International Forecaster Weekly

Parasites In Pinstripes With All Their Ideas

US economy to lag despite all its efforts, bleak view from the labor market, are states broke... how states and municipalites could bypass Wall Street, stupid decision in the economy, losses in the Economy could increase.

Bob Chapman | June 3, 2012

With the recent late night announcement from China and Japan as to their plan to bypass the US dollar and trade directly in the yuan and yen, this will bring about significant consequences for the US dollar's reserve currency status. As usual the socialist media groups are doing their best to keep this out of the public eye due to future toil this could take on the already strained US dollar. As China, the worlds largest import/exporter along with Japan as a major trading partner with China's slow withdrawal from the US dollar it only adds to the demise of the US dollar as a fiat currency will be slow and methodical, the only safe haven will be gold and silver.

The US economy with all its money printing and how interest rates still remain lagging at best and with consumer confidence slowly declining, the avenue to QE3 is being smoothly laid. With that being said precious metals are severely undervalued given the relativity as to what is occurring in the world as to where their prices should be, don't allow an over manipulated precious metals market fool you into believing otherwise. With QE3 on its way, we should see gold prices fighting their way upwards pulling silver along with it.

The US housing market's ongoing weakness along with its recent fall in home sales by 5.5 percent to 95.5 the lowest levels since December thus far is disappointing at best and could be the signal for the beginning of a downturn in an already lagging market.

With the housing market being one of the US economies toughest hurdles to overcome during an attempt at recessionary recovery and millions of current homeowners being underwater on their homes forcing them to be extremely cautious with their spending habits thus far causing a severe holding pattern for economic recovery, adding fuel to the fire are the abundance of unsold properties and the continuing foreclosures as is evident with the mid week report showing contracts fell 12 percent in the western US, 6.8 percent in the south, slightly lower in the Midwest, and a slight rise in the northeast. Another factor overshadowing the recovery is the faltering application demand for refinancing US home mortgages; they decreased 1.3 percent in the week ending May 25th. As would be expected, the National Association of Realtors downplayed the declines in pending home sales.

Views on the labor markets deteriorated this month. The board's survey showed 7.9% of respondents think jobs now are "plentiful," down from 8.4% thinking that in April. Another 41.0% think jobs are "hard to get," up from 38.1% last month.

Confidence among U.S. consumers unexpectedly fell in May to the lowest level in four months as optimism about employment prospects faded.

The Conference Board’s index decreased to 64.9 this month from a revised 68.7 in April, figures from the New York-based private research group showed today. Home prices in 20 cities dropped in the 12 months ended in March at the slowest pace in more than a year, according to another report.

The share of Americans expecting fewer job opportunities in the next six months climbed to the highest level since November, raising the risk that consumers will limit spending. A 30-cent decline in gasoline prices since early April failed to brighten spirits, showing that more progress is needed in the job market.

“Gasoline prices aren’t doing the trick,” said Aaron Smith, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, whose forecast was closest. “We are making progress when it comes to the labor market, but clearly this is another sign that it’s still very slow going.”

Stocks gained after Greek opinion polls eased concern the country will leave the euro. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 1.1 percent to 1,332.42 at the close in New York. Crude oil for July delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled at $90.76 a barrel, down 10 cents.

Home prices in 20 U.S. cities fell 2.6 percent in the 12 months ended in March, the smallest decrease since December 2010, according to an S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values.

By Mike Krauss Bucks County Courier Times

For almost four years, the administration and Congress have showered money, protection and even praise on those who caused an economic catastrophe that still rolls across America like a slow motion tidal wave.

It is crystal clear who Washington represents, and what the American people can expect from the next administration and Congress -– more of the same, rhetoric and excuses. But the needs of the American people can’t wait another four years. States and local governments must do the job Washington will not. New leaders and new ideas are urgently needed. One such idea is public banking.

A public bank, such as the hugely successful Bank of North Dakota (BND), is capitalized with public funds, has one shareholder — the people — no outrageous compensation for managers and no incentive to gamble.

A public bank partners with community banks, credit unions, other local financial institutions and municipal governments to provide the sustainable and affordable credit that is essential to support locally directed economic development, restore vital public services and create jobs.

Wall Street hates the idea, fearing the loss of trillions of dollars of state and municipal deposits, and the huge fees they reap for providing cash management, payroll and other services that states and municipalities could provide internally and at far lower cost -– if they owned their own bank.

The parasites-in-pinstripes argue, “But your state is broke. Where will you get the money to capitalize a bank?”

But are the states broke? An examination of the finances of U.S. states and municipalities turns up an astonishing fact. They keep two sets of books.
The one that gets all the attention is used for operating budgets, and generally paints a picture of state and municipal budgets stretched to the limit. But the other set of books, required by law and called the Consolidated Annual Financial Report (CAFR), indicates that there is public money stashed all over the place. Nationally, it amounts to trillions of dollars. California, with its giant economy, reports more than $600 billion in these “off budget” funds. In Pennsylvania, the total is about $91 billion -- not exactly small change –- and it can be found in the state’s 2011 CAFR in three categories. Proprietary Funds, generated when a government charges customers for the services it provides. Fiduciary Funds, in which the state acts as a trustee to hold resources for the benefit of others, such as pensions; and Component Units, which are legally separated organizations for which the government is financially accountable, and the revenue is derived from assessments, fines, penalties, licenses, etc.

If only 20 percent of these funds were used to capitalize a bank and were leveraged at a conservative ratio of 8-1, Pennsylvania could inject more than $145 billion into its economy, creating an economic revival on a scale never before seen. Wall Street responds to this prospect with scare tactics. “You mean put 20 percent of your pensions at risk?”

To which proponents rightly respond, “No, we mean get those pension funds under better and more productive management.”

As the New York Times reported, the $26.3 billion Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) has more than 46 percent of its assets in what analysts describe as “riskier” alternatives, including hundreds of private equity, venture capital and real estate funds. PSERS paid about $1.35 billion in management fees in the last five years and reported a five-year annualized return of 3.6 percent. “That is below the target needed to meet its financing requirements, and it also lags behind a 4.9 percent median return among public pension systems. “By contrast, Georgia’s $14.4 billion municipal retirement system, which is prohibited by state law from investing in the alternative investments favored in Pennsylvania, has earned 5.3 percent annually over the same time frame and paid about $54 million total in fees.” Even adjusting for the size of the respective funds, Pennsylvania retirees paid out 13 times more in fees than Georgia, for a worse result.

The conservatively managed BND produced a 17 percent return on equity last year, while the PSRS reported in a press release that it had “achieved” a 2.7 percent return for 2011 -– not even meeting the previous and anemic 3.6 percent average return. That’s like boasting about a C- report card.

A far more prudent and productive policy would be to rein in risk-taking fund managers, reduce their gigantic fees and shift at least 20 percent of investments from their riskier deals into the lower risk, higher return equity of a public bank.

A closer look at Pennsylvania’s 2011 CAFR turns up another interesting item. At page 99, there is a discussion of how these off-budget funds manage the risk of investments in 36 foreign currencies.

Foreign currencies? Thirty-six? The high-rolling fund managers are shifting billions of dollars out of the Pennsylvania economy, and into foreign economies and job creation, while Pennsylvanians go begging.

Even a modestly capitalized public bank can put billions of dollars of affordable credit to work in Pennsylvania, generate substantial non-tax revenue as a direct return on investment and increase local and state tax revenue in an improving economy.

A public bank has the capacity to turn a tidal wave of economic devastation into a wave of opportunity and prosperity. Pennsylvania needs to catch that wave.

(Reuters) - JPMorgan Chase & Co has sold an estimated $25 billion of profitable securities in an effort to prop up earnings after suffering trading losses tied to the bank's now-infamous "London Whale," compounding the cost of those trades.

CEO Jamie Dimon earlier this month said the bank sold corporate bonds and other securities, pocketing $1 billion in gains that will help offset more than $2 billion in losses. As a result, the bank will not have to report as big an earnings hit for the second quarter.

The sales of profitable securities from elsewhere in the bank's investment portfolio will increase its costs by triggering taxes on the gains and by eliminating future earnings from the securities.

Gains from the sales could provide about 16 cents a share of earnings, about one-fifth of the bank's second-quarter profit, analysts said. But rather than creating new value for investors, the transactions merely shift gains in securities from one part of the company's financial statements to another.

"They really made two stupid decisions," said Lynn Turner, a consultant and former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The first was taking risks with derivatives that they did not understand, Turner said.

"The second is selling assets with high income that they can't replace," Turner added. In a low interest-rate environment, the bank will struggle to generate as much income with the cash it received from selling the securities, he said.

Dimon first disclosed the sales on May 10 when he announced the derivatives losses generated from the bank's London office and trader Bruno Iksil -- dubbed the "London Whale" in credit markets due to the size of the trading positions he took. Dimon noted that the bank has another $8 billion of profit it could gain by selling an array of debt securities.

It remains unclear exactly when the bank sold the securities, and the bank has not detailed the value of securities it sold. Given the drawbacks of the sales, it also is unclear how many more the bank will sell to bolster second-quarter profits. To be sure, the bank may have additional reasons for making the sales, and the sales do not violate laws nor are they likely to hurt the bank's stability.

A JPMorgan spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the company's public statements.


However, based on disclosures that show the bank has historically realized less than a 4 percent gain from selling these kinds of securities, JPMorgan would have to sell $25 billion in securities to generate $1 billion in gains, according to a Reuters analysis of the bank's practices.

Taxes on the gains, if calculated at the 38 percent tax rate that JPMorgan uses to illustrate its business to analysts, would mean a $380 million cost to realize the gains. That would leave a net gain to earnings of $620 million, or 16 cents a share.

Before the sale, the gains would have existed on the bank's books as so-called paper profits, and would have been included on its balance sheet. But when the bank sold and realized the gains, they moved to its income statement as profit.

Paul Miller, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, said the bank should skip the asset sales and "just take the pain" of reporting lower profits.

Dimon, too, has said he is reluctant to cash in good investments. He highlighted the tax issues in selling these securities when he spoke to analysts May 10.

"We can take some of those gains and we can take them to offset this loss," he said. "But usually it's tax inefficient, so we're very careful about taking gains."

Yet the bank is under pressure to show strong profits. Its stock has fallen 18 percent since the day before it disclosed the losses. It closed Friday at $33.50.

The bank currently is expected to report earnings of 90 cents a share for the second quarter, according to analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. That compares with $1.24 a share before the derivatives debacle was disclosed and $1.27 a share that the bank reported a year earlier.


Dimon has not said who at the bank decided to sell the securities. Nor has he said if the decision was made before he knew that the derivatives losses could top $3 billion and before he told analysts on April 13 that reports of trouble with derivatives trades were a "tempest in a teapot."

Meanwhile, the bank's losses could grow, which could increase pressure on the bank to continue securities sales. Some analysts have said the total losses could exceed $5 billion, since the credit derivative markets in which the trades were made are thinly traded and current prices are not favorable to JPMorgan.

The pool from which the securities were sold included, as of March 31, corporate debt securities with an average yield of 3.15 percent and mortgage-backed securities yielding 3.41 percent, according to a company filing. Using the cash to buy back similar securities would not produce yields as high, analysts said.

The financial industry has gone through periods in the past when banks cashed out good assets to cushion losses, said former SEC Chief Accountant Turner. It happened during the U.S. savings and loan crisis in the 1980s, abated during a period of tougher regulatory scrutiny and fewer losses, and then came back during the latest financial crisis.

But the costs are significant. In statements about the latest losses, Dimon has been careful to emphasize the disadvantage of paying more taxes, said Chris Kotowski, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co.

"I think he was trying to tell you, 'Don't expect us to offset all of these losses,'" Kotowski said.