Opinion

The Great Debate

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.

But most interesting of all is a plan to buy whole loans, dubbed “legacy loans”, from banks but this time the private-public subsidized vehicle will get its leverage courtesy of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-guaranteed debt.

Notice that the ground has shifted subtly and the government is now talking not just about “toxic” assets but “legacy” ones. A legacy asset is, more or less, everything real estate related now on bank balance sheets.

Playing chicken with the Fed

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Yields on long-term U.S. Treasury debt continued to surge higher yesterday as the market braced for a future upturn in inflation and a tidal wave of long-dated issues that will be needed to fund the bank rescues and the emerging stimulus package.

Yields on three-year notes are up by around 47 basis points from their mid-December low. But yields on ten-year paper have soared 82 points and rates on the 30-year long bond have surged 114 points. Long-bond rates have retraced more than half their decline since the autumn (https://customers.reuters.com/d/graphics/USTREAS.pdf).

Back-end yields would probably have risen even further were it not for persistent hints the Federal Reserve is thinking about buying longer-dated issues to cap them. But the market has started to call the Fed’s bluff.

Is the Fed up to examining your trillion dollar bet?

Mark_Williams_Debate– Mark T. Williams, a professor in the Boston University School of Management’s Finance & Economics Department, was a former Federal Reserve bank examiner in San Francisco and Boston. The views expressed are his own. –

Washington is doling out more than $1 trillion to banks, a hefty capital commitment putting taxpayer money at risk. Meantime, Congress is moving to expand financial sector oversight and the Federal Reserve Bank is likely to take on this additional duty.

As the government’s financial involvement increases, the Fed must be ready for this expanded role. Unfortunately, the current fleet of Fed examiners is in way over their heads. I should know: I used to be one.

First 100 Days: Prioritize and take a hands-on approach

ram-charan-photo– Ram Charan is the author several book, including “Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty: The New Rules for Getting the Right Things Done in Difficult Times.” A noted expert on business strategy, Charan has coached CEOs and helped companies like GE, Bank of America, Verizon, KLM, and Thomson shape and implement their strategic direction. The opinions expressed are his own. –

The first 100 days demand that President Barack Obama sort out his priorities and choose the ones that will help solve many others. With many constituencies and direct reports clamoring for his time and attention, he cannot attend to them all.  He has to decide which of the many complex and urgent issues that have accumulated must be resolved first.

The new president will inevitably be pushed to spend a huge amount of time on foreign policy.  But I suggest that the president’s top priority should be to get the nation out of this economic and psychological funk.  He has selected some very capable people who will help sort out the economic mess. He made a brilliant move to have Paul Volcker in the White House.

How will the Fed get off its Tiger?

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

The Federal Reserve and U.S. economy have two considerable risks now that quantitative easing is at hand: keeping the dollar from a disorderly decline and figuring out how to dismount from the tiger.

The Fed has cut interest rates to a range of zero to 0.25 percent and said it would use “all available tools” to get the economy growing again, including buying mortgage debt as well as exploring direct purchases of Treasuries.

Uncertainty paralyzes U.S. banking system

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Extreme uncertainty about the economic outlook and the depth of the recession has paralyzed normal lending activity by commercial banks in the United States and elsewhere. Even as the Federal Reserve has added liquidity and boosted bank reserves, the credit creation process has remained stalled as banks struggle to identify good borrowers willing and able to repay in a wide range of future economic conditions.

The attached chart is adapted from the Federal Reserve’s weekly H.8 release on “Assets and Liabilities of Commercial Banks in the United States” (https://customers.reuters.com/d/graphics/US_CRDT1108.gif).

Light at the end of the tunnel

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist.  The opinions expressed are his own –

After more than a year of denial, misdirected policies and a steadily worsening outlook, the past fortnight has witnessed a marked improvement. For the first time, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic that the economy faces a recession rather than a prolonged slump, and recovery could get underway in H2 2009.

Markets share some of that optimism. The Dow Jones Industrial Index has risen 15.5 percent over four consecutive sessions, the most sustained rally since April 2008. It is not yet time to break out the champagne. But there are reasons to start looking through short-term weakness to focus on an eventual, albeit modest, recovery by the end of next year.

Fighting deflation globally ain’t easy

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

With the U.S., Japan and Britain — nearly 40 percent of the global economy — facing the threat of deflation, it’s going to be just too easy for one, two or all three of them to get the policy response horribly wrong.

The global economy is so connected, and our experience with similar situations so limited that the scope for error is huge.

Quantitative easing has begun

johnkemp3– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Quietly, without fanfare, the Federal Reserve has turned on the printing presses.  The central bank is flooding the market with enough excess liquidity to refloat the banking system — and hopes to generate an upturn in both economic activity and inflation in the next 12-18 months to prevent the economy falling into a prolonged slump.

Since the banking crisis intensified in September, the Fed has been rapidly expanding the credit side of its balance sheet, providing an ever-increasing array of facilities to support the financial system (repos, term auction credit, primary discount credit, broker-dealer credit, commercial paper funding, money market mutual fund liquidity and term securities lending).

TARP and Fed facilities unravel

johnkemp3–John Kemp is a Reuters columnist.  The opinions expressed are his own–

LONDON (Reuters) – Experience shows financial crises escalate very rapidly, and need a swift and decisive response from policymakers to break the cycle of panic. Time to reflect, craft thoughtful policies and consider long-term consequences is a luxury policymakers generally don’t have.

But the problem with bold ad hoc responses is they often have unintended consequences. Individual policy actions may prove inconsistent with one another, fail to achieve objectives, and store up larger problems for the longer term.

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