Unstructured Finance

UF Weekend Reads

So it appears Uncle Ben a/k/a Fed Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke finally gets it:  to fix the U.S. economy, you need to fix housing. The trouble is the Fed’s remedy of buying $40 billion worth of mortgage backed securities each month may  not do the trick.

Bernanke argues that buying MBS will push mortgage rates even lower–something that will spur loan refinancings and make it easier for people to buy a home. He believes a rush of new home buying will spur home construction and create job, jobs, jobs.

It sounds good. But the problem is the housing market is not suffering from high interest rates. With the 30-year mortgage rate already down to around 3.65 %, it’s not interest rates that’s keeping the housing market from taking off. Two years after the recession officially ended, far too many homeowners are still weighed down by debt–especially mortgage debt.

Even lower mortgage rates will not help people with a poor credit rating to buy a home. And low mortgages don’t help the millions of homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages to refinance. Similarly, low rates don’t encourage banks or the FHFA to engage in meaningful principal reductions for cash-strapped borrowers.

The Fed chairman could have used his Thursday press conference to jawbone opponents of principal reductions on Wall Street, Capitol Hill and at the FHFA–the regulator of Fannie and Freddie. While Bernanke has no power to force Wall Street or the FHFA to cut mortgage debt for cash-strapped homeowners, he could use his bull pulpit to lobby for it.

Will FHFA opposition to principal reductions boost eminent domain efforts?

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

There’s nothing surprising about FHFA head Ed DeMarco’s decision to nix the idea of writing down some of the debt owed by cash-strapped homeowners on mortgages guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie. DeMarco, whose agency regulates Fannie and Freddie, has been a consistent opponent of principal reductions–something we pointed out last October in our story on the need for a “great haircut” on consumer loans and including student and mortgage debt to stimulate the economy.

But DeMarco’s renewed opposition comes at a time that there is a growing consensus that something needs to be done on the housing front to get the U.S. economy going, as opposed to simply churning along at the current anemic rate of growth. More and more economists are saying that reducing mortgage debt will not only reduce foreclosures, it will give ordinary Americans more money to spend on goods and services.

It doesn’t take an MBA from Harvard to know that when people have spending power it translates into more demand and that usually prompts employers to hire more people to fill that demand.

UF Weekend Reads

Nice weather today in NYC. Enjoy it today before Sunday’s deluge. Here’s Sam Forgione’s picks. You can now follow Sam on twitter @samuelforgione

 

From The New Yorker:

Nicholas Lemann explores new books that illustrate the ties between politics and the economy.

From BusinessWeek:

Lazard’s Michele Lamarche takes on the tough task of courting debt-strapped nations.

Bad data?

By Matthew Goldstein

The jobs situation is still pretty bad in the U.S. and the nation has a long way to go to make up for the millions of jobs lost during the financial crisis. But today’s job’s report and recent revisions point out that maybe things aren’t as bad as everyone feared just a few months ago.

Remember this summer, when everyone was convinced the U.S. was headed into another recession. The August jobs report seemed to confirm that bleak outlook when the Department of Labor said the nation produced a big fat 0 in terms of new jobs. But now we know that 100,000 jobs were created in August. And the Labor Department says the 103,000 jobs thought to have been added in September was actually 210,000.

The October number also was revised up by 20,000 to 100,000.

So who knows, maybe November’s report, which said the nation added 120,000, will be revised upwards next year when the December jobs reported is released.

Wall Street protesters just want to be heard

Early morning at Occupy Wall Street

Updated Oct. 5

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

There’s been a lot of talk that other than rallying against bankers and corporate greed, the message coming from Occupy Wall Street isn’t a clear one. And many of the college students, artists, unemployed, transients who’ve set-up camp in a concrete plaza in  lower Manhattan wouldn’t disagree with that assessment.

In fact, many of the young protesters–mostly in their 20s–seem to embrace the notion that it’s hard to define just what Occupy Wall Street is all about and what it hopes to achieve. For many, sleeping on the streets and staging a “Zombie March,” or getting arrested for blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge is enough to bring attention to the fact that too many Americans are still suffering from the financial crisis.

“I’m here because in this recession, the rich have become richer — and it ties in to the bank bailouts,” says Dylan Bozlee, a college student from Hilo, Hawaii, who booked a one-way ticket to New York to join the protest. “Think about it? Wall Street got us into this huge mess, enabled by our government, and we are in the same state of affairs–recession.”

Who changed the financial crisis narrative?

By Matthew Goldstein

So riddle me this: How did we go from blaming “banksters” for all our financial ills to now casting teachers, cops and firefighters as overpaid government slackers who are keeping an economic recovery from picking up steam?

Somewhere, somehow, the narrative of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression changed. Not too long ago, all the talk was about exotic securities backed by crappy mortgages, inadequate bank regulation, excessive CEO pay and burdensome consumer debt. Now the conversation in Washington and Wall Street is more focused on overly generous pensions for public employees and the levels of government spending on the poor, for education, new roads and middle class health benefits.

This isn’t too say that runaway government deficits aren’t a problem that need to be addressed–most likely with a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. But the financial crisis didn’t begin in summer 2007 with concern about government spending.

Jobs and housing

By Matthew Goldstein

The jobs picture in the U.S. just got markedly worse based on the May unemployment report. And as long as job growth remains sluggish, anemic, pathetic–insert your own adjective–the housing market will remain in the dumps as well.

The only glimmer of good news is the nation isn’t shedding jobs–at least for now. But with the economy adding just 54,000 new jobs in May, that’s not nearly enough to work for all those recent college graduates hitting the labor market and the long-term unemployed who were early casualties of the financial crisis.

And the ugly truth is that until the jobs picture seriously improves the foreclosure crisis will show no signs of easing and may very well get worse.

Check Out Line: June jobs data disappoint

USA/Check out the latest batch of grim data about the U.S. job market.

U.S. employment fell for the first time this year in June, renewing concerns about the strength of the U.S. economic recovery.

Weaker-than-expected private hiring and the end of thousands of temporary census jobs translated into a decline of 125,000 nonfarm payrolls, their largest fall since last October.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected employment to fall 110,000 last month.

Private employment, often regarded as a better gauge of labor market health, rose only 83,000 in June, below market expectations for a 112,000 gain.

Check Out Line: Sam’s Club outsources, sheds 10 percent of jobs

samsCheck out Sam’s Club cutting 11,200 jobs or about 10 percent of its workforce as it outsources in-store product demos and sheds jobs for recruiting new business members to its warehouses.

Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart, will use a third-party company, Shopper Events , rather than its own staff to essentially hand out food samples or demonstrate electronics to passersby, allowing Sam’s Club to let go of about 10,000 mostly part-time workers. (Though they can apply for new jobs with Shopper Events.)

Sam’s Club is also getting rid of about 1,200 staff responsible for recruiting new business members.

General Motors staff has IPO dreams

CHINA-AUTOS/Ever wonder how General Motors is holding onto its top talent? 

After a traumatic bankruptcy and series of federal bailouts, the company still owes billions of dollars to the U.S. and Canadian governments. It lost $1.2 billion in its latest quarter, and only sees a slight uptick in auto sales next year.    

The days of banner-year profits and bonuses must seem far off for GM’s executives and finance staff.  GM’s Chairman has already said pay caps imposed on companies by the U.S. government’s pay czar make it tough to hire executives.

While other job opportunities are obviously limited in Detroit, and they may have nowhere better to go in the industry,  the company’s plans for a 2010 IPO has emerged as a key staff retention tool, one of its top executives said on Tuesday.

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