IMF still very critical of US banking and financial system

When I was reading CNN this morning, I came across a story regarding a strongly worded report from the International Monetary Fund, the Bretton-Woods financial organization that exists to foster international trade and monetary cooperation around the world that, while it noted some positives, noted a lot of negatives in the financial system of the United States.

Most troubling was the fact that the “Big Banks” noted in the 2010 report issued by the IMF have since “gotten bigger,” by absorbing or otherwise acquiring smaller banks. Indeed, it noted two prime examples in JPMorganChase and Wells Fargo, two powerhouse banks which got even larger as it acquired smaller banks during and after the Great Recession that weren’t able to do as well, further increasing their already behemoth sizes. Said the IMF: “Large and interconnected banks dominate the system even more than before.”

Further troubling was the Student Loan market, which has exploded since the Great Recession, tripling in size since 2005 to $1.2 Trillion, per CNNMoney. When one considers students who are drowning in student loan debt may not have a healthy enough debt-to-income ratio to acquire forms of credit, such as unsecured credit, automobiles or even mortgages, the threat to the economy in the future that could be developing becomes quite clear.

Further concern was that of the “shadow banking industry,” per CNNMoney as well, which is the more investment-based banking that includes hedge funds and big-money insurance companies, now account for more than 70% of assets, per the IMF. One major danger to this is that these organizations are not banks, and therefore, are not subject to the same laws and regulation that more “Main Street Banks” or even “Wall Street Banks” are subject to; which open the gates on possible threats to Main Street consumers.

Even moreover, was the detail that even though the Dodd-Frank Act is approaching its fifth anniversary, it’s largely not implemented. Dodd-Frank, often cited as the greatest overhaul in the American financial system since the Great Depression, included many consumer protections, particularly in the mortgage and credit industries.

While not necessarily stated in the IMF report, it does bear mentioning that the Volcker Rule, named for Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, was not included in the verbiage for Dodd-Frank, which would prohibit the trading of depositor monies with the [Main Street] Bank off of the Bank’s own accounts — like those on Wall Street Banks; one of the catalysts of the 2007 Great Recession, per his own words.

Further risks cited by the IMF were that of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the common names for the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, government-sponsored entities in the housing industry. The IMF has noted that because the government still has direct control of these entities, which creates fiscal risk, it noted.

So… have we made progress overall? Or do some of the new minuses subtract against the positives we’ve made, leaving us largely where we were several years ago?

Good question. I honestly don’t know. [weighs hands] Consumers have a lot of new protections compared to a decade ago, thanks largely to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and even in the mortgage industry’s new “Closing Disclosure,” which streamlines three closing documents into one document that makes things a little easier to understand — eliminating some paperwork, and eliminating three separate pieces of paperwork in favor of one.

Further Reading:

http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/07/investing/imf-warns-us-financial-risks/index.html

– http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/gfsr/

Advertisements

Signs of Pre-Revolution France becoming alarmingly apparent in America…

Anonymous_-_Prise_de_la_Bastille

Storming of The Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël

Continued income inequality… continued loss of political capital… wage stagnation… as these problems continue — they’ve alarmingly become worse — and with that, warning signs have begun to appear.

Back in the 18th Century, we had the French Revolution. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Jocularity aside, it was a time of political and social realignment in France that saw an end to established power and an economic and social liberalization that rapidly changed the face of the nation forever.

In a time where powerful oligarchies, the Church and economic elites ran the nation, the people themselves felt pushed out of the system, felt out of control and oppressed by the aforementioned elites. With them holding the political capital of the nation, the people turned against the ruling classes and gave rise to a liberal France, Napoleon Bonaparte and a shift in French history that’s seen and felt even today.

Fast forward to the United States of America in 2014. Still reeling from major political decisions such as Citizens United v. FEC and the Hobby Lobby case — where old power bases, such as religiously conservative institutions and “Old Money” continue to gain political capital in America; add to that stagnating wages, a growing income gap, a continued gap of benefits compared to the industrial/post-industrial world AND a continued rise in the wealth of the top 10% of America… and what do you have? You have a dangerous recipe for what sounds a lot like the French Revolution.

The New York Times published an op-ed of Steven Rattner, a Brown-educated presidential economic analyst, who illustrated that the income and wealth gap — already a chasm, continues to widen. The bottom 90% continue to lose as the top 10% continues to grow. Add to this mix the Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United and the Hobby Lobby case, along with mounting conservative pressure in America to resist a liberalization of the economy and way of life — such as same-sex marriage, and other liberal reforms.

Add to that the recent economic problems — and the near-collapse of 2007, which wiped out many jobs, and replaced them with jobs that often paid less, and required more work.  An abysmal recovery, that — while gaining traction, is doing so at an anemic pace, while the upper echelons of society continue to reap the benefits.

Sound familiar?

Could it happen tomorrow? Not likely. Could it happen if some kind of realignment doesn’t happen and the bottom-half of society isn’t allowed to catch back up? I think so. There’s gasoline being poured in what’s already a spark-filled room. Could it ignite?

Further Reading/Watching:

NYTimes Op-Ed: Rattner:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/17/opinion/inequality-unbelievably-gets-worse.html

YouTube: Nick Hanauer: Warning to Plutocrats: http://www.ted.com/talks/nick_hanauer_beware_fellow_plutocrats_the_pitchforks_are_coming?language=en

The Average American Taxpayer pays… WHAT?

If you’re a taxpayer in the United States, you may find it interesting how much you actually pay to businesses and other interests you already pay money to…

Thanks to some compiling by Moyers & Company, and a couple of other sources; I’ve put together a list:

– A policy analysis from the Cato Institute from 2012 shows that the United States Federal Government loses about $100 Billion a year to corporate subsidy, on everything from energy, to the food and housing industries.  With the methodology of 115 million families, that’s over $800 a year.

– The State and Local Governments themselves are different picture.  The New York Times ran an investigation that determined that State and Local (i.e., the County and City/Town level) gave on average $80 Billion.   That adds up to be almost $700 per year.

– Retirement Banking Fees are another hefty loss for taxpayers — on average costing over $350 per year; which assumes a 1% management fee per year of one’s retirement fund, and a middle-range percentile retirement fund amount as cited by the Economic Policy Institute was assumed to be about $35,000.

– A report by the International Monetary Fund reports that over $83 Billion winds up in interest payments on loans and banking.  That accounts to $722 per year.  A further sobering fact: the five wealthiest banks in the world, JPMorganChase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs account for THREE QUARTERS of these subsidies!

– Overpriced Medications were a surprise to me on this list — while the notion itself was not, the amount certainly was.  A study conducted by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that US drug patent monopolies raises the price of prescription medications in the US by over $270 Billion per year!  That translates to over $2000 per year.

– $870 per year goes to corporate tax subsidies, which total about $100 Billion per year, as mentioned by The Tax Foundation.  This includes everything from depreciation, and even experimental tax credits.

– Corporate Tax havens are a very serious problem.  Indeed, the US Public Interest Research Group found that the average taxpayer family paid $1231 per year to offset the losses by those [such as large banks and wealthy individuals] who offshore their monies to avoid taxation.

According to my calculations, that’s $4873 PER YEAR.  Almost five thousand dollars; assuming an average income of about $50,000.

Consider these numbers, when one looks at what they pay out for social programs:

The Examiner released some information in 2012 about what Americans pay in social programs, such things as Education, etc.  A complete list can be found at that link, but leaving out the costs of Defense [as the Military Contract Industry is another racket in and of itself…], the costs turned out to be LESS than $500 PER YEAR.  This accounts for everything including Veterans Benefits spending, Housing, SSI, and even things like our contributions to the Railroad Retirement Fund!

…who should you *really* be mad at when it comes to who can’t afford what?  Where *IS* the “Big Government,” really?  I’ll let you decide.

I freely admit, I’ve abridged *some* information — mostly, related to Defense in Social Spending, but that, to me, doesn’t count…  and even then, admittedly, is only another $250 per year.  I also admit, I rounded *UP* on those figures — so the *actual* costs for Social Programs, are ACTUALLY a little lower.   But I’m a fair guy.

All of a sudden, the political cartoon above isn’t so ridiculous, is it?

I want to especially thank Moyers & Co., and Paul Buchheit for their work on compiling some of this data.

Republicans picking back up in 2014 Polls

It’s true that Democrats tend to blow Midterm elections — for some goofy reason.  It’s historically true, anyway, particularly in the last 15 years.

However, that having been said, with this being an early poll, I don’t think it really *matters,* because polls are a flash in the pan, of “that moment,” just like even elections are.

The CNN/ORC poll also shows that Republicans seem to be more enthusiastic about the upcoming elections than Democrats — however, I think this is also a sign of the historical Democratic midterm malaise that’s become true in recent history.

Could a balance of power tip be coming soon?  Sure, things go in cycles, like anything else.  However, I think the Government Shutdown and the blunders of the cronyism of the Bush Administration will still weigh on the minds of the voters when they go to the polls.  Sure, Obamacare’s roll out was lackluster — but it’s working now; and people are getting insured.  Overall, while the Obama Administration’s approval rating has taken a beating, overall, he’s still getting the job done, and young people still respect him as the Commander-in-Chief, regardless of what SuperPAC attack ads say.

What do you think?

China’s call for a “De-Americanized” Future?

317b5967cf5b1b4ca8849bfa3f7f89e52a4d4aeeWhile this would, no doubt, be disastrous for the American economy, which is vastly based on the “full faith and credit of the United States government” of the United States dollar — could China’s own less-than-impartial statement that the future of the world should be “de-Americanized” have a point?

Partisan infighting in Congress, on top of massive trade deficits with China and Japan (among others) are threatening the faith the world has in the US government’s ability to pay the debts it has already racked up — even in simple interest payments on Treasury Bills and other things.

While there’s yet been a default on any obligation of the United States, if partisan gridlock doesn’t change in Washington, could it be an inevitable future?

Those on the right say our borrowing to fund the government and to pay our obligations say this is an unsustainable model do have a point.  Borrowing forever with no intention to fix it will only result in a catastrophic failure — sooner or later.

However, liberal economics specifically state that when the economy is in a recession, or otherwise growing at an anemic rate, that it is the government’s duty to pump money into the economy to ensure that consumer confidence remains high and that people spend — particularly during problems like high unemployment or lower consumer confidence, the two silver bullets to economic futures.  When people are scared (fiscally speaking) they withhold money; and not spending money grinds the economy to a halt.  Very effectively.

Are both goals mutually exclusive?  I don’t think so.

While a plan to begin to work down our debt obviously needs to be in place, because consumer confidence still hasn’t fully recovered from The Great Recession, this is where [neo?]liberal economics comes in.  Adaptive economics, in particular.  The economy “running itself,” particularly without any regulation, obviously doesn’t work as much as an authoritarian, centrally planned economy.  A government buffer helps “prop up” the economy, while the wheels of the private sector continue to spin.

It’s a mess, but it’s one we can fix — if we come together and work the problem… and not just point fingers — and America can still be a leader in the world.

#2013Shutdown’s effect on Business and the Future of America…

Professor David Victor, Ph.D.

Professor David Victor, Ph.D.

One of my former (and future, no doubt!) professors from Eastern Michigan University, Dr. David Victor, posted this morning about a possible future oil boom for Iceland, noting that a recent survey and discovery shows Iceland sits on a *LOT* of the possible undiscovered oil reserves in the world, estimates place it at 13%.  With the thawing of the northern ice cap, and the North Atlantic Current keeping ice from marring up the major ports of the island nation, all of these things could conspire to bring a well-needed boon to it’s economy.

However, another follower on Facebook of Dr. Victor, the Chair of CitrinGroup, also threw in his two cents, stating that while the Chinese are courting and betting on future oil producers, such as Iceland, the United States, already suffering an anemic economy, is wasting it’s time on policy matters that in the grand scheme of things, don’t really matter.  I tend to agree.

The United States’ economy is JUST starting to  gain traction, while sitting fairly stationery and spinning it’s wheels, begging to move forward since the crisis began in the Subprime Mortgage market in 2007.  We’re finally starting to see forward momentum beyond the familiar numbers of “0.04% gains.”  People are beginning to feel confident in the economic system again.

However, when people see the Government itself can’t get it together and pay it’s OWN bills, that’s when people begin to hold onto their OWN money, going “What if I find myself right back in 2008 again?”  I admit, I found myself thinking twice when I made a relatively small purchase this morning, because the well-being of MY household budget is determined by the fiscal health of the Federal Government.

When recessions and slumps hit the nation, the Government is there to provide relief, to buffer the blow with benefits, stimulus and other some-such capital, by pumping money into the system.  However, if that money is cut off too soon, the economy can slump again.  Bad news breeds bad feelings.  Bad feelings breed either a binge on spending, or a lack of spending, more often, the latter.  When people stop spending, the economy grinds to a screeching halt — as we saw starting with the credit freezes of 2008.  While one can argue the merits of policy on both sides of the aisle, the latest budgetary and policy debate is doing nothing but killing consumer confidence, and indeed, making foreign markets question the stability of the American economy.

While Obamacare is certainly an expensive program, so was the F-35 Fighter — which estimates have the cancelled fighter costing as much as a trillion dollars — a number often attributed to the cost of Obamacare.  Oddly enough, I haven’t heard it mentioned once by Republicans on the Hill, even though it is now essentially a great waste of capital and expenditures.

Who’s right?  Who knows.  One thing I do know is — #2013Shutdown can be a death knell for the fragile traction the American economy took years to get.

A Government Shutdown… what it means, and why you should care…

download“Due to the failure of Congress to enact appropriations for fiscal year 2014, Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell tonight directed agencies to execute their plans for an orderly shutdown of the Federal government.”

Continue reading

The Banking System isn’t getting better — it’s getting worse.

Having worked in finance for over half a decade, and now having been involved in high finance now nearly a decade, I’ve been exposed to now only the internal workings of how credit and finance works from the inside, but I’ve studied it extensively as a matter of interest, and I see a problem developing — some if it we all know about, the other parts, not so much.

While our individual finances are improving overall, I see a big problem developing with the same system that brought it down in 2007 — unregulated banking.

In the United States, from the 1700s to the early 1900s, there was banking crash roughly every 15 years.  With the institution of strong regulation, particularly after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the United States entered a golden age of banking.

How can this be?  With over 100 years of 15 year booms and busts, why did it all of a sudden stabilize?  Regulation.  With strong, effective regulation, bank busts came to a halt.  Not a SINGLE widespread bank bust occurred for over FIFTY years in America.

While a majority of this process took place in the 80s and 90s, the arguable beginning was the Nixon Shock; a term attributed to the end of the Bretton Woods system in the United States, when Nixon unilaterally wrote off the US Dollar’s ability to be converted into Gold; the United States Dollar became a free-floating value currency, which caused the US Dollar to become a reserve currency in many nations of the world — massively increasing it’s value.  In the 1980s, this trend continued: deregulation became the buzz word.  With more risks, banks could make more money with the same hard cash in it’s accounts.

restore-glass-steagallThe most hardcore change, in my opinion came during the Clinton administration, when Congress approved the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, repealed by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, signed by Bill Clinton in November of that year.  This VERY important piece of legislation turned banking regulation on it’s head: Glass-Steagall was an instrument that separated Main Street banks from Wall Street banks.  In english, this means regular depositor banks (such as Bank of America, or Huntington Bank or Chase Bank) could play the stock market and make investments with depositor money that it otherwise barred from doing under the 1930s legislation, just like Investment banks and corporations can and do.

Seen as a vestige of post-Crash and pre-/post-World War II stabilizing legislation, it was, at the time, seen as unnecessary.  However, when deregulation began picking up steam in the 1980s, things happened in short order:

– The 1980s and 1990s Savings & Loan Crises: Savings and Loan thrifts were given many of the same powers as banks under deregulation legislation signed by President Carter in 1980; without the same regulations banks were subject to.  With the massive take-off of real estate lending, (outstanding mortgage debt was $700 Billion-ish in 1970, and nearly doubled to $1.2 Trillion in 1980), S&L’s took massive risks by lending out more money than they should have, on top of rising interest rates caused many institutions to fail.  This was failure to such a degree the United States had never seen.

– Repeal of Glass-Steagall Act: With the S&L failures still fresh on the minds of financiers and politicians, many argued further deregulation was required to avert such a disaster in the future.  Congress passed Gramm-Leach-Bliley and it was signed by President Clinton at the twilight of his Administration.  By the end of the next Administration (G. W. Bush), only EIGHT years later. the United States was reeling from the worst banking and credit crisis it had seen since the dawn of the 20th century, and it was spreading throughout the world.  The FDIC began publishing lists of bank failures every Friday, conducting raids on banks it or the State controllers deemed in danger of failing, or already had, legally — and, for the first time in history, the FDIC, the Federal Depositors Insurance Corporation’s funds went NEGATIVE from insuring lost depositor money.

All of these took place within 25 years of the beginning of banking deregulation in the United States — AFTER an over 50-year golden era for banking in the United States where bank failure was almost unheard of, to the point where bank failures and bank runs were becoming regular weekly news events on Friday nights.

Even more disturbing, the largest four banking institutions in the United States, the four largest banks (Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorganChase and Wells Fargo) are now THIRTY percent LARGER than they were in 2007!

How can the next banking crisis be softened, if not stopped?

– Reconstitute a Bretton Woods-like system for the American economy: peg it with something convertible to stabilize the possible future crash of the US Dollar.  This would, in general, lower the value of the dollar, however, the dollar would be safe from a crash, or other cataclysmic disaster brought on by a perceived lack of confidence in the American financial system, which is all that currently “holds up” the American economy and the value of the US Dollar.

– Reinstitute a Glass-Steagall Law.  Banks shouldn’t be allowed to gamble with depositor money.  When banks buy futures or invest in trusts or mutual funds with depositor money, it’s the same as taking it down to the Casino and betting on a three-of-a-kind.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet on a CASINO win, over futures and stocks, at the moment.

How Goldman Sachs is giving you the screw…

Nick Madden, VP/CPO, Novelis, Inc.

“The situation illustrates the perils of allowing industries to regulate themselves.”
— Nick Madden, Chief Procurement Officer, Novelis, Inc.

We all know about the 2007 Financial Crisis — and how it wiped out millions of jobs around the world, and we know where it began, the US Subprime and Unsecured Credit Markets.  Now that the crisis is over, many think that a lot of the rackets, many assume that tighter financial regulations are helping keep large financial institutions from screwing over the same people they boned over in writing and trading in extremely risky securities.

Wrong.

Goldman Sachs, since 2008, has been buying up MASSIVE amounts of one metal: aluminum, and storing them in warehouses everywhere, particularly in Detroit.  What are they doing with it?  Just sitting on it.

Why is this a bad thing?  Isn’t sitting on metal a good idea when it’s cheap?  Sure… always a good thing.  However, when you buy up so much of it, you’re affecting the world supply of it, not so much.  By reducing supply, you increase demand — and what happens when demand goes up and supply goes down?  Raise the cost.

In 2008, Goldman Sachs reported that they were storing 50,000 tons of Aluminum in warehouses and company owned property.  In 2010, that number increased to 850,000 tons.  At this time?  1.5 MILLION tons.   TONS.

Now, when companies want to buy aluminum domestically, as nations like China like to set prices at the state-level, companies will turn to domestic companies, like those owned by Goldman Sachs.  Because they control the aluminum, they can say “Sorry, we can’t get it to you that fast, we apologize,” when in actuality, they can delay delivery to drive up the price.  Indeed, subsidiary of Goldman, before purchasing, was able to supply aluminum to its end-users, was 6 weeks.  After the purchase and management rearrangement by Goldman, the wait is now sixteen MONTHS.

How much, you say?  What’s YOUR bottom line?

According to Cenk Uygur with The Young Turks, the price increase at this time, broken down per aluminum can of soda/pop, is one tenth of cent, per can — equivalent.  While that doesn’t sound like a lot of money to the end user, that makes a massive dent in the profits of the initial supplier, such as the Soda company, in this case, to buy and manufacture the soda cans.  At Goldman’s level, however,

With the average of US$90 million worth of aluminum cans (ALONE) used in the US, and tons and tons of aluminum used in house sidings, wheels in automobiles, automobile body, anything you can think of.  On average, that increase works out to be roughly US$2 per every 35 pounds of aluminum.  With the average automobile using 12 pounds of aluminum (The New York Times), that adds up to US$12 in additional cost — that didn’t come from anywhere other than artificially controlling the supply to demand — only by slowing down aluminum shipment… that it owns, and stores.

Bottom line, from the entire operation of aluminum storage and shipment control, Goldman Sachs’ cut of the operation: US$5 Billion over the last three years.  (Thanks again, to The New York Times for this figure.)

Madden’s quote at the beginning of this entry has a lot sharper a point on it now, doesn’t it?  What do you think?