Now raising intellectual capital

from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 2-2

Homeownership rate falls to 2000 level (CR) At 67.2% it's still way overstated. Home "ownership" is a misnomer in cases when the owner has withdrawn mortgage equity or when the price of the home has fallen below the principal value of the mortgage. A better measure of homeownership, I think, is just to look at total owner's equity as a % of household real estate. The most recent Fed Flow of Funds report (page 104, line 50) puts the figure at just 37.6%...

U.S. could extend bank fee beyond 10 years, Geithner says (Di Leo/Crittenden, WSJ) The proposed tax on non-deposit liabilities should be permanent, and should target ALL liabilities, including repos. Deposits are guaranteed via FDIC. While that insurance is dramatically underpriced (witness the cash-strapped state of the DIF) at least banks pay something for it. Non-deposit liabilities are also effectively guaranteed, for the biggest banks anyway, via the promise that none which is too big will be allowed to fail. To counter moral hazard, this implicit guarantee must be taxed in order to offset any benefit derived from lower funding costs.

Must-Read: What's a college degree really worth? (Pilon, WSJ) A lot less than you think, as argued here before. This piece is well-written with lots of good data!

AIG derivatives staff said to forgo $20 million in retention bonuses (Katz/Son, Bloomberg) They're still well-paid, but this is better than nothing I suppose.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Obama’s blowout budget

Now that the worst of the financial crisis is behind us, one would think the budget deficit might start to come down. Actually, no. Obama's proposed budget sets a new deficit record -- $1.6 trillion this year compared to $1.4 trillion last year.

The President thinks he can help the economy with more deficit spending. But debt is the reason we have a jobs problem in the first place. We've accumulated more debt than our incomes can support (see chart at bottom) so the economy is trying to pay it down, leading to less spending and higher unemployment. Adding to the debt pile only makes the employment picture uglier in the long-run.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Afternoon Links 1-20

Must Read -- Short sale fraud + follow-up (Olick, CNBC) Great sleuthing from Diana Olick. Sounds like outright fraud being committed by big banks. One follow up question: In many cases, the second-lien holder is also the first lien holder. How is that impacting short-sales?

Buffett opposes bank fee (CNBC) See 2/3rds down the page. Obfuscation worthy of a banker. This should come as no surprise as Buffett is Wells' top shareholder. He previously opposed the bank stress tests because it diluted his shareholdings. Nevermind that the stress test forced the bank to raise desperately needed capital. It's a shame, really. As his career winds down, he's sacrificed his reputation as a financial straight-shooter to protect his wealth.

from Rolfe Winkler:

BlogArt: Dubai’s Tower of Babel

(ht Reddit)


Plus it was built with slave laborers...

Update: Here's a view from a helicopter...

Burj Dubai

from Rolfe Winkler:

Could England be headed for a “sudden stop?”


From Landon Thomas at NYT: In Britain, visions of Japan's decade of stagnation

Britain may finally be emerging from recession, but many analysts warn that it is a false dawn. In fact, they argue, the economy here is so ravaged by growing debts and ruined banks that it could well be following in the steps of Japan’s lost decade of the 1990s.

I still don't understand why we refer to Japan's "lost decade," singular. The country is now moving into its third consecutive lost decade.The Nikkei is still at 1984 levels.

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.

Commercial paper market still smaller than 2003

Earlier today the Fed’s commercial paper data caught my eye – the nearly $70 billion surge in short-term borrowing in the latest week was hard to miss. At $1.3 trillion, the CP market is still a shadow of its former self. It peaked at $2.2 trillion in the summer of 2007 right before the bottom fell out of credit markets.

But that’s a good thing. Much of the growth during the boom came in the asset-backed part of the market, which subprime mania infected during the boom. When money market managers woke up to the fact that they may have exposure to subprime, they bailed, helping to spark a run on short-term markets that only buckets of liquidity from the central banks stopped.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Big Mac Index meets National Debt Clock

A cool press release from The Economist just hit my inbox. They've launched a global public debt clock:

In the spirit of The Economist's famous Big Mac Index, the Global Public Debt Clock is not perfectly accurate, but rather is intended to provide a graphic perspective on an important economic issue.

Deleveraging in action, Bank of England edition

Ever since branches started forming outside Northern Rock branches two years ago, British consumers have been told they have way too much debt. They finally appear to be paying attention. Bank of England data released today shows net lending to individuals fell by £600m between June and July. Nothing surprising there, you might say. Surely it’s only normal that people are paying back their debts. Except that this is the first drop since the Bank started recording monthly data back in 1993. Or, as the Bank’s statisticians put it:

Total net lending to individuals fell by £0.6 billion in July, showing a net repayment for the first time in the series.

Take the L out of LBO

In a perfect world, we would simply ban leveraged buyouts. The vast majority of these debt-laden corporate takeovers are no less predatory and value-destroying to a company than a loan shark who charges usurious rates of interest.

Realistically, a prohibition on private equity deals will never happen, given the big dollars involved in these transactions and the sizeable campaign contributions that private equity chieftains shower on politicians from both parties.