Opinion

The Great Debate

Toxic asset profits, public liability

Hedge funds sponsored by the U.S. Treasury are reporting eye-popping returns, but the costs to taxpayers and households could end up being massive.

Funds created under the Public-Private Investment Program reported annualized net internal rates of return averaging 36 percent through Sept. 30, the Treasury announced on Friday, a figure that could encourage the belief that the banking bailout was a shrewd investment rather than a transfer of wealth.

The PPIP was created in 2009 to allow private investors to partner with the public purse to purchase distressed assets from the banking system, using cheap loans from the government for leverage.

Eight of these funds were created, with the Treasury having a 50 percent equity stake in each but providing all of the debt funding at extremely low rates averaging just over 1 percent a year.

It’s hard to know which to debunk first: the returns of the PPIP, which are the outputs of the “models” we’ve come to know and love; the structure, which privatizes profits and retains for the public the bulk of the risks; or the conception of the whole enterprise, which is aimed at propping up asset values to avoid more direct subsidies to banks.

Position fatigue prompting short-term dollar rethink

– Neal Kimberley is an FX market analyst for Reuters. The opinions expressed are his own –

Dollar bears have been disappointed by the G20.

Talk of re-balancing remained just talk; the bears can discern nothing substantial. Some risk is being taken off and dollars bought back selectively. While the dollar’s general downtrend is intact, there are risks of a temporary reversal, with some seeing the euro temporarily back to $1.4500/50.

Traders can contrast G20 with the Plaza Accord in 1985 which was driven by U.S. Treasury Secretary James Baker’s persistence. But he only had to convince four peers. G20 is and will be a different story. Dealing with the G20 must be like herding cats.

Fishy bailout profits and ephemeral gains

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

There is a long list of outfits which have done well out of the banking bailout, but the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve are not among them.

According to calculations made for the New York Times, the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has reaped profits of about $4 billion, or 15 percent annualized, as eight of the largest banks to participate have fully repaid what they owe.

Meanwhile unnamed Federal Reserve officials told the Financial Times that the central bank’s liquidity facilities have generated a “gain” of $14 billion since August of 2007.

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.

Uncertain Fed support sinks bonds

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

The bond market’s adverse reaction after the Fed announced no new asset purchase facilities or bond buyback programs highlights the fundamental difference between interest rates and quantitative easing (QE).

Rate cuts provide ongoing support for an indefinite period until the Federal Open Market Committee chooses to reverse them. In contrast, QE programs provide a one-off, time-limited boost that has to be continually reapplied to have the same effect.

Obama and flawed logic on Cuba

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate

– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

The U.S. case for isolating Cuba and keeping it out of international meetings such as this week’s Summit of the Americas sounds simple: the country doesn’t have democratically elected leaders, it holds political prisoners, it violates human rights and its citizens can’t travel freely. All perfectly true.

But if the logic used for isolating Cuba were applied consistently, neither China nor Saudi Arabia, for example, should have taken part in the London G20 summit. The U.S. State Department estimates China has “tens of thousands” of political prisoners and describes it as “an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party … is the paramount source of power.”

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.

Fed sets out exit strategy

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

Intense criticism of the Fed’s role in the financial rescue program and the decision to triple its balance sheet, including monetizing a portion of the Treasury’s debt, has forced the central bank to issue an unusual defense of its actions (http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/press/monetary/20090323b.htm).

It attempts to placate critics by acknowledging the real risk of inflation, and marks the Fed’s first attempt to set out an “exit strategy” for ending quantitative easing and other credit programs once the crisis is safely passed.

U.S. government borrowing runs into resistance

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

Investors have started to balk at absorbing large quantities of U.S. government debt, taking on substantial inflation and devaluation risk in return for little reward. While the government has no trouble placing short-term debt with a maturity of up to 2 years, longer-dated securities are proving much harder to sell.

Increasing resistance from the market explains why the Federal Reserve felt it had no choice but to announce it would start buying back longer-term U.S. Treasury securities last week, in a $300 billion program of direct quantitative easing and monetization.

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.

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