Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, January 22, 2010 8:21 pm

Odds and ends for 1/22


Double dip: There were 482,000 new unemployment claims for the week ending 1/16, which was 36,000 more than the previous week and 42,000 more than expected. Worse, new emergency unemployment claims, for those who’ve exhausted regular benefits, were up 652,364 to 5,654,544. If this is a green shoot, it’s the kind of green you see when things are rotting.

Theft of a lifetime: The chief strategist for a major international bank accuses the U.S. and U.K. central banks of conspiring to steal wealth from their respective countries’ middle classes. It’s actually a little more complicated than that, but only a little.

Risky business: President Obama has proposed ending proprietary trading by bank holding companies to reduce the level of risk in the market and, therefore, the risk that taxpayers will have to bail out more banks, something Paul Volcker supports. Banks have protested that this is unnecessary on the grounds that prop trading really isn’t a big part of their business (Goldman Sachs puts its prop-trade revenue at 10% of the total). However, observes Zero Hedge with a nice little chart, “the market begs to differ.” Goldman’s own analysis suggests that while prop trading accounts for perhaps 10% of Bank of America’s revenues, because of prop trading’s high margins it accounts for up to 45% of BAC’s earnings. If that’s true, BAC stock, which is supposed to double in price by the end of 2011, could fall 50% instead.

Related: Real conservatives like Obama’s proposal. American “conservatives,” however, not so much.

So, will Goldman Sachs stop being a bank holding company so that it can continue its proprietary trading?: Probably, although it’s kind of in a pickle because currently it has almost 21 billion reasons not to.

Best health-care reform political analysis. Ever: I don’t think it’s correct on the substance, but whether it is or not, I just love the pretty words: “The only path to national health care reform is to pass the Senate bill. Unless Nancy Pelosi and the House leadership can herd three distinct groups of cats — the Blue Dogs, the Stupak coat-hanger crowd and the progressives — HCR is going down in flames, quite possibly for another generation. This is where we’re at. It sucks. It also blows, a seemingly self-canceling phenomenon that is only witnessed in the rarest, most [rear-end]-tasting conditions. And we are witnessing such conditions this very day — a perfect storm of sucking and blowing. That said, if passing the Senate bill verbatim is a once-in-a-lifetime Suckicane meeting a Category 5 Blowphoon head-on, then NOT PASSING ANYTHING AT ALL takes us into the Bruckheimer-Emmerich territory of summer blockbuster-class suckstinction-level blowvents.”

Quote of the day, from Matt Taibbi, on the prop-trading restrictions: “Obviously this is good news, but what I find irritating about it is that the government only starts listening to its voters once the more corrupt option turns out to be untenable.” Yo, Matt, that ain’t true only about banking, either.

The New York Fed and AIG: A timeline, by Bloomberg. Nice.

People thought Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t ruin the Wall Street Journal. People were wrong, although the author concedes the problem is a bit more nuanced than he first claimed.

So if Glenn Beck isn’t talking about going after progressives through the political process, then what’s he talking about? Because when you say you’re going after your political opponents like the Israelis went after Eichmann, you probably know your audience understands that what awaited Eichmann was a gallows.

Barney Frank may actually have a good idea: Blowing up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and creating a new system of housing finance. F&F didn’t cause as much of the current housing-bubble crisis as most of their critics claim, but they did contribute, oh, yes, they did.

And they say this like it’s a bad thing: ABC thinks there may not be enough votes in Congress to reconfirm Ben Bernanke. Let’s hope they’re right. Bernanke is a big reason we’re in as much trouble as we are right now.

They’re the Christian Taliban, they’re stone (no pun intended) killers, and they’re based in Newark: Yeah, that’s right: Read about the connections between the PrayforNewark social-action group, the bill in Uganda to execute gays, and the Dominionist movement in the U.S. These are scary people.

If this had been my daughter, the lawsuit would’ve been filed before the sun went down: TSA employee plants bag of white powder in college student’s carry-on luggage. Plenty of witnesses — who were afraid to speak up. Excellent! Just what you want when you’re trying to prevent terrorism — people who see something hinky but are afraid to speak up for fear of being arrested!

Apparently they can use lasers to zap away fat!: Which sounds cool, and I am so on board (assuming I can find the money) … just as soon as they figure out where the fat goes.

2 Comments »

  1. Regarding Fannie / Freddie:

    Whenever someone says something is a cause of a particular outcome, I always ask: “BUT FOR?” But for this occurring, would the outcome have been the same?

    My crisis “BUT FORs” are 1) ultra low rates 2) sub-prime no doc loans 3) Ratings agencies slapping AAA on junk paper — bur for those things, would the crisis have happened? (No)

    That makes them the prime causes of the crisis, IMO.

    There is a secondary list of things that are arguably not prime causal factors, but they made the crisis worse:

    1) The 2004 Net Cap rule exemption that allowed banks to go from 12 to 1 leverage to 25, 35 even 40 to 1 leverage — again, I am unsure if it is a direct causation of the credit freeze (although you can certainly argue that BSC and LEH might not have been in as dire straits BUT FOR this leverage, and might have survived) — it certainly made the damages much greater. (I can go either way on whether this is a BUT FOR)

    2) The CFMA allowed derivatives to be traded totally in the shadows; did that cause the crisis? Maybe, but I am not sure. It certainly destroyed AIG. Did it make things much worse? Definitely! (Also, I can go either way on whether this is a BUT FOR)

    3) the repeal of Glass Steagall allowed banks to get much bigger than they would have — which made their losses that much bigger; (Another either way on whether a BUT FOR)

    Here’s the kicker — when I do the same BUT FOR analysis on Fannie/Fredddie, I don’t get the same results. Were they an accounting fraud run by weasels? Yes. Did they securitze mortgaes? Yes, for decades. What about sub-prime mortgages? Primarily, after late 2005.

    Were they the BUT FOR here? I don’t see how. Wall Street had been securitizing most of the sub-prime mortgages for years — Fannie and Freddie jumped in because they were losing market share, and just as the market peaked.

    That’s how I end up saying no — They made things worse, but did not cause it. FRE/FNM were not BUT FORs, because all of this was happening anyway, prior to their participation.

    You can see the tedious details here:

    Comment by Barry Ritholtz — Saturday, January 23, 2010 6:43 pm @ 6:43 pm | Reply

  2. I think we’re saying basically the same thing, Barry, although I used so many fewer words than you did that the nuance present in your comment is absent in my post.

    Thanks for stopping by, by the way — I frequently lurk at your place and like most of what you do.

    Comment by Lex — Saturday, January 23, 2010 7:26 pm @ 7:26 pm | Reply


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