International Forecaster Weekly

Foreclosures Farms And Feds

Borrowers still face foreclosure, Farmers making good coin for a change, Feds want your retirement funds, the drug habits in the markets, traders look for more money coming their way with more easy money with monetary policy, Heinz asset freeze.

James Corbett | February 27, 2013



Despite Aid, Borrowers Still Face Foreclosure

By Jessica Silver-Greenberg

A year after five of the nation’s biggest banks reached a pact with state and federal officials over claims of vast foreclosure abuses, the banks are taking credit for giving more than half a million struggling homeowners roughly $45.8 billion in relief.

But despite the banner numbers released on Thursday in a report by Joseph A. Smith, the independent overseer of the settlement, thousands of homeowners are still not getting the help they need to save their homes from foreclosure, according to interviews with housing advocates and homeowners facing foreclosure.

Just under 71,000 borrowers, or 13 percent of the total borrowers helped so far, received assistance on their primary mortgage, which has been the main source of defaults and foreclosures through the housing crisis. But more than 170,000 homeowners received assistance on their second mortgage, which typically is a home equity line of credit that borrowers can tap for cash.


Fields of gold - Farmers bask in soaring prices

On the basis of headlines alone, you might be forgiven for thinking that last year’s record-breaking drought had devastated American agriculture. Across the Midwest (and farther afield) more than 1,000 counties in 26 states were declared natural-disaster areas—the largest such ruling that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has ever made. Yet despite withered crops, sun-baked soil and damage from wildfires, some think that farming is in the midst of another golden age, thanks to booming commodity markets and record prices for farmland.

In recent years strong global demand for food and biofuels has been pushing crop prices higher. The drought has helped, not hindered, profits. For farmers able to produce corn (maize), it raised prices dramatically. The average price of corn was about 20% higher last year than in 2010, and reached $8.49 a bushel (25kg) in August. For everyone else crop-insurance payments have stepped in, reaching a record $14.2 billion in payments in mid-February, a figure that is expected to go on growing a bit as insurers finalise the claims. This year, according to a report from the USDA on February 11th, farm profits may rise by 14% to $128 billion, the highest in real terms since 1973.


The Feds Want Your Retirement Accounts

By John White

Quietly, behind the scenes, the groundwork is being laid for federal government confiscation of tax deferred retirement accounts such as IRAs. Slowly, the cat is being let out of the bag.

Last January 18th, in a little noticed interview of Richard Cordray, acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Bloomberg reported "[t]he U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [CFPB] is weighing whether it should take on a role in helping Americans manage the $19.4 trillion they have put into retirement savings, a move that would be the agency's first foray into consumer investments."

Do we have any evidence that the US Government is pursuing financial repression? Yes we do. Jeff Cox at CNBC. "US and European regulators are essentially forcing banks to buy up their own government's debt-a move that could end up making the debt crisis even worse, a Citigroup analysis says."

An Investors Business Daily article, Banks Pressured to Buy Government Debts, notes that "[b]anks can't say no. They fear the political fallout. So they meekly submit to the government's dictates."

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal reports that "[i]n 2011, the Fed purchased a stunning 61% of Treasury issuance." Then a CNS News article revealed that "[s]o far this calendar year [2013], the Federal Reserve has bought up more U.S. government debt than the U.S. Treasury has issued."


Quantitative easing: the markets are struggling with a serious drug habit

By Larry Elliott,

Traders are on the lookout for an injection of more easy money as the world enters the third phase of the monetary policy

            Financial markets have become stimulus junkies. They crave their next fix of quantitative easing and when they don't get it they turn ugly. The rush they get from the drug wears off after a while, and then they become needy and whiny. Witness last week's sell-off on Wall Street following the hint from the Federal Reserve that it was about to cut off the drug supply.

A similar dependency exists in the UK, where stock market traders expectantly await an injection of QE, courtesy of the Bank of England, after deterioration in the UK's economic outlook. Governor Sir Mervyn King voted for another £25bn of cheap money and his colleagues should endorse his view in the coming months. The loss of the UK's much coveted AAA status, thanks to the credit ratings agency Moody's on Friday night, is likely to make the markets salivate even more.

The prospect of US policymakers taking the opposite view, and raising interest rates, prompted a bit of soul-searching. The markets have rallied strongly since the middle of 2012, but appeared acutely vulnerable to the suggestion that monetary conditions might at some point return to something like normal. For those who don't have long enough memories to remember what normal is, that would be a world with official interest rates between 3% and 5% and where the electronic printing presses are mothballed.

The situation today is the closest the world has been to a depression since the 1930s. Then, Keynes said a depression was a "chronic condition of subnormal activity for a considerable period without any marked tendency towards recovery or towards complete collapse". The global economy has exhibited all these traits since the deep slump of 2008-09. Growth has been sub-par for a long period. There is no real sign that output is about to slump as it did four years ago, but the sort of strong recovery expected after previous post-war recessions has proved elusive. It's a depression all right.


SEC Wins Asset Freeze After Heinz Traders Fail to Appear

By Patricia Hurtado & Christie Smythe

A U.S. judge froze a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) account that regulators say was used to make suspicious trades in H.J. Heinz Co., after unknown traders failed to appear in court to defend their claims to the assets.

When the unidentified traders didn’t show up at a hearing yesterday in Manhattan, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said he would grant the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s request to freeze the Goldman Sachs account in Zurich until the case is resolved.


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