A Poll of Entrepreneurs shows President Obama as one of the most Anti-Middle Class Presidents Ever

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 19th, 2013

Week in Review

This is the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  And it’s not George W. Bush’s fault.  Despite what he did to increase the size of government.  No.  The anemic recovery is due to President Obama.  And his anti-business policies (see Not open for business posted 10/12/2013 on The Economist).

America is not producing as many start-ups as it did a decade ago and those that have been created are providing fewer jobs—less than five each, compared with an historical average of about seven. Start-ups created 2.7m new jobs in the 2012 financial year compared with 4.7m in 1999.

The financial crisis clearly bears a lot of the blame for reducing America’s stock of capital and animal spirits. But it is only a partial explanation. The decline in the number of firms going public began in 2001. And these problems are continuing to delay the recovery despite the federal government pump-priming the economy and keeping interest rates near zero.

So there you have it.  Federal government pump-priming and near zero interest rates do NOT stimulate economic activity.  As these are the bedrock of Keynesian economics then Keynesian Economics does NOT work.  This is a problem for America.  Because President Obama and the liberal left are dyed-in-the-wool Keynesians.  And why are they Keynesian extremists despite the historical record of Keynesian failure?  Because Keynesian economics empowers Big Government.  That is, Keynesian economics favors those in power.  Not the people.

Three years ago John Dearie and Courtney Geduldig, who both worked for the Financial Services Forum, which represents America’s biggest financial institutions, came up with an inspired idea. Why not ask entrepreneurs themselves what is going wrong? Both big multinationals and established small firms have lots of representatives in Washington, DC. Entrepreneurs are too busy inventing their companies to spend time lobbying. The pair organised meetings and conducted lots of polls. Across a vast and diverse country they heard the same message from everyone they asked: entrepreneurship is in a parlous state. And everyone pointed to the same problems. The result is a new book, “Where the Jobs Are”, which should be dropped onto the heads of America’s squabbling politicians.

The first worry is over human capital. Entrepreneurs repeatedly complain that they cannot hire the right people because universities are failing to keep pace with a fast-changing job market. Small firms lack the resources to provide training and are consequently making do with fewer people working longer hours.

The problem with our educational system is that it teaches our young to become Democrat voters.  Not prepare them for a high-tech economy.  Our public schools teach our children about the evils and unfairness of capitalism while lauding the goodness and fairness of government.  Turning them from their parents who are selfishly destroying the planet with their global warming to the government.  Who is expanding further and further into the private sector to save the polar bears.  And when our kids get to college our system of higher education takes it up a notch.  Attacking the history and the culture that made America the greatest country in the world.  So our college graduates can tell you every bad thing America has ever done but they lack the math and science skills that our high-tech economy so desperately needs.  Forcing businesses to turn to immigrants for those skills.

Immigrants are responsible for launching about half the country’s most successful start-ups and producing a striking number of its patents. But the authorities do their best to drive them out of the country once they have been educated or to break their spirits on the visa treadmill…

The second problem is the complexity and cost of government. Entrepreneurs the world over complain about regulations and taxes. But America’s have lots to gripe about: in 2009-11 the Obama administration issued 106 new regulations each expected to have an economic impact of at least $100m a year. Besides this business founders suffer from the constant political uncertainty generated by a combination of ambitious new legislation, such as Obamacare, and ideological trench warfare. The Vanguard Group, an asset-management firm, calculates that since 2011 Washington’s bickering politicians have imposed, in effect, a $261 billion uncertainty tax that has cost up to 1m new jobs.

Any administration that raises taxes and issues 106 new regulations is no friend of small business, jobs or the middle class.  Therefore President Obama is no friend of small business, jobs or the middle class.  No matter how much he says that he is.  If you want to know why this is the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression it’s because of the Keynesian in the White House.  And the Keynesians in Congress.  That are waging a war on small business, jobs and the middle class.

The financial crisis has worsened the third problem: raising money. Over 70% of new businesses are launched using savings or assets—particularly houses. The crisis reduced the average net wealth of American households by about 40%. Business founders repeatedly mention other problems too. Venture capitalists are increasingly risk-averse. The Sarbanes-Oxley act imposes additional costs of $1m a year on public companies. Investors no longer bother with “growth stocks” because there is more money to be made in making lots of big trades in established firms. The dramatic decline in the number of firms going public since 2001 is worrying because, over the past four decades, more than 90% of jobs created by start-ups came into being after they went public…

Fixing the small-business problem should be at the top of the political agenda. Some 22m workers are either unemployed or underemployed, or have given up looking for work. If it continues to generate new jobs at its current anaemic rate, America will not return to pre-recession employment levels until 2020. The country is lucky that entrepreneurship is part of its DNA. It seems perverse to put unnecessary obstacles in the path of people whose ambition is to found businesses and hire new workers.

Yes, we should put fixing the small-business problem at the top of the political agenda.  Which the Republicans recently tried by defunding Obamacare.  And reining in out of control spending.  But as this would be a check on the growth of government the Democrats shut down the government before letting that happen.  For they will have their taxes, regulations and spending.  And the middle class be damned.  For theirs is a government of the ruling elite, by the ruling elite and for the ruling elite.

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Entrepreneurs Fail not because they are Stupid but because of an Anti-Business Environment

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 16th, 2013

Week in Review

The ‘capitalism’ we have today isn’t our Founding Father’s capitalism.  Yet critics of today’s ‘capitalism’ act as if it is.  And point to the inherent flaws of this ‘capitalism’.  As an excuse to bring in more governmental regulations to fix the problems of ‘capitalism’.  Which is the reason why today’s ‘capitalism’ isn’t capitalism.  It’s not the same economic system that made the United States the number one economic power in the world.  No.  It’s moved more towards European social democracy.  The system that gave the European nations their sovereign debt crises.  But those learned intellectuals speaking from their ivory towers still talk about fixing the problems of ‘capitalism’.  Without really understanding what the real problem is.  And it ain’t capitalism.  It’s the interference of capitalism and free markets.  This is the source of all our problems today.  And unless you address these problems you’re just wasting your time (see How to Reduce ‘Infant Entrepreneur Mortality’ by Sramana Mitra posted 6/10/2013 on the Harvard Business Review Blog).

Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, intellectuals have had to ask themselves, ‘Does Capitalism Still Work..?’

Two particular problems stand out. First, Capitalism has been hijacked by speculators. Second, the system enables amassing wealth at the tip of the pyramid, leaving most of society high and dry. Both problems have resulted in a highly unstable, volatile world order that jitters and shocks markets periodically, leaving financial carnage and mass scale human suffering.

The first problem with ‘capitalism’ today is that intellectuals are trying to fix it.  There isn’t anything wrong with capitalism.  The problems we have today have nothing to do with capitalism.  Because what we have today is state capitalism.  Crony capitalism.  European social democracy.  We have too much government in capitalism.  Who are favoring their big corporate friends in exchange for big corporate campaign donations.  And the only reason we have these speculators is because of the government.  Who is pumping so much cheap money into the economy for the speculators to speculate with.  And when their crony capitalist friends fail the government bails them out with tax dollars.  Because there is no downside to speculation when you have friends in government speculators will speculate.

People like to blame the banks and Wall Street for the subprime mortgage crisis.  But they didn’t create that crisis.  They just played their part.  The government created it.  By pumping cheap money into the economy to keep interest rates artificially low.  To encourage people to buy houses.  Even those who weren’t even considering buying a house.  Or those who simply couldn’t afford to buy a house.  These people changed their behavior based on the government’s manipulation of the interest rates.  As the government intended to do.  And they made everything worse with policies to encourage more and more home ownership.  The big one being Bill Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Where the government threatened lenders to lend to the unqualified or else.  So they did.  Using the subprime mortgage to qualify the unqualified.  And then the government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie May and Freddie Mac, bought those toxic subprime mortgages from these lenders, chopped and diced them into investments called collateralized debt obligations.  And sold them to unsuspecting investors as high-yield, low-risk investments.  Because they were backed by the safest investment of all time.  The home mortgage.  Only they didn’t tell these investors that these mortgages were toxic subprime mortgages being paid by people who couldn’t qualify for a conventional mortgage.  The safest investment of all time.  The conventional home mortgage.  So these lenders were able to clear these toxic mortgages off of their balance sheets.  Allowing them to issue more toxic subprime mortgages.  They were making money by writing these risky subprime mortgages.  But incurred no risk.  So they kept qualifying the unqualified for more and more mortgages.  Which was profitable.  Safe.  And kept the government off of their backs as threatened in Bill Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.

This isn’t capitalism.  This is government and their crony capitalist friends using their power, privilege and influence to game the system.  To enrich themselves.  This is what caused the mess we have today.  Where speculators and those in government get richer.  While Main Street America sees its median income fall.  And entrepreneurs struggle to stay in business.

Everybody talks about the role small businesses play in growing economies and creating jobs. However, as it stands, in America alone, 600,000 businesses die in the vine every year. This colossal infant entrepreneur mortality is a product of colossal levels of ignorance about how to build and sustain businesses.

And a myriad of governmental regulations, taxes and a litigious society.  Entrepreneurs today have to spend a lot of money and time protecting their money and time.  They need accountants and tax lawyers to help them comply with an ever growing regulatory environment.  And a boatload of insurances to keep the sharks at bay who all want a piece of their wealth and will sue if given the least opportunity.  It’s so complex that if they try to navigate their own way through these enormous burdens places on business they often make mistakes.  Or simply overlook something that they shouldn’t have.  Often times they just don’t charge enough to cover all of these costs they never expected when starting their businesses.  So when, say, a tax bill comes due they simply don’t have the cash on hand to pay it.  And then the downward death spiral begins.  This is why restaurants and construction companies are the number one and number two business to fail.  Where we have brilliant chefs and trades people who can cook or build something better than anyone else.  But are so out of their element when dealing with the business side of their trade.  The regulatory costs, taxes, insurance, etc.  And find they spend more of their time not doing what they love—cooking or building—but pushing paper through a labyrinth of red tape.  And often don’t find out they are not charging enough to cover all of the regulatory costs, taxes, insurance, etc., until it’s too late.

There is actually a method to the madness of entrepreneurship. And while the ‘character traits’ that support entrepreneurship — courage, tolerance for risk, resilience, persistence — cannot be taught, the method of building businesses can and should be taught.

In fact, it should be taught not just at elite institutions, but at every level of society, en masse.

If we can democratize the education and incubation of entrepreneurs on a global scale, I believe that it would not only check the infant entrepreneur mortality, it would create a much more stable economic system.

No.  That’s not the answer.  The reason why a lot of people remain employees instead of going into business themselves is that these people don’t want to deal with all the regulatory headaches their bosses have to deal with.  A tradesperson would rather work their 8-hour shift and go home.  They don’t want to deal with payroll taxes, workers’ compensation insurance, liability insurance, vehicular insurances, health insurance, real property taxes, personal property taxes, quarterly tax filings, business income tax, use tax, OSHA requirements, environmental requirements, city and state inspections, permits and licenses, etc.  If a tradesperson could just throw his or her tools in a truck and go into business they would.  But they can’t.  So they won’t.  Because it’s just so much easier being an employee than an employer.  Who are always guaranteed a paycheck if they work.  While an employer only gets paid after everyone, and everything, else gets paid.

You want to reduce infant entrepreneur mortality rates?  Get the government out of the private sector.  And give these entrepreneurs a chance.  You’d be surprised at what they can do if the government just leaves them alone.  Just like Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, etc., did.  Who probably couldn’t do what they did today.  Not in today’s anti-business environment.

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Greece’s Private Bondholders walk out on Eurozone Debt Deal costing them 65-70% of their Investment

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 21st, 2012

Week in Review

Imagine your neighbor is facing a financial crisis and needs to borrow $1,000.  You want to help.  So you loan your neighbor the $1,000.  Because you’re nice.  Then you see them unload a new flat-screen television into their house.  Noting that despite their financial crisis they did not change their spending habits.  Worse, when it comes time to repay you they ask if you’ll accept only $300 instead of the $1,000 you loaned them.  Because they are really struggling and need some debt relief.  If you follow this then you have an understanding of what’s happening in Greece (see Greece’s creditors leave Athens by Sophie Sassard and Dina Kyriakidou, Reuters, posted 1/21/2012 on Yahoo! News).

The representatives of Greece’s private creditors left Athens unexpectedly on Saturday without a deal on a debt swap plan that is vital to avert a disorderly default, sources close to the negotiations told Reuters…

The IMF insists the debt swap deal must ensure Greece’s debt burden will be cut to 120 percent of GDP by 2020 from 160 percent now, as agreed at an EU summit in October, and has warned that this is made more difficult by the fact that Athens’ economic prospects have deteriorated since…

Private bondholders will likely take a hit of 65 to 70 percent on their holdings…

It was Greece’s prolific government spending that caused this debt.  The private bondholders didn’t forcibly loan them money and tell them to spend themselves into debt.  No.  The private bondholders were nice.  They offered to help.  And loaned them money when they asked for a loan.  Entering into a contract with the Greek government.

People buy government debt because it’s supposed to be safe.  They chose these ‘safe’ investments because they expect to get their money back.  If they wanted something more risky they would have speculated in the stock market.  Or bought junk bonds.  But they didn’t.  They bought ‘safe’ government bonds.  Never in their wildest imagination did they ever see themselves getting screwed out of 70% of their investment.  But that’s what they’re trying to do to them.  And painting them as bad guys for not losing this 70% with a smile on their face.

So much for nice people putting their trust in contracts.

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Move over Greece, there’s a new Financial Crisis in Town and it goes by the Name of Italy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 13th, 2011

Week in Review

Another social democracy in the Eurozone is having a financial crisis.  And it’s even worse than the crisis in Greece.  In fact, it makes Greece’s problems look tame in comparison.  Because it’s Italy this time.  And their economy is huge.  As is their debt.  The Euro may not be able to survive if Italy doesn’t.  It’s so bad Berlusconi will reign.  To save Italy.  And the Eurozone (see Italy at Breaking Point, Merkel Calls for ‘New Europe’ by Reuters posted 11/9/2011 on CNBC).

“It is a step in the right direction,” Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg said when asked about Berlusconi’s plan to resign.

“There has been no proper understanding of the problems being faced in Italy.” Even with the exit of a man who came to symbolize scandal and empty promises, it will not be easy for Italy to convince markets it can cut its huge debt, liberalize the labor market, attack tax evasion and boost productivity.

Huge debt?  A costly labor market.  Tax evasion?  Poor productivity?  These are the hallmarks of a social democracy.  The welfare state.  Because those generous benefits are costly.

A costly labor force makes the products they make uncompetitive.

The more people consuming taxpayer pay and benefits the fewer people pay taxes.  And the higher the tax rates on those who still pay taxes must be.

The higher the tax rates the unhappier the taxpayer.  And the more they try to evade paying those taxes.

An uncompetitive work force is a nonproductive work force.  And a nonproductive workforce does not grow the economy.  Because expansion capital is paying for a nonproductive workforce.  Not expansion.

It is inevitable.  The collapse of a social democracy.  Because the welfare state consumes more than it produces.  Which is why all the social democracies in the Eurozone have debt crises.  Because spending is always increasing.  And they borrow ever more to pay for that spending.

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Keynesian Policies gave us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Solyndra and Inflation while the Free Market gives us Jobs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 30th, 2011

The Problem with Washington is that there are too many Elitists who Think they are Smarter than Us

Now we know why we have slow economic growth.  Apparently it’s par for the course after a financial crisis (see Phony Fear Factor by Paul Krugman, Keynesian Economist, posted 9/29/2011 on The New York Times).

We might add that major financial crises are almost always followed by a period of slow growth, and U.S. experience is more or less what you should have expected given the severity of the 2008 shock.

So why do any spending?  Why have any stimulus to stimulate growth that won’t come.  Because “major financial crises are almost always followed by a period of slow growth…”  If true then we could have gotten here without that $800 billion stimulus bill.  And we could have avoided that debt ceiling debate.  And the subsequent downgrading of U.S. sovereign debt.  All because we were spending money trying to alter slow growth that was going to happen anyway.

But the Keynesian will say, “Just think how bad things would have been if we didn’t spend that $800 billion.  And how better things would be if we had just spent more.”  How do you argue with that?  When spending fails it’s because we didn’t spend enough.    By this logic, then, spending as a policy can never fail.  Even when it fails.

If slow growth is more or less what you get were they then lying?  When they said they would keep the unemployment rate below 8%?  If Congress passed the stimulus bill?  Or did they just not understand how bad things were?  Because their understanding of economics is that bad?  Or was George W. Bush so much smarter than them that he was able to hide how bad things were?

And it also, of course, reflects the political need of the right to make everything bad in America President Obama’s fault. Never mind the fact that the housing bubble, the debt explosion and the financial crisis took place on the watch of a conservative, free-market-praising president; it’s that Democrat in the White House now who gets the blame.

But good politics can be very bad policy. The truth is that we’re in this mess because we had too little regulation, not too much. And now one of our two major parties is determined to double down on the mistakes that caused the disaster.

Who was it that pushed subprime lending to get people who couldn’t afford a house into a house?  Whose policies were those that made home ownership available to everyone, not just those with good-paying jobs that could pay their mortgage payments?  Who was it that brought suits and protests against lenders for ‘redlining’ poor and minority communities by not approving mortgages for those who could not qualify for a mortgage?  The Republicans?  The so-called servants of the wealthy?  Or the Democrats?  The so-called champion of the poor and disenfranchised?

Buying risky mortgages from banks allowed banks to make risky loans.  And who was buying those risky mortgages?  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  That was government policy.  Keynesian policy.  Keeping interest rates low and removing risks from the normal risk takers in the mortgage industry.  There could not have been a Subprime Mortgage Crisis without these Keynesian government policies in place.  And we know that conservative Republicans aren’t Keynesians.  That’s why Keynesians hate conservative Republicans.  Especially when they hold up further stimulus spending in Congress.

The problem with Washington is that there are too many elitists who think they are smarter than us.  And these elitists want to double down on the mistakes that caused this crisis.  Already the Obama administration has been talking about boosting subprime lending.  Incredible.  This after that very same policy caused the worst recession since the Great Depression.

After the Benefit of a Cheap Euro runs its Course the Depreciated Euro turns into a Liability

The Keynesian’s answer to everything is more spending.  And when someone warns about igniting inflation with all of their easy monetary policy they call those people misinformed.  Monetary policy doesn’t cause inflation.  Greedy business people do.  By raising prices.  And supply shocks.  Like the OPEC oil embargo of the Seventies.  They point to the Eurozone and say, “See?  Their central banks have been keeping rates low to stimulate spending.  And where is the inflation?”  Here, apparently (see Euro-Zone Inflation Surges by Paul Hannon, Dow Jones Newswires, posted 9/30/2011 on NASDAQ).

The annual rate of inflation in the 17 countries that share the euro surged to its highest level in almost three years in September, while the number of people without work fell slightly.

The European Union’s official statistics agency Eurostat Friday said consumer prices rose 3% in the 12 months to September, up from 2.5% in August and was well above the European Central Bank’s target of just below 2%.

Prices rose faster than at any time since October 2008, and more rapidly than economists had expected. Those surveyed last week by Dow Jones Newswires had estimated that prices rose 2.5%. The last rise in the annual rate from one month to the next that was of a similar scale was in March 2010, when it picked up to 1.6% from 0.8%.

With a depressed economy businesses haven’t been able to raise their prices.  But what they couldn’t do their central bank has.  Put so much cheap money into the economy that they depreciated the Euro.  Which is another way to cause inflation.  Eventually.  After the benefits of a cheap Euro (making cheap exports) run its course.  And the depreciated Euro turns into a liability (higher input prices in the manufacturing process).

This always happens in Keynesian economics.  Yet the Keynesian ignores this reality and doubles down on the failed policies of the past.

Government Policies Favor Green Energy over Oil and Gas because Government Elitists are in Control

Keynesian economic thought is the prevailing though in most governments.  For a reason.  They’re expansionary policies.  And put government in control of that expansion.  Government officials don’t care if they work.  They just like the power it gives them.  The control over the economy.  And an open checkbook to buy votes.  So governments everywhere put Keynesians into their administrations.  Which give the Keynesians legitimacy.  People accept what they say.  Because if government adopts what they say they must know what they’re saying.

But Keynesian thought is wrong.  History has shown this.  The Austrian School of economics has a far better track record of success.  But that is not a popular school among expansionists.  Because it leaves the economy to the free market.  Not to elitists in government.  Who think they know better than the free market.

An example of this elitist intervention into the free market is government’s choice of green energy as the smart investment of the future.  Which has been failing even with heavy subsidies.  While the hated oil and gas industry, on the other hand, is creating jobs (see Gassing Up: Why America’s Future Job Growth Lies In Traditional Energy Industries by Joel Kotkin posted 9/27/2011 on Forbes).

But the biggest growth by far has taken place in the mining, oil and natural gas industries, where jobs expanded by 60%, creating a total of 500,000 new jobs…

Nor is this expansion showing signs of slowing down. Contrary to expectations pushed by “peak oil” enthusiasts, overall U.S. oil production has grown by 10% since 2008; the import share of U.S. oil consumption has dropped to 47% from 60% in 2005.  Over the next year, according to one recent industry-funded study, oil and gas could create an additional 1.5 million new jobs.

What makes this growth even more remarkable is that the month of August posted zero new jobs.  So if there were no new jobs while oil and gas was creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, hundreds of thousands of jobs in other industries must have been disappearing.  Such as in that government-backed green energy sector.

How about those “green jobs” so widely touted as the way to recover the lost blue-collar positions from the recession? Since 2006, the critical waste management and remediation sector — a critical portion of the “green” economy — actually lost over 480,000 jobs, 4% of its total employment…

The future of the rest of the “green” sector seems dimmer than widely anticipated. One big problem lies in cost per kilowatt, where wind is roughly twice as expensive and solar at least three times as expensive as electricity produced with natural gas. Given the Solyndra  bankruptcy  and their inevitable impact on the renewables industry, it’s also pretty certain that the U.S., at least in the near term, will not be powered by windmills and solar panels.

Natural gas is a clean burning fuel.  It’s so clean we use it in our homes.  In our stoves.  And our furnaces.  It’s cheap.  And it’s plentiful.  We’re getting it out of American ground that can put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work.  Without loan guarantees.  And they can bring it to market at market prices.  Without any subsidies.  It’s the hanging softball of energy policy.  But what are we pursuing?  Green energy.  A sector that is bleeding jobs.

The relative strength of the energy sector can be seen in changes in income by region over the past decade. For the most part, the largest gains have been heavily concentrated in the energy belt between the Dakotas and the Gulf of Mexico. Energy-oriented metropolitan economies such as Houston, Dallas, Bismarck and Oklahoma City have also fared relatively well. In energy-rich North Dakota there’s actually a huge labor shortage, reaching over 17,000 — one likely to get worse if production expands, as now proposed, from 6000 to over 30,000 wells over the next decade.

Why are we subsidizing green startups when we have an energy belt almost the size of the Louisiana Territory?  A labor shortage of 17,000?  And a plan to increase wells from 6,000 to 30,000 (an increase of 400%) in one state?  This is real economic growth.  Created with no government help.  I mean, if there is one thing the Obama administration isn’t known for it’s being a friend to the oil and gas industry.

So this is an industry government doesn’t help.  If anything government hinders it with heavy regulation.  And yet the gas and oil industry is blowing government-subsidized green energy away.  There’s a lesson here.  Free market works.  And when government intervenes into the market you can bet on them picking a loser.

Industry experts say that the shift in energy exploration is moving from the Middle East to the Americas, with rich deposits of oil and gas uncovered from Brazil to the Canadian oil sands.

Much of the new action is on the U.S. mainland, including the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming. Increasingly, there’s excitement about finds in long-challenged sections of the Midwest such as Ohio. The Utica shale formation, according to an estimate by Chesapeake Energy, could be worth roughly a half trillion dollars and be, in the words of CEO Aubrey McClendon, “the biggest to hit Ohio, since maybe the plow.”

Ohio now has over 64,000 wells, with five hundred drilled just year. Recent and potential finds, particularly in the Appalachian basin, could transform the Buckeye State into something of a Midwest Abu Dhabi, creating more than 200,000 jobs over the next decade.

A Midwest Abu Dhabi?  Creating 200,000 new jobs?  And that’s just in the oil and gas business.

The energy boom also has sparked a spate of new factory expansions, including a $650 million new steel mill to make pipes for gas pipelines. Other local firms are gearing up to make up specialized equipment like compressors.

This is real economic growth.  Created and sustained by the private sector.  Without any stimulus funding or subsidies.  The way of the Austrian School of economics.  But is anathema to expansionist Keynesians.  That’s why government policies favor green energy.  Like they favored subprime lending.  Because government elitists are in control.  Not the free market.

The Genius Elite have given us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Solyndra and Inflation in the Eurozone

The government bet wrong on green energy.  As smart as they are.  And as smart as their Keynesian advisers are.  Is there a lesson here?  Yes.  They are not that smart.

The oil and gas industry is booming.  Why?  Because there is enormous demand for oil and gas.  For all the Keynesians’ lament over the lack of demand you’d think they’d jump on this.  But no.  They ignore it.  Instead they impose oppressive regulations.  Impose moratoriums on Gulf drilling.  And do more to impede this industry than to help it.  To please the environmentalists.  And their friends in green energy.

The genius elite have given us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Solyndra and inflation in the Eurozone.  The Keynesian way.  Whereas the free market is finding domestic sources of real energy and creating jobs.  The Austrian School way.  Which was also the American way.  Once upon a time.  And it can be again.  If we listen more to the market.  And less to the Keynesian elites.

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No Economic Recovery, Crushing Debt and a Credit Downgrade, the U.S. inching closer to European-Style Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 5th, 2011

The Unemployment Rate is Down even though more People are Unemployed

That stubbornly high unemployment rate that has been dogging the Obama recovery has finally dropped (see Jobs report: A pig in lipstick by Nin-Hai Tseng posted 8/5/2011 on CNN Money).

The unemployment rate in July fell slightly to 9.1% from 9.2%

But…

The unemployment rate might have fallen slightly but that’s mostly because the number of people actively looking for jobs fell back – signaling that perhaps workers are feeling less confident about entering the job market.

So the only reason why it dropped is that more people have just given up looking for a job.  And the smaller the group is that is looking for a job the smaller percentage this group is of the total working population.  Ergo, smaller unemployment rate.  So the actual employment picture isn’t better.  It’s worse.

In July, labor participation fell by 193,000.

What’s more, though the economy added 117,000 jobs, it falls short of the 125,000 jobs a month needed just to keep up with population growth and prevent the unemployment rate from trending higher. And it would take at least twice that many to rapidly reduce unemployment.

“The bigger picture, then, is that two years after the recession ended the labor market has not really recovered at all, and may even have gone backwards,” writes economist Paul Dales of Capital Economics.

The economy is worse.  Not better.  So just how much ‘not better’ is the economy?

The Real Economic Recovery not as good as the Made-up One

Apparently pretty ‘not better’ according to the people who count the numbers.  They revised their past numbers.  And the new numbers are even worse than the not-so-great numbers of numbers past (see Distress signal by R.A. posted 7/29/2011 on The Economist)

BEA revised its national accounts numbers back to 2007 for this release, and the picture revealed is far darker than anyone previously believed. From 2007 to 2010, real output declined by 0.3% per year on average. Previously, BEA had estimated annual growth of 0.1% over that period…

Projected growth rates were simply overstated, and current unemployment is exactly what we’d expect given such a feeble recovery. Those overly optimistic assessments of the likely impact of interventions, from fiscal stimulus to QE, also make much more sense now. Policymakers were fighting a fire far more intense than they recognised.

So I guess the Obama administration was a little premature with that Recovery Summer talk.  Or they are not good at reading economic numbers.  Or they are good at reading economic numbers but they were stretching the truth a bit for political purposes in hopes that the real economic recovery would catch up with the made up one.

All right, so the economy isn’t doing so well.  What do we do?

The dire economic situation undergirds this point: Washington should delay immediate fiscal cuts. Indeed, it ought to be spending more now and revisiting the possibility of a payroll tax cut.

Really?  After the recent budget debate to raise the debt ceiling to avoid default and a credit downgrade because of excessive spending and debt?  The same kind of excessive spending and debt that has put Europe in an even worse financial crisis?  Shouldn’t we take a lesson from the European Union sovereign debt crisis?  And not follow them into a similar sovereign debt crisis? 

I mean, it was going to be Armageddon if they lowered our bond rating.  Don’t we care about that anymore?  (By the way, S&P did lower their bond rating today.  So hello Armageddon.)

A Small Negative Return in the U.S. is Preferred over any Investment in the Eurozone

Apparently not.  At least investors appear to be more worried about the debt crisis in Europe.  They’re so worried, in fact, that they’re dumping their European holdings and running to the safe harbor of U.S. banks.  Despite that possible downgrade (which has since happened).  And Armageddon (see Thanks a lot, Europe by Cyrus Sanati posted 8/5/2011 on CNN Money).

The massive selloff in U.S. markets on Thursday appears rooted in Europe as fears of a sovereign debt default in Italy and Spain caused traders to panic and run for cover…

The European Central Bank attempted to ease the market’s fears, but it seemed to have only exacerbated the problem. European leaders are now scrambling to avoid an all-out run on the euro as the European sovereign debt crisis enters a possible terminal phase. They will need to act fast to restore market confidence or the current correction could turn to capitulation.

This crippling debt crisis may very well take down the European Central Bank.  With the fear of default, investors don’t want to buy anything in the Eurozone.  They fear anything they buy today may lose most of its value in the not so distant future.  So they’re pulling their cash out of Europe and parking it in the United States.

All this cash is being dumped into custodial banks in the U.S. This led the Bank of New York Mellon (BK), the largest custodial bank, to start charging its institutional clients a fee for depositing what they consider an “extraordinarily high” amount of cash — it has no place to invest it either, and higher cash levels mean higher FDIC fees.

You know it’s bad when even the banks don’t want your money.

Indeed it is.  So investors will pay a bank to hold their cash.  Because that’s the safe ‘investment’ right now.  A small negative return versus what could be a catastrophic negative return.

The Economy may not be able to Survive much more Government Help

Employment numbers are bad.  GDP is bad.  Talks of an economic recovery appear to have been hopelessly premature.  Debt crises have gripped Europe.  And S&P downgraded U.S. credit and pushed them towards Armageddon.  The Keynesians advice, though, is the same.  More government spending.  Only this can stimulate the economy back to recovery.  Even though it was excessive government spending that gave Europe and the U.S. their crises in the first place.

It’s like Ronald Reagan said.  Government isn’t the answer to our problems.  Government is the problem.  It needs to do the things it does best.  And leave the economy to the private sector.  Because the economy just may not be able to survive much more government help.

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Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Winding down after Costing us Dearly

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 12th, 2011

The Subprime Mortgage Crisis

The housing market is still bad.  And hindering our economic recovery.  The Federal Reserve sees problems inherent in the system.  They don’t want to rehash the blame game for the housing collapse that triggered the worst recession since the Great Depression.  But they do (see Federal Reserve board member: U.S. investigation into mortgage servicing has found ‘widespread weakness’ by Ariana Eunjung Cha posted 2/11/2011 on The Washington Post).

While [Sarah] Bloom Raskin [Federal Reserve board of governors member] said in her speech that she did not want to dwell on how the industry came to such a crisis and instead focus on solutions, she did take some time to issue a harsh reprimand to mortgage brokers, loan originators, loan securitizers, sub-prime lenders, Wall Street investors and ratings agencies whose “selfish free-for-all,” she said, “ultimately led to an economic slide the effects of which are still visible in the boarded-up houses and sheriffs’ foreclosure notices posted all over America.”

Missing from this list is the government.  For it was their policies and threat of legal action that made lenders create all of those risky loans.  Those subprime mortgages.  That put people into houses.  Even if they couldn’t afford to buy a house.  And why did they do this you ask?

U.S. Economic Policy:  Put as many People into Homes as Possible

Well, I’ll tell you.  It’s pretty simple really.  The housing market drives our economy.  Good housing sales equate to a prosperous economy (see Home prices fell in almost half of U.S. cities in fourth quarter, Realtors say by Kathleen M. Howley, Bloomberg News, posted 2/12/2011 on The Washington Post).

Federal Reserve policymakers described the U.S. real estate market as “depressed” in a Jan. 26 statement after the end of a two-day meeting in Washington. The central bankers said declining home values continued to stymie the consumer spending that accounts for about three-quarters of the world’s largest economy.

Three-quarters of the economy.  That’s why government wants to put as many people as possible into houses.  Houses are built with lumber, brick, concrete, linoleum, ceramic tile, plastic plumbing pipe, garbage disposals, electrical wiring, light fixtures, carpeting, paint, ceiling fans, air conditioners, furnaces, etc.  Once we buy a house we have to furnish it.  Stoves, refrigerators, furniture, televisions, stereos, computers, washing machines, dryers, dishes, cutlery, curtains, blinds, beds, sheets, pillows, blankets, coffee makers, etc.  And that’s a lot of consumer spending.

Building and furnishing one house stimulates a lot of economic activity.  That’s why official government policy for decades has been to get as many people to become home owners as possible.  When they extended this to those who couldn’t afford to buy a home, though, we ended up with the subprime mortgage crisis.  And because of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the problem of those subprime mortgages ricocheted throughout the world.

The most Expensive Government Rescue of the Financial Crisis

And speaking of Fannie and Freddie, just how much have their risky behavior cost the American taxpayer?  A lot.  And we’re still counting (see Fannie, Freddie bailout: $153 billion … and counting by Chris Isidore posted 2/11/2011 on CNNMoney).

When the dust settles, the federal bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be the most expensive government rescue of the financial crisis — it already stands at $153 billion and counting…

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, the government body that oversees the two mortgage giants, has estimated that losses through 2013 will require Treasury to pour another $68 billion to $210 billion into the firms on top of the money already used to prop-up the firms and the housing market.

That’s a lot of money.  But at least we may have learned our lesson about putting people into houses they can’t afford.

Friday the Obama administration unveiled its plan to slowly wind down Fannie and Freddie and have banks and the private sector provide the financing for home loans. But the administration plans call for some continued role for the government in promoting mortgage lending and home ownership.

Perhaps not.  Let us not forget what Fannie and Freddie were.  Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE).  The government provided oversight for these GSEs.  They wrote the laws that they must operate under.  They encouraged them to buy more of those risky loans.  All in the name to put more people into houses.  Because the housing market drives consumer spending that makes up three-quarters of the economy.

The Greed of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Even the Obama administration recognizes their role in the subprime mortgage crisis.  In a report that summarized some ideas about how to proceed post Fannie and Freddie, they clearly point a finger of blame in their direction (see Obama’s Plan: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Go, but What Replaces Them? by David C. John posted 2/11/2011 on Heritage’s The Foundry).

The report makes it very clear where the fault for Fannie and Freddie’s failure lies, saying that “as their combined market share declined—from nearly 70 percent of new originations in 2003 to 40 percent in 2006—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pursued riskier business to raise their market share and increase profits. Not only did they expand their guarantees to new and riskier products, but they also increased their holdings of some of these riskier mortgages on their own balance sheets” (page 7).

And yet the Federal Reserve blames mortgage brokers, loan originators, loan securitizers, sub-prime lenders, Wall Street investors and ratings agencies.  But if Fannie and Freddie weren’t buying these risky loans, no mortgage banker would have approved these risky loans.  Because no banker would want these on their balance sheets.  But if Fannie and Freddie were buying these, what did these bankers care?  They had zero risk.  It all went to Fannie and Freddie.  And then to the American taxpayer.

If Fannie and Freddie did not buy those risky loans, the problem ends before it begins.  This is an important point that many tend to gloss over.  And here we are.  While still bailing them out of their mess they’re already talking about a continued government role in the mortgage markets.

I guess we’ve learned little from subprime mortgage crisis.  Pity.  For it was an expensive lesson.

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Financial Crises: The Fed Giveth and the Fed Taketh Away

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 3rd, 2010

Great Depression vs. Great Recession

Ben Bernanke is a genius.  I guess.  That’s what they keep saying at least. 

The chairman of the Federal Reserve is a student of the Great Depression, that great lesson of how NOT to implement monetary policy.  And because of his knowledge of this past great Federal Reserve boondoggle, who better to fix the present great Federal Reserve boondoggle?  What we affectionately call the Great Recession.

There are similarities between the two.  Government caused both.  But there are differences.  Bad fiscal policy brought on a recession in the 1920s.  Then bad monetary policy exasperated the problem into the Great Depression. 

Bad monetary policy played a more prominent role in the present crisis.  It was a combination of cheap money and aggressive government policy to put people into houses they couldn’t afford that set off an international debt bomb.  Thanks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buying highly risky mortgages and selling them as ‘safe’ yet high-yield investments.  Those rascally things we call derivatives.

The Great Depression suffered massive bank failures because the lender of last resort (the Fed) didn’t lend.  In fact, they made it more difficult to borrow money when banks needed money most.  Why did they do this?  They thought rich people were using cheap money to invest in the stock market.  So they made money more expensive to borrow to prevent this ‘speculation’.

The Great Recession suffered massive bank failures because people took on great debt in ideal times (low interest rates and increasing home values).  When the ‘ideal’ became real (rising interest rates and falling home values), surprise surprise, these people couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore.  And all those derivatives became worthless. 

The Great Depression:  Lessons Learned.  And not Learned.

Warren G. Harding appointed Andrew Mellon as his Secretary of the Treasury.  A brilliant appointment.  The Harding administration cut taxes.  The economy surged.  Lesson learned?  Lower taxes stimulate the economy.  And brings more money into the treasury.

The Progressives in Washington, though, needed to buy votes.  So they tinkered.  They tried to protect American farmers from their own productivity.  And American manufacturers.  Also from their own productivity.  Their protectionist policies led to tariffs and an international trade war.  Lesson not learned?  When government tinkers bad things happen to the economy.

Then the Fed stepped in.  They saw economic activity.  And a weakening dollar (low interest rates were feeding the economic expansion).  So they strengthened the dollar.  To keep people from ‘speculating’ in the stock money with borrowed money.  And to meet international exchange rate requirements.  This led to bank failures and the Great Depression.  Lesson not learned?   When government tinkers bad things happen to the economy.

Easy Money Begets Bad Debt which Begets Financial Crisis

It would appear that Ben Bernanke et al learned only some of the lessons of the Great Depression.  In particular, the one about the Fed’s huge mistake in tightening the money supply.  No.  They would never do that again.  Next time, they would open the flood gates (see Fed aid in financial crisis went beyond U.S. banks to industry, foreign firms by Jia Lynn Yang, Neil Irwin and David S. Hilzenrath posted 12/2/2010 on The Washington Post).

The financial crisis stretched even farther across the economy than many had realized, as new disclosures show the Federal Reserve rushed trillions of dollars in emergency aid not just to Wall Street but also to motorcycle makers, telecom firms and foreign-owned banks in 2008 and 2009.

The Fed’s efforts to prop up the financial sector reached across a broad spectrum of the economy, benefiting stalwarts of American industry including General Electric and Caterpillar and household-name companies such as Verizon, Harley-Davidson and Toyota. The central bank’s aid programs also supported U.S. subsidiaries of banks based in East Asia, Europe and Canada while rescuing money-market mutual funds held by millions of Americans.

The Fed learned its lesson.  Their easy money gave us all that bad debt.  And we all learned just how bad ‘bad debt’ can be.  They wouldn’t make that mistake again.

The data also demonstrate how the Fed, in its scramble to keep the financial system afloat, eventually lowered its standards for the kind of collateral it allowed participating banks to post. From Citigroup, for instance, it accepted $156 million in triple-C collateral or lower – grades that indicate that the assets carried the greatest risk of default.

Well, maybe next time.

You Don’t Stop a Run by Starting a Run

With the cat out of the bag, people want to know who got these loans.  And how much each got.  But the Fed is not telling (see Fed ID’s companies that used crisis aid programs by Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer, posted 12/1/2010 on Yahoo! News).

The Fed didn’t take part in that appeal. What the court case could require — but the Fed isn’t providing Wednesday — are the names of commercial banks that got low-cost emergency loans from the Fed’s “discount window” during the crisis.

The Fed has long acted as a lender of last resort, offering commercial banks loans through its discount window when they couldn’t obtain financing elsewhere. The Fed has kept secret the identities of such borrowers. It’s expressed fear that naming such a bank could cause a run on it, defeating the purpose of the program.

I can’t argue with that.  For this was an important lesson of the Great Depression.  When you’re trying to stop bank runs, you don’t advertise which banks are having financial problems.  A bank can survive a run.  If everyone doesn’t try to withdraw their money at the same time.  Which they may if the Fed advertises that a bank is going through difficult times.

When Fiscal Responsibility Fails, Try Extortion

Why does government always tinker and get themselves into trouble?  Because they like to spend money.  And control things.  No matter what the lessons of history have taught us.

Cutting taxes stimulate the economy.  But it doesn’t buy votes.  You need people to be dependent on government for that.  So no matter what mess government makes, they NEVER fix their mess by shrinking government or cutting taxes.  Even at the city level. 

When over budget what does a city do?  Why, they go to a favored tactic.  Threaten our personal safety (see Camden City Council Approves Massive Police And Fire Layoffs Reported by David Madden, KYW Newsradio 1060, posted 12/2/2010 on philadelphia.cbslocal.com).

Camden City Council, as expected, voted Thursday to lay off almost 400 workers, half of them police officers and firefighters, to bridge a $26.5 million deficit.

There’s a word for this.  And it’s not fiscal responsibility.  Some would call it extortion.

It’s never the pay and benefits of the other city workers.  It’s always the cops and firefighters.  Why?  Because cutting the pay and benefits of a bloated bureaucracy doesn’t put the fear of God into anyone.

Here we go Again

We never learn.  And you know what George Santayana said.  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  And here we are.  Living in the past.  Again.

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LESSONS LEARNED #24: “You cannot lobby a politician unless he or she is for sale.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 29th, 2010

BUILDING A RAILROAD ain’t cheap.  It needs dump trucks of money.  Especially if it’s transcontinental.  And that’s what the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific were building.  Starting during the Civil War in 1863 (the year Vicksburg fell and Lee retreated from Gettysburg).  The Union Pacific was building west from Iowa.  And the Central pacific was building east from California. 

For the most part, Protestant, English-speaking Americans settled Texas.  Mexico had encouraged the American colonists to settle this region.  Because few Mexicans were moving north to do so.   The deal was that the colonists conduct official business in Spanish and convert to Catholicism.  They didn’t.  These and other issues soured relations between Mexico and the American Texans.  The Republic of Texas proclaimed their independence from Mexico.  America annexed Texas.  Mexico tried to get it back.  The Mexican-American War followed.  America won.  Texas became a state in 1845.  And that other Spanish/Mexican territory that America was especially interested in, California, became a state in 1850.  Hence the desire for a transcontinental railroad.

The U.S. government was very eager to connect the new state of California to the rest of America.  So they acted aggressively.  They would provide the dump trucks of money.  As America expanded, the U.S. government became the owner of more and more public land.  The sale of new lands provided a large amount of revenue for the federal government.  (Other forms of taxation (income taxes, excise taxes, etc.) grew as the amount of public lands to sell decreased.)  Land is valuable.  So they would grant the railroad companies some 44 million acres of land (i.e., land grants) for their use.  The railroad companies, then, would sell the land to raise the capital to build their railroads.  The government also provided some $60 million in federal loans.

But it didn’t end there.  The federal government came up with incentives to speed things up.  They based the amount of loans upon the miles of track laid.  The more difficult the ground, the more cash.  So, what you got from these incentives was the wrong incentive.  To lay as much track as possible on the most difficult ground they could find.  And then there were mineral rights.  The railroad would own the property they built on.  And any minerals located underneath.  So the tracks wandered and meandered to maximize these benefits.  And speed was key.  Not longevity.  Wherever possible they used wood instead of masonry.  The used the cheapest iron for track.  They even laid track on ice.   (They had to rebuild large chunks of the line before any trains would roll.)  And when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific met, they kept building, parallel to each other.  To lay more miles of track.  And get more cash from the government.

PAR FOR THE COURSE.  When government gets involved they can really mess things up.  But it gets worse.  Not only was government throwing dump trucks of American money down the toilet, they were also profiting from this hemorrhaging of public money.  As shareholders in Crédit Mobilier.

Thomas Durant of Union Pacific concocted the Crédit Mobilier Scandal.  As part of the government requirements to build the transcontinental railroad, Union Pacific had to sell stock at $100 per share.  Problem was, few believed the railroad could be built.  So there were few takers to buy the stock at $100 per share.  So he created Crédit Mobilier to buy that stock.  Once they did, they then resold the stock on the open market at prevailing market prices.  Which were well below $100 per share.  Union Pacific met the government requirements thanks to the willingness of Crédit Mobilier to buy their stock.  The only thing was, both companies had the same stockholders.  Crédit Mobilier was a sham company.  Union Pacific WAS Crédit Mobilier.  And it gets worse.

Union Pacific chose Crédit Mobilier to build their railroad.  Crédit Mobilier submitted highly inflated bills to Union Pacific who promptly paid them.  They then submitted the bills to the federal government (plus a small administration fee) for reimbursement.  Which the federal government promptly paid.  Crédit Mobilier proved to be highly profitable.  This pleased their shareholders.  Which included members of Congress who approved the overbillings as wells as additional funding for cost overruns.  No doubt Union Pacific/Crédit Mobilier had very good friends in Washington.  Including members of the Grant administration.  Until the party ended.  The press exposed the scandal during the 1872 presidential campaign.  Outraged, the federal government conducted an investigation.  But when you investigate yourself for wrongdoing you can guess the outcome.  Oh, there were some slaps on the wrists, but government came out relatively unscathed.  But the public money was gone.  As is usually the case with political graft.  Politicians get rich while the public pays the bill.

(Incidentally, the investigation did not implicate Ulysses Grant.  However, because members of his administration were implicated, this scandal tarnished his presidency.  Grant, though, was not corrupt.  He was a great general.  But not a shrewd politician.  Where there was a code of honor in the military, he found no such code in politics.  Friends used his political naivety for personal profit.  If you read Grant’s personal memoirs you can get a sense of Grant’s character.  Many consider his memoirs among the finest ever written.  He was honest and humble.  A man of integrity.  An expert horseman, he was reduced to riding in a horse and buggy in his later years.  Once, while president, he was stopped for speeding through the streets of Washington.  When the young policeman saw who he had pulled over, he apologized profusely to the president and let him go.  Grant told the young man to write him the ticket.  Because it was his job.  And the right thing to do.  For no man, even the president, was above the law.)

THE FINANCIAL WORLD fell apart in 2007.  And this happened because someone changed the definition of the American Dream from individual liberty to owning a house.  Even if you couldn’t afford to buy one.  Even if you couldn’t qualify for a mortgage.  Even, if you should get a mortgage, you had no chance in hell of making your payments.

Home ownership would be the key to American prosperity.  Per the American government.  Build homes and grow the economy.   That was the official mantra.  So Washington designed American policy accordingly.  Lenders came up with clever financing schemes to put ever more people into new homes.  And they were clever.  But left out were the poorest of the poor.  Even a small down payment on the most modest of homes was out of their range.  Proponents of these poor said this was discriminatory.  Many of the inner city poor in the biggest of cities were minority.  People cried racism in mortgage lending.  Government heard.  They pressured lenders to lend to these poor people.  Or else.  Lenders were reluctant.  With no money for down payments and questionable employment to service these mortgages, they saw great financial risk.  So the government said not to worry.  We’ll take that risk.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would guarantee certain ‘risky’ loans as long as they met minimum criteria.  And they would also buy risky mortgages and get them off their books.  Well, with no risk, the lenders would lend to anyone.  They made NINJA loans (loans to people with No Income, No Job, and no Assets).  And why not?  If any loan was likely to default it was a NINJA loan.  But if Freddie or Fannie bought before the default, what did a lender care?  And even they defaulted before, Fannie and Freddie guaranteed the loan.  How could a lender lose?

Once upon a time, there was no safer loan than a home mortgage.  Why?  Because it would take someone’s lifesavings to pay for the down payment (20% of the home price in the common conventional mortgage).  And people lived in these houses.  In other words, these new home owners had a vested interested to service those mortgages.  Someone who doesn’t put up that 20% down payment with their own money, though, has less incentive to service that mortgage.  They can walk away with little financial loss.

ARE YOU GETTING the picture?  With this easy lending there was a housing boom.  Then a bubble.  With such easy money, housing demand went up.  As did prices.  So housing values soared.  Some poor people were buying these homes with creative financing (used to make the unqualified qualify for a mortgage).  We call these subprime mortgages.  They include Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs).  These have adjustable interest rates.  This removes the risk of inflation.  So they have lower interest rates than fixed-rate mortgages.  If there is inflation (and interest rates go up), they adjust the interest rate on the mortgage up.  Other clever financing included interest only mortgages.  These include a balloon payment at the end of a set term of the full principal.  These and other clever instruments put people into houses who could only afford the smallest of monthly payments.  The idea was that they would refinance after an ‘introductory’ period.  And it would work as long as interest rates did not go up.  But they went up.  And house prices fell.  The bubble burst.  Mortgages went underwater (people owed more than the houses were worth).  Some people struggled to make their payments and simply couldn’t.  Others with little of their own money invested simply walked away.  The subprime industry imploded.  So what happened, then, to all those subprime mortgages?

Fannie and Freddie bought these risky mortgages.  And securitized them.  They chopped and diced them and created investment devices called Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs).  These are fancy bonds backed by those ‘safe’ home mortgages.  Especially safe with those Fannie and Freddie guarantees.  They were as safe as government bonds but more profitable.  As long as people kept making their mortgage payments.

But risk is a funny thing.  You can manage it.  But you can’t get rid of it.  Interest rates went up.  The ARMs reset their interest rates.  People defaulted.  The value of the subprime mortgages that backed those CDOs collapsed, making the value of the CDOs collapse.  And everyone who bought those CDOs took a hit.  Investors around the globe shared those losses. 

Those subprime loans were very risky.  Lenders would not make the loans unless someone else took that risk.  The government took that risk in the guise of Fannie and Freddie.  Who passed on that risk to the investors buying what they thought were safe investments.  Who saw large chunks of their investment portfolios go ‘puff’ into thin air.

SO WHAT ARE Freddie and Fannie exactly?  They are government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs).  They key word here is government.  Once again, you put huge piles of money and government together and the results are predictable.  In an effort to extend the ‘American Dream’ to as many Americans as possible, the federal oversight body for Freddie and Fannie lowered the minimum criteria for making those risky loans.  Even excluding an applicant’s credit worthiness from the application process (so called ‘no-doc’ loans were loans made without any documentation to prove the credit worthiness of the applicant.)  To encourage further reckless lending.  Ultimately causing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. 

And, of course, members of Congress did well during the good times of the subprime boom.  They got large campaign contributions.  Some sweetheart mortgagee deals.  A grateful voting bloc.  And other largess from the profitable subprime industry.  Government did well.  Just as they did during the Crédit Mobilier Scandal.  And the American taxpayer gets to pay the bill.  Some things never change.  Government created both of these scandals.  As government is wont to do whenever around huge piles of money.  For when it comes to stealing from the government, someone in the government has to let it happen.  For it takes a nod and a wink from someone in power to let such massive fraud to take place. 

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