Opinion

The Great Debate

Bond market vigilantes saddle up

jimsaftcolumn– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Efforts to reflate the economies of the U.S. and Britain are running into one potentially major problem; the bond market.

Appetite for government debt in recent sales has been very poor, raising the cost to the two governments of borrowing and blunting their efforts to bring down market interest rates by buying back their debt.

This is a big risk for British and U.S. efforts to rescue their economies, and could be yet another self reinforcing downward force if holders of government debt get the frights.

Both countries are running hugely expansionary fiscal stimulus programs that will need to be paid for by gargantuan sales of government debt. At the same time both have such low official interest rates, 0 to 25 basis points for the U.S. and

U.S. mouth writing checks its body won’t cash

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

A look at credit insurance prices for U.S. banks shows that market thinks the government’s mouth is writing checks its body can’t or won’t cash.

Despite a blistering rally in bank shares and Herculean efforts by the U.S. to build confidence in its financial sector, the price of insuring some leading banks’ debt against default has increased markedly in recent weeks.

Bank rally ready to be marked-to-market

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

U.S. bank operating earnings are going to have a hard time outrunning credit losses, making the massive rally in bank shares look ready to be marked-to-market.

A series of positive statements about profitability in the early part of the year from major U.S. banks, notably Bank of America, Citigroup and JP Morgan helped to spring a rally in the beaten down sector, as investors bet that with government assistance they could earn their way out of their troubles.

Fishing for the housing bottom in San Diego

– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –
jimsaftcolumn6
When prophetic long time bears turn a bit cuddly, it is usually best to take notice.  A real estate maven who rejoices in the “nom-de-blog” of Professor Piggington has now, after five years of correctly shouting bubble, labelled San Diego housing prices “reasonable” based on the latest available housing data.

Remember, San Diego has been, along with Phoenix, Las Vegas and parts of Florida, among the most bubbleicious markets in the U.S., and the massive busts there still represent a huge problem for bank balance sheets, for employment and for the U.S. economy generally.

So a bottoming, if that is what we are seeing, would be very significant. Housing is usually among the first sectors to recover in the aftermath of a recession and many economists argue that it actually drives the economic cycle.

World stuck with the dollar, more’s the pity

jimsaftcolumn5– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

The dollar is, and will remain, the U.S.’s currency and its own and everyone else’s problem.

The idea of creating a global currency, as espoused by China earlier this week, is interesting, has a certain amount of merit and is simply not going to happen any time soon.

Geithner’s naked subsidy redefines toxic

jimsaftcolumn31– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own

Treasury Secretary Geithner is all but admitting that U.S. banks are suffering not from market failure but self-inflicted collateral damage.

The U.S. Treasury on Monday detailed an up to $1 trillion plan to buy up assets from banks in partnership with private investors, using financing bankrolled by the government, financing that is only secured by the value of the doubtful assets the fund buys.

One portion will be dedicated to buying complex securities from banks employing capital contributed by private investors and the government topped up with funds borrowed from the Federal Reserve. A second portion will buy older securities that are, or were, rated AAA, using, you guessed it, more non-recourse funding.

The state-sponsored shadow banking system

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

The shadow banking system in Europe isn’t so much dead as being kept on life support by banks and central banks in what amounts to a desperate but risky attempt to avoid the reckoning.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the biggest single month ever for securitization in Europe and Britain was sometime before we all realized that we were in a credit bubble, sometime like the sunny days of 2006.

Accounting change won’t save banking

James Saft Great Debate —James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

By all means reform accounting, but for pity’s sake take your time and keep your expectations low.

Suspending mark-to-market accounting immediately as a means of levitating banks out of peril simply won’t work. While transparency may or may not be the foundation of banking, trust undoubtedly is.

“Adjusting” or suspending fair value accounting, even if you swear up and down that this time it’s even more fair will erode rather than build trust and repel rather than attract capital.

Here comes another set of dodgy U.S. loans

jimsaftcolumn1– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Banks in the U.S. face a new source of write-downs and failures in the coming year as loans made to developers to finance residential and commercial property development rapidly go bad.

And as these loans are old-fashioned and concentrated in smaller banks, their fate is particularly interesting as it indicates that issues with the banking system go far deeper than the so-called “toxic assets” belonging to the largest lenders that have thus far gotten most of the attention and government aid.

Let sleeping shadow banking systems lie

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Rather than vainly trying to refloat the shadow banking system, the U.S. would be better off grappling with the inevitable ultimate solution — debt destruction and inflation.

The common denominator of policies like the Term Asset-Backed Loan Facility (TALF) that was detailed on Tuesday, is that they try to solve fundamental problems with indebtedness by attempting to float asset prices high enough that they are back in proportion with the debt.

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