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from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 11-23

Reader note: I'm taking the week off for Thanksgiving, so blogging will be light. Back next Monday.

Sewers at capacity, waste poisons waterways (Duhigg, NYT) Fascinating. Yet another example of how society is overgrown. Everywhere you look, there's another piece of antiquated American infrastructure that is completely unable to handle capacity thrown at it by the modern economy. Sewers, the electric grid, air traffic control systems, the list goes on. But it's just too expensive to build any of them out: "As much as $400 billion in extra spending is needed over the next decade to fix the nation’s sewer infrastructure, according to estimates by the E.P.A. and the [GAO]." $400 billion. Just for sewers. We don't, nor will we ever, have the money for that. Not w/o sacrificing all the other stuff we want. Economists are trying to convince you that debt-financed "growth" is the only way to solve our economic problems. They're wrong. Debt-financed consolidation is the best we can hope for.

Wave of debt payments facing U.S. government (Andrews, NYT) Is the NYT editorial board getting budget conscious? (See again their pitch for fiscal prudence in NY State). This front-pager doesn't contain much new info, but it articulates clearly the debt problem we face. And they put it next to the article on sewers above. By the way, the quote from Bill Gross is interesting. Out of one side of his mouth he tells the government to borrow to "support asset prices," out of the other he wants us to stock away nuts for the Winter. Which is it Bill?

Gold reaches $1,174 (kitco) What kills the gold rally? Action from the Federal Reserve to defend the dollar. But we're getting the opposite. Yesterday St. Louis Fed President Bullard said the Fed should keep its QE program open after it finishes its planned purchase of $1.45 trillion of mortgage securities next March.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 11-22

The talented Mr. Pang (Maremont, WSJ) Maremont uncovered the long and sordid history of Mr. Pang. The Journal also broke the Norman Hsu story. Both were high-flying con-artists before the Journal got on their case. Great stories.

The 70% discount on Goldman's $500m gift (Ransom, SmartMoney) Really great work from Diana Ransom. Goldman will get a tax writeoff for much of its "gift." Other parts of it are actually loans the company expects will be repaid with interest. BTW, people know that Warren Buffett isn't actually contributing any money, right? He's just lending his time. Hmmm. What's he going to do? Get on the phone with a Denny's franchisee to talk about the stock market?

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...

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:

Morning links 11-16

Taxpayers on hook as some bailed out firms prove frail (Tse, WaPo) TARP investments in CIT and United Commercial bank were recently wiped out (= $2.6 billion). AIG and GM have received tens of billions they'll never be able to pay back. Taxpayers may have purchased a bit of breathing room with TARP, but busted balance sheets will eventually have to be recapitalized anyway, as shareholders are wiped out while certain creditors eat their share of losses.

Bankruptcy rise slows with thaw in lending (Spector/Haywood, WSJ) Great article. The writers emphasize how the supposed "thaw" in lending markets is largely a head fake, that junky companies are being allowed to paper over their problems because the Fed is forcing investors to chase risk.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Weekend links 11-14

Lawyer crashes after life in fast lane (Koppel/Esterl, WSJ) Big Florida ponzi.

Buffett admits: Burlington not cheap (Frye, Bloomberg) Buffett was so eager to deploy his cash that he was willing to overpay for Burlington. What I think may be going on in his head: in a world likely to experience many more bubbles and busts, lots of paper wealth will be wiped out. Not a bad idea to turn cash into tangible assets.

After spending binge, administration says it will focus on deficits (Allen/Vandehei, Politico) Not sure if I believe this. The Senate is already planning a third stimulus dressed up as a "jobs" bill.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 11-12

Wall Street faces "live ammo" as Congress aims to unravel banks (Vekshin/Schmidt, Bloomberg) Yves complains that this isn't enough, that size isn't the only problem. She's right, but I think these are good discussions to have. We'll have to wait to see what's in theKanjorski amendment, but I like where his head's at. To Smith's point, we desperately need to SIMPLIFY banks, not just shrink them. Ironically, today is the 10 year anniversary of theGramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed the last vestiges of Glass-Steagall. Besides GLB, we also need to dump the CFMA....

Have we reached peak gold? (Evans Pritchard, ht frog) Exploration budgets are up, but results have been poor. On the flip side, William Buiter is not a fan of gold. He makes some good points, though Jesse disagrees.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Afternoon Links 11-10

Mishkin defends bubbles (Yves Smith) Yves tears apart former Fed Governor Frederic Mishkin's op-ed in FT, for good reason.

Bank told to raise more common equity (8-k filing, ht frog) Hanmi bank in CA was told to raise capital, tangible capital in particular. Hopefully regulators continue in this direction with other banks.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 11-8

The economics of trust (Harford, Forbes) A great article. I've argued that markets need rules because without them the division of labor breaks down.

Big bank break up idea gains ground in Congress (Drawbaugh, Reuters) Senator Sanders just introduced a bill to do that. As noted earlier, Kanjorski is working on amendment to do same.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 11-6

Fannie asks for another $15 billion (press release) That brings the company's total draw on Treasury to $59.9 billion. Here's the paragraph that scares me: "Total nonperforming loans in our guaranty book of business were $198.3 billion, compared with $171.0 billion on June 30, 2009, and $119.2 billion on December 31, 2008. The carrying value of our foreclosed properties was $7.3 billion, compared with $6.2 billion on June 30, 2009, and $6.6 billion on December 31, 2008." Why is the value of nonperforming loans growing so much faster than foreclosures? If Fannie's not going to foreclose, then why bother paying the mortgage?

Fannie owed $15.8 billion by Lehman (Fannie 10-q) see page 103.

With tax break, a bigger carbon footprint (Glaeser, Boston Globe) "The real problem with the [home buyer tax] credit is that it continues the long-standing federal push toward far-flung McMansions and away from dense, apartment living." It's not just about carbon consumption. It's about encouraging the expansion of a footprint that our incomes can no longer support.