Bank of New York pays full price for small gain

Feb 2, 2010 22:44 UTC

By Rolfe Winkler

Bank of New York Mellon is growing – at a price. The giant trust bank on Tuesday agreed to buy PNC Financial Services’ back-office operations for $2.3 billion. That works out to 23 times annualized fourth-quarter 2009 earnings. That is a heady multiple for only a marginal boost in market share.

PNC’s shareholders seem to be getting the better end of the transaction. The sale of the PNC Global Investment Servicing (GIS) unit boosts its capital and should help it repay $7.6 billion of bailout money received from the government.

Thanks to the deal, PNC’s Tier 1 capital ratio rises to 6.7 percent from 6 percent. PNC probably needs to raise yet more equity to pay back its Troubled Asset Relief Program funds, but this is a good start.

The advantages for BNY Mellon shareholders look less certain. The bank says the acquisition complements multiple business lines. But Robert Kelly, the chief executive, seems to be coughing up too much cash for just a 4 percent gain in assets under administration. The GIS business has been lumpy. And even using last quarter’s earnings as the basis for analysis – the unit’s strongest quarter of 2009 – BNY Mellon is paying a chunky multiple.

The purchaser reckons it can squeeze out $120 million a year of cost cuts. Taxed and capitalized, those savings are worth around $720 million today. Take that off the purchase price, and BNY Mellon is still paying $1.6 billion for the GIS business – a price-to-earnings ratio of 16 times, which still looks a full price. It’s the same multiple that leading rival Northern Trust trades on, while BNY Mellon’s own shares trade at just 12 times this year’s estimated earnings.

So to sell the deal to shareholders, management is talking about between $200 million and $300 million of extra revenue based on integrating GIS into BNY Mellon. But such cross-selling opportunities often turn out to be elusive, and even BNY Mellon acknowledges they could take three to four years to transpire.

If Mr. Kelly and his crew can find a way to produce such revenue benefits, both sides eventually may be able to call the deal a success. But for now, PNC holders have more to cheer.

Lunchtime Links 2-2

Feb 2, 2010 19:13 UTC

Homeownership rate falls to 2000 level (CR) At 67.2% it’s still way overstated. Home “ownership” is a misnomer in cases when the owner has withdrawn mortgage equity or when the price of the home has fallen below the principal value of the mortgage. A better measure of homeownership, I think, is just to look at total owner’s equity as a % of household real estate. The most recent Fed Flow of Funds report (page 104, line 50) puts the figure at just 37.6%

U.S. could extend bank fee beyond 10 years, Geithner says (Di Leo/Crittenden, WSJ) The proposed tax on non-deposit liabilities should be permanent, and should target ALL liabilities, including repos. Deposits are guaranteed via FDIC. While that insurance is dramatically underpriced (witness the cash-strapped state of the DIF) at least banks pay something for it. Non-deposit liabilities are also effectively guaranteed, for the biggest banks anyway, via the promise that none which is too big will be allowed to fail. To counter moral hazard, this implicit guarantee must be taxed in order to offset any benefit derived from lower funding costs.

Must-Read: What’s a college degree really worth? (Pilon, WSJ) A lot less than you think, as argued here before. This piece is well-written with lots of good data!

AIG derivatives staff said to forgo $20 million in retention bonuses (Katz/Son, Bloomberg) They’re still well-paid, but this is better than nothing I suppose.

Deficits as a national security issueSanger NYT & Seib WSJ — Good to see prominent columnists picking up the thread. A refresher on the Suez Crisis of 1956 offers helpful background.

Rising FHA default rate foreshadows foreclosure crush (ElBoghdady/Keating, WaPo) Key line: “the FHA projects that it will pay out claims to lenders on one out of every four loans made in 2007 — the worst rate in at least three decades. The claim rate should be nearly the same on the vastly larger volume of loans made in 2008.”

Goldman spokesman’s most withering rebuttals (Daily Intel) Methinks he doth protest too much…

North Korea propaganda, with translations (nikopop)

VIDEO — Reporter filing report on the blindfold half court shot, makes own impossible shot (fox4)

Trader caught taking a break…


A better way to state the point you are trying to make would be to exclude from the “homeownership rate”, the percentage of homeowners who have mortgages that exclude the value of their homes. That is not the same as total owners equity as a percentage of household real estate that you cite from the Flow of Funds Data (e.g., some real estate has no mortgage against it).

However, not every homeowner that is underwater will necessarily ‘walk away’ so even that statistic must be haircut in order to arrive at the appropriate figure for the percentage of american households who have a desire to “own” versus “rent” their dwelling.

Posted by Hookahboy | Report as abusive

Lunchtime Links 2-1

Feb 1, 2010 19:15 UTC

President’s budget (

Barney Frank: The poor should rent, not own (Indiviglio, Atlantic)

Citigroup said to plan sale of private equity unit (Keoun/Keehner, Bloomberg) Citi cites raising cash to pay down debt as the reason to sell this unit. Of course this would also get Pandit some brownie points with Paul Volcker, who wants commercial banks out of private equity, hedge funds and proprietary trading…

HCA owners get $1.75 billion payout (Lattam, WSJ) Speaking of private equity…a nice payout for investors in one of the biggest LBOs in history.

All those little Stuy towns (Morgenson, NYT) Bullying as a business model…

Goldman Sachs and the $100 million question (Times UK) This is a thinly sourced article that claims Lloyd Blankfein will get a blowout $100m bonus for 2009. If true, talk about giving the finger to, well, pretty much everyone.

Five myths about America’s credit card debt (Manning, WaPo)

Happy palindrome day! (imgur)

Barefoot running: How humans ran comfortably, and safely, before the invention of shoes (Science Daily)

Accidental time capsule…


Regarding running, yeah, you should land (and stay) on your forefeet, not on your heel. However, you’re resting when you land on your heel (it’s like walking), so it’s more energy efficient to heel strike. This ain’t exactly new news…

At any rate, we should all forefoot striking. When I used to heel strike, I broke small bones in my feet several times, and was constantly dealing with shin splints, sore knees, sore hips. I will note, however, that the first time I went from heel strike to forefoot strike, I went from running 12 miles a pop to 1.5 miles a pop before my calves and my feet tired out and I couldn’t run anymore (forefoot striking, that is… I could still heel strike). It took me a long time to build back up, and I run about 1 mph slower forefoot striking because of the energy difference (went from 8.6 mph to 7.5 mph, body temperature limited, not cardio limited). It’s a no brainer as long as you’re not racing competitively.

You need flat running shoes to forefoot strike. Most running shoes have high heels because heel strikers need the extra cushioning, which in turn makes it harder to run on your forefeet unless you set a treadmill to incline. Something like a New Balance 758 is reasonably flat.

If one can’t forefoot strike, then I’d seriously suggest not running and hitting an elliptical machine instead.

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Obama’s blowout budget

Feb 1, 2010 16:53 UTC

Now that the worst of the financial crisis is behind us, one would think the budget deficit might start to come down. Actually, no. Obama’s proposed budget sets a new deficit record — $1.6 trillion this year compared to $1.4 trillion last year.

The President thinks he can help the economy with more deficit spending. But debt is the reason we have a jobs problem in the first place. We’ve accumulated more debt than our incomes can support (see chart at bottom) so the economy is trying to pay it down, leading to less spending and higher unemployment. Adding to the debt pile only makes the employment picture uglier in the long-run.

In his blog entry introducing the budget, Office of Management and Budget Chief Peter Orszag tries to argue that the administration is working to close the deficit. Meanwhile the spin from the White House is that this budget marks the beginning of a “new era of responsibility.” Of course that’s not at all what we’re getting. Orszag even trots out the line that we can grow our way out of debt:

Economic recovery – on its own – would take our deficits from 10 percent of GDP to 5 percent of GDP.

But GDP — a measure of spending — can’t grow unless we’re spending more. Seems to me the only way for aggregate spending to grow faster than government spending is for the private sector to spend more. But households are tapped out. They’re saving more to repair already busted balance sheets.

We’ve published the following chart here at Reuters, which illustrates a key talking point for deficit doves:


At 10%, the deficit is far smaller as a share of GDP than during WWII. We’ve spent far more before, the argument goes, so it’s no trouble to spend so much today. One problem with this argument is that it ignores unfunded liabilities for Medicare and Social Security. If the budget was calculated according to the same accounting principles that apply to corporations, the deficit would look much worse. We had no such unfunded liabilities in the ’40s.

The argument is also incomplete. Americans’ total debt burden amounts to much more than what the federal government owes. Including private debt makes the picture look far worse than the ’40s:


It was easier to service higher public debt in the ’40s because de-leveraging during the Depression had wiped out most private debts.

Debt is the problem. We (should have) learned that after the Depression, yet we’re piling on more in a misguided effort to prop up an economy that desperately needs to de-lever.

Obama certainly inherited a mess, but driving us deeper into debt only compounds the unemployment problem.


The other question worth asking is what assumptions did Orszag’s team use to create the GDP growth projections? Did they assume that the past two decades of levered GDP growth is representative of what to expect going forward in a “recovery”?

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Lunchtime Links 1-31

Jan 31, 2010 21:23 UTC

Paulson says Russia urged China to dump Fannie/Freddie holdings (McKee/Nicholson, Bloomberg)

Avatar breaks $2 billion worldwide box office mark (Box Office Mojo) Very impressive of course, though on an inflation-adjusted basis, Avatar ranks just 25th all time. Nothing will ever beat Gone with the Wind.

Volcker Op-Ed: How to reform the financial system (NYT) Unfortunately not a lot of additional detail over his proposed reform plan. But for those not already familiar with it, this does offer a helpful articulation of Volcker’s reform philosophy. Yves is happy Volcker has entered the fray, but believes he needs to go beyond his current thinking.

Frank says banks “recognize reality” by throwing support behind wind-down fund (Howell, Reuters) Am I alone in my fear that a wind-down fund will make matters worse? The idea that new “resolution authority” must be accompanied by a pool of funds to bail out systemic failures compounds moral hazard greatly. Even assuming that banks will be charged high enough insurance premiums to give the fund sufficient financial heft — how well has that worked with the Deposit Insurance Fund? — the very existence of this fund will provide an implicit guarantee to the creditors of the firms’ backed by it. The DIF already creates major moral hazard by removing all depositor incentives to worry about the health of their banks. Now an even larger slice of creditors would be insulated from risk.

PDF — TARP inspector general says program will cost less than expected, warns that little has changed (SIGTARP) In his latest quarterly report, Neil Barofsky acknowledges that TARP won’t cost as much as once expected. But he also warns that “even if TARP saved our financial system from driving off a cliff back in 2008, absent meaningful reform, we are still driving on the same winding mountain road, but this time in a faster car.” Section 3 of the report emphasizes that present government policy risks re-flating the housing bubble.

PDF – Treasury releases first quarterly PPIP report (Treasury) A breakdown of the the legacy securities program, which combined public and private capital in order to support the price of toxic assets. The use of non-recourse government leverage, plus Treasury’s equity investment, shifted principal risk on these assets to the public’s balance sheet. It took a while to get off the ground, and the program isn’t very large — less than $25 billion of investments. So far the funds are breaking even.

Justice, medieval style (Leeson, Interesting article, though the author offers little evidence to support his claim that trials by “ordeal” worked. (e.g. judging innocence/guilt based on whether the accused sank/floated when tied up and thrown in water.) ht reader Paul M.

New amateur video of Challenger disaster (LiveLeak)

Your brain on football (Time) Is brain trauma the rule more than the exception?

Awesome impressions (Funny Ordie) Comedian does DeNiro, Ahnold, Stallone and Morgan Freeman

Actor Rip Torn arrested drunk, armed in bank (Michaud, Reuters)


To my mind the whole Too Big To Fail issue is way too vague. We need to get specific about particular financial products, and specifically derivatives, that are the source of big danger.

It is tragic that derivatives have lost their biggest critic now that Goldman has purchased Buffett’s silence.

The big catastrophe ahead now involves interest rate swaps. The value of interest rate swaps is orders of magnitude bigger than credit default swaps and they have grown as tender towers to the sky in the gentlest of interest rate environments. Interest rates worldwide are forcibly held down by central banks while governments strain an the edge of the fiscal precipice. What will happen to with these massive towers if there is a real earthquake of upward moving interest rates?

What is worse, this earthquake is quite certainly coming. With the demographic shift across the developed world where aging boomers are followed by a much smaller generation in almost every developed nation, massive sources of the world’s savings will become massive sinks and interest rates will be forced upward. In short, there will be much fiercer claims for much more limited global savings. Interest rates, reflecting the supply and demand dynamics of savings, will be forced upward.

The tens of trillions or hundreds of trillions in interest rate swaps are predicated upon the idea that the inevitable can not happen.

Will we find that 2008 and 2009 were a walk in the park?

Posted by Dan Hess | Report as abusive

Bank failure Friday

Jan 30, 2010 08:35 UTC


  • Failed bank: First National Bank of Georgia, Carrollton GA
  • Acquiring bank: Community & Southern Bank, Carrollton GA
  • Vitals: at 9/30/09, assets of $832.6m, deposits of $757.9m
  • Estimated DIF damage: $260.4m


  • Failed bank: Florida Community Bank, Immokalee FL
  • Acquiring bank: Premier American Bank NA, Miami FL
  • Vitals: at 9/30/09, assets of $875.5m, depoists of $795.5m
  • Estimated DIF damage: $352.6m


  • Failed bank: Marshall Bank NA, Hallock MN
  • Acquiring bank: United Valley Bank, Cavalier ND
  • Vitals: at 9/30/09, assets of $59.9m, deposits of $54.7m
  • Estimated DIF damage: $4.1m


  • Failed bank: Community Bank & Trust, Cornelia GA
  • Acquiring bank: SCBT Bank NA, Orangeburg SC
  • Vitals: at 9/30/09, assets of $1.21 billion, deposits of $1.11 billion
  • Estimated DIF damage: $354.5m


  • Failed bank: First Regional Bank, LA CA
  • Acquiring bank: First Citizens Bank & Trust, Raleigh NC
  • Vitals: assets of $2.18 billion, deposits of $1.87 billion
  • Estimated DIF damage: $825.5m


  • Failed bank: American Marine Bank, Bainbridge Island WA
  • Acquiring bank: Columbia State Bank, Tacoma WA
  • Vitals: at 9/30/09, assets of $373.2m, deposits of $308.5m
  • Estimated DIF damage: $58.9 m

Spanish canary in the European coal mine

Jan 29, 2010 19:04 UTC

The quote of the day comes from Marc Chandler, currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman, who has graciously offered to let me reprint a note he sent today.

While Greece gets much of the news, Chandler argues that it’s in Spain where the policy dilemma is “most stark.”

Today Spain reported that its unemployment rate in Q4 rose to 18.8% from 17.9% in Q3.  The consensus was for a rise toward 18.5%.  The unemployment rate has doubled in the past two years.  As seems to be typical in  Europe, the unemployment [rate] is especially pronounced for young people. In Spain it’s 40%…

Cyclical forces and the €8 billion public works program pushed Spain’s deficit to around 11.2% of GDP last year according to the EC.  This is almost as large as Greece’s.  One key difference between the two in this context is that Spain’s debt to GDP is considerably lower than Greece, giving it perhaps greater chance to stabilize the debt/GDP ratios before they become ruinous.

In the face of such sobering news on the labor market today, Spain officials have felt compelled to indicate that they are considering increasing their efforts to cut the budget deficit quicker.  The government is contemplating proposals that will cut another €50 billion or 5% of GDP by 2013.

Rolfe here. Victor Mallet at FT has the news: Spain unveils radical austerity budget.

This illustrates the dilemma policy makers face.  The economy does not warrant an end to fiscal support yet.  The IMF has argued this.  The EC has argued this.  But the dramatic market response to Greece has been a siren call, seemingly forcing policy makers–not just in Spain, but Portugal earlier this week and Poland earlier today too–to mitigate the wrath of the bond vigilantes.

By appeasing the vigilantes, officials risk aggravating the economic downturn, which offsets some of the fiscal austerity and spurs social tensions.   [But] if the vigilantes’ concerns are not addressed in a satisfactory fashion, capital will strike, at least partially, and interest rates will rise…also exacerbating the economic downturn.

Many developed economies have borrowed so much, they can borrow no more. While borrowers love to hate their lender, they need him desperately if they’ve levered up their lifestyle past a point supported by their income.

Governments that rely too much on the bond market for funding should expect the market to turn against them eventually.


“Governments that rely too much on the bond market for funding should expect the market to turn against them eventually.”

If that’s the case, and I have no reason to not believe it is , then the sooner the better the bond vigilantes bring this extraordinary experiment in QE and fiscal stimulus, to say nothing of structural deficits, to an end. Everyday that goes by will make the inevitable financial realignment that much more difficult as the debt mountain grows ever taller.

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Lunchtime Links 1-29

Jan 29, 2010 18:12 UTC

Kohn, Bair warn banks about interest rate risk at FDIC symposium (Wutkowski, Reuters) The Fed says rates will stay low for an “extended period.” But that doesn’t mean “forever” so the Fed, along with other bank regulators, have warned bankers to prepare their balance sheets for higher rates. The populist line that banks need to “lend more” to get the economy going is just foolish. Regulators know the score: banks that lend too much at these low rates, or are using too much cheap short-term funding, will be caught out when rates head back up. Text of Kohn’s speech here. PDF of Sheila Bair’s here. (Bair’s speech is shorter and less wonkish)

MS looking into legal action against ZeroHedge (Teri Buhl) Will they actually sue? Probably not. Still, ZH’s emphasis on quantity over quality means they too often lift the work of others. Blogs link to content all the time of course, but proper attribution is important. And ZH most certainly DOES NOT have permission to reprint research coming from Wall St. analysts.

Wall St. tries to put price on Volcker rule (Sanati, Dealbook) Goldman is said to be in the most trouble, since a larger piece of its business is driven by proprietary trading. But can’t they just give up the bank charter they got last year in order to avoid any new Volcker-rule regs?

Simon Johnson joins HuffPo (Felix) As part-time biz editor.

GDP grows 5.7% (Mutikani, Reuters) The guys at Variant Perception have been saying to expect blowout growth this year coming off a low number, but they warn that it’s all dependent on government largess, which is not sustainable. The market knows this. Stocks are flat on this news.


Bank sues victim to avoid replacing stolen funds (Consumerist) Hackers got away with $800,000, but the bank can’t make it all up. So it’s pre-emptively suing the victim…

Are they AIG conspiracy theories really so nutty? (Reilly, Bloomberg) Geithner, Paulson and Bernanke have all said they had nothing to do with the decision to make a full pay out to AIG’s CDS counterparties. So who was in charge??

Bin Laden rebukes U.S. on climate change (Healy, NYT) No, really.

Bunch of phonies mourn JD Salinger (The Onion)

Dog saved after floating away on Baltic sea ice (Guardian)

Baby platypi…

baby platipy

Program note: Felix to interview Roubini

Jan 29, 2010 14:34 UTC

Reuters’ super-blogger Felix Salmon will be interviewing Nouriel Dr. Doom Roubini in Davos at 12:20 EST.

The broadcast can be seen here.

For users that are twitterers, you can send questions for Felix to ask Roubini via #askroubini.

Mine: Mr. Roubini, when was the last time you gave a sound bite to the press that didn’t include a letter of the alphabet to describe the economic cycle?

Or: Could the recession, in fact, be Q-shaped instead of W, L or U-shaped?

Splitting hairs on the Bernanke vote

Jan 28, 2010 22:20 UTC

In the Bernanke confirmation vote this afternoon, seven senators wanted to be seen opposing Bernanke but didn’t actually want to stop his confirmation. In other words, they wanted a campaign talking point, not an actual fight.

Simple maneuver: As with most business in the Senate, Bernanke’s confirmation only required 51 votes. But before getting to the final vote, the Senate must first vote to cut off debate. Cloture, it’s called.

Seven senators, including six Democrats, voted aye on cloture and then flipped to nay on the motion to confirm:

Six Dems: Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Al Franken (Minn.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Kaufman (Del.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), and Byron Dorgan (N.D.)

One Rep: George LeMieux (Fla.)


Many Dems right now will vote for cloture on everything as a sign thats what people should do to get it to a majority, rather than super majority, vote.

This is what is holding up the health care bill, for example. It isn’t the vote, it is the cloture. So this particular instance isn’t about Bernanke – even though the vote concerned his re-confirmation – it is about health care.

Posted by MrE23 | Report as abusive

Gekko’s back

Jan 28, 2010 21:45 UTC

The trailer for Oliver Stone’s sequel to Wall Street.

Great cast too…in order of sheer coolness: obviously Douglas, toss up between Frank Langella and Eli Wallach, Josh Brolin, and Shia LaBeouf.

Love the cell phone bit.

Lunchtime Links 1-28

Jan 28, 2010 17:49 UTC

Bernanke didn’t have staff support on AIG bailout (Ed Harrison) Ed has a copy of a letter from Rep. Darrell Issa, in which he claims Fed staffers weren’t keen on bailing out AIG. He wants another subpoena.

Fed as chump or Fed as crony (Yves Smith) Long form thoughts about why Tim Geithner’s defense yesterday was troubling.

Bernanke seen winning second term (Felsenthal, Reuters)

FOMC statement, redacted (David Merkel) Picking apart the Fed’s FOMC Statement yesterday. The headline is that they still see rates staying low for an “extended period,” which is problematic language/policy in my opinion because it will lead to bank/investor complacency. Quantitative easing, i.e. printing electronic money to buy MBS and other paper, will end on schedule at the end of March. Look for it to pick up again in the future. To fight off deflation, the Fed will be forced into multiple rounds of quantitative easing….just like the Bank of Japan.

Bono invests in Yelp (Bits) Elevation Partners, the VC firm funded by U2′s lead singer (among others), is committing $100 million to the local search site. No word on the % stake the money will buy, but $75 million will be paid to existing shareholders to cash them out. Good deal for Yelp? We know that they turned down a $500m offer from Google recently. If Elevation is getting anything less than 20% of the company for this investment, it would value the company at greater than $500 million.

Prime Minister: Greece victim of “rumors” (Bloomberg) Yeah, uh huh. And Wall Street was unfairly maligned by short sellers worried about capital shortages in fall ’08.

Freddie delinquencies increase sharply (CR)

Divided SEC makes climate another “risk” (Scannell/Hughes, WSJ) Investors aren’t clamoring for this information in 10-Qs. The Republican commissioners have this one nailed: “a breathtaking waste” of the SEC’s time/resources and a foolish, misguided gesture to put the SEC’s imprimatur on an agenda about which it has zero expertise.

How to report the news (YouTube) Brilliant.

Academics fight rise of creationism at universities (Guardian) I had no idea this was a problem outside of the American bible belt.

VIDEO: Dump truck destroys pedestrian bridge in Turkey (Break) A guy on the bridge sees trouble coming but freezes…..doesn’t think to run back….

Jon Stewart on Obama’s war against bankers…

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Obama Takes On Bankers
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Scientists use the word “theory” in a different manner from its general usage. In general usage it often means a guess about how something works. But in science it is used to describe an explanation that is strongly supported by evidence – no guessing allowed. An explanation without sufficient rigorously tested evidence is called a hypothesis or conjecture. It takes a lot of proof for a hypothesis to be called a theory by the scientific community. For example, the notion that if you drop something it falls to the earth is called the Theory of Gravitation. Do you doubt that anything will drop if you let it go? Evolution is called a theory because scientists have the same level of confidence in it based on an abundance of evidence of many kinds. Biology simply cannot be explained without evolution.

As Judge Jones, the Republican and devoutly Christian judge who presided over the Dover School Board case asserted, creationism simply does not merit being considered side by side with the Theory of Evolution. It has no scientific basis at all. Creationists start from a need to believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis and they desperately seek evidence to support their ideas. The mainstream Christian faiths – Catholicism, Anglicanism, Methodism etc – long ago dispensed with a literal interpreation of Genesis and have no trouble embracing evolution.

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Geithner’s faulty apologia

Jan 28, 2010 00:16 UTC

Tim Geithner’s appearance in front of Congress today was another embarrassment, perhaps more for the people’s representatives than the Treasury Secretary. Still, Geithner offered a clumsy defense for paying out 100¢ on the dollar to AIG’s counterparties, which included more than Goldman Sachs.

What they lacked in knowledge and nuance, Congress made up for in volume and OUTRAGE. The worst moment I saw was the utterly bogus comparison by Rep. Stephen Lynch between AIG’s payout to Goldman (100¢ on the dollar!) and the bailout offer for Bear Stearns shareholders (only $2 per share). 100 is a bigger number than 2, you see.

Geithner was lucky to be doing battle with such an unprepared, unimpressive group.

His defense, such as it was, amounted to the following:

Had the Fed imposed haircuts on AIG counterparties, it would have led to AIG’s credit rating being downgraded and the company (and consequently the economy) would have collapsed.

But AIG had already been downgraded, that’s why the government stepped in with a bailout. At that point the firm’s liabilities were taxpayer backed, so it strains credulity to say that extinguishing certain CDS it had written would cause systemic fallout in and of itself. Essentially what was happening here was unused insurance contracts were being extinguished. (Imagine a pro-rata refund from your insurer for a homeowner’s policy it wants to cancel…)

And there was precedent for this kind of negotiation. Eric Dinallo, former Commissioner of the NYS Dept. of Insurance and current candidate for Eliot Spitzer’s old job, had previously negotiated haircuts on CDS written by the monoline bond insurers. They were never forced into a taxpayer bailout. Did anyone at the Fed pick up the phone to consult Dinallo? Why not?

At the hearing, Geithner said he took “great pride” in his judgment to pay out 100¢ on the dollar to AIG counterparties because, he claims, it saved us from economic catastrophe.

No doubt the system was on the verge of collapse. But the biggest threat was undercapitalized banks. The payout to AIG counterparties was just a backdoor bailout for them. As Dan Alpert of Westwood Capital points out:

Every dollar of [haircut] would…amount to a dollar less of capital on bank balance sheets today (actually more, because in the interim the affected banks made money with that capital). If the discount was more than a little, some of the institutions would have required “front door” bailouts, or would have failed.

That’s why everyone is still so angry about this, and Goldman’s ridiculous claims that it would have been fine even absent the $12.9 billion it received from taxpayers via AIG. Sure, they’ve paid back TARP. But here’s another $12.9 billion of your money that’s helping to fund their bonus pool.

Jim Rickards offers a good closing thought on the matter:

What was actually done [in the AIG bailout] shows a breathtaking lack of imagination and legal skill on the part of the people involved.  The Fed and Treasury do have an obligation to save the system, but they have no obligation to save each and every member of the system.  That’s a big difference.  You may need to build a firewall but it’s important to build it in the right place.  Makes sense to protect the little guy but where was the national security interest in protecting Goldman? This is why I am just speechless when I hear Geithner testify that though he was utterly surrounded by ex-Goldman people they somehow had NO IMPACT on his judgment to save Goldman.  How blind and unaware can you be?

Not so blind that you can’t be Treasury Secretary…


It’s one thing to make a boneheaded decision. It’s another to repeatedly lie about it under oath. Time for Beavis to resign.

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Morning Links 1-27

Jan 27, 2010 15:26 UTC

Note: Apologies for no links yesterday. Busy day writing columns!

SEC to vote on new money fund rules (Johnson, WSJ) Unfortunately, the SEC won’t do away with $1 NAVs, price fluctuations will be published on a 60 day lag. So investors will continue to treat money funds as cash equivalents, even though they aren’t, and the systemic risk they pose won’t really go away.

Fed weighs interest on reserves as new benchmark (Lanman, Bloomberg) This will be a key interest rate to watch whether or not the Fed makes it the benchmark. The expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet over the past year+ has stuffed banks full of excess reserves, reserves that banks will lend out if the economy — and loan demand — picks up. The Fed needs to keep those excess reserves sequestered in order to prevent inflation. To do so, it may have to pay higher rates. For a fuller explanation see this previous column.

Failed Senate vote on budget commission shows difficulty in cutting deficits (Faler, Bloomberg) So much for a fiscal commission based on the base-closing commission…

After three months, only 35 subscriptions to Newsday’s website (Koblin, NY Observer) Print subscribers get free online access. But this is still not a good showing for selling online only subscriptions. The NYT needn’t worry that it’s pick up will be this small when they put up their pay wall. I, for one, will pay for their content, as I pay for WSJ. I ‘d subscribe to FT too if their website wasn’t so slow…

Top English central banker supports splitting banks (Thomas, NYT) This should come as no surprise. A speech by Mr. King in October laid out his support for steps similar to those Obama just released.

Roubini: Greece is bankrupt (Khan, CNBC) Thank you, Captain Obvious. ;)

Obama aims to ax moon mission (Block/Matthews, O.S.) There’s no constituency for budget cuts, so Obama deserves support from budget hawks for moves like this. We all like the moon I’m sure. But I like things like veterans benefits much more.

Iraqi government spends $85m on dowsing rods sold as “bomb detectors” (Hawley/Jones, BBC) Those not familiar with dowsing rods, see Wikipedia.

Wait, how much snow? (YouTube) No. He didn’t.



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Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem

Jan 26, 2010 05:30 UTC

Two economic giants in a freestyle face-off. An instant classic… (ht Rej)


Finally! A ‘rap’ song I enjoyed listening to.

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