Subprime crisis hits governments

THE SUBPRIME mortgage crisis that pushed homeowners into foreclosure and forced the Federal Reserve to bail out investment banker Bear Stearns has also sent state and local governments across the country scrambling to refinance municipal bonds before they are hit with exorbitant interest rates.At the center of the storm are long-term variable-interest bonds known as “auction-rate securities.” Unlike traditional fixed-rate bonds, the interest rates on these securities are reset every 7, 28 or 35 days through an auction process.

Historically, the rate paid has been less than on traditional bonds, making the national $160-billion auction-rate market a reliable source of cheap financing.

But that market has collapsed in the past two months, sending interest rates climbing. As a result, California, Richmond, the Bay Area Toll Authority, the East Bay Municipal Utility District and Sacramento County are among countless government agencies forced to restructure their bond debts.

Read moreSubprime crisis hits governments

Fed May Buy Mortgages Next, Treasury Investors Bet

bernanke3.jpeg

March 24 (Bloomberg) — Forget lower interest rates. For the Federal Reserve to keep the financial markets from imploding it needs to buy troubled mortgage bonds from banks and securities firms, say the world’s biggest Treasury investors.

Even after cutting rates by 3 percentage points since September, expanding the range of securities it accepts as collateral for loans and giving dealers access to its discount window, the Fed has been unable to promote confidence. The difference between what the government and banks pay for three- month loans almost doubled in the past month to 1.69 percentage points.

The only tool left may be for the Fed to help facilitate a Resolution Trust Corp.-type agency that would buy bonds backed by home loans, said Bill Gross, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund at Pacific Investment Management Co. While purchasing some of the $6 trillion mortgage securities outstanding would take problem debt off the balance sheets of banks and alleviate the cause of the credit crunch, it would put taxpayers at risk.

Read moreFed May Buy Mortgages Next, Treasury Investors Bet

America’s economy risks mother of all meltdowns

meltdown-us-economy.jpg

“I would tell audiences that we were facing not a bubble but a froth – lots of small, local bubbles that never grew to a scale that could threaten the health of the overall economy.” Alan Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence.

That used to be Mr Greenspan’s view of the US housing bubble. He was wrong, alas. So how bad might this downturn get? To answer this question we should ask a true bear. My favourite one is Nouriel Roubini of New York University’s Stern School of Business, founder of RGE monitor.

Recently, Professor Roubini’s scenarios have been dire enough to make the flesh creep. But his thinking deserves to be taken seriously. He first predicted a US recession in July 2006*. At that time, his view was extremely controversial. It is so no longer. Now he states that there is “a rising probability of a ‘catastrophic’ financial and economic outcome”**. The characteristics of this scenario are, he argues: “A vicious circle where a deep recession makes the financial losses more severe and where, in turn, large and growing financial losses and a financial meltdown make the recession even more severe.”

Prof Roubini is even fonder of lists than I am. Here are his 12 – yes, 12 – steps to financial disaster.

Read moreAmerica’s economy risks mother of all meltdowns

A ‘Moral Hazard’ for a Housing Bailout: Sorting the Victims From Those Who Volunteered

WASHINGTON – Over the last two decades, few industries have lobbied more ferociously or effectively than banks to get the government out of its business and to obtain freer rein for “financial innovation.”

But as losses from bad mortgages and mortgage-backed securities climb past $200 billion, talk among banking executives for an epic government rescue plan is suddenly coming into fashion.

A confidential proposal that Bank of America circulated to members of Congress this month provides a stunning glimpse of how quickly the industry has reversed its laissez-faire disdain for second-guessing by the government – now that it is in trouble.

The proposal warns that up to $739 billion in mortgages are at “moderate to high risk” of defaulting over the next five years and that millions of families could lose their homes.

Read moreA ‘Moral Hazard’ for a Housing Bailout: Sorting the Victims From Those Who Volunteered

Banks to Seize Carlyle Capital Assets

NEW YORK — The likely liquidation of Carlyle Capital Corp.’s remaining assets sent the fund’s shares plummeting more than 90 percent Thursday and rattled stock markets around the globe. It was also a high-profile setback for private equity fund Carlyle Group.

Carlyle Capital said late Wednesday that it expected creditors to seize all of the fund’s remaining assets _ investment-grade mortgage-backed securities _ after unsuccessful negotiations to prevent its liquidation.

Its shares, which went public at $19 a share in July and traded at $12 just last week, tumbled 93.6 percent to 18 cents on the Euronext exchange.

Read moreBanks to Seize Carlyle Capital Assets

Fed takes boldest action since the Depression to rescue US mortgage industry

The US Federal Reserve has taken the boldest action since the 1930s, accepting $200bn of housing debt as collateral to prevent an implosion of the mortgage finance industry and head off a full-blown economic crisis.

fed.jpg

Emergency action was co-ordinated by Ben Bernanke [right], Donald Kohn [top], and Mark Carney after problems emerged

Read moreFed takes boldest action since the Depression to rescue US mortgage industry

Fed Prints Another $200 Billion Out Of Thin Air

World central banks unite to ease credit strain

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Reserve and four other central banks on Tuesday teamed up to get hundreds of billions of dollars in fresh funds to cash-starved credit markets, allowing financial firms to use securities backed by home mortgages as collateral for central bank loans.

bernanke.jpeg

Stocks surged, bonds fell and the long-suffering U.S. dollar soared in reaction to the moves, a sign financial markets saw the plan as a step in the right direction to ease a crisis that has threatened world economic growth. The Dow Jones industrials closed nearly 3.6 percent higher.

In the latest effort to ease a credit contraction that has disrupted global finance, the Fed, Bank of Canada, Bank of England, European Central Bank and Swiss National Bank announced a series of aggressive measures to boost liquidity. It was the second time in three months that central banks from around the globe had launched coordinated efforts.

Wall Street economists were quick to call the new lending facility a step in the right direction, but what’s most needed is time for the de-leveraging of billions of dollars in loans globally.

Read moreFed Prints Another $200 Billion Out Of Thin Air

Despite the Federal Reserve’s efforts Wall Street fears a big US bank is in trouble

Global stock markets may have cheered the US Federal Reserve yesterday, but on Wall Street the Fed’s unprecedented move to pump $280 billion (£140 billion) into global markets was seen as a sure sign that at least one financial institution was struggling to survive.

The name on most people’s lips was Bear Stearns. Although the Fed billed the co-ordinated rescue as a way of improving liquidity across financial markets, economists and analysts said that the decision appeared to be driven by an urgent need to stave off the collapse of an American bank.

“The only reason the Fed would do this is if they knew one or more of their primary dealers actually wasn’t flush with cash and needed funds in a hurry,” Simon Maughan, an analyst with MF Global in London, said.

Read moreDespite the Federal Reserve’s efforts Wall Street fears a big US bank is in trouble

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.

Read moreForeclosures hit all-time high