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Let the Fed regulate

By John M. Berry

John M. Berry, who has covered the economy for four decades for the Washington Post and other publications, is a guest columnist.

Politics is trumping common sense in Congress as Republicans and Democrats keep heaping abuse on the Federal Reserve. As a result, they could end up adopting an unworkable, risky overhaul of financial market regulation. 

Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is leading the parade with his plan to strip the central bank of virtually all its oversight of commercial banks.

  ”I really want the Federal Reserve to get back to its core enterprises,” Dodd said. In recent years, the Fed’s regulation of bank holding companies and consumer lending “was an abysmal failure,” he charged. 
No, the Fed didn’t cover itself with glory in some of its regulation and supervision, but neither did any of the other financial regulatory agencies. Moreover, the most serious failures last year involved investment banks overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission, not the Fed.

Russia’s shocking corruption belies Medvedev’s tough rhetoric

Everyone knows that Russia is corrupt, but did you know just how corrupt? The short answer is: more than any other country. That, at least, is the conclusion of a survey just published by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which examines the level of economic crime around the world.


PwC canvassed more than 3,000 companies in 55 countries, 89 of them in Russia. It asked them if they had been the victim of frauds such as embezzlement, bribery and crooked accounting. Russia topped the list, with 71% of respondents reporting at least one instance of fraud during the previous twelve months.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Morning Links 11-20

Bill Gross says chase risk! (PIMCO) In his December letter, Gross laments the ultra low yields available to investors. Holding cash is a terrible idea he argues. (Luckily he's not saying to go far out on the risk curve.) Still, I disagree. While I believe there's an outside chance of a dollar crisis (highly inflationary...hence the reason many investors have a 5-10% position in gold for insurance), the more likely scenario over the next few years is the one laid out by the SocGen guys: debt deflation. In that case the purchasing power of cash goes up. Looking at the .01% nominal yield on cash equivalents is therefore unfair. The deflation-adjusted yield would be much higher. This is not a reason to try to "inflate away" debt however as that's not actually a solution. It just gets us closer to the dollar crisis scenario. 90% cash + 10% gold has done very well over the past two years (especially on a risk-adjusted basis!) I guess you can jump back into risky assets if you feel you "need" yield. Of course that's the mistake so many people made in response to Alan Greenspan's low rates. How well did that strategy work?

Fed makes capital foremost concern (Torres/McKee, Bloomberg) With the Fed/Treasury actively engaged in reflating the asset bubble (see next link), it's good to know they're paying attention to capital levels...

Smartphones’ ecosystem dilemma

Why  is the Motorola Droid apparently gaining traction in the smartphone market, when Microsoft and Nokia are failing so miserably?

The Droid, built on Google’s Android mobile operating system, sold 250,000 in its first week on the market. That’s way behind the 1.6 million iPhone 3Gs sold in the first week after its launch, but it’s still enough for Motorola to see possible salvation after years of decline and for Google to feel self-congratulatory about its venture into mobile.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Krugman on the invisible bond vigilantes

Paul Krugman is complaining of deficit hysteria over on his blog again. Where are the bond vigilantes? he wonders. Since we're still able to sell debt so cheaply, why is anyone worried about more deficit spending?

As always, there are numerous holes in his argument that he chooses to ignore.

1. The chart he uses is the most charitable view of America's public debt burden. It's simply public debt outstanding. This ignores money the government owes itself to fund future benefits. More importantly, it ignores unfunded liabilities. Paul puts debt to GDP at 60%. In reality, public debt is closer to 500%. And that's using 2005 figures.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Midnight Links 11-18(19?)

Rep. DeFazio calls for Geithner and Summers to be fired (YouTube) Geithner has done many other things wrong besides paying out 100% to AIG's counterparties. Slamming banks together to avoid resolving their balance sheets was another big one. As for Summers, I still don't understand why he's so revered at the top of Democratic policy circles. His prior support of the CFMA and Gramm, Leach, Bliley -- two of the biggest regulatory blunders of our time -- should be enough to disqualify him from his current post.

FHA-backed lending is a train wreck says Toll (Gittelsohn, Bloomberg) Maybe a reader can correct me, but I'm guessing Toll Brothers, because it's a higher-end builder, doesn't rely much on FHA-backed lending to move its inventory. Still, it's interesting that a homebuilder would criticize the government for providing too loose credit. Homebuilders wouldn't have much of a business without it.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Silverdome sold for $583k

From Mark Guarino at CS Monitor.....New tale of Detroit’s woe: Pontiac Silverdome sold for $583,000

Ever want to own a domed football stadium?

The question was a plausible one Monday when it was announced that the Pontiac Silverdome — once home to the NFL’s Detroit Lions — was sold for $583,000, or about 1 percent of the $55.7 million it took to build in 1975.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Steve Keen on Minksy

One of my favorite economists talking about one of my favorite economists (ht Yves). Liberal use of the "pause" button to read his slides is recommended. He also goes into great detail about his "roving cavaliers of credit" thesis, which, in a nutshell, argues that money isn't created by the Fed, it's created by banks.

The slide on Bernanke around the 12 minute mark is very interesting.

We don’t need your stinking financing

The New York Fed reports that investors only requested financing for $72.2 million of new CMBS loans through its TALF program.  Since there’s only been one, the $400 million offering from Developers Diversified, it raises an interesting question: would investors prefer to go it alone without perceived government strings attached rather than juice returns through leverage?

Though I’m still skeptical about what this means for the billions of loans that still need to be refinanced, this is a good sign for the CMBS market and one that issuers are sure to notice. Demand is out there whether there’s nonrecourse loans or not.

Goldman Sachs says sorry

Wall Street’s response to public criticism has mainly been exercises in “never apologize, never explain.”

Which makes today’s mea culpa by Lloyd Blankfein all the more extraordinary. Bloomberg News reports: