Opinion

The Great Debate

First 100 Days: Fix the banks

morici– Peter Morici is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Business and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. The views expressed are his own. —

For every new president, campaign promises and inaugural idealism must give way to the hard choices that measure the mettle of their leadership.

Now Barack Obama must act pragmatically to fix the banks or the economy will sink under their weight.

Banks continue to suffer losses on bonds backed by failing mortgages, credit cards and auto loans, and questionable corporate debt. To assist, the Treasury has used TARP funds to purchase capital in healthy and deeply troubled banks alike; however, no one can calibrate how high bank losses will go, because no one knows how far housing prices will drop and how many loans will ultimately fail.

The Obama Treasury could put a floor under bank losses, through government guarantees on their bonds, or by creating an aggregator bank that purchases those securities from banks altogether.

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.

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.

TARP, bonuses, dividends and Waxman’s letter

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

By John Kemp

LONDON (Reuters) – The bitter political divisions between middle America and Wall Street on display when the House of Representatives first rejected the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act last month look set to be re-opened in even more dramatic form in the remaining months of the year.

Rep Henry Waxman, chairman of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on Tuesday sent identical letters to the chief executives of nine major banks receiving $125 billion of capital injections under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) demanding details of total bonus payments for 2006, 2007 and 2008 (see http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20081028142314.pdf).

The issue of bonuses and dividend payouts from banks that accepted the TARP injection looks set to become highly charged.

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