Opinion

The Great Debate

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.

The root cause of the financial crisis has been bank driven. Under the Fed’s watch, Wall Street wizards were allowed to concoct, sell and speculate on risky credit-related products. In addition to monetary policy, the Fed has an important duty to maintain a safe and sound banking system. Although this supervisory role is well understood, banks still overdosed on risk — not overnight but over time. This significant risk trend was missed by the Fed and its examination force.

In maintaining safety and soundness, bank examiners are the first line of defense. They are the foot soldiers, the Fed’s eyes and ears. The examination process includes physical sampling, on-site visits, and executive interviews, culminating in a formalized bank rating and written report. These ratings are an important risk measurement and provide a bank’s financial health scorecard. The Fed does not make these ratings public but uses these to assemble lists of the weaker banks that need further attention and oversight.

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.

Commodities and the Great Conundrum

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


By John Kemp

LONDON (Reuters) – By driving up long-term real interest rates, the forthcoming flood of U.S Treasury borrowing threatens to crowd out the amount of capital for investing in other asset classes, creating a much tougher environment for commodity prices over the next two to three years.

Like many other asset classes, commodity prices have benefited from an influx of funds in recent years driven by three related factors:

Is the buck back?

diana-furchtgott-roth1Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The opinions expressed here are her own.

“The Buck is Back,” proclaimed a Wall Street Journal headline on Tuesday. But even if it is, and that’s a big if, a strong currency is a mixed blessing.

True, in spite of the financial crisis, over the past six weeks the dollar has strengthened substantially against the euro and the British pound, although Wednesday’s half percentage point Federal Reserve rate cut caused the dollar to slip. But the dollar has lost value relative to the Japanese yen.

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