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Posts Tagged ‘Bailout Nation’

[Interview] Barry Ritholtz, Bailout Nation, Fusion IQ & The Big Picture Blog

June 11, 2009 | 10:17 am | Podcasts |

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Ritholtz’ Anatomy (of a Crash)

June 9, 2009 | 12:01 am |

Next week, my guest on The Housing Helix will be Barry Ritholtz of Big Picture (check out this week’s podcast with Dan Gross of Newsweek). He’ll be discussing his book, Bailout Nation.

Source: Big Picture

Click here for full sized graphic.

Barry does a great job at laying out how this crisis evolved.

Systemic.


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[At First, Insight] 1Q 2009 Manhattan Market Overview Available For Download

April 2, 2009 | 9:54 pm | | Reports |

The 1Q 2009 Manhattan Market Overview that I author for Prudential Douglas Elliman was released today.

Other reports we prepare can be found here.

The 1Q 2009 data and a series of updated charts are also available.

Press coverage can be found here.

An excerpt

…Last fall’s rapid change in market conditions established a new housing market that reflected a lower level of activity and a reset of housing prices. The tipping point, which occurred last September at the bailout of Lehman Brothers and bailouts of AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, marked a sharp contraction of credit, greatly restricting demand as participants had more difficulty obtaining financing. A national recession, rising unemployment and reduced compensation in the financial services sector also played a role in restricting demand. The market reset caused sellers to be more than a year behind the current market, still setting list prices in relation to the last high water mark in their respective buildings. This resulted in the expansion of inventory, listing discount and days on market metrics…

Download 1Q 2009 Manhattan Market Overview

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The Black Swan and Really, Really Dumb Smart People

March 31, 2009 | 12:22 am | | Milestones |

Sorry but I am in Manhattan Market Overview high gear prep mode – the report will be published later this week – so I am pretty lame on the content side for Matrix at the moment.

One of my semi-regular podcast downloads is Russ Robert’s EconTalk. This week he interviews Nassim Taleb , the author of Fooled by Randomness and the Black Swan of a few years ago. I own the latter, but I think the former is over my head. I’ve never heard him speak before. I have now listened to this podcast 3 times already and thoroughly enjoyed it. Also make sure you read the slew of comments posted to their site.

Nassim Taleb talks about the financial crisis, how we misunderstand rare events, the fragility of the banking system, the moral hazard of government bailouts, the unprecedented nature of really, really bad events, the contribution of human psychology to misinterpreting probability and the dangers of hubris. The conversation closes with a discussion of religion and probability.

On one hand I am very leery of people who suggest they have all the answers to a problem but not the solutions – Nouriel Roubini is another example – but Taleb’s arguments are compelling. After all, I think we all want to understand how so many smart people could be so utterly stupid for so long. If it wasn’t mortgages as a vehicle, it would have been something else.

I loved the ten year flood example given in the notes of the interview:

A ten year flood has a higher probability than a 100 year flood, but the 100 year flood will be massively more consequential. You care about the probability times the size of the impact, the expectation of these events. Small-probability events can have in some domains, fat-tailed domains, a big impact and we don’t know how to estimate them.

Here’s the compensation scenario and moral hazard – notes from the interview:

Were heads of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers not aware of how much they were gambling or did they not care how much they were gambling? Combination. Three things: 1. fooling themselves, psychological dimension. 2. Had an interest in building huge risks and tail because if you blow up every 10 years, you will make 9 bonuses and the 10th year someone will pay the cost, not you. Vicious: taxpayers are paying retrospectively for the bonuses of the first 9 years. Banks are insolvent, have lost more than their capital base, but managers have kept their bonuses. Some of them have been wiped out because they went a little further than normal blow-up cycle. What about the ones who didn’t do it? Lower returns year after year; now should be doing extremely well, but now unable to buy up some of the firms that have made the mistakes because the government is propping them up.

Aside: Speaking of dumb, how about the new space station named “Colbert” and video. To see the vote page and the number one suggested name – go here.


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[Risk as a Bonus] US Treasury Makes Another Attempt To Fix Economy, Housing

March 23, 2009 | 11:21 am | |

Last week, Dan Gross at Newsweek wrote a fun piece on Slate/Newsweek called “Jump” (not a a correlation with the old Van Halen song). Basically he says that nothing the government can do will fix the economy unless we participate.

In the grips of a bubble mentality, we—as investors, consumers, and businesses—blithely assumed risk and convinced our­selves it was perfectly safe to do so. We bought houses with no money down, took on huge amounts of debt, and let the booming stock and housing markets perform the heavy lifting of saving.

I remember the ridicule the former president took for his previous economic fix after 9/11 – “Shop!” else we enter the “paradox of thrift.

If everyone saves during a slack period, economic activity will decrease, thus making everyone poor­er. We also need to start investing again—not necessarily in the stocks of Citigroup or in condos in Miami. But rather to build skills, to create the new companies that are so vital to growth, and to fund the discov­ery and development of new technologies.

I am not suggesting that shopping is solution, but it is certainly part of the problem right now. When consumers and investors hunker down and do nothing, a failure spiral results.

Today Secretary Geitner announces the plan we have been waiting for, which is heavily reliant on the private sector. US Treasury secrectary Geitner unvailed his second attempt at getting the economy moving again and this time there is probably no room for a do-over. Did he really call it “My Plan”?

We cannot solve this crisis without making it possible for investors to take risks. While this crisis was caused by banks taking too much risk, the danger now is that they will take too little. In working with Congress to put in place strong conditions to prevent misuse of taxpayer assistance, we need to be very careful not to discourage those investments the economy needs to recover from recession. The rule of law gives responsible entrepreneurs and investors the confidence to invest and create jobs in our nation. Our nation’s commitment to pursue economic policies that promote confidence and stability dates back to the very first secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who first made it clear that when our government gives its word we mean it.

Of course Hamilton was shot dead in a duel. Let’s hope this strategy has a quicker draw and better aim.

Here’s the official press release and fact sheet posted this morning.

Here’s the problem with the AIG bonus outrage that fueled this modification of plans – it’s not about being scared of keeping AIG and other Wall Street firms afloat and it’s not about the obscene lack of morality – it’s about the danger of scaring off the private sector from participating in the solution. It’s called “Free Market.”

Council of Economic Advisers Chief Christina Romer said:

“We’ve got banks with a lot of toxic assets, what ‘toxic’ means is they are highly uncertain … so that is certainly the big picture, and that is going to be the main reason for doing this … We simply — we simply need them. We need them — you know, we’ve got a limited amount of money that the government has to go in here, so we need to partner, not just with private firms, but with the FDIC, with the Fed, to leverage the money that we have,” she said.

$165M AIG bonuses (actually it’s $218M) and it’s symbolism of greed have been a distraction and we have to be very careful of taking our eye off the ball. Cut out the “Main Street versus Wall Street” homilies and let’s fix this.

Congress underestimated consumer outrage and the House quickly passed retribution legislation to get even via a 90% tax. Because the political playing field is incentivized by one-upsmanship, Congress is much more comfortable with this sort of grandstanding/finger pointing and that’s what this debate has regressed to. Dodd is in hot water.

It began with the previous legislation of caps on Wall Street compensation (when Congress didn’t catch it), while a feel good measure, is also a short sighted position much more apparent now because there will always be work-arounds.

I love how many simply lump all Wall Streeters into one evil pile and feel it’s right to treat everyone the same. It’s professional prejudice on steroids. A market for the “toxic” assets needs to be fostered. Do we want to get out this mess or not? No room for populist shortsightedness.

More on the plan later. In the meantime I need to download that song from iTunes – it’s systemic so we might as well jump.


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Too Big to Fail Meets Too Failed to be Saved

March 12, 2009 | 11:27 pm | |

It’s becoming apparent that several of the large institutions that are in the vortex of bailoutdom are teetering: namely AIG and Citi. They were deemed too big to fail, bit now we are wondering if they are too far beyond saving.

I am struggling with this concept and am rambling here, but now is the time to fix things for the long term benefit. I am sick of quick fixes.

The Too Big to Fail policy is the idea that in American banking regulation the largest and most powerful banks are “too big to (let) fail.” This means that it might encourage recklessness since the government would pick up the pieces in the event it was about to go out of business. The phrase has also been more broadly applied to refer to a government’s policy to bail out any corporation. It raises the issue of moral hazard in business operations.

The top 5 banks are showing significant signs of weakness.

Citibank, Bank of America, HSBC Bank USA, Wells Fargo Bank and J.P. Morgan Chase reported that their “current” net loss risks from derivatives — insurance-like bets tied to a loan or other underlying asset — surged to $587 billion as of Dec. 31. Buried in end-of-the-year regulatory reports that McClatchy has reviewed, the figures reflect a jump of 49 percent in just 90 days.

The industry never thought macro enough to consider systemic risk – as in “What happens if it all goes wrong?” Seems pretty basic.

The Federal Reserve appears to be trying to reform its ways and perhaps even the concept of too big to fail. Fed Chairman Bernanke just spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations

Until we stabilize the financial system, a sustainable economic recovery will remain out of reach. In particular, the continued viability of systemically important financial institutions is vital to this effort. In that regard, the Federal Reserve, other federal regulators, and the Treasury Department have stated that they will take any necessary and appropriate steps to ensure that our banking institutions have the capital and liquidity necessary to function well in even a severe economic downturn. Moreover, we have reiterated the U.S. government’s determination to ensure that systemically important financial institutions continue to be able to meet their commitments.

…while former Fed Chairman Greenspan has been attempting to re-write history.

David Leonhardt, in his piece “The Looting of America’s Coffers” said:

The investors had borrowed huge amounts of money, made big profits when times were good and then left the government holding the bag for their eventual (and predictable) losses.

In a word, the investors looted. Someone trying to make an honest profit, Professors Akerlof and Romer said, would have operated in a completely different manner. The investors displayed a “total disregard for even the most basic principles of lending,” failing to verify standard information about their borrowers or, in some cases, even to ask for that information.

The investors “acted as if future losses were somebody else’s problem,” the economists wrote. “They were right.”

Last week, Sheila Bair of FDIC told 60 Minutes she would like to see Congress attempt to set boundaries for banks to remain as banks. In other words, they grow beyond a certain level, they become some other entity but can’t be bailed out if something goes wrong. Perhaps this implies a higher risk which is understood by investors, forcing the institution to decide whether it can afford to be bigger.

Let’s get our act together real quick or we also too big to fail?


Aside: Why make billions, when you can make millions? – Austin Powers


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Bank Failure Is An Option

March 8, 2009 | 11:30 pm |


Watch CBS Videos Online

60 Minutes had a good segment this Sunday called Your Bank Has Failed: What Happens Next? which was perfect timing because a number of people seem to be worried about their own banks failing.

I bank at one of the national firms in the headlines and, while the thought has crossed my mind, I still place a lot of faith in FDIC’s handling of the problem. Of course, the fact that FDIC could run out of money is a growing concern. Let’s hope our the message from elected officials doesn’t weaken confidence at a time of growing bank failures.

The clip discusses the too big to fail concept. In most cases, the failure of a small bank has limited if any impact on the depositors in those institutions, but it can wipe out investors in those institutions. Sheila Bair, FDIC chairman and one of the consistent voices of competency in Washington, suggested that lawmakers may consider some sort of cap on size – giving some definitions toward the “too big to fail” concept.

The larger exposure to mortgages over the past decade by most lenders in search of larger profits is a key factor here aside from the recessionary environment.

UPDATE – something I shared last week but thought I’d insert again because it was so good. Think banking, bailouts and “loser mortgagees.” Good grief.


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[StimSpeak] I’m With The US Government And I’m Here To Help You

February 9, 2009 | 11:46 pm | |

Whatever your political persuasion, it’s hard to deny there is a whole lot more government in our future. It feels like the focus on housing has been lost in the stimulus shuffle, but then again the financial system needs to be “Stimmed” before housing can be repaired.

And of course, the recession is real. – Nancy Pelosi told us so. (hat tip: NY Mag).

Here’s some of the government related stimspeak.

Freedom fries are now on the menu.

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[New Fannie Policy] Renters Rewarded For Meeting Obligations

December 15, 2008 | 1:02 am | |

Don’t fulfill your contractual obligations and you get bailed out.

Fulfill your contractual obligations and you get evicted.

That’s the way the process has played out.

Chauntay Barnes, 30, moved into a single-family home with her two kids in November 2007 on a quiet street in Hamden, Conn. She never missed a payment on her $800 rent — never had so much as a late fee — and yet in mid-September she opened her mail to find an eviction notice.

If you are going to solve the housing crisis, you can’t treat tenants who met the their obligations as a throwaway. Fannie Mae is going to work with some tenants to prevent eviction. Still, only a fraction of the evictions will be prevented.

In a move that provides relief to thousands of renters who face eviction but draws the federal government even deeper into the housing market, the loan giant Fannie Mae said Sunday that it would sign new leases with renters living in foreclosed properties owned by the company.

In recent months, skyrocketing foreclosure rates have exposed as many as 70,000 renters to evictions, even though many never missed rent payments, according to analysts who track housing data. In many cities and states, renters can be evicted after their home goes into foreclosure, regardless of how long their lease stretches into the future.

Yes, properties may be easier to market when vacant, but the reality is the property will likely see extended marketing times with the surplus inventory levels. Why not keep income coming in to the taxpayer while the market finds it groove?

“We’re not in the business of managing rental properties, and we’re not in the business of being a landlord,” said Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which owns about two million loans. “Clearly the renter is caught in the middle in cases like this. When a property is in foreclosure, we follow the law.”

When will the renter stop being treated like a second class citizen? Is the American dream of homeownership myopic?

Aside: The National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a consumer advocacy group has an amazing public relations sensibility. I would guess that coverage of this issue in the NYT and WSJ was a perfectly placed pitch. Kudos to them on this important issue.


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Bailing Out Mets Fans, Appraising Opening Day At US Treasury Field

November 24, 2008 | 11:55 pm |

citfieldsign

I’ve discussed the curse of stadium naming. The new Citi Field stadium name is in danger of going Enron on us. After all, the naming rights are only a paltry $400M and the Sunday’s Citi bailout was $326B.

For the past few years (for security reasons?) appraisers have been required to provide private financial information to Citi in order to consider whether the appraiser was solvent enough to work for them. Appraisers I know fought tooth and nail against this. In our case, we had been working for them for more than 20 years and now they want to know how much money we make? In other words, they wouldn’t want an appraiser to go under during the middle of a $400 appraisal assignment. It would be (apply sarcastic tone here) devastating to the entire financial system I would think.

The irony here is amazing given Citi’s need for a bailout.

Don’t get me wrong, we work for other areas of Citi which are sophisticated and professional. I am simply fed up with the “efficiency” theory of banking as it applies to backroom operations of large retail banks. They have lost their way. Incidentally, nothing has changed in this regard since the credit crunch began in the summer of 2007.

A few months ago, Citigroup’s retail banking appraisal group based in Missouri put my appraisal firm out to pasture (demoted to backup) in favor of appraisal management companies (those big national companies known for high speed, low costs and virtually zero quality (aka “army of form fillers”) aka AMCs and high volume appraisal shops/factories.

Of course, Citigroup gets a bailout.

citilogo

Here’s a sampling of our former clients who are national banks that went with appraisal management company factories and ended up getting into financial trouble.

  • Citigroup – went with AMCs
  • Washington Mutual – Residential mortgage lending gone – went with AMCs – NY AG tried to sue them for collusion with eAppraisIT to pressure appraisers (an AMC)
  • Countrywide – absorbed by Bank of America – lots of litigation in the future
  • US Trust Company – went with AMCs – such a disaster they actually came back to their appraisers only to be purchased by Bank of America and then we were dumped again
  • Bank of America – went with AMCs – rumors that it was such a bad experience, returning to appraisers
  • Wachovia – created their own AMC, Bought by PNC.

ustreasury

Coincidence?

Not really. Like the stadium naming deal, the shift to an AMC symbolizes the point when a mortgage lender goes too far and loses touch with it’s understanding of risk. The corporate culture loses the ability to understand the importance of assessing the value of the collateral to which they are lending. Common sense evaporates.

For the most part, the individual review appraisers that worked at these lenders were professional and competent and could see the issue at hand, but they just didn’t have the political weight, so to speak.

Hopefully those institutional politics will be crushed by the time we reach seventh inning stretch (at US Treasury Field).

This just in: Tiger Woods now needs to rustle up lunch money.


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[FHFA /OFHEO] On A Mission, With Bear Oversight

November 19, 2008 | 4:38 pm | |

I have been particularly impressed with the way that the newly created Federal Housing Finance Agency has been keeping us informed on what they have been doing to help with the housing market since the credit crunch began in the summer of 2007.

Organized, neat, outspoken, timely. You only have to read the FHFA mission statement to understand what they are all about:

Promote a stable and liquid mortgage market, affordable housing and community investment through safety and soundness oversight of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks.

Sounds like a necessary regulatory agency to me.

The FHFA’s predecessor, Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) was also responsible for regulatory oversight during the Fannie Mae accounting scandal and the collapse of the GSEs leading to their bailout in September 2008, had a remarkably similar mission statement as FHFA’s.

OFHEO has an important and compelling mission

to promote housing and a strong national housing finance system by ensuring the safety and soundness of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Before the global credit crunch and US housing market decline, where was the actual oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Today the new institution replacing the old one is run by the same person (whom I find to be quite well-spoken) and their new web site is nearly identical to the old one yet the mission has now expanded to include the Federal Home Loan Banks.

The implication of promoting liquidity in the revised mission statement isn’t a new concept since that was one of the primary reasons for the existence of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the first place. And OFHEO’s advocacy of affordable housing seemed to morph from low income housing to simply making housing finance costs cheaper.

Still, I have higher hopes for all federal regulators going forward now that they have been lulled from hibernation.

After all, there’s a bear out there.


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[Housing Our Amenities] Conspicuous Consumption Is Dead

November 18, 2008 | 2:00 am | |

we just don’t know it yet…

I think my use of the phrase “pet spas and on-site sommeliers” has made the rounds long enough and others like it over the past several years to be put to rest…please.

As housing and consumers benefited from the era of easy credit, the surplus of new development entering the housing market necessitated more creative marketing to differentiate the vast array of product under the now tired “lifestyle” moniker. (cliche alert: Location 3x, Lifestyle)

The Conspicuous consumption goes out of style article in Sunday’s International Herald Tribune (or Friday’s New York Times’ In Hard Times, No More Fancy Pants) confirmed what I had been observing for the past few months as the credit crunch bore down on all of our lives.

The US economy is faltering under a significant global financial crisis. A new presidential administration/party is taking over the reigns.

Individuals seeking the biggest and the best will probably do so with less fanfare. Housing demand will likely be re-defined by the marketing shift to austerity.

Times have changed and we don’t have the luxury of asking “Wassup!” of someone without regretting we asked. Speaking of bailouts (c’mon, you were thinking about it), here’s a prime example of how GM continues to miss the market: “My Hybrid Is Bigger Than Your Hybrid.


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