They Just Can’t Help Themselves

March 4, 2010 Comments off

An impish grin spreads across [Goldman CEO Lloyd] Blankfein’s face. Call him a fat cat who mocks the public. Call him wicked. Call him what you will. He is, he says, just a banker “doing God’s work” — The Sunday Times, November 8, 2009

Goldman Sachs is in the headlines again, this time for a transaction that helped the Greek government report artifically low debt. When you ponder this case, it is hard not to think about Enron.

Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Where do we go from here?

October 2, 2009 1 comment

Last week I had the opportunity to opine on this question at a lively conference on the financial crisis sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and the World Bank.  Since I spoke about things I’ve been meaning to blog about for some time, I decided to post the transcript here.  Apologies that the tone is more Fed-esque than the usual posting, but here goes…

Where do we go from here?

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.  And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”  Rahm Emanuel, Feb. 2009

I would like to touch briefly on two issues in answer to the question posed for this session:  first, the integration of housing finance into the financial and regulatory mainstream; and second, the need to modernize budgetary and regulatory accounting.   I chose these topics for several reasons: they are important; they get less attention than is deserved; and I have thought quite a bit about them from both an academic and policy perspective. Read more…

Smoke and Mirrors at the FDIC

September 30, 2009 4 comments

” ‘Sheila Bair would take bamboo shoots under her nails before going to Tim Geithner and the Treasury for help,’ said Camden R. Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers.” — New York Times, Sept 22, 2009

We learn today from the New York Times that the FDIC — the independent government agency that insures your bank accounts — is effectively insolvent. It is going to ask insured banks to prepay three years worth of deposit insurance premiums in order to raise $45 billion to replenish the FDIC insurance fund. Read more…

Categories: bailout, FDIC, financial crisis

Break the Buck!

September 21, 2009 1 comment

Here’s a wonderful idea for a financial product: raise trillions of dollars from investors, invest in a variety of risky assets, and then lie to investors about what the shares of the fund are worth. Just to make this easy, claim that each share is worth $1, even if it’s really worth less. To support this fiction, redeem shares at $1. If prices fall and investors suspect that the shares are actually worth less than $1, they will race to withdraw their funds. The first to withdraw receive $1, the last receive whatever is left, perhaps nothing.

You can be forgiven for thinking that I’ve just described Bernie Madoff’s investment fund. In fact, I’ve described the operation of money market mutual funds in the U.S. (Note that these are mutual funds, not insured “money market accounts” offered by banks.) Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

The Empire Strikes Back

June 4, 2009 1 comment

As nightmarish memories of September 2008 fade, the financial industry is gearing up to fight new regulations. The battle lines are being drawn and became more visible this week. Read more…

There’s Just No Accounting For Federal Bailouts

October 27, 2008 3 comments

In the last few months, the federal government has intervened in financial markets to an extent unparalleled in U.S. history. A partial tally includes the $29 billion, no-recourse loan from the Fed to rescue Bear Stearns; the federal takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and their exposure to the credit risk on $5 trillion of residential mortgages; loans in excess of $100 billion to insurance giant AIG, and of course, open-ended Congressional authority for U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to purchase up to $700 billion in troubled assets from financial institutions, part of which has already financed the purchase of over $250 billion of preferred bank stock.

Whatever you think about the wisdom of these interventions, one fact is indisputable: The government is not saying how much it expects all of this to cost us. The dearth of official estimates has, on one hand, led to Pollyannaish claims like “taxpayers could actually make money on this.”. On the other hand, it has stoked fears that taxpayers may be on the hook for trillions of dollars in losses. Read more…

Categories: bailout, financial crisis

The End of the Beginning

October 9, 2008 4 comments

“Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”—Winston Churchill, November 10, 1942

When Churchill made his famous statement following the allied victory at El Alamein in North Africa, he was warning the public not to be too optimistic, and to expect the war to continue for a long time. It now seems clear that the financial crisis will last a long time. I want to suggest here that we are at the “end of the beginning” of the financial crisis, about to enter a new phase. Unfortunately, this is not an optimistic statement, merely an assessment. The government is fast running out of policy options that bear any resemblance to “free market” policies. What remains is for the federal government to run everything. And this is what is gradually occurring. The challenge will then be for the government to undo all of its intervention as quickly as possible. Read more…

Categories: financial crisis
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