International Forecaster Weekly

Fed Strategy The Wrong Way For Growth

Financial follies continue, more bank closures this year than last, pension liabilities exceed revenues, continued troubles in the economy, no real interventions in currency market, PIMCO predictions.

Bob Chapman | October 27, 2010

As the Friday Night Financial Follies continues regulators on Friday shut down two small banks in Florida and two in Georgia, lifting to 136 the number of U.S. banks that have fallen this year as soured loans have mounted and the economy has sputtered.

With 136 closures nationwide so far this year, the pace of bank failures exceeds that of 2009, which was already a brisk year for shutdowns with 140. By this time last year, regulators had closed 106 banks.

The pace has accelerated as banks' losses mount on loans made for commercial property and development. Many companies have shut down in the recession, vacating shopping malls and office buildings financed by the loans. That has brought delinquent loan payments and defaults by commercial developers.

The 2009 total of bank failures was the highest annual tally since 1992, at the height of the savings and loan crisis. The 2009 failures cost the insurance fund more than $30 billion. Twenty-five banks failed in 2008, the year the financial crisis struck with force; only three succumbed in 2007.

The growing bank failures have sapped billions of dollars out of the deposit insurance fund. It fell into the red last year, and its deficit stood at $15.2 billion as of June 30.

The number of banks on the FDIC's confidential "problem" list jumped to 829 in the second quarter from 775 three months earlier, even as the industry as a whole had its best quarter since 2007, making $21.6 billion in net income. Banks with more than $10 billion in assets only 1.3 percent of the industry accounted for $19.9 billion of the total earnings.

The FDIC expects the cost of resolving failed banks to total around $52 billion from 2010 through 2014.

It was about three months ago that we took a lonely stand in predicting QE2. We had seen the strong activity of the Fed in the repo market since June and attempts by bankers to lend to better quality rated small and medium sized businesses. The Fed stoked a sliding economy and the banks had only mixed success.

Since July much has happened. Gold, silver and commodities have risen as has the dollar, the market and bonds. We now purportedly have a currency war that will lead to tariffs on goods and services and we have been beset with Foreclosuregate.

In Foreclosuregate the federal government is trying to cover up the damage and put it off until after the election. The states’ attorney generals’ have different ideas. Even if mortgages were traded electronically the law demands that there be a paper trail. The initial events in this discovery process has already unveiled that banks used the same mortgages to fill different loan packages. They were sold multiple times, which, of course, is fraud. Furthermore the MERS system is unlawful. As a result Bank of America has demanded the FDIC pay them for faulty or bad mortgages. Evidently the practice of multiple mortgage use was widespread. The entire system is rife with fraud, due to lack of lawful, proper, legal documentation. That had led banks to arrange mortgages to totally unqualified borrowers just to be able to securitize and sell those AAA rated mortgages. The banks made major amounts of money and the Federal Reserve arranged for the taxpayer to pay the bill. The banks carried fractional banking to a new level in their deliberate fraud. In fact, there is even the possibility that the mortgages were never really securitized. There probably never was any paper work and what there was perpetuated fraud. In addition there is also the possibility that LPS, a foreclosure-outsourcing firm, fabricated documents and committed forgery as well.

Bankers made outsized profits via fraud. The question now is, who is going to jail? Government will jail the little guys as always and the big fish will swim away. Let’s hope this time it is different.

Even the NY Fed wants to financially pursue Bank of America and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac want to pursue Wells Fargo for burying them with toxic waste known as CDOs, ABS and MBS. If many mortgages are forced back to the creators, that will force the banks into insolvency or another public bailout, we will call TARP2. This kind of action will send the public into spasms and it could lead to major demonstrations. They are sick and tired of the financial world being bailed out and the public getting nothing.

This scandal comes as residential and commercial real estte keeps falling in value, putting many more banks on the edge of failure. That is borne out by Gary Shilling who believes housing prices will fall another 20% and the number of underwater mortgages will increase from 23% to 40%, or that half of Americans will deliberately default. We, as has Mr. Shilling, been uninvited guests predicting a major fall in housing since June of 2005.

The propaganda, lies and disinformation the American public has been subjected to, is without precedent and they are finally listening. Wall Street, banking, insurance and their government are the enemy. The amount of disinformation being presented to the average American goes on 24/7, never ceasing in magnitude by a totally controlled major media. If it wasn’t for talk radio and the Internet the public would already be enslaved totally. Needless to say, today in Orwellian fashion people such as us are treated as terrorists, because we deal in the truth and government does not like that, because it exposes them for what they are, criminals. In the end the truth will win out and they will pay for their crimes.

The minions of the powers behind government were successful in passing a health care bill, which will begin in two years. Those earning more than $200,000 as a single or $250,000 married will pay an extra 0.9% in FICA taxes for Social Security. After that level you will pay 3.4% on your income. Within 20 years most taxpayers will pay these rates due to inflation.

The AMT is not indexed for inflation, thus the alternative minimum tax will continue as a heavy burden.

Most people do not realize, unless they are victims that the first 50% and then 85% of Social Security benefits are subject to taxation. In 2000, just 22% were above that level. It is now 39%. In 50 years, 85% will be taxed. Where we ask is the tax revolt? By that time the age to collect SS will be 70. By that time taxes on the wealthy will rise from 39.6% to 36% for the top two brackets. In just ten years those in the 15% bracket will graduate into the 25% bracket. The 28% group will be in the 36% bracket. Is it any wonder there is an exodus of citizens from America to foreign places with more forgiving tax rates? Incidentally, they won’t be going to Europe where rates are 70%, if you include the VAT, the value added tax. That legislation holds, health care reform, 16-tax increase for those of you who were not paying attention.

The Fed has informed us that part of the way to salvage a badly damaged financial system is to allow more inflation. What they do not tell you is that barriers by countries to keep dollars out of their economies and currency wars are going to impose higher inflation levels than in the past. It means the Fed won’t have the luxury of exporting inflation.

That is something the Fed does not want to discuss, as they prepare to inject more than $2 trillion additional into the economy in this coming year. Actually that exercise began this past June. You were not informed, because you did not have a need to know. It is part of our secret government.

For the curious, most people, even on Wall Street don’t realize that as a result of the Merrill Lynch-Bank of America merger, the bank owns 34% of Black Rock, which is worth $11.5 billion. Black Rock is also the owner of 5.35% of BofA shares, worth $6.6 billion. This creates a conflict of interest. This pits them both against PIMCO and the NY Fed in their MBS differences.

The Dow gained 0.6%, S&P rose 0.6%, the Russell 2000 was unchanged and the Nasdaq 100 added 0.3%. Banks rose 1.7%, broker/dealers 2.3%, cyclicals 0.5% and transports rose 1.3%. Consumers gained 0.7%; high tech gained 1%; semis were unchanged; Internets rose 1.9% and biotechs 2.4%. Gold bullion fell $40, the HUI gold index fell 4.3% and the USDX gained 0.5% to 77.36.

The 2-year T-bill fell 1 bps to 0.35%; the 10-year T-note was unchanged at 2.56% and the 10year German bund rose 10 bps to 2.47%.

The Freddie Mac 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates increased 2 bps to 4.21%, the 15’s rose 2 bps to 3.64%; one year ARMs sank 13 bps to 3.30% and the 30-year fixed jumbos rose 1 bps to 5.24%.

Fed credit fell $9.4 billion and Fed foreign holdings of Treasury and Agency debt jumped $14.1 billion to a new record $3.281. Custody holdings for foreign central banks increased $326 billion YTD, or 13.7% annualized. Year-on-year it is up 13.6%.

M2 narrow money supply increased $3.9 billion to $8.757 trillion.

Total money market fund assets fell $17 billion to $2.782 trillion. Year-to-date assets are off $512 billion.

We have seen the Fed subtly inject money and credit into the system since early June. That is five months of deception. Easing is obviously here to stay. Mr. Geithner requested certain caps on trade surpluses by not allowing them in excess of 4% of FGDP, which was shunted aside. This is a request for a soviet style command economy. Just another wacky idea. This means the only avenue left is an increase of $8 trillion in QE2. A deliberate reduction in the value of the dollar, zero interest rates, double-digit fiscal deficits and inflation and massive monetization of fiscal debt. That means real trouble for dollar holders. It is no wonder that countries are already erecting barriers to dollar investment in their countries by taxing incoming dollar investments. There has been little productive investment to rebalance a maladjusted economy. How can there ever be rebalancing without tariffs on goods and services. This is what free trade, globalization, offshoring and outsourcing have brought us. Yes, the US is a basket case when we are looking at a possible $500 billion current account deficit this year. This is the result of policies that has all the earmarks of a banana republic. That result has been followed to enrich transnational conglomerates. How can you compete when you have de-industrialized and put 8.5 million people out of work?

The US wants foreign currencies to appreciate versus the dollar and that is not going to happen, thus, the dollar will be brought down to 40 to 55 on the USDX where it currently reflects 77.00.

As this transpires funds will continue to flow into gold, silver and commodities. This massive liquidity will not be welcome in foreign countries. The continual monetization will be frightening, but in this round a good part of the inflation will stay in the US leading to much higher inflation as foreign barriers are erected. Hold on to your seatbelts it is going to be a wild ride.

Bloomberg (John Gittelsohn and Jody Shenn):  “Shoddy mortgage lending has led bankers into a two-front war, pitting them against U.S. homeowners challenging the right to foreclose and mortgage-bond investors demanding refunds that could approach $200 billion.  While federal regulators and state attorneys general have focused on flawed foreclosures, a bigger threat may be the cost to buy back faulty loans that banks bundled into securities. JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc. have set aside just $10 billion in reserves to cover future buybacks.”

“U.S. commercial property prices tumbled for a third straight month in August to the lowest level in eight years, pulled down by declining values for distressed real estate, according to Moody’s… The Moody’s/REAL Commercial Property Price Index fell 3.3% from the prior month to surpass the post-crash low in October 2009… The measure is 45% below its October 2007 peak and is at its lowest level since June 2002.”

“Apartment rents rose across the U.S. West and South for the third straight quarter as record foreclosures boosted demand for rental housing, RealFacts said.  The average asking rent climbed to $958 a month from $950 in the second quarter. It declined 0.7% from a year earlier. Rents reached a record $1,002 in the third quarter of 2008.” Pension funds for employees of U.S. state and local governments are headed for a shortfall of more than $1 trillion within three years, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Unfunded liabilities for public pensions will amount to an estimated $1.05 trillion in 2013 on an inflation-adjusted basis, using 2009 dollars, according to the research. The total is more than double the $511 billion figure in 2008.”

California, the U.S. state with the largest public-pension fund, faces liabilities that may exceed five times its annual tax revenue within two years unless lawmakers rein in benefits, according to a study.  To keep their promises to retirees, the California Public Employees Retirement System, the biggest plan, the California State Teachers Retirement System, the second-largest, and the University of California Retirement System may have combined liabilities of more than 5.5 times the state’s annual tax revenue by fiscal 2012, according to the study released today by the Milken Institute. Levies are forecast to reach about $89 billion in the year that began July 1.

U.S. house prices increased 0.4% in August, almost regaining the 0.7% revised decrease in July [1], but fell more than 2% from a year ago, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency monthly House Price Index.

Prices fell 2.4% in August from the year before and remain 13.6% below the peak in April 2007. In August, prices reached roughly the same point in the FHFA index measured in October 2004, heading up to the peak.

The FHFA calculates is monthly index using purchase prices of houses backing mortgages sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The FHFA has held those two companies in conservatorship since 2008.

The analytics firm Clear Capital warned of possible new lows in prices heading into 2011 after sharp drops in October.

The Standard & Poor's/ Case-Shiller 20-city index for August showed a 1.7% increase from a year ago and a 0.2% drop from July.

For the nine Census divisions measured by the FHFA index, prices ranged from a 0.6% decline in the Mountain Division to a 1.5% increase in the West South Central Division.

Home prices fell 0.2% in August, according to the Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday by Standard & Poor’s, in a report labelled “disappointing” by its compilers.

This is the first drop in the index after four straight monthly gains as demand spiked by the homebuyer tax credit that expired at the end of April.

Prices fell in 15 of the 20 metropolitan areas tracked by Case-Shiller in August compared with July. Annualized price growth slowed to 1.7% from 3.2% in July.

Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York and Washington, D.C. were the only five cities that recorded small improvements in home prices over July.

David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poor’s, called the report “disappointing.”

“At this time, it does not seem that any of the markets are hanging on to the temporary momentum caused by the homebuyers’ tax credits,” Blitzer said in a comment that accompanied the report.

Economists are concerned that there may be additional downward pressure on prices as demand slows in cooler months.

The expiration of the tax credit combined with the cooler temperatures may create “a downside double-whammy for prices,” Josh Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc, wrote in a research note.

FHFA report

In a separate report, U.S. house prices rose 0.4% on a seasonally adjusted basis from July to August, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Tuesday. See FHFA data.

The positive tone of the report was muted because declines in July and June were deeper than previously estimated.

Paul Dales, economist at Capital Economics in Toronto, said in an interview that the Case-Shiller and FHFA data often move in different directions on a monthly basis but are telling the same story on a longer term.

For the 12 months ending in August, home prices fell 2.4%, up from a 3.4% decline in July, the FHFA said in its monthly house price index. The Case Shiller is also trending lower on an annual basis.

“Both are pointing down consistent with softening in the housing markets,” Dales aid.

The FHFA index is calculated using purchase prices of houses with mortgages that have been sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Case-Shiller is a 3-month moving average. It is based on repeat sales of the same properties. Read the full report.

On a year-over-year basis, 12 of the 20 metropolitan areas posted negative growth rates, according to Case-Shiller. Seventeen of the regions showed a deceleration in growth rates.

Only Charlotte, Cleveland and Las Vegas saw improvement in year-over-year growth rates.

Here’s a list of the 20 cities in the Case-Shiller index, with percentage changes over the past year:

San Francisco, up 7.8%; San Diego, up 6.9%; Los Angeles, up 5.4%; Washington, up 4.8%; Minneapolis, up 2.9%; Boston, up 1.5%; Phoenix, up 0.4%; New York, up 0.1%; Detroit, down 0.1%; Cleveland, down 0.4%; Miami, down 1.0%; Denver, down 1.2%; Dallas, down 1.7%; Atlanta, down 2.0%; Portland, down 2.3%; Seattle, down 2.4%; Chicago, down 2.9%; Charlotte, down 3.4%; Tampa, down 4.1%; and Las Vegas, down 4.5%.

Confidence among U.S. consumers rose in October from a seven-month low, while measures of labor market sentiment showed the biggest part of the economy will have trouble accelerating.

The Conference Board’s confidence index increased to 50.2 from a revised 48.6 in September, figures from the New York- based research group showed today. The proportion of people who said jobs were plentiful fell to the lowest level this year and income expectations were the weakest since April 2009.

Group of 20 finance chiefs pledged to avoid weakening their currencies to boost exports and to let markets increasingly set foreign exchange values to defuse trade tensions before they hurt the world economy.

The G-20 agreed to “move towards more market determined exchange rate systems that reflect underlying economic fundamentals and refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies,” its finance ministers and central bankers said after talks today in Gyeongju, South Korea. They called the global economic recovery “fragile and uneven.”

It was the first time the finance officials made a joint stance on exchange rates as they sought to end concern that nations from the U.S. to China are relying on cheap currencies to spur growth, risking a protectionist backlash. The policy makers delayed further debate over a U.S. proposal for current account targets until next month’s Seoul summit of leaders.

“I don’t think the G-20 meeting will completely turn things around in the currency market,” said Thomas Lam, chief economist at OSK-DMG in Singapore. “There is little evidence to suggest that countries such as China who have been intervening will stop it.”

The G-20 officials met as China’s restraint of the yuan and the U.S. dollar’s recent slide force trade partners including South Korea and Brazil to temper gains in their own floating currencies to remain competitive. The dollar has dropped as the Federal Reserve mulls easing monetary policy to lift growth.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will travel to China to meet tomorrow with Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan.

[Treasury Secretary Geithner has come away with nothing. Nations will continue to unilaterally devalue their currencies for trade advantage. That will lead to tariffs on goods and services and a lower dollar, so that the US can compete. That will eventually cancel out WTO, NAFTA, and CAFTA. Eventually US tariffs will reach 40 to 50 percent. This is the only way now the US can economically survive. Bob]

The Federal Reserve’s effort to recover taxpayer money used in bailouts while also ensuring the stability of the financial system puts it in a “difficult spot,” said Charles Plosser, president of the Philadelphia Fed.

The New York Fed, which acquired mortgage debt in the 2008 rescues of Bear Stearns Cos. and American International Group Inc., has joined a bondholder group that aims to force Bank of America Corp. to buy back some bad home loans packaged into $47 billion of securities.

On the one hand, the Fed has “a duty to the taxpayer to try to collect on behalf of the taxpayer on these mortgages,” Plosser said today at an event in Philadelphia.

“At the same time, as a regulator, and as someone who’s trying to preserve financial stability and manage the oversight of banks and financial institutions, we’ve got another hat that we wear that says, ‘Should we be in the business of suing the financial institutions that we are in fact responsible for supervising?’”

The Federal Reserve System, made up of 12 regional banks plus the Washington-based Board of Governors, works with other regulators to ensure the safety and soundness of the financial system.

“It’s a very difficult spot for the Fed to be in,” Plosser said. “It’s a little bit of a Catch-22, but it reinforces my notion of what the challenges and difficulties are for the Fed entering into the markets in this way.”

Concern that Bank of America may be forced to buy back soured mortgages helped send its stock down 7.3 percent since Oct. 18, the day before the New York Fed’s role was reported.

The New York Fed oversees many of the biggest Wall Street bank holding companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc. Bank of America, the largest U.S. bank by assets, is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and overseen by the Richmond Fed.

The Fed owns assets from the Bear Stearns and AIG bailouts in three holding companies. The New York Fed, which has policies to manage conflicts of interest between its multiple units, created its Special Investments Management Group in January to oversee the assets.

Maiden Lane LLC, named for the street bordering the New York Fed’s Manhattan headquarters, bought about $30 billion of Bear Stearns assets that JPMorgan didn’t want when it acquired the company. Maiden Lane II and III were created to hold the assets from AIG’s rescue. BlackRock Inc., the world’s biggest money manager, was hired to manage the assets and is also part of the bondholder group.

“In terms of monetary policy, we should stick to buying government securities and Treasuries and not venture outside that for exactly these sorts of reasons,” said Plosser, a former professor and business-school dean at the University of Rochester in New York who joined the Philadelphia Fed as its chief in 2006.

Federal Reserve policy makers are improvising as they debate embarking on a second round of unconventional monetary stimulus, said Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the U.S. central bank.

“They are making it up as they go along,” Blinder, a Princeton University economist, said in an interview with Bloomberg television’s “Surveillance Midday” with Tom Keene.

After lowering interest rates almost to zero and buying $1.7 trillion of securities, the Fed is considering expanding its balance sheet further by purchasing more Treasury securities, as well as strategies to boost inflation expectations, according to the minutes of its Sept. 21 Federal Open Market Committee meeting.

Blinder said he doesn’t project the central bank will undertake a “shock and awe” approach after its Nov. 2-3 meeting, or one designed to quickly influence the market through big asset purchases. Instead, the Fed will “dribble it out” by buying in smaller increments, he said.

His thinking is in line with comments made by St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, who said yesterday that the central bank should buy $100 billion in long-term Treasuries next month and calibrate subsequent purchases based on the course of the economic recovery. Bullard has been critical of starting a program with big purchases of assets.

The central bank will need to buy more than $500 billion of securities to successfully lower interest rates and stimulate the economy, Blinder said. “It does take a lot of money to move the prices of government bonds,” Blinder said. “$500 billion for the total amount is too small.”

The Federal Reserve’s push toward easier monetary policy is the “wrong way” to stimulate growth and may amount to a manipulation of the dollar, German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle said.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke yesterday gave Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers meeting in Gyeongju, South Korea an overview of the U.S. central bank’s efforts to jumpstart the world’s largest economy. His strategy, which investors expect will soon include greater asset purchases, drew criticism at the talks, said Bruederle.

“It’s the wrong way to try to prevent or solve problems by adding more liquidity,” Bruederle told reporters yesterday, saying that emerging-market officials were among the critics. Bruederle, a member of the Free Democratic Party, the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, stepped in for hospitalized Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble at the meeting.

The debate over the Fed’s strategy comes as the G-20’s advanced nations sought to alleviate concerns over big swings in capital flows to emerging markets by promising to be “vigilant against excess volatility” in exchange rates. The U.S. central bank completed purchases of about $1.7 trillion of debt in March to support the recovery. The policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee next meets Nov. 2-3.

Bill Gross, Pacific Investment Management Co.’s (PIMCO) co-founder and manager of the world’s biggest mutual fund, said Oct. 8 on Bloomberg TV the central bank may buy about $100 billion in government debt a month, or $1.2 trillion over the next year.

“Excessive, permanent money creation in my opinion is an indirect manipulation of an exchange rate,” Bruederle said. The minister has taken a pro-market stance in his first year in office, criticizing state intervention in cases such as providing aid for General Motors Co.’s German Opel unit.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner dismissed prospects of mounting criticism of the Fed’s approach in his press conference after the G-20 meeting yesterday. When asked whether he expected Germany’s criticisms to gain steam, he replied: “I do not.”

The Treasury chief declined to comment directly on the Fed’s policy, while also saying that major economies like the U.S. need to make growth a top priority. One of the global imbalances is the disparity between rapidly expanding emerging- market economies and too-slow growth in developed nations, he said.