Lunchtime Links 11-23

November 23, 2009

Reader note: I’m taking the week off for Thanksgiving, so blogging will be light. Back next Monday.

Sewers at capacity, waste poisons waterways (Duhigg, NYT) Fascinating. Yet another example of how society is overgrown. Everywhere you look, there’s another piece of antiquated American infrastructure that is completely unable to handle capacity thrown at it by the modern economy. Sewers, the electric grid, air traffic control systems, the list goes on. But it’s just too expensive to build any of them out: “As much as $400 billion in extra spending is needed over the next decade to fix the nation’s sewer infrastructure, according to estimates by the E.P.A. and the [GAO].” $400 billion. Just for sewers. We don’t, nor will we ever, have the money for that. Not w/o sacrificing all the other stuff we want. Economists are trying to convince you that debt-financed “growth” is the only way to solve our economic problems. They’re wrong. Debt-financed consolidation is the best we can hope for.

Wave of debt payments facing U.S. government (Andrews, NYT) Is the NYT editorial board getting budget conscious? (See again their pitch for fiscal prudence in NY State). This front-pager doesn’t contain much new info, but it articulates clearly the debt problem we face. And they put it next to the article on sewers above. By the way, the quote from Bill Gross is interesting. Out of one side of his mouth he tells the government to borrow to “support asset prices,” out of the other he wants us to stock away nuts for the Winter. Which is it Bill?

Gold reaches $1,174 (kitco) What kills the gold rally? Action from the Federal Reserve to defend the dollar. But we’re getting the opposite. Yesterday St. Louis Fed President Bullard said the Fed should keep its QE program open after it finishes its planned purchase of $1.45 trillion of mortgage securities next March.

Buffalo’s slow-moving Katrina (Carey, Reuters) Route to recovery is a great series from the folks here at Reuters. Detroit gets all the press, but there are plenty of other post-industrial neighborhoods that are suffering.

Wells Fargo underestimating off balance sheet exposures (Whalen, ZeroHedge) If you look at Wells Fargo’s latest 10-Q (page 31), the company has over $2.0 trillion of off-balance sheet assets. But they only plan to consolidate $48 billion worth, according to their most recent estimate. Chris makes the point that, although $1.1 trillion of the OBS assets are “conforming” mortgages (and therefore eligible for government guarantees) it’s not fair for Wells to pretend these mortgages pose zero risk for their balance sheet.

Taking taxpayers for a ride (Niedermayer, NYT) Last week Fritz Henderson said GM would “repay” part of its bailout? LOL!

Existing home sales increase sharply in October (CalculatedRisk)  Plus more interesting charts from CR. Ultra-low rates, government financing and the homebuyer tax credit are successfully reflating the housing bubble….for the moment.

Man trapped in 23-year coma was conscious the whole time (Hall, Daily Mail) Wow. Stephen King has written horror stories using this story line….

Argument against cloning… (imgur)

Squirrel saves baby from dog (picheroic)

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Trying to parse Bill Gross’s apparent schizophrenia…He wants asset prices propped up at present with a concrete plan of fiscal austerity upon exit maybe?El Erian talks of the need for exit strategy (presumably involving fiscal prudence) to make present levering up more palatible.The problem with this is that congress will never willingly cut entitlement spending on the elderly, which is the bulk of it. They are owned by the AARP even more than big business.We risk calcifying like Europe or Japan, where the young exist as indentured servants to the old, GDP has stagnated for 30 years and consequent low birthrates put national solvency at risk.

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