James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

M2M and the financial sector rebound

Sep 29, 2009 18:47 UTC

Ed Yardeni and mark-to-market accounting:

Do you recall “Time of the Season” sung by The Zombies in 1968? The Q3 earnings season is about to start. For the third quarter in a row, there will be fewer zombies in the S&P 500. These were the living dead companies that finally died during 2008, or they survived and are mostly coming back from the dead. Many of them are in the Financials sector. They could deliver some big positive earnings surprises during Q3 thanks to the suspension of mark-to-market accounting on April 2. … The Doomsters were quick to add up all the write-offs they projected as the financial crisis intensified largely as a result of the death spiral attributable to marking the value of assets into the oblivion of extremely illiquid or nonexistent markets. It was insane that the MTM rule wasn’t suspended sooner. Yet both Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson insisted that it would be unwise to change the rule in the midst of a crisis. They were dead wrong as evidenced by the extraordinary rebound in the stock market ever since March 12, when Rep. Gary Ackerman, my Congressman, leaned on Robert Herz, the head of FASB, to suspend the rule, which is what he did on April 2. The grand total of all the write-offs attributable to the financial crisis is now likely to fall quickly.


I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I don’t know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already Cheers!

Ron Paul and the Fed

Sep 29, 2009 17:46 UTC

First of all, thanks to my good friend Stan Collender over at the Capital Gains and Games blog who has jumped to my defense (and that of Bruce Bartlett) vs. the misguided Ron Paul supporters who interpret any criticism of the congressman’s ideas as proof of membership of some global conspiracy.

You know, it is possible to  think both a) overly easy monetary policy was a contributing factor in the economic crisis, and b) Fed actions helped prevent the recession from being worse than it was. And as far as the audit bill goes, letting Congress have greater influence on monetary policy would only result in a Fed that was less vigilant about inflation.

Better they focus their efforts nudging the Fed toward policies based in forward-looking market metrics as opposed to backward-looking economic indicators like the unemployment rate. But their dime, their dance floor.


No, Our dime, our dance floor, what is wrong with the way you think? You certainly will never know.

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Robert Zoellick and the return of the Washington Consensus

Sep 29, 2009 17:27 UTC

If World Bank President Robert Zoellick were running a stealth campaign to become the next Republican Treasury Secretary, he might have given a speech very much like the one he just gave at Johns Hopkins University.

In it, Zoellick, who was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2007, advocated policies to reinforce the dollar, warned about rising protectionism and told the Obama administration that the core of its financial regulatory reform effort was wrongheaded.

Then again, we’re a mere nine months into the current U.S. presidential administration. So it is probably safer to assume that Zoellick was merely doing his part to provide a useful blueprint for how the world’s largest and most important economy should best operate.

And a smart and savvy blueprint it is. Probably the piece getting the most attention is Zoellick’s skepticism about the White House plan for making the Federal Reserve the regulator of systemically important financial institutions.
“In the United States, it will be difficult to vest the independent and powerful technocrats at the Federal Reserve with more authority,” he said.

Difficult, at least, if you value keeping the Fed independent from political meddling, which Zoellick certainly does. He would prefer the Treasury gain an expanded regulatory role, with the Fed focusing on monetary policy and perhaps monitoring markets for systemic risk and financial bubbles.

Of course, this is exactly the opposite of the reform being pushed by the Obama administration, where Treasury would head a systemic risk monitoring council with the Fed keeping watch on the actual firms.

Zoellick also outlined the challenges to the dollar. Yes, he acknowledged, America is entering a multipolar financial reality where the euro, yen and yuan will be increasingly viable currency options. There is nothing to be done about that. In fact, it is good news to the extent that it reflects the success of capitalism in Asia.

What the United States does need to do is get control of its fiscal deficit and take measures to speed the “return of a dynamic, innovative private sector economy.”

A strong economy will result in a strong and stable dollar. Zoellick certainly gave no indication that he agreed with the Obama policy of benign neglect in order to help exports and de-emphasize the long-term role of the U.S. consumer in global growth.

But perhaps Zoellick’s most important comments were those warning the United States and other advanced economies that if they don’t keep pushing forward on trade, the forces of protectionism — such as those encouraging tire tariffs today and carbon tariffs tomorrow — will fill the policy void.

“Given the local pulls of protectionist producers in most countries, the only way to counter their gravitational force is by forging forward with a liberalizing trade agenda,” he said.

But trade hasn’t been a priority with the Obama administration. C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, speculates that this disinterest is a result of a) Democrats being split on the issue and b) an overstuffed policy agenda.

But maybe Zoellick’s word can serve as a nudge in the right direction for Washington, as well as London, Berlin, Paris, Tokyo and Beijing.

His speech served as a great reminder that fiscal discipline, independent central banks, free trade and the leading role of the private sector — the tenets that used to be called the Washington Consensus — will continue to be important in creating global economic growth and prosperity in the future.