MacroScope

from Reuters Investigates:

Let’s be ethical, economists say

Last month's special report “For some professors, disclosure is academic” has been making waves in the academic world, as this story shows:

Economists urge AEA to adopt ethics code: letter

By Kristina Cooke

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Almost three hundred economists have signed a letter to the American Economic Association "strongly" urging it to adopt a code of ethics requiring disclosure of potential conflicts of interests.

The 135-year-old American Economic Association, or AEA, does not have a code of conduct for its approximately 18,000 members. Over half of its members are academics, according to its website.

"We strongly urge that the AEA create and then promote adherence to a professional code of ethics that at a minimum requires transparency with respect to potential conflicts of interest," Gerald Epstein and Jessica Carrick-Hagenbarth of the University of Massachussetts, Amherst wrote in a letter sent Monday to the AEA.

"We believe this would be an important and necessary step toward enhancing the credibility and integrity of the profession," they wrote.

Banking on a Portuguese bailout?

portgualprotest.jpgReuters polls of economists over the last few weeks have come up with some pretty firm conclusions about both Ireland and Portugal needing a bailout from the European Union.

Portuguese 10-year government bond yields have hovered stubbornly above 7 percent since the Irish bailout announcement, hitting a euro-lifetime high and giving ammunition to those who say Lisbon will be forced into a bailout.

And of those who hold that view, it’s clear that bank economists have been most vocal in expecting Ireland and Portugal to seek outside help.

Champagne for “bailout boys” in Dublin?

T2Doom and gloom is in no shortage in Ireland this week with “bailout boys” from the IMF descending on the capital and newspaper editorials mourning the end of Irish independence.

The opening of the 600 million-euro new terminal at the Dublin Airport today was somewhat also muted, despite the Dublin Airport Authorities’ best effort to splash.

Reporters invited to cover the event were given a lavish gift bag containing a box of chocolates, a mini bottle of champagne and a crystal and marble paperweight commemorating the opening of the T2.

from Reuters Investigates:

Club Fed: the ties that bind at the Fed

USA-FED/BERNANKE We're getting a lot of good feedback on our special report on cozy ties between Wall Street and the Fed. As one Wall Street economist put it: "I've never seen the 'Fed Alumni Association' used more extensively for back-channel communications with the Street than has been the case since June."

The story pulls back the veil on the privileged access that Federal Reserve officials give to big investors, former Fed officials, money market advisers and hedge funds.

Another economist from a European bank thanked us for the report, saying: "I hate the idea that monetary policy is communicated through non-official channels, be it old friends or newsprint."

ECB payback as easy as ABC

Trichet

Trichet

The European Central Bank is breathing a sigh of relief as it managed to take back 442 billion euros in emergency loans lent to banks a year ago without blowing a hole in money markets.

Banks borrowed modestly from two extra lending operations the ECB offered to sweeten the payment deadline, rolling over just over half the one-year loans, or 243 billion, and letting 199 billion euros flow out of the financial system.

The ECB has been keen to get money markets back on a more normal footing and to avoid banks becoming hooked on central bank money, but was wary of shocking markets with a sudden liquidity shortage.

The ECB’s half-trillion euro question

ReutersEuropean banks must pay back almost half a trillion euros to the European Central Bank on July 1 as the ECB’s first-ever one-year loans fall due, potentially putting pressure on banks’ ability to refinance and on money market interest rates.

But the ECB is confident it has put the necessary crash protection in place, with offers of unlimited three-month and six-day funds on the menu next week to make sure banks are not starved for funds.

 ”We have taken all precautions,” Austrian central bank governor Ewald Nowotny assured journalists on Friday. “We are confident that this will all occur without tensions.”

A “Greed Tax” on banks

The International Monetary Fund has done what it was bid by the G20  and come up with proposals for getting banks to pay for the government help they receive when they get in trouble.  You can read the actual wording here, but it comes down to this:

Cat1) A “Financial Stability Contribution” which would be pooled into a fund that would use it to help weak banks, or just go into general government revenues.

2)  A “Financial Activities Tax” — perhaps intentionally known as FAT — to be levied on combined bank profits and remuneration (for which read “bonuses”) and paid to governments.

Scams from Abuja to Reykjavik

It suffered the collapse of its currency, economy and banking system so being invoked in a version of the notorious Nigerian email scam is one of the smaller humiliations endured by Iceland.

The confidence trick, which has roots in the 18th century, usually involves an email from someone claiming to be either a deposed African dictator or a Nigerian lawyer, promising a sum of money in return for help to access a substantial fortune.

But the latest spam email making its rounds purports to be from Iceland, one of the highest profile sovereign casualties of the global financial crisis. This version of the email is supposedly from a “devoted christian (sic)” from Iceland”, a widow seeking help to access $6 million in a Canadian bank left to her by her husband who worked for an oil giant for 19 years.

Financial headcounts stabilize in 2009

After financial firms slashed hundreds of thousands of jobs in 2007 and 2008, the bloodletting slowed in 2009 as major banks rebounded from the financial crisis. Even though firms like Goldman Sachs Group Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co reported billions of dollars in profit, they still did not announce major hiring initiatives.

Recession layoffs Headcount (end 2008) Headcount (end 2009) Bank of America 45,000 240,202 283,717* Citigroup 75,000 323,000 265,000 Goldman Sachs 4,800 34,500 32,500 J.P. Morgan 23,700 224,961 222,316 Morgan Stanley 8,680 45,295 61,388* UBS 19,700 77,783 65,233 Credit Suisse 7,320 47,800 47,600 Barclays 9,050 152,800 144,200 Deutsche Bank 1,380 80,456 77,053 Santander 2,600 170,961 169,460

* Includes additional employees from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney merger and Bank of America’s merger with Merrill Lynch, both of which were completed in 2009 (Steve Eder and Steve Slater)

Are CDS markets the euro zone’s iceberg?

icebergIn an unfortunate turn of phrase at the height of his country’s current debt crisis, Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Monday compared his government’s Herculean task in slashing deficits and debts as akin to changing the course of the Titanic. Sadly, we all know where the great “unsinkable” ended up almost a century ago and I’m sure,  given the chance, Mr Papaconstantinou would have chosen another metaphor. But if the Greek economy (or perhaps the euro zone at large?) is to be cast as the Titanic, then what is its potential iceberg?

For some euro politicians, look no further than the sovereign Credit Default Swaps market. France’s finance chief Christine Lagarde said as much last week when she questioned “the validity, solidity of CDSs on sovereign risk” and warned speculators to be careful as regulators took a “second look” at the market and European governments closed ranks. Lagarde, of course, is not alone.  You can be sure CDS are being examined long and hard by Spanish intelligence services investigating the “murky manoeuvres” in the debt markets.  But what is the exact charge against CDS?

CDS are ways to buy or sell insurance on the risk of debt defaults without needing to own the underlying bonds in the first place. It’s a way of hedging your debts, if you like, without having to go through the often more complicated game of selling securities short (or selling borrowed paper). In essence, it allows you to take a bet on default without having to go to the trouble of owning the bonds you’re insuring against.  Some critics, not unreasonably, would view this as the epitome of the casino capitalism that has elicited so much public outrage over the past three years . The fear is this market has become the tail wagging the dog.