And we’re still at risk of it happening all over againby Adam Taggart Saturday, March 30, 2013, 12:42 PM
Then, when the Fed’s fire hoses started spraying an elephant soup of liquidity injections in every direction and its balance sheet grew by $1.3 trillion in just thirteen weeks compared to $850 billion during its first ninety-four years, I became convinced that the Fed was flying by the seat of its pants, making it up as it went along. It was evident that its aim was to stop the hissy fit on Wall Street and that the thread of a Great Depression 2.0 was just a cover story for a panicked spree of money printing that exceeded any other episode in recorded human history.
David Stockman, The Great Deformation
David Stockman, former director of the OMB under President Reagan, former US Representative, and veteran financier is an insider’s insider. Few people understand the ways in which both Washington DC and Wall Street work and intersect better than he does.
In his upcoming book, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America, Stockman lays out how we have devolved from a free market economy into a managed one that operates for the benefit of a privileged few. And when trouble arises, these few are bailed out at the expense of the public good.
By manipulating the price of money through sustained and historically low interest rates, Greenspan and Bernanke created an era of asset mis-pricing that inevitably would need to correct. And when market forces attempted to do so in 2008, Paulson et al hoodwinked the world into believing the repercussions would be so calamitous for all that the institutions responsible for the bad actions that instigated the problem needed to be rescued — in full — at all costs.
Of course, history shows that our markets and economy would have been better off had the system been allowed to correct. Most of the “too big to fail” institutions would have survived or been broken into smaller, more resilient, entities. For those that would have failed, smaller, more responsible banks would have stepped up to replace them – as happens as part of the natural course of a free market system:
Essentially there was a cleansing run on the wholesale funding market in the canyons of Wall Street going on. It would have worked its will, just like JP Morgan allowed it to happen in 1907 when we did not have the Fed getting in the way. Because they stopped it in its tracks after the AIG bailout and then all the alphabet soup of different lines that the Fed threw out, and then the enactment of TARP, the last two investment banks standing were rescued, Goldman and Morgan [Stanley], and they should not have been. As a result of being rescued and having the cleansing liquidation of rotten balance sheets stopped, within a few weeks and certainly months they were back to the same old games, such that Goldman Sachs got $10 billion dollars for the fiscal year that started three months later after that check went out, which was October 2008. For the fiscal 2009 year, Goldman Sachs generated what I call a $29 billion surplus – $13 billion of net income after tax, and on top of that $16 billion of salaries and bonuses, 95% of it which was bonuses.
Therefore, the idea that they were on death’s door does not stack up. Even if they had been, it would not make any difference to the health of the financial system. These firms are supposed to come and go, and if people make really bad bets, if they have a trillion dollar balance sheet with six, seven, eight hundred billion dollars worth of hot-money short-term funding, then they ought to take their just reward, because it would create lessons, it would create discipline. So all the new firms that would have been formed out of the remnants of Goldman Sachs where everybody lost their stock values – which for most of these partners is tens of millions, hundreds of millions – when they formed a new firm, I doubt whether they would have gone back to the old game. What happened was the Fed stopped everything in its tracks, kept Goldman Sachs intact, the reckless Goldman Sachs and the reckless Morgan Stanley, everyone quickly recovered their stock value and the game continues. This is one of the evils that comes from this kind of deep intervention in the capital and money markets.
Stockman’s anger at the unnecessary and unfair capital transfer from taxpayer to TBTF bank is matched only by his concern that, even with those bailouts, the banking system is still unacceptably vulnerable to a repeat of the same crime:
The banks quickly worked out their solvency issues because the Fed basically took it out of the hides of Main Street savers and depositors throughout America. When the Fed panicked, it basically destroyed the free-market interest rate – you cannot have capitalism, you cannot have healthy financial markets without an interest rate, which is the price of money, the price of capital that can freely measure and reflect risk and true economic prospects.
Well, once you basically unplug the pricing mechanism of a capital market and make it entirely an administered rate by the Fed, you are going to cause all kinds of deformations as I call them, or mal-investments as some of the Austrians used to call them, that basically pollutes and corrupts the system. Look at the deposit rate right now, it is 50 basis points, maybe 40, for six months. As a result of that, probably $400-500 billion a year is being transferred as a fiscal maneuver by the Fed from savers to the banks. They are collecting the spread, they’ve then booked the profits, they’ve rebuilt their book net worth, and they paid back the TARP basically out of what was thieved from the savers of America.
Now they go down and pound the table and whine and pout like JP Morgan and the rest of them, you have to let us do stock buy backs, you have to let us pay out dividends so we can ramp our stock and collect our stock option winnings. It is outrageous that the authorities, after the so-called “near death experience” of 2008 and this massive fiscal safety net and monetary safety net was put out there, is allowing them to pay dividends and to go into the market and buy back their stock. They should be under house arrest in a sense that every dime they are making from this artificial yield group being delivered by the Fed out of the hides of savers should be put on their balance sheet to build up retained earnings, to build up a cushion. I do not care whether it is fifteen or twenty or twenty-five percent common equity and retained earnings-to-assets or not, that is what we should be doing if we are going to protect the system from another raid by these people the next time we get a meltdown, which can happen at any time.
You can see why I talk about corruption, why crony capitalism is so bad. I mean, the Basel capital standards, they are a joke. We are just allowing the banks to go back into the same old game they were playing before. Everybody said the banks in late 2007 were the greatest thing since sliced bread. The market cap of the ten largest banks in America, including from Bear Stearns all the way to Citibank and JP Morgan and Goldman and so forth, was $1.25 trillion. That was up thirty times from where the predecessors of those institutions had been. Only in 1987, when Greenspan took over and began the era of bubble finance – slowly at first then rapidly, eventually, to have the market cap grow thirty times – and then on the eve of the great meltdown see the $1.25 trillion to market cap disappear, vanish, vaporize in panic in September 2008. Only a few months later, $1 trillion of that market cap disappeared in to the abyss and panic, and Bear Stearns is going down, and all the rest.
This tells you the system is dramatically unstable. In a healthy financial system and a free capital market, if I can put it that way, you are not going to have stuff going from nowhere to @1.2 trillion and then back to a trillion practically at the drop of a hat. That is instability; that is a case of a medicated market that is essentially very dangerous and is one of the many adverse consequences and deformations that result from the central-bank dominated, corrupt monetary system that has slowly built up ever since Nixon closed the gold window, but really as I say in my book, going back to 1933 in April when Roosevelt took all the private gold. So we are in a big dead-end trap, and they are digging deeper every time you get a new maneuver.
by Raúl Ilargi Meijer
On January 25, Timothy Geithner will step down as US Treasury Secretary. A lot of people will say and write a lot of things about him at that point, and it sounds like a good idea to be ahead of the game and provide some perspective.
There are voices claiming (there will be many more, promise) that Geithner pulled us out of the recession and the crisis, and saved the economy. That seems presumptuous. It may just as well be true that Geithner has fooled us into thinking that. Just because the stock markets are pulling through so far doesn’t mean, let alone prove, that the economy has recovered or been saved. You would need something better, more substantial than that. While acknowledging that relatively strong stock market numbers are at least in potential a great way indeed to fool people about the economy.
And going forward we can wax nostalgically about everything Tim has done, and about where the economy is now compared to 4 years ago, but when all else is said and done, there is still just one question that counts: what happened to the debt? What has Geithner done when it comes to debt? As long as you don’t know what happened to the debt, you won’t know the true state of the economy.
Well, Americans still have higher personal debt levels than they ever had before (in fact, the best anti-gun law would be to ban paying for them with credit) and government debt has grown exponentially. Those things at least we know to an extent; when it comes to bank debt, we don’t know much of anything. Tim has made sure of that. He’s handed trillions of dollars in our money to Wall Street and we haven’t received anything in return. Well, yes, we have the semblance of a somewhat stable stock market, but is that worth all that extra debt? Moreover, we still don’t know what happened to the debt that caused the crisis in the first place, because Tim made sure it has been kept hidden from view. And how’s that a good thing again?
Look, you can save banks that are in deep debt trouble, and perhaps that’s not necessarily such a bad thing, since letting them fail outright would have been a risky proposition. But you can’t make the choice to save banks and not at the same time restructure those debts and expose and prosecute the bankers who put their firms into a situation that necessitated saving them in the first place, and were paid big bonuses for doing it. That is not alright by any stretch of the imagination, either ethically or economically. Because the money used to save them comes from outside of the financial system; it comes from the taxes that everybody pays. And that means it has to be accounted for. But it never was.
The only reason the policy – if you can call it that – of handing banks trillions in cheap credit appears to work is because its consequences cannot be felt immediately, but are pushed forward into the future. That doesn’t absolve us from having to ask what happened to the debt, though, but we still have no answer to that question, and Tim Geithner carries a substantial part of the blame for that.
If you’re interested only in yourself, and you’re just looking to make a quick buck, sure, things may look good. And if you think you can best achieve your goals by things staying the same, by keeping the system going as it is, yeah, you’re likely to think that Tim Geithner has done a swell job, because from that point of view he has saved you.
But if you care about anything that goes beyond just today, and beyond the few square miles that make up your world, if you care about your family, your friends, your kids and their future, Tim Geithner is not your man. He set up the system so it would continue to provide fast money for the horses with blinders, but he’s done it with money that everyone else is on the hook for. Just not today, not right away.
And that plays perfectly to our proverbial human short – term – attention span: Hey, look at the markets, they’re doing fine. We’re in recovery. We left the crisis behind. We made it.
But what’s that bulge under the carpet there in the corner? Is that perhaps what happened to the debt? We tell ourselves we love our children. That what we need to do is put aside money for their education. That what they need for their futures is money. And that’s it. It’s not about the world we leave for them. It’s not about the debt we leave for them. But it should be. The education we buy for our kids today will mean very little if and when they will be forced to pay back all our debts. We should face up to the responsibility for it ourselves. We don’t. We prefer the cloud cuckoo land illusion that Tim Geithner has spun before our eyes. We prefer to let our kids deal with reality.
The main problem from a purely technical point of view with the way Geithner has gone about business is that it’s to a large extent zombie money that drives markets today, money that would not have existed if debts had been properly restructured. If anytime in the future, either driven by markets or governments, banks are forced to restructure their debt after all, this poses a gargantuan risk to both the financial system and the overall economy. And we’ll have Geithner to thank for that. Not only him, there’s Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, Hank Paulson and many more. Still, Geithner has had the option and the power to do the right thing, for four long years, and declined.
Obama said this about Tim Geithner recently: “When the history books are written, Tim Geithner is going to go down as one of our finest Secretaries of the Treasury…” And that the “unofficial” saying at the Treasury is “no peacocks, no jerks, no whiners” and “Few embody that ideal better than Tim Geithner.”.
That says much more about Obama than it does about Geithner. The reality is that Obama will go down as one of the worst American presidents in history. Because four more years of the above will sink the US economy to levels not even imagined today, and Obama will be seen as an accomplice if not the main perpetrator of a whole series of – financial – crimes against the people. The president that brought the country to its knees.
That is inevitable precisely because Geithner and Obama have done nothing at all for four years to restructure bank debt. All they’ve done in that time is keep the existing financial system, which was then and is now as bankrupt as any industry has ever been, standing upright. Or more correctly: appear to be standing upright. What the president and his Treasurer have done is feed zombies. With – future – human flesh. With the future prospects of our children. Obama has said that what Wall Street did was unethical but not illegal, but that is up to the courts to decide, not the president, and not Congress.
If you leave the decision making in a time of crisis to those who stand to profit most from keeping things as they are, it would perhaps be foolish to expect them to not try and do just that. Thing is, they can do so only by throwing others under the bus. And since this crisis is the biggest, the most widespread and the worst we’ve ever seen, it means just about everyone else will end up under that bus. Even the majority of those who think they would be better off keeping the system going: be careful what you wish for.
Timothy Geithner is a Robert Rubin protégé. Under Bill Clinton, then Treasury Secretary and Citigroup made man Rubin, assisted by Greenspan and Larry Summers, set the terms for US government (non) policy for derivatives that stands to this day.
Geithner certainly never touched it after he and Summers took over the Obama finance team. And now he will be succeeded by Jack Lew, who was director of the White House Office of Management and Budget when Rubin and Summers were there. Lew isn’t just a revolving door man, he does you one better: he went from K Street lobbyist to Citigroup director to the White House, rinse and repeat, pocketing a million dollar bonus from Citi three months after it received billions in taxpayer bailouts.
Once again, if we let them, it would perhaps be foolish to expect them to not try and do these things. Jack Lew’s nomination tells us all we need to know about Barack Obama’s intentions. Which are to let the bankers and their shareholders continue to hide their debts, and continue to use the zombie money they thus seem to have to make leveraged wagers whose profits they can pocket and whose losses they can pass on to you.
And you can continue to play the game as well as long as it lasts. So you can, if you’re lucky, hold on to your job and your home and use your money to pay for your children’s education. If you do, it might be a good idea to take a look at what it is they learn. Make sure they’re never tempted to look under the carpet. Or they may turn against you.
- Geithner Says Debt Limit Steps May Run Out by Mid-February – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Geithner warns clock is ticking on debt (upi.com)
- Geithner leaving Treasury post: Trouble for Obama? (capitolhillblue.com)
- Geithner gives Congress notice: Four to six weeks until default (dailykos.com)
Shell’s Arctic-class drill ship, the Kulluk, is shown as it is towed near Alaska. Shell is moving the Kulluk drilling unit from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to a Seattle shipyard for ongoing maintenance and planned, technical upgrades. (Photo courtesy of Shell Oil Co.)
Alaska’s North Slope shales may hold as much as 80 trillion cubic feet of gas, or more than half the highest estimate for the Marcellus formation, and as much as 2 billion barrels of oil, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
President Barack Obama’s administration and the state of Alaska are offering more access to oil and natural gas resources on land and in the Arctic waters to help lower dependence on imported fuel and push more crude through a major oil pipeline crossing the state. Royal Dutch Shell Plc plans to start drilling this year in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which are off the coast of the North Slope.
“Alaska’s energy resources hold great promise and economic opportunity for the American people,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said today in an e-mailed statement.
The geological service, part of the Interior Department, said in a statement that North Slope shale hasn’t been developed because of economic and infrastructure considerations.
The assessment, the first made of North Slope shale resources, is based on success in extracting oil and gas from similar formations, such as the Marcellus Shale in the U.S. East. The agency last year estimated Marcellus may hold as much as 144 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Shale gas and shale oil, produced by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing by injecting water and chemicals underground, led to record natural gas output in the U.S. last year and 33 percent decline in prices in the past 12 months.
- USA: EIA Expects Huge Rise in Natural Gas Production (mb50.wordpress.com)
- ExxonMobil, OMV Petrom Strike Gas Offshore Romania (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Shell ‘hits shale gas’ in China (mb50.wordpress.com)