Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Sheer Idiocy, European (and American) Style

It’s rare to see theft described so directly:

Proposals made in July by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision should be redrafted to allow banks to use so-called contingent capital to meet the obligations, the European Banking Federation said in a letter seen by Bloomberg News. They should also be changed so lenders that can’t meet the requirements don’t immediately face restrictions on their ability to pay dividends and bonuses, the EBF said.

Stringing up a few EBF bankers is seeming more and more like a calm, rational approach to solving their issues. Especially when even investors are calling out their lies:

“European banks are in the deepest hole of all. Over the past five years, the European financial sector has shed 900 billion euros in capitalisation and two thirds of its value,” said Jacques Chahine, chairman of European investment firm J.Chahine Capital.

“Although the sector has raised 450 billion euros in capital over the same period, this has clearly been inadequate to cover increased risk on sovereign debt. We believe banks will have to be recapitalised by an additional 450 billion euros to cover that risk,” he said.

The response from the European Banking Authority is less than encouraging:

“The stress test recently conducted by the EBA showed that EU banks have significantly strengthened their capital positions and are able to withstand adverse macroeconomic scenarios, a view not changed by the additional disclosure of sovereign exposures,” it said….



“The main EU banks have significantly strengthened their liquidity buffers, lengthened the maturity profile of their liabilities and covered most of their funding needs for 2011. However, going forward it will be important that normal access to medium and long-term funding markets is restored,” the EBA said. [emphasis mine]

Well, so long as it’s not an immediate crisis, everything is hunky-dory. Ignore that woman running the IMF.

Lest you think I’m only bashing Europeans—a role usually left to Rebecca, who uses their data, not their words—let’s also look at the glories of U.S. corporations. I’m taking the more delicate quotes here, just so you don’t think I’ve gone all Mish:

Central bank and Commerce Department data reveal that gross domestic debts of nonfinancial corporations now amount to 50% of GDP. That’s a postwar record. In 1945, it was just 20%. Even at the credit-bubble peaks in the late 1980s and 2005-06, it was only around 45%.

The Fed data “underline the poor state of the U.S. private sector’s balance sheets,” reports financial analyst Andrew Smithers, who’s also the author of “Wall Street Revalued: Imperfect Markets and Inept Central Bankers,” and chairman of Smithers & Co. in London.

“While this is generally recognized for households,” he said, “it is often denied with regard to corporations. These denials are without merit and depend on looking at cash assets and ignoring liabilities. Cash assets have risen recently, in response to the fall in inventories, but nonfinancials’ corporate debt, whether measured gross or after netting off bank deposits and other interest-bearing assets, is at peak levels.”

By Smithers’ analysis, net leverage is nearly 50% of corporate net worth, a modern record. [emphasis mine]

This should come as no surprise. The lie coming out of KocherlakotaLand in early 2008 was that since companies drawing down on previously-unneeded-and-therefore-unused lines of credit was evidence that we were not in a recession [warning: PDF the reading of which will damage your brain; superstitious Christians should note the Working Paper Number].

Now, those same borrowings, along with capital market moves, are being used to show that companies have “record cash holdings.”

Borrowing money without having a use for it is good in two circumstances: (1) if you are paying down higher-cost debt [oops, that’s a use] and (2) if the carry is positive (that is, if you can earn more than you are being charged in interest–oops, that’s a use, too).

If families worked like European banks, we would all be taking vacations and spending like there is no tomorrow. If they worked like American corporations, they would be borrowing money and boasting about how much cash they have on hand.

Can we now stuff the sh*t about how “governments have to work like families”? Corporations—and most especially financial services intermediaries—certainly do not.

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No One Else Is Happy with BarryO and Some Random Notes

Economists for Obama suddenly showed up in my RSS reader again. It’s not a pretty sight:

I suppose I might change my mind, but after watching the President give in to the Boehner-McConnell blackmail axis, I don’t imagine I’ll be spending much of my time advocating his re-election. Assuming he’s the Democratic nominee, which I do, I’ll vote for Obama, because the alternative will still–somehow–be worse. But I really can’t see how, in good conscience, I could defend the economic policies of a guy who has signed on to fiscal contraction in the midst of a major downturn. And that’s leaving aside the President’s apparent lack of understanding of the importance of bargaining from strength. So much for all that poker expertise he’s supposed to have.

What a shame.


See also The Rude Pundit, who is gracious:

I got into this relationship without any illusions about who you were. I never listened when others told me that you were perfect. I never listened when some told me you weren’t worth my time. I got together with you because I believed in us. You and me. Somewhere along the way, you stopped caring. Somewhere along the line, you started believing in others more than you believed in me.

I loved you as a smart, principled man. I worked at this relationship. Even when we fought, I still sought out the good in you. Now, finally, after watching you have affair after affair, saying each time that it was just a one-time thing, I have to allow myself to feel bitter and angry and more than a little foolish. And I have to do that by myself.

I’m sure many of my friends will be upset. “What are you going to do now?” they’ll say. “You’re not going to date Mitt or Michele, are you?” What that implies is that I should settle, that I should compromise myself and my dreams just to keep us together. No one deserves that kind of power. And they never considered a third option between staying with you and being with someone else. They never considered that I could just be alone.

So this is a separation, and I’m sure you’ll be dating again quickly. But I need a break. I need to remember why I loved you. I need to miss you. I need to see if I miss you. Sure, sure, you’ll say, I’m being a drama queen, that nothing has changed, that I don’t live in the real world, that everything you’ve done has been for me, that I just don’t understand what it’s like to live with the pressure that you have. No, but I have to live with the results of what you do. And after you’re done, in 2013 or 2017, you’ll still be a rich moderate conservative and I’ll still be a middle-class liberal trying his best to clean up all the messes.

I’m gonna pack up my stuff and head out now. I wish you well, truly, for everyone’s sake. But I think if there’s anything you can take away from this, it’s simple:

It’s not me. It’s you.

When even Larry Summers gives up on you, it’s time to pack your bags. Which is undoubtedly what several of the more politically-aware appointees started doing around twenty-four hours ago, making getting anything done all the more improbable.

Three notes:

  1. It’s not a repeat of 1937. It’s closer to 1882. Economists who know their history, speak up.
  2. Quick compilation of expected drag from the “deficit agreement”:
    1. J.P. Morgan: “we continue to believe federal fiscal policy will subtract around 1.5%-points from GDP growth in 2012”
    2. Tim Duy’s “simple model”: “0.6 and 0.7 percent, respectively, for the final two quarters of [2011],” and getting worse in 2012.
    3. Macroadvisers (h/t Brad DeLong): “a modest 0.1 percentage point of GDP growth in FY 2012,” with the damage to be done by the Gang of 12 “No Revenooers” to cause death and destruction as Obama prepares to leave for Bachmann-Perry Overdrive (the MA graphic shows about 1/8th of 1%).
    4. Ryan Avent (on his Twitter feed yesterday): “Assuming no extension of the payroll tax cut or UI benefits, the US is looking at a 2% of GDP effective fiscal tightening over the next year.” (NOTE: Later details appear to be that this is basically 2.6% decline from tightening, 0.5% cyclical gain, netting to around 2%. Reference also made to JPMC survey above.)

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    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know which is the outlier in that set.

    And, finally:

  3. Dear Greg Mankiw (h/t Mark Thoma):

    If you claim the Federal Reserve Board is an independent entity, why do you argue that “a higher inflation target is a political nonstarter” (even while conceding that “economists have argued, with some logic, that the employment picture would be brighter if the Fed raised its target for inflation above 2 percent”)?

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