million Americans are now relying on them to survive – a sure sign the world’s richest country faces economic crisis

We knew things were bad on Wall Street, but on Main Street it may be worse. Startling official statistics show that as a new economic recession stalks the United States, a record number of Americans will shortly be depending on food stamps just to feed themselves and their families.

Dismal projections by the Congressional Budget Office in Washington suggest that in the fiscal year starting in October, 28 million people in the US will be using government food stamps to buy essential groceries, the highest level since the food assistance programme was introduced in the 1960s.


Disadvantaged Americans queue for aid in New York

Read moreUSA 2008: The Great Depression

Feed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits

Huge budget deficit means millions more face starvation.

Ears of wheat growing in a field. Photograph: Steve Satushek/Getty images

The United Nations warned yesterday that it no longer has enough money to keep global malnutrition at bay this year in the face of a dramatic upward surge in world commodity prices, which have created a “new face of hunger”.

Read moreFeed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits

Fed’s interest rate games could destroy the dollar

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has reduced the key federal funds rate six times in as many months — reducing the cost for major borrowers significantly. This combines with providing $270 million in funding, plus $30 billion in additional guarantees, for JP Morgan Chase to buy Bear Stearns Cos.

“Helicopter Ben” is living up to the nickname he earned after he remarked in a 2002 speech that he would stave off a recession even if he had to drop money from helicopters to do it.

The results of these policies have been destructive. The dollar is collapsing not only against foreign currencies — we’re now at par with the Canadian dollar and rocketing toward a 2-1 deficit against the Euro — but also against commodities. Gold was passing the $1,000-an-ounce landmark, silver $20. Even industrial metals like copper and zinc are fetching record prices.

Now, a spike in a particular commodity — say, for instance, $100-per-barrel oil — can be attributed to a shortage. But when they all move dramatically and simultaneously, it’s the purchasing power of our money that has gone down.

In fact, the increasing cost of even the base metals recently prompted Edmund Moy, director of the United States Mint, to propose further debasing the copper and nickel-plated, zinc slugs we call coins by substituting color-coated steel.

Read moreFed’s interest rate games could destroy the dollar

Rush to restrict trade in basic foods

Governments across the developing world are scrambling to boost farm imports and restrict exports in an attempt to forestall rising food prices and social unrest.

Saudi Arabia cut import taxes across a range of food products on Tuesday, slashing its wheat tariff from 25 per cent to zero and reducing tariffs on poultry, dairy produce and vegetable oils.

On Monday, India scrapped tariffs on edible oil and maize and banned exports of all rice except the high-value basmati variety, while Vietnam, the world’s third biggest rice exporter, said it would cut rice exports by 11 per cent this year.

The moves mark a rapid shift away from protecting farmers, who are generally the beneficiaries of food import tariffs, towards cushioning consumers from food shortages and rising prices.

Read moreRush to restrict trade in basic foods

USA 2008: The Great Depression

Food stamps are the symbol of poverty in the US. In the era of the credit crunch, a record 28 million Americans are now relying on them to survive – a sure sign the world’s richest country faces economic crisis

We knew things were bad on Wall Street, but on Main Street it may be worse. Startling official statistics show that as a new economic recession stalks the United States, a record number of Americans will shortly be depending on food stamps just to feed themselves and their families.


Disadvantaged Americans queue for aid in New York

Dismal projections by the Congressional Budget Office in Washington suggest that in the fiscal year starting in October, 28 million people in the US will be using government food stamps to buy essential groceries, the highest level since the food assistance programme was introduced in the 1960s.

Read moreUSA 2008: The Great Depression

The Subprime Crisis is Just Starting

(Excerpt: “For these reasons, there is a powerful, powerful case for moving a substantial portion of your assets into tangible assets. Good examples of tangible assets include gold, silver, commodities, real estate, farmland and energy.”)

Financial Sense

by Daniel R. Amerman, CFA | March 20, 2008

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Overview

As the author of three books on mortgage finance and related derivative securities, and speaking as someone who first turned mortgages into rated securities in 1983, I’m going to let you in on an unfortunate little secret – the real subprime mortgage securitization crisis may not have even started yet. But, there is a good chance the real crisis will arrive soon.

This assertion that the crisis could just be getting started may seem absurd and extraordinarily out of touch. What about the approximately 45,000 homeowners losing their homes to foreclosure in the United States every month? What about the 8.9% plunge in nominal housing prices in 2007, the largest decline in over 20 years? What about Bear Stearns losing 94% of the value of its stock in 2 days, with even the remaining 6% in value being based on an unprecedented loan from the Fed before JP Morgan would agree to the acquisition? How much worse could it get?

Read moreThe Subprime Crisis is Just Starting

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.

Read moreOn the brink of disaster

Treasury’s Plan Would Give Fed Wide New Power

“The Fed would have the authority to go wherever in the system it thinks it needs to go for a deeper look to preserve stability,” Mr. Paulson said in the advance text of Monday’s speech. “To do this effectively, it will collect information from commercial banks, investment banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, commodity pool operators.”
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WASHINGTON – The Treasury Department will propose on Monday that Congress give the Federal Reserve broad new authority to oversee financial market stability, in effect allowing it to send SWAT teams into any corner of the industry or any institution that might pose a risk to the overall system.

The proposal is part of a sweeping blueprint to overhaul the nation’s hodgepodge of financial regulatory agencies, which many experts say failed to recognize rampant excesses in mortgage lending until after they set off what is now the worst financial calamity in decades.

Read moreTreasury’s Plan Would Give Fed Wide New Power

Commodities Boom Sends French Food Prices Rocketing

PARIS (Reuters) – Prices of grain and milk-based food products have surged in France in recent months due to booming commodities prices, a French consumer group said in a report.

A monitoring of over 1,000 products between the end of November and early January in five supermarkets showed that yoghurt, milk and pasta had most suffered from the surge in many agricultural commodities that started last year.

“They’re not rising, they’ve caught fire,” monthly 60 Millions de Consommateurs said in its March report, circulated ahead of publication on Tuesday.

“Everywhere since the start of the year, spaghetti, yoghurt, camembert cheeses, have seen staggering rises in prices,” it said, stressing that the surge had hit all types of products, famous brands as well as supermarket own-brands.

Read moreCommodities Boom Sends French Food Prices Rocketing

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.”

Read moreGlobal “Oil Shock” Rattles World Stock markets