Opinion

The Great Debate

Europe borrows from Peter to lend to Peter

jamessaft1(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

Europe’s experiment in borrowing from Peter to pay Peter argues for a slow economic recovery with a low ceiling.

Data released by the European Central Bank on Monday showed that the supply in money is growing at best haltingly and that loan growth to euro zone households and businesses is at its lowest since records began.

Annual loan growth to the private sector slowed to 1.5 percent in June from 1.8 percent in May while the broader measure of money supply growth hit 3.5 percent.

Loans to non-financial corporations grew at a 2.8 percent annual rate, and actually fell from May. Household lending wasn’t that peppy either, with the growth rate falling to a paltry 0.7 percent annual rate.

Banks in Europe aren’t lending to consumers and businesses for a really sound set of fundamental reasons — borrowers know they ought not to be borrowing and the banks know that, of those who are asking for money, a disturbing minority can’t be trusted.

It’s tough to modify your way out of a hole

jamessaft1(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

If you thought the U.S. housing crash could be blunted if only lenders would cut delinquent borrowers a break, it is perhaps time to move on to another vain hope.

That’s right, the loan modification movement – pushed by the U.S. administration and others as a means of keeping non-paying borrowers in their houses, keeping those same houses from flooding the market as foreclosures, and even helping beleaguered lenders – is running into a reality-shaped wall.

An exhaustive study of loan modifications by economists at the Boston Federal Reserve, under which delinquent borrowers are given lower rates, more time, or even cuts in the principal amount owed, showed fundamental problems with the way that idea works when put into practice.

The dollar’s Tinkerbell moment

James Saft (James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Repeat after me: “I believe in a strong dollar as the primary global reserve currency, I believe in a strong dollar as the primary global reserve currency.”

Better hope it works, because the current debate over a far-in-the-future new monetary system may bring on a here-and-now dollar selloff and a whole new leg of the crisis.

Sadly, what worked when the children espoused their faith in Tinkerbell may not for a currency backed by the full faith and credit of a debtor nation which has socialised its banking system’s risk and needs to sell trillions in further debt to pay that and other bills.

Bonds swamped in fair weather or foul

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

Come good news or bad, the U.S. treasury market is taking a sell now and wait for inflation later strategy.

Since May 21, Treasuries have been battered, sending the yield on 10-year bonds up by nearly 40 basis points to 3.53 percent, an enormous move in bond market terms.

California, harbinger of hard U.S. choices

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

California’s fiscal train wreck should be watched warily by investors in U.S. Treasuries; as the start of a trend among states seeking bailouts, as a source of pressure on Federal funds and as a harbinger of hard choices at national level.

California voters last week rejected a finance bolstering proposal, setting the stage for billions of dollars worth of  cuts in services, layoffs and a shortened school year.

The ugly attraction of fast shrinking Japan

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

Sure, seeing your economy shrink at a 15 percent annual clip is depressing, quite literally, but if you believe in even a tepid global economic recovery in the second half, then Japan is actually attractive.

There is no way to sugar coat the first quarter Japanese gross domestic product figures released on Wednesday: they are breathtakingly bad viewed from virtually any angle.

U.S. should batten down the TARP

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

The U.S. faces a lengthening series of request from industries and interests seeking shelter under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, most of which it should dismiss out of hand.

YRC Worldwide, a large trucking company, told the Wall Street Journal it will seek $1 billion in TARP funds to help relive it of its pension obligations.

Pension funds should ditch alpha and cut fees

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

If anyone has reason to pray that the current equity rally holds, it is the world’s active fund managers who need investors to return to the folly of betting on outperforming the markets rather than the uninspiring but reliable business of cutting costs.

Pension funds, particularly those where the employer bears most of the risk of making good on promised payouts, are hurting after more than a decade of poor market returns.

Get ready for the “Great Immoderation”

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

The recession will soon be dead, laid to rest alongside the idea of the “Great Moderation”, a set of hopeful assumptions that underpins expectations about economic growth and asset valuations.

This, when investors, bankers and executives ultimately realise it will cause them to pull in their horns, take less risks and be less willing to pay high prices for assets.

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.

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