Category Archives: Doomsday scenarios

Yanis Varoufakis: Why the European Bank Stress Tests Have to be Phony

Yves here. I have to admit I never focused on what turns out is a blindingly obviously reason why the European bank stress tests are an exercise in optics. Even though this website derided the US stress tests as a cheerleading exercise, and earlier criticized the Administration for failing nationalize Citigroup as FDIC chairman Sheila Bair sought to do, the US authorities were in a position to Do Something about sick banks. Consider the European case (note I consider Yanis to be too charitable toward US bank regulators, but keep in mind that he’s comparing them to his home-grown version). And then you have the additional problem, which was widely discussed in 2009 to 2011 or so, that the apparent insolvency of states was the result of and bound up with the overindebtedness of European nations. Perversely, tha is almost never put front and center these days when the topic of seriously unwell European banks comes up.

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Richard Alford: AIG Redux – How the Fed Usurped Congress

Yves here. Richard Alford, a former New York Fed economist, provides his assessment of the AIG bailout in light of some of the revelations in the AIG bailout trial. While many of his arguments have merit, I want to quibble with a couple of them.

The first is the size of the actual amount taken by AIG and the reason for the drawdowns. At the time AIG hit the wall, the amount it needed was first estimated at $50 billion to cover its credit default swaps portfolio and $20 billion for its securities lending. The Maiden Lane III vehicle that the Fed created to take the CDOs has a $62.9 billion face value, so we can use that as a rough and ready value, and the securities lending bailout costs rose to roughly $50 billion. But consider: those two together get you to only a bit over $110 billion versus the peak lending amount reported as just shy of $185 billion. And some of that ~$110 billion includes laundering a bank bailout through AIG, by not obtaining haircuts on the CDS on the Maiden Lane CDOs. So where did that say $80 billion go? It might be commercial paper or medium term notes during the very worst of the crisis, although with the Fed supporting AIG, you’d think investors would be see its paper as fine. We’re conferring with some close AIG watchers and may write up a discussion of what that AIG black hole consisted of.

Second is that at the end, Alford adopts a “what matters is looking forward,” as in preventing future crises. Yes, but we are great believers in post-mortems, particularly in light of the George Santayana saying, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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Goldman Makes It Official That the Stock Market is Manipulated, Buybacks Drive Valuations

It’s remarkable that this Goldman report, and its writeup on Business Insider, is being treated with a straight face. The short version is current stock price levels are dependent on continued stock buybacks. Key sections of the story:

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Peter Van Buren: Seven Worst-Case Scenarios in the Battle with the Islamic State

Yves here. This post describes, in a general way, some outcomes of our current Middle East adventurism, with the Islamic State as its current nemesis. However, at least one of Van Buren’s “worst-case outcomes” strikes me as not bad, which would be a thawing of hostilities with Iran. But I don’t see how Israel tolerates that.

But the looming issue behind all of these scenarios is that the game is being played to justify continued large budget allocations to the military-surveillance complex. The cost of defending the American is more guns in the guns versus butter tradeoff.

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Wolf Richter: What the Heck Just Happened in Global Stock Markets?

Yves here. One might argue that stock market jitters are a sign that investors are finally taking note of crappy fundamentals, since even ZIRP and QE, which central bankers keep insisting won’t go on forever, were starting to lose their effectiveness in already-frothy asset markets.

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Rob Johnson on the Uber Rich: Top 400 US Billionaires’ Wealth Equals Brazil’s GDP

Yves here. Real News Network features a vivid discussion between Rob Johnson, Director of the Economic Policy Initiative at the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and a member of the UN Commission of Experts on Finance and International Monetary Reform, and Paul Jay on the short-sightedness of the uber-rich.

Although many of the themes of this talk will be familiar to Naked Capitalism readers, Johnson, who is also a long-standing political insider, is blunt.

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Can Our Commercialized Health Care System Contain Ebola?

Yves here. I’m not one to fan Ebola fears. In fact, I’m a bit loath to give it the prominence in Links that I am, given the small number of cases in the US and in the world ex the afflicted parts of Africa. While the mortality rate is high, it’s not all that infectious. You are still more at risk from dying by virtue of driving (if you drive) than you are of dying from Ebola or terrorism.

However, whether or not Ebola morphs into a more virulent version, concern about it is legitimate, if for no other reason than that the US healthcare system is neither willing nor able to cope well with flareups of deadly diseases.

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AIG Bailout Trial Bombshell II: Fed and Treasury Cornered AIG’s Board into Taking a Legally-Dubious Bailout

As we said in our companion post today on the AIG bailout trial, former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg may have a case after all. Mind you, we are not fans of Greenberg. But far too much of what happened during the crisis has been swept under the rug, in the interest of preserving the officialdom-flattering story that the way the bailouts were handled was necessary, or at least reasonable, and any errors were good faith mistakes, resulting from the enormity of the deluge.

Needless to say, the picture that emerges from the Greenberg camp, as presented in the “Corrected Plaintiff’s Proposed Findings of Fact,” filed in Federal Court on August 22, is radically different. I strongly urge readers, particularly those with transaction experience, to read the document, attached at the end, in full. It makes a surprisingly credible and detailed case that AIG’s board was muscled into a rescue that was punitive, when that was neither necessary nor warranted. And the tactics used to corner the board were remarkably heavy-handed.

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Exclusive: How Private Debt Strangles Growth, Stokes Financial Crises, and Increases Inequality

Yves here. Richard Vague has been kind enough to allow us to feature an extract from his recent book, The Next Economic Disaster: Why It’s Coming and How to Avoid It. I first met Richard several years ago at the Atlantic Economy Summit. If my memory serves me correctly, he was then taken with the conventional view that debt was a dampener to growth…meaning government debt. The issue of what caused our economic malaise and what to do about it troubled him enough to lead him to make his own study, and he has come to reject the neoliberal view that government debt is problem and must therefore be contained.

This view implies, as many readers have pointed out, that the great lost opportunity of the crisis was restructuring mortgage debt. That would also have allowed housing prices to reset to levels in line with consumer incomes. Vague also mentions a less-widely-commeneted on debt explosion prior to the crisis, that of business debt. One big contributor was an explosion in takeover debt for private equity transactions. Indeed, a lot of experts were concerned about a blowup due to the difficulty of refinancing these deals in the 2012-2014 time horizon. But ZIRP and QE produced enormous hunger among investors for any type of asset with non-trivial yield, so the Fed enabled the deal barons to refinance on the cheap.

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Too Big to Be Saved: Systemic Risk Alive and Well in Europe

With the recent Global Crisis, the interest in systemic risk and the interconnection between financial institutions has increased. This column investigates the case of European financial firms, where several factors can jeopardise a firm’s financial health. Using data since 2000 to evaluate the firms’ systemic risk, the authors find that for certain countries, the cost to rescue the riskiest domestic banks is too high. They might be considered too big to be saved.

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Who Wins in the Financial Casino?

I received a message last week from a savvy reader, a former McKinsey partner who has also done among other things significant pro-bono work with housing not-for-profits (as in he has more interest and experience in social justice issues than most people with his background). His query:

We both know that financialization has, among so many other things, turned large swaths of the capital markets into a casino

Here’s my thought/question: is there a house?

The common wisdom is that the ‘house wins’ in casinos.

So, who or what was really the ‘house’?

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