Opinion

James Saft

Britain eats (leverages) its young

Nov 22, 2011 21:31 UTC

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

Four years, several failed banks and at least one global recession later, Britain has finally discovered what its young people need: 19-1 leverage.

Britain has announced a new housing initiative, the centerpiece of which is a plan to entice first-time buyers into buying newly-built properties with as little as 5 percent down.

Under the plan both builders and the government would contribute funds to partially indemnify lenders against what I am betting are the inevitable losses. Borrowers, who are almost by definition younger and less well off, will still bear all losses, but will be rewarded with the chance to take out the kind of loan which has proven time and again to be a bad idea.

This is utterly wrongheaded — the best possible thing that can happen for first-time buyers, and arguably for most Britons, is for housing prices to fall to a level commensurate with earnings.

Why are houses in Britain so difficult to afford? Partly because of problems with supply, issues that the housing plan takes some steps, almost certainly insufficient ones, to address. And also because Britons, first out of necessity and then in the fever of greed, borrowed so much money in order to wedge themselves into what little housing was available that they drove prices up to unaffordable levels.

Save capitalism from the banks – Nassim Taleb

Jan 30, 2009 16:31 UTC

Black Swan

Nassim Nicholas Taleb,  the author of  “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”, has a simple proposal to as he puts it, “save capitalism and free markets from the banks.”

Nationalise the banks, limit the rewards to those who work in what he calls the “utility” part of the system and have a completely uninsured second leg that can take all the risks it wants and lose its shirt, he said in an interview in Davos at the World Economic Forum.

“They rigged the game. We pay them for their profits, there is no clawback so their incentive is to hide the risk they are taking.”

Shocker – Davosians vote against more regulation

Jan 28, 2009 12:49 UTC

Duncan Niederauer, chief exec of NYSE Euronext, told a panel here at Davos that rather than inventing a whole host of new regulations, we’d be better off focusing on existing means of bringing order to markets, specifically taking a page from the exchanges books by having central clearing and more price transparancy for derivatives and off-exchange structured products. I think he’s actually got a great point about clearing and better price information, but I can’t see this as being anywhere near bringing regulation up to scratch.

The response from others on the panel was similar.

Nourial Roubini of NYU – “The ideology of the last decade was self-regulation which means no regulation. Reliance on ratings agencies with massive conflicts of interest.

“If we don’t want a backlash against trade we have to have prudential regulation of the financial system.”

Stephen Schwarzman’s hair of the dog

Jan 28, 2009 12:33 UTC

jimsaftcolumnSo what is Blackstone Group chairman Stephen Schwarzman’s prescription for solving the banking crisis?

More leverage and less transparency, apparently.

Schwarzman told a panel at Davos that you can’t mandate higher levels of bank capital at the same time losses are mounting and that mark-to-market accounting needed to be changed.

“You need lower capital. Do something with fair value accounting which is exacerbating things . . . We have to add more leverage to the system.” He further took issue with what he described as a “fixation on transparency” and said “We have to use regulators to schedule out losses.” By that I presume he means keep the bank on life support until they can make enough to absorb their losses. It did work in the 1990s with some prominent U.S. banks, but…

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