Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Regulations Caused This Crisis

If there is one thing we should learn from this crisis it is the danger of bad regulations and the unseen danger of unintended consequences. The Basel II regulations put a lot of power in the hands of the ratings agencies. These agencies are the only ones allowed "in the game" by law, I'm talking about S&P, Moody's, etc. Go to the link below for the full list of ten.

A Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organization (or "NRSRO") is a credit rating agency which issues credit ratings that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) permits other financial firms to use for certain regulatory purposes.

Thanks to the REGULATIONS we ALREADY HAD, financial institutions were eager to separate their subprime debt into AAA securities and left over toxic waste. Unfortunately, those AAA securities weren't as safe as the ratings agencies said they were and became toxic themselves.

Regulations made a protected cabal of agencies free from other competition. Regulations allowed these agencies to affect the capital requirements of large financial institutions. AAA securities count toward capital more than BBB securities under Basel II.

Regulations caused this financial mess, they set the stage and regulators who were supposed to watch over the system failed to do their jobs.

Let's not pretend there were no regulations. The regulations we had didn't work. Government plans and wise thinking failed and turned out to be very stupid instead of wise. This is just another example of government failure and why we should not put our faith in government. Anyone who looks at the facts and past history can see that the government's record is incredibly poor, the government is incredibly incompetent no matter what party is in power. And for those who believe in the superiority of international regulators, Basel II was push upon us by "the international community". Below is an article with links to other articles.

The long-awaited implementation of the Basel II capital adequacy accord has been further threatened by US concerns over the results of the recently completed quantitative impact study (QIS4). The four US federal banking agencies (OCC, Federal Reserve, FDIC and OTS) have called for a delay in publishing an important notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR), from the summer to the autumn this year, to allow for further study.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Calpers Scam

Calpers in recent weeks said it expects to report paper losses of 103% on its residential investments in the fiscal year ended June 30. That's because Calpers invested not only its own money, but billions of dollars of borrowed money that must be repaid even if the investment fails. In some deals, as much as 80% of the money invested by Calpers was borrowed. ...
read the rest

Mish's Global Economic Trend Blog sums it up

The Calpers website fails to point out just just how it guarantees those benefits. The WSJ article spells it out nicely: "California's cities, towns and schools may have to cough up more money to cover the retirement and other benefits the fund provides for 1.6 million state workers."

What a scam.

Stimulus Should Not Depend on Health Care or Alternative Energy Invesments

There have been calls for Universal health care and green energy investments as part of a stimulus package. Universal health care and alternative energy are not going to be the paths that lead us to prosperity. There is no free lunch, if the government mandates the price of health care, then quality or supply must decrease. How many people will want to become doctors if they can only make $50,000 a year? Maybe the dishwasher today, but certainly the quality of the medical staff has to decrease. And why would anyone build hospitals or enter the health care industry with prices capped? They would find more productive uses for their capital, it just doesn't make sense. As for alternative energy, there is a cost, literally since it costs several times more than oil. That means Americans will have to spend more money to heat their homes, run their cars, and watch TV, leaving less for everything else. We will be poorer as a result, the stimulus from building wind and solar plants will be one time events. Plus would people be willing to pay more than double for alternative energy when they can get fossil based energy at less than half of alternatives? No, otherwise we'd be building a lot more wind and solar plants. We aren't because the demand isn't there, they aren't competitive, only government mandates are propping up these investments and that raises energy costs for Americans. You can't have it both ways. It's time to separate leftist dreams from real solutions. If you must, play a computer game where wind and solar are less expensive and no one wants to use oil. Actually, this idea is so ridiculous that I'm not aware of a game that operates under that reality.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Defending the TARP's Execution

Below is my response to Alan Blinder's Op-Ed in the New York Times.

The original plan was abandoned because 1) there isn't enough money to buy all the toxic securities out there 2) Since these securities are non-standard and have various structures and terms, buying them through an auction would be a difficult and time consuming process 3) buying securities at market value would expose many banks as being insolvent or below regulatory capital requirements 4) it would be hard to limit purchases to US banks, we would in effect, have to buy all the toxic stuff in the world, how do you prevent foreign banks from selling toxic assets to US banks so that they can be sold to the Treasury? 5) Now you know why there isn't enough money.

The author is indeed dazed and confused. The terms of the capital infusions were favorable because the banks are in trouble. Predatory terms, as with the initial AIG deal, would have been too onerous. Banks need to make money so that they can use the earnings to write off their bad loans, if Treasury takes all of the earnings or even most, then it will take more time for the banks to get better. The whole point of a "bailout" is to HELP, not put banks out of business, thus the 5% preferred shares. And as for non-voting shares, it allows room for private equity investment as it leaves control to the private sector and minimizes government interference on the Board. Furthermore, preferred shares eliminate the need for the government to find people to run the companies they invest in. There are too many companies, and Treasury or FED are ill-equipped to run dozens of companies. Who are the heads to report to? Who will call the shots? Paulson has enough on his hands and even he can't run dozens of separate companies.

Forget about stopping foreclosures, it's a foolish idea and would only prolong the crisis. Real estate prices have fallen so much that it's not possible anymore to pretend that they are anywhere near what someone in foreclosure paid for them. Thanks to that fact, there's very little incentive for a person to continue paying on a mortgage when he'll never see a penny from the eventual sale. Remodify the mortgage and he still has no incentive other than it allows him to rent the property. If rent is cheaper elsewhere, then he'll default again, why should a person pay extra for rent? And that house is, by all accounts, being rented since the mortgage defaulter will never see a penny of profit.

I'm glad Paulson wisely saw the above and chose the best course of action left to him. It's ridiculous to expect a quick or painless end to this crisis. Else it wouldn't be a crisis. There are no easy solutions. Whatever the criticism, the downturn will take its course and NOTHING can change the fact that the losses are real and have to be borne by someone. Nationalizing the banks would just transfer the losses to the taxpayer and cause panic in the stock markets. When government seizes private equity, then appetite for that equity disappears.