Category Archives: Economy

Donald The Destroyer Aims at the Dodd-Frank Act

Trump 1 Nothing will set the DB flashing quite like a threat to deregulate the financial sector.  And  Donald the Destroyer has done it.

“The presumptive Republican presidential nominee told Reuters in an interview published Tuesday that in two weeks he’ll release a financial regulation platform that includes repealing most of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

“I would say it’ll be close to a dismantling of Dodd-Frank,” Trump said. “Dodd-Frank is a very negative force, which has developed a very bad name.” [TheHill]

Let’s be very clear at this point.  Here’s what the Dodd-Frank Act contains:

“Taxpayers will not have to bear the costs of Wall Street’s irresponsibility: If a firm fails in the future it will be Wall Street – not the taxpayers – that pays the price.

Separates “proprietary trading” from the business of banking: The “Volcker Rule” will ensure that banks are no longer allowed to own, invest, or sponsor hedge funds, private equity funds, or proprietary trading operations for their own profit, unrelated to serving their customers. Responsible trading is a good thing for the markets and the economy, but firms should not be allowed to run hedge funds and private equity funds while running a bank.

Ending bailouts: Reform will constrain the growth of the largest financial firms, restrict the riskiest financial activities, and create a mechanism for the government to shut down failing financial companies without precipitating a financial panic that leaves taxpayers and small businesses on the hook.” [Link for more information]

So, let’s review.  What Donald the Destroyer is proposing is that in repealing the Dodd-Frank Act – taxpayers WILL be on the hook for Wall Street debacles, and there will be NO mechanism by which a failing financial institution can be shut down without damaging taxpayers and small business.  What Mr. Trump is advocating is essentially more taxpayer secured bailouts, more financial system insecurity, and more games played by bankers/hedge fund managers with depositors money.  Like that?

Dodd-Frank is a very negative force?  Says whom?  Certainly not the writers at Fortune magazine

“The U.S. economy has recovered since the financial crisis, and it’s impossible to know how much lending would have increased without Dodd-Frank. Indeed, the amount of cash that banks hold collectively is up nearly $700 billion in the same time. At least some of the jump has to do with the fact that Dodd-Frank was passed after lending had dropped considerably. But even factoring in that plunge, there are now $800 billion more in bank loans outstanding than there were before the financial crisis, when everyone seems to agree there was less financial regulation.”

What “negative force?”  With $800 billion more in outstanding bank loans than there were before the crash and smash of 2007-2008, the provisions of the bill obviously haven’t diminished lending.  But wait, as they say in the infomercials, there’s more:

“Recently, business lending—the kind that Donald Trump says Dodd-Frank has hurt the most—has increased rapidly. Lending to commercial and industrial companies, which often referred to as C&I lending, jumped $71 billion in the first quarter, and it is up 60% since Congress passed Dodd-Frank. In the first quarter, C&I lending eclipsed residential mortgage lending for the first time since the 1980s.”  [Fortune] (emphasis added)

But, why take Fortune’s word for it? Let’s take a look at the Federal Reserve’s tracking of C&I loans for the last ten years.

FRED C&I lending

Does the line on this chart indicate to you that anything (the Dodd-Frank Act included) has a “negative impact” on commercial and industrial lending by all commercial banks?  As of April 2016 all commercial banks in this country had loaned $2,047.4917 Billion in U.S. dollars.  The current level is a 72.36% increase over the commercial lending level of $1187.9395 in August 2010.  So, the Dodd-Frank Act was signed into law on July 21, 2010 and now we see a 72.36% increase in C&I lending by commercial banks.   Only by turning the FRED chart upside down, could we remotely conclude that the Dodd-Frank Act has been a negative force on commercial bank lending.

Perhaps he’s talking (through his hat) about mortgage lending?  FRED has some handy data in its Make-A-Chart system for that too.

FRED Mortgage lending

The direction of the line on the chart since August 2010? UP.  Not quite up all the way to the $13,830,587.23 million level of the 4th Quarter of 2010 as the housing bubble fizzled, but close enough to call it a recovery, i.e. a decrease of 0.2513%.

The one chart that is “down” is that for residential mortgage holders in one to four family housing units.

FRED Family mortgage lending

At the height of the housing bubble (Q1 2008) the total was $11,320,563.29 million; as of Q4 2015 the total was $9.986,024.00 million.  However, before attributing that to the “negative force” of the Dodd-Frank Act there are some other factors which ought to be considered:

  1. Some of the loans made during the Housing Bubble should never have been made in the first place.  That was the era in which Wall Street demanded, and got, subprime and other faulty loans from mortgage lenders who were anxious to sell them to those banking institutions which wanted to securitize them.
  2. Wage growth hasn’t increased to an extent that families can afford to purchase new homes, which in turn puts some pressure on the housing marker. [BusInsider]
  3. The 2016 “spring housing season” kicked off with a record low supply. [cnbc]

In short, Mr. Trump is simply parroting some line he heard on the golf course?  Some quote he got from the American Enterprise Institute, the American Bankers Association? The Heritage Foundation? From an amalgam of opponents of Wall Street regulation?  He’s certainly not done any serious thinking about the state of commercial and mortgage lending in this country.

Let’s save a discussion of what dismantling the Dodd-Frank Act would do to the average American in terms of personal financial products, student loans, and consumer loans for another post – which I’m sure will yield the same result – Donald the Destroyer doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Republicans

Clinton on Quarterly Capitalism

Clinton “We need an economy where companies plan for the long run and invest in their workers through increased wages and better training—leading to higher productivity, better service, and larger profits. Hillary will revamp the capital gains tax to reward farsighted investments that create jobs. She’ll address the rising influence of the kinds of so-called “activist” shareholders that focus on short-term profits at the expense of long-term growth, and she’ll reform executive compensation to better align the interests of executives with long-term value.” [Clinton]

I could happily live with this.  She had me at “… where companies plan for the long run.”  Let me start here, and then move forward into a familiar topic on this digital soap box.  I, too, have had enough of “quarterly capitalism,” and it is high time someone offered a cogent proposal to deal with the specter.

First, no one should try to argue that all short term equity and bond purchases are necessarily bad – there are some valid reasons for such trading. However, as in most other things in life it is possible to have too much “of a good thing.”  Let’s face it, high frequency traders aren’t investors – they’re traders, and shouldn’t be confused with those who are putting capital into the distribution system.    Too much short term investing (trading) in the mix and we’re asking for problems, three of which from the investment side are summarized by PragCap:

    1. A short-term view tends to result in account churning, higher fees, higher taxes and lower real, real returns.
    2. A short-term view often results in reacting to events AFTER the fact rather than knowing that  a well diversified portfolio is always going to experience some positions that perform poorly in the short-term.
    3. Short-term views are generally consistent with attempts to “beat the market” which is a goal that most people have no business trying to achieve when they allocate their savings.

If short term investing isn’t good on the investor’s side of the ledger, it’s not good on the corporate side either.  Generation Investment Management (UK) issued a report in 2012 on “Sustainable Capitalism,” [pdf] that emphasizes this point:

“The dominance of short-termism in the market, often facilitated and exacerbated by algorithmic trading, is correlated with stock price volatility, fosters general market instability as opposed to useful liquidity and undermines the efforts of executives seeking long-term value creation. Companies can take a proactive stance against this growing trend of short-termism by attracting long-term investors with patient capital through the issuance of loyalty-driven securities. Loyalty-driven securities offer investors financial rewards for holding a company’s shares for a certain number of years. This practice encourages long-term investment horizons among investors and facilitates stability in financial markets, therefore playing an important role in mainstreaming Sustainable Capitalism.”

Or, put more succinctly, short-term vision creates market volatility (big peaks and drops) which makes our stock markets more unstable, and undermines executives who are trying to create companies with staying power.  Instability and volatility improve the prospects for traders but not for investors, and not for the corporations and their management.

If we agree that “quarterly capitalism,” or “short-termism” isn’t a good foundational concept for our economy – from either the investors’ or the company’s perspective, then what tools are available to make long term investing more attractive, and to help corporations seeking “patient capital?”

rats rear end One tool in the box is the Capital Gains Tax. If only about 14% of Americans have individual investments in “The Market” [cnbc] why should anyone give one small rodent’s rear end about the Capital Gains Tax structure? 

Because:  The present capital gains tax structure  rewards investment transaction income more than on earned income. If we are going to allow this lop-sided approach, then there has to be some economic benefit in it for everyone?  The current system:  

“Capital gains and losses are classified as long term if the asset was held for more than one year, and short term if held for a year or less. Taxpayers in the 10 and 15 percent tax brackets pay no tax on long-term gains on most assets; taxpayers in the 25-, 28-, 33-, or 35- percent income tax brackets face a 15 percent rate on long-term capital gains. For those in the top 39.6 percent bracket for ordinary income, the rate is 20 percent.” [TPC]

Thus, if one’s income is “earned” by trading assets then the tax rate is 20% at the top of the income scale, but if the income is earned the old fashioned way – working for it – the rate could be 39.6%.  This is supposed to incentivize investment.  But note the definition of a “long term asset,” as one held for more than 12 months… that’s right: 12 months. 

Contrast that definition of a long term investment with the Clinton proposal:

Clinton Cap Gains Tax ChartNotice that in Secretary Clinton’s structure the combined rate on capital gains moves from 47.4% for those “short term” investments, down to 27.8% if the investor holds the assets for more than six years.  Five and six years fits my definition of “long term” much better than a “little over 12 months.”

Thus we have an incentive for longer term investments, which means less instability and less volatility.  This seems a much better plan to practice “Sustainable Capitalism.”

rats rear end

But, what of the executive compensation packages that are tied to short term stock prices?   Yes.  That’s a problem. [NYT] And yes, President Bill Clinton’s attempt to rein in executive pay back-fired. However, Secretary Clinton has proposed legislation to provide shareholders a vote on executive compensation, especially on benefit packages for executives when companies merge or are bought out. Her proposal would have created a three year “claw back” period during which the SEC could require CEOs and CFOs to repay bonuses, profits, or other compensation if they were found to have overseen – or been intentionally involved in misconduct or illicit activity.  Granted that doesn’t cover the entire landscape of corporate misadventure, but this could be combined with the following excellent suggestion for amending the tax code:

“Instead, Section 162(m) could be rewritten to allow a deduction for compensation paid to any employee in excess of $1 million only if the compensation is paid in cash, deferred for at least five years and unsecured (meaning that if the company goes bankrupt, the executive would not have a priority over other creditors). This approach would encourage corporate executives to act more like long-term bondholders and obsess less about short-term stock price movements.” [NYT]

Every bit of “encouragement” might help.  I’d be very happy to see CEOs thinking like long term bond holders (if long term means more than 13 months) and less like the traders/gamblers in the Wall Street Casino.

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Filed under Clinton, Economy, financial regulation, Hillary Clinton, Politics, Taxation

DIY Business News: How to stop yelling at the TV screen and get some real news

Stock Ticker Old

Spare me the whining about Americans and their financial illiteracy.  It’s not like they are getting any help from institutions which ought to be assisting them. 

Media bashing gets a bit cheap at times, but in this realm the broadcast media isn’t delivering anything close to real “business news.”  For starters, most of what passes for “business” news on the cable TV outlets is nothing more than financial sector gossip and stock market reporting.   When everything is said and scrolled across the screen, what the consumer has gotten is information of the stock markets, by the stock markets and for the stock markets.  

If we take the most generous definition of an investor possible – one including individual investors, investors in retirement 401(k)’s, IRAs, mutual funds, and ETF’s – then we can claim that 48% of the adults in the U.S. have money invested in “the market.” [CNN]  Meaning, 52% of Americans have no investment in “the market” at all, and one could question how carefully those who have funds in the retirement accounts are attending to the investments made on their behalf.  Drilling a bit deeper into the numbers we find that only 13.8% of all U.S. families held any individual stock. [CNN] “Ownership of savings bonds, other bonds, directly held stocks, and pooled investment funds sustained sizable drops in ownership rates between 2010 and 2013, although none of the four types of assets are commonly held, with ownership rates in 2013 varying between 1.4 percent (other bonds) and 13.8 percent (directly held stocks).” [FED pdf]

The best face we can put on this is that what passes for business news in this country is stock market information of direct interest to at best 14% of the nation’s adult population.  Why? We can guess — (1) It pleases the managerial types who are focused on short term gains in stock prices? (2) It’s cheap to produce?  Reporting on stock prices is really easy, especially if the big driver is something accessible like the Dow Jones Industrial Average. (3) It gives executives an opportunity to tout the value (whatever that might be) of their companies, thus moving their stock prices up?  However, what it doesn’t do is give anyone a clear overall picture of business in the United States of America.

Do It Yourself

If business news isn’t what’s on offer from the news channels which purport to provide it – then where to find it? 

The Federal Reserve has all manner of publications available online which will inform the inquisitive about consumer and personal finance.  Auto and Student debt is up at the moment, while the home ownership rate is falling, but not as many homeowners are now in default.  Interested in income inequality, or wealth gaps? Information is available from the FED on those topics as well.  Look and one can find all manner of information and analysis, unfettered from political punditry, on the subject.  In fact, one can discover that the way we talk about income inequality may be a function of how we measure it.

The San Francisco Federal Reserve is pleased to highlight its blog, with features ranging from how the FED recycles old currency to how Medicare payments may be curtailing inflationary trends.  If more generalized information is the target, then the Beige Book is as good a source as any:

“Commonly known as the Beige Book, this report is published eight times per year. Each Federal Reserve Bank gathers anecdotal information on current economic conditions in its District through reports from Bank and Branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources. The Beige Book summarizes this information by District and sector. An overall summary of the twelve district reports is prepared by a designated Federal Reserve Bank on a rotating basis.” [FED]

Think of the Beige Book as “one stop shopping” for general economic news in each of the FED’s regions.

 Hard Hat

Labor:  A steady diet of cable business news might leave a person with the idea that labor news doesn’t exist except so far as it concerns minimum wage issues, or the latest protest of less than living wages. It’s more difficult to find than information about economic trends, but it’s there.   A person might want to start with Labor Press.OrgLabor Notes, is another source.  Union labor issues are well publicized in AFL-CIO sites.  There’s more information available from the SEIU, and AFSCME.

Those cable shows – and they are just ‘shows’ – could fill a goodly amount of their time just from Department of Labor information.  They won’t because they’re too busy tossing softballs to CEOs, but they could for example offer the investor’s side of the argument about fiduciary responsibility and financial advisers from DoL information.  If it’s numbers that are wanted, there’s a whole bureau for those – the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Want the current consumer price index, the unemployment rate, payroll employment figures, average hourly earnings, the producer price index, productivity statistics, or the employment cost index? All these are available from the Department of Labor.

Doing Business:  Republican presidential candidates Cruz and Kasich both proposed eliminating the Department of Commerce.  This is taking the Tea Party Express right over the edge into the Silly Swamp.  One excellent source of information about our economy is the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which compiles data regarding personal income and outlays – read: income and spending – what could be more “economic” than that?  Want information concerning the Gross Domestic Product? Consumer Spending? Corporate Profits? Fixed Assets?  Balance of Payments? State and Metropolitan GDP? Quarterly GDP by industry? It’s all available from the Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.

When thinking of broadcast media it’s important to remember that what keeps the cable ‘business’ news going are advertising sales, and a commercial which might cost $2,000 to $3,000 for a network broadcast sponsorship could be as cheap as $175 on cable.  Little wonder their business seems to be limited to softball interviews and streaming the DJIA numbers on the screen – which you could do at home on any computer monitor.  Those shows are relatively banal because they probably can’t afford anything else.

Enterprises like Bush’s Baked Beans, Chef Michael’s Canine Creations, and Slap Chop are right in the mix with Ford, Chevrolet, and Wal-Mart sponsoring what passes for business and news reporting. [HuffPo] We’d be better served to Keep Calm and Do It Yourself.

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Filed under Commerce Department, Economy, labor, media, Tea Party Express

Heck: The Bankers Good Little Soldier

Heck photo

The ad wars begin, with one from the Democratic side of the aisle noting the record of one Joe Heck, currently the Republican representative from Nevada District 3:

“The ad highlights legislation Heck sponsored as a state senator to repeal excise taxes on Nevada banks, criticizes him for accepting more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from the securities and investment industry, and portrays him as in “lockstep with Washington Republicans.”

It also notes that Heck, who now represents Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, once called the mortgage crisis in the state “a blip on the radar” on a 2008 questionnaire.”  [LVSun]

The amount of money candidates receive from the financial industry doesn’t  bother me as much as the voting records of the candidates who receive them.  And, Representative Heck has been a very good little soldier for the financial sector interests.

Marching back to July 26, 2012 we find Representative Heck voting in favor of the interestingly titled HR 4078 “Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act.”  The title was commonplace, everything in those days had “small business” and “job creation” attached to the title, perhaps to obscure the fact that the Congress had done exactly diddly to create jobs or help really small businesses.  The effect would not have been small, or particularly creative.

HR 4078 would have prohibited any federal government agency from promulgating or taking “significant regulatory action,” unless the employment rate dropped below 6%, defining  “significant regulatory action” as any action that is likely to result in a rule or guidance with a fiscal effect of $50 million or more as determined by the Office of Management and Budget, or to adversely affect one of the following, including, but not limited to (Sec. 105) [PVS]  Now why would this bill illustrate Representative Heck’s allegiance to the banking sector?

Answer: Because the Dodd-Frank Act regulating the financial sector was enacted on July 21, 2010 – that would be the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – and the agencies were in the rule making process when HR 4078 was considered in the House.  Now, what sector of the economy was going to see a $50 million dollar effect?  Here’s a clue: It’s not family owned bodegas and gas stations.  The banking industry did NOT want to see any regulation, any restraint, any inconvenience to their consumer gouging practices and HR 4078 was the result.  (And, the law if enacted would have prevented any more attempts to contain climate change – a bonus in GOP eyes.)

Move forward to October 23, 2013, and HR 2374 the “Retail Investor Protection Act.” There’s nothing in this bit of legislation that protects “retail investors.”  In fact, section 2Prohibits the Secretary of the Department of Labor from establishing a regulation that defines the circumstances under which an individual is considered a fiduciary until 60 days after the Securities and Exchange Commission establishes standards of conduct for brokers and dealers.”  Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s part and parcel of the fight to allow financial advisors to push products which improve their bottom line even if the advice isn’t in the best interests of their clients – like retirement funds.  The bankers have been fighting this right down to at least May 6, 2016.  However, the rule – now in place — has some benefits for “retail investors” as Morningstar summarizes:

“This change clearly is a victory for investors. Roughly half of retail U.S. mutual fund assets will be protected by the new, higher standards. They will not prevent bad advice, of course, nor trades from lower- to higher-cost funds. But they do command that all advice, whether successful or not, be offered in good faith, and that the rationale for all trades, whether into cheaper or pricier funds, be recorded. Such precautions will inevitably lead to better overall outcomes.”

Yes, those better overall outcomes and higher standards of responsibility for mutual funds were precisely what the bankers wanted to avoid, and exactly what Representative Joe Heck voted against on behalf of the bankers in HR 2374.

Catherine Cortez Masto It doesn’t take too much financial expertise to see which Nevada senatorial seat candidate is taking marching orders from the financial sector.  On one hand we have Joe Heck (R-NV3) who can be counted upon to find fault with the CFPB, the Dodd Frank Act, and efforts to make financial advisors account for their advice; and, on the other we have a former state Attorney General who actually Did something about that not-so-little blip that was the housing market crash/debacle in Nevada:

“2009: Cortez Masto Investigated And Found Broad Problems With The Bank Of America’s Interactions With Imperiled Borrowers. “In a complaint filed Tuesday in United States District Court in Reno, Catherine Cortez Masto, the Nevada attorney general, asked a judge for permission to end Nevada’s participation in the settlement agreement. This would allow her to sue the bank over what the complaint says were dubious practices uncovered by her office in an investigation that began in 2009. […] The breadth of the new Nevada complaint indicates that Bank of America’s problems extend throughout its mortgage operations, including origination, loan servicing and securitization. Nevada officials also found broad problems in the bank’s interactions with imperiled borrowers.” [New York Times, 8/30/11]”  [CCM]

And, there’s more. [here] What Representative Joe Heck was calling a “blip” was in reality the state of a state which led the national foreclosure rate stats for 62 straight months, and a scene in which some 58% of Nevada homeowners in 2011 were “underwater.”  Some blip.  Gee, even Representative Heck was pleased as of February 2012 with the settlement achieved in part by Cortez Masto,“Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said he is ‘happy to see that an agreement was reached. At a time when Nevada families are struggling the most to make ends meet, I have high hopes that this settlement will provide them much needed relief.’ [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 2/9/12]”

There really doesn’t appear to be much question at this point which senatorial candidate is most disposed to protecting the interests of retail investors (or any other kind for that matter), and consumers of financial products (most all of us), and homeowners… we have a choice between the man who wanted to scale back the efforts of the Dodd Frank Act and CFPB and the woman who took on the Big Banks and fraudulent lenders.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Heck, Nevada politics

Wall Street May Not Be The Enemy: It’s the friends we need to watch

“Wall Street” is an extremely elastic catch phrase, useful for politicians of all stripes.  For example, we have Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) reminding us at every possible moment that he “voted against the bail out.” And, we have politicians from the other side of the aisle excoriating the traders for all the ills of modern America.  Both are off the mark.

Wall Street sign

First, beware the thinly veneered populism of Senator Heller.  Yes, he did vote against the bailout – an extremely safe vote at the time – but, NO he hasn’t stopped being the Bankers’ Boy he’s always been.  Let’s remember that while he was offering himself as the Little Guy’s Candidate he was voting on June 30, 2010 to recommit the Dodd-Frank Act to instruct conferees to expand the exemption for commercial businesses using financial derivatives to hedge their risks from the margin requirements in the bill.  Then, on June 30, 2010, he voted against the conference report of the Dodd-Frank Act.  Heller wasn’t finished.

In 2011 he and then Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) introduced S. 712 – a bill to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act.

“What S. 712 does is to (1) repeal measures which require banks to have a plan for orderly liquidation (another word for bankruptcy), (2) repeal requirements that banks keep records of transactions which would need to be transparent in case an “orderly liquidation” is in order, (3) repeal the establishment of an oversight committee to determine when a bank is becoming “too big to fail,” and is endangering the financial system — an early warning system if you will.  The new requirements governing (4) Swaps would also be repealed, along with the (5) Consumer Protection bureau.” [DB 2011]

Few could have been more obviously promoting the interests of Wall Street traders than Heller and DeMint. [DB 2012]  Few could have been more readily apparent in their enthusiasm to protect the financialists from the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act including the Volcker Rule.

Volcker Rule

A word about the Volcker Rule:

“The Volcker Rule included in the Dodd-Frank Act prohibits banks from proprietary trading and restricts investment in hedge funds and private equity by commercial banks and their affiliates. Further, the Act directed the Federal Reserve to impose enhanced prudential requirements on systemically identified non-bank institutions engaged in such activities. Congress did exempt certain permitted activities of banks, their affiliates, and non-bank institutions identified as systemically important, such as market making, hedging, securitization, and underwriting. The Rule also capped bank ownership in hedge funds and private equity funds at three percent. Institutions were given a seven year timeframe to become compliant with the final regulations.” [SIFMA]

Yes, Senator Heller et. al., if the Dodd-Frank Act is repealed then the financialists on Wall Street may go back to gleefully trading all manner of junk in all kinds of packaging with no limits on bank ownership of hedge and private equity funds.  Let’s remind ourselves at this point that capitalism works.  It’s financialism that’s the problem.  Under a capitalist form of finance resources (investments) are moved from areas (funds) with a surplus to areas (businesses) with a scarcity of funds.  Under a financialist system capital (money) is traded for complex financial instruments (paper contracts) the value of which is open to question.  Not to put too fine a point to it, but the “instruments” seems to have whatever value the buyer and seller agree to whether the deal makes any sense or not.  The Dodd-Frank Act doesn’t forbid “financialism” but it does put the brakes on.

Notice, it puts the brakes on, but doesn’t eliminate the old CDOs.  Nor does it prevent the CDO with a new name: The Bespoke Tranche Opportunity.  It works like this:

“The new “bespoke” version of the idea flips that business dynamic around. An investor tells a bank what specific mixture of derivatives bets it wants to make, and the bank builds a customized product with just one tranche that meets the investor’s needs. Like a bespoke suit, the products are tailored to fit precisely, and only one copy is ever produced. The new products are a symptom of the larger phenomenon of banks taking complex risks in pursuit of higher investment returns, Americans for Financial Reform’s Marcus Stanley said in an email, and BTOs “could be automatically exempt” from some Dodd-Frank rules.” [TP]

Zero Hedge summed this up: “This is the synthetic CDO equivalent of a Build-A-Bear Workshop.” We’re told not to worry our pretty little heads about this because, gee whiz, CDOs got a bad reputation during the Big Recession of 2007-2008, when they were just “hedging credit exposure.”  Yes, and ARMs got a bad reputation when they were just putting people in houses… Spare me.

And, we’d think that after the CDO debacle of 2007-2008, some one might have learned something somehow, but instead we get the Bespoke Tranche Opportunity and a big bubble in really really junky bonds.   That would be really really really junky bonds:

“Junk bonds are living up to their name right now. As we have noted in the past, the lowest-rated junk bonds may have inflated a $1 trillion bubble at the bottom of the debt market. The thing is, it never should have gotten that way.” [BusInsider]

Indeed, back in the bad old days no one could issue CCC bonds.  Now, we have Central Banks supporting Zombie Companies, low yield Treasuries making investors look to more “speculative” debt, and more demand for high yields meant that purveyors of Junk found a market for their garbage. [BusInsider] And, of course, someone out there is hedging all this mess.

Lemmings Here we meet the second problem with financial regulation in this great country.  Not only would the Bankers’ Boys like Senator Heller like to go back to the days of Deregulation, but the Financialists are hell bent on Yield! High Yield!  Even if this means supporting Zombie Companies which should probably just die already; even if this means allowing the sale of Bespoke Tranche Opportunities; and, even if this means selling bonds no one would touch only a few years ago.  The quarterly earnings report demands higher yields (As in: What Have You Done For Me In 90 Days Or Less) and investors jump like lemmings off the cliff.

We’ll probably keep doing this until someone figures out that in these schemes the chances are pretty good that “getting rich fast” more often means going broke even faster.  Thus the financialists package Bespoke Opportunities and C (for Crappy) Bonds.

Said it before, and will say it again:’  What needs to be done is —

  • Continuing to restrict the activity of bankers who want to securitize mortgages, under the terms of existing banking laws and regulations.
  • Continued implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act.

To which we should add, “restrict the creation and sale of artificial “investment” paper products which add nothing to the real economy of this country, and instead soaks up investment funds, and creates Bubbles rather than growth.

 

Read more atSIFMA, “Volcker Rule Resource Center, Overview.” Desert Beacon, “Deregulation Debacle,” 2012.  Desert Beacon, “Full Tilt Boogie,” 2011.  Think Progress, “High Risk Investments,” 2015.  Zero Hedge, “The Bubble is Complete,” 2015.  Bustle, “Is the ‘Big Short’ Right?, 2016.  Bloomberg News, “Goldman Sachs Hawks CDOs,” 2015.  Huffington Post, “Big Short, Big Wake Up Call,” 2016.  Market Mogul, “BTO, Deja Vu” 2016.  Business Insider, “Trillion Dollar Bubble,” 2016.  Business Insider, “Bubble Ready to Burst,” 2016.  Seeking Alpha, “OK, I get it, the junk bond miracle rally is doomed,” 2016.  Wolfstreet, “CCC rated junk bonds blow past Lehman moment,” 2016.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Nevada politics, Politics

Nevada’s Good News, Bad News Economy: Housing, Wages, and Woes

Nevada’s home foreclosure rate is still not a pretty picture.   The state still exceeds the national average.  This is not an argument to slather on the Doom and Gloom economic message with a trowel, but it is a cautionary item in the prolonged narrative of the effect of the housing bubble, and the continued pressure from low wage employment.

Nevada Foreclosure 4 2016One in every 702 properties is in some phase of foreclosure, with one in every 373 in Lyon County, one in every 448 in Nye County, one in every 468 in Churchill County, one in every 643 in Clark County, and one in every 657 in Elko County. [RealtyTrac]  Dismal as this may seem, it does represent an improvement over Nevada’s record breaking performance in 2008-2010. [LVSun] At the end of 2010 Las Vegas saw one in every 9 home receiving some form of default notice. [moneyCNN]

The good news:

“The December surge in foreclosure starts is not a cause for concern, as it comes from a previously existing supply of distressed properties,” said Andres Carbacho-Burgos, Senior Economist at Moody’s Analytics, which analyzes RealtyTrac foreclosure data to forecast foreclosure trends. “The national pool of distressed mortgages has not increased despite the surge in foreclosure filings.” [RealtyTrac]

The astounding appetite of the Wall Street Casino for a supply of home mortgages to slice, dice, tranche, and securitize seems to have mellowed given that the “national pool of distressed mortgages” (of which Nevada contributed more than its share?) hasn’t increased.  National foreclosure statistics illustrate an effort to “clean up” previous backlogs.  So, if housing isn’t the big downer, what might be?

The Not So Good News: Nevada’s wage growth from 2007 to 2012 was a –6.5%.  Yes, that’s a minus sign in front of the percentage.  This is not the sort of chart that warms the hearth:

Nevada wage growth 2012 In short, whatever general wage growth there was between 2002 and 2008 was given back in the wake of the housing bubble collapse. The average weekly earnings of $835 in 2002 dribbled down to the average weekly earnings of $840 in 2012, a $5 increase in five years isn’t much to applaud.

There’s a bit  better news for 2016.  Weekly wages in the 3rd quarter of 2015 were $860, compared to the $840 of a year ago, up 2.6%. [NWF pdf] Even better, the unemployment rate in Nevada is now reported at 5.8%, a significant improvement over the +/- 14% we were looking at during the Recession. [NWF]  And now, another note of caution.  The greatest demand for employees in the state is for wait staff (2,229 openings), retail salespersons (2,113 openings), combined food prep including fast food (1,793 openings), and cashiers (1,420 openings) [NWF pdf] 

More food for thought:  Only two of the jobs listed with more than 500 potential openings offer wages or salaries above the median income in Nevada.  General and Operations Managers (571) has an annual average wage of $104,832, and Registered Nurses (608) can expect an average about $78,811. By contrast, wait staff averages $22,277, retail salespersons about $27,040, food prep about $19,781, and cooks $27,456. [NWF pdf]

Not to put too fine a point to it, but the occupations most in demand in Nevada aren’t the ones which will do much to improve either the housing market or the actual level of wage growth.

Nevada’s current $8.25/$7.25 minimum wage is not helping the situation.  A informative graphic in the Las Vegas Sun illustrates that a studio apartment rental in Clark County is affordable for someone working full time at $12.12 per hour, 1 bedroom requires $15.13, a 2 bedroom $18.63, a 3 bedroom unit $27.46, and 4 bedrooms $32,60.  Want a 2 bedroom apartment in Clark County? It requires 2.25 jobs at $8.25 per hour.

One of the least helpful suggestions made to the last version of the Nevada legislature came from Senator Joe Hardy (R- Boulder City) who offered the following resolution:

The resolution would repeal a constitutional amendment approved by Nevada voters in 2006 setting a standard minimum wage. Hardy said he would also propose legislation giving the Legislature the power to control the state’s minimum wage and tie the wage to the Consumer Price Index. [LVSun]

Republicans offered up a proposal for $9.00 per hour, still well short of what it would take a minimum wage worker to afford a studio apartment. Democrats proposed a $16/$15 minimum wage – which would just about get someone into a single bedroom rental unit.  Hardy’s proposal went nowhere, as did the other two offerings.

Meanwhile, the income inequality gap increased in the state.

“The states in which all income growth between 2009 and 2012 accrued to the top 1 percent include Delaware, Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington, Louisiana, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Massachusetts, Colorado, New York, Rhode Island, and Nevada.” [EPI]

If there were ever a way to insure that an economy based on consumer demand could stagnate, then it surely must be related to the incongruous notion that if a few rich people get richer then everyone will be better off. Let me suggest a re-reading of the old classic, “Where Are The Customer’s Yachts?

Let me also suggest a review of the Department of Labor’s myth-busting publication on the effects of raising the federal minimum wage.  Conservative sites have their own “myth-busting” reports but their conclusions are highly questionable, and just as highly generalized,  and none effectively challenges the research from Kruger and Card which demonstrates that there’s nothing “job killing” about increasing minimum wages. [HuffPo]

Nevada’s economy could be improved by:

  • Increasing the state’s minimum wage to at least $13.00 per hour.
  • Continuing to restrict the activity of bankers who want to securitize mortgages, under the terms of existing banking laws and regulations.
  • Continued implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act.

Nevada’s politicians might be improved by asking some pointed questions:

  • Do you support an increase in the State’s minimum wage to $13.00 per hour?
  • Do you support the continued implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Nevada politics

Break Up The Bank Bandwagon, or how to be unhelpful?

Break Up Big Banks bandwagon  Much of the debate on the Democratic Party side of the primary silly season is related to Wall Street – easy to demonize, more difficult to understand, and altogether more complicated than  sound-byte sized portions of political coverage will allow.  In other words, H.L. Mencken was probably right: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  Let’s start with the proposition that our economic issues can be resolved by breaking up the large banks.

Yes, 2007-2008 still stings. The Wall Street Casino that created financial market chaos was especially harmful in Nevada, one of the “sand states” in which the real estate bubble was augmented by avarice and the Wall Street appetite for securitization of highly questionable mortgage lending products, and practices.  Certainly, the call to break up the big banks resonates with a significant portion of the national as well as the Nevada population.   However, this “clear and simple” solution may not be the panacea on anybody’s  horizon.  Here’s why:

From a consumer’s prospective, big is not always “badder.”  I, for one, like the idea that my debit card is accepted in convenient locations throughout the country.  I’m technologically challenged so I don’t avail myself of many advances in remote deposits, and other mobile banking services, but I sympathize with those who do.  I also like making my primary banking decisions for myself, and I’m not – as a consumer/customer – particularly happy about the prospect of being dropped by my bank because it is “too big”, i.e. it has too many customers.   And, here we come to a second issue.

How do we define “big” and “too big?”  If we are defining “big” in terms of the amount of deposits then JPMorganChase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and USBankcorp  (the top five in total deposits) are targets for the break up.  Thus, if we “break up” any or all of these five based on the “size” – either the total assets or the total value of deposits – then how many customers must deal with the transition costs of moving their bank accounts?

Do we mean breaking up as in reinstituting the old Glass Steagall Act, and separating commercial and investment banking?  This action wouldn’t limit the banks based on assets or deposit values, but instead would constrict their banking activities.  This has some appeal, perhaps more so than just whacking up banks based on the size of their assets and deposits, but this, too, opens some questions.

One set of questions revolve around what we mean by “banking services?”  For example, if a person has an account with Fidelity investments, and one of the services associated with that account is a debit card or a credit card, then does this constitute a “bank-like” service?   There are banks offering brokerage accounts, and insurance services – reinstating the provisions of Glass Steagall would mean a customer would have to give up some services to retain others – or perhaps be dropped as the financial institution made its decision as to the camp it was joining – the commercial or the investment one.  If a person likes the idea of consolidating investment and commercial services, and doesn’t – for one example – have much if any need for things like certified checks, then an investment account with some “bank like” services could be the best option. For others, who like the idea of a “life-line” bank and the notion that some other ancillary services may come with it, then the traditional route would be more enticing.  However much a person may like the sound of “bring back Glass Steagall” there are situations in which this would mean some significant inconvenience and costs for customers and clients.

Another point which ought to be made is that all too often Glass Steagall and the Volcker Rule get mashed together as if they meant the same thing, or something close to it.   Let’s assume for the sake of this piece that what we all really want is a banking system which does not turn deceptive practices into major revenue streams, and which doesn’t allow banks to use deposits to play in the Wall Street Casino.

If this is the case, then it might well do to let the Dodd Frank Act have a chance at more success.  For all the political palaver about this 2010 act, it has been successful.  As Seeking Alpha explains:

“Dodd-Frank did several things that promoted the culture change and reduced the likelihood that a large American bank will fail: (1) annual stress tests that forced a focus on risk management not only among risk managers but at every level of the bank; (2) establishment of the Consumer Finance Protection Board (CFPB), which has primary responsibility for consumer protection in the financial field without the conflicts of interests naturally experience by the banking regulators; (3) the Volcker Rule that removed proprietary trading from bank holding companies, thereby facilitating the cultural reform that I referred to above, and reducing the level of risk in banks’ assets; (4) enhanced capital requirements for large banks, which addressed the major weakness that permitted mortgage losses to turn into a financial debacle in 2008; and (5) living will requirements for large banks, which while perhaps unnecessary, are having the salutary effects of increasing liquidity in stressful situations and decreasing organizational complexity and thereby making big banks more possible to manage.”

In short, if the object is to make banks safer, better managed, and less likely to get themselves into the liquidity swamps of the pre-Dodd Frank era, then the act does, in fact, make the grade.   Those who would like a return to the bad old days, when banks could wheel, deal, and deceive, will find solace in the slogans of many Republican politicians calling for the repeal of the Dodd Frank Act.

Yet another set of questions relate to what breaking up the banks is supposed to accomplish; or to accomplish beyond Dodd Frank.  It’s easy to say that if a bank is too big to fail it is too big to exist. However, we still haven’t dealt with exactly what it means to be “too big.”  Like it or not, we do have a global economy.   Let’s take one example: “Global businesses want global banks. This makes intuitive sense for companies that manufacture, distribute, and sell products globally. 3M, for example, derives a majority of its sales from outside the United States, operates in more than 70 different countries, and sells products in over 200 countries.” [Brookings]

What does 3M do? Operate through a system of regional banks? (and increase costs)  Or, does 3m start using a foreign bank?  What does this do to American market share in global banking? And, we’re not just talking about 3m, what about Intel (82.4% sales overseas), Apple (62.3% sales overseas), General Electric (about 52% sales overseas in Africa, Asia, and Europe), Boeing (58.3% sales overseas), and Johnson & Johnson (53.2% sales in Europe)?  [AmMUSAToday]

At the risk of sounding too nuanced for blog posts of a political bent, I’d offer that the Break Up The Banks bandwagon has been on the road long enough, and has been a distraction from issues that have cost the American middle class (and those trying to achieve that level of financial security) dearly in the last 40 years.

Breaking up the big banks will not assist in the organization of American workers so that the power of the owners is balanced by the power of the workers.   What we DO need are government policies which support the unionization of employees. Policies which increase the minimum wage. Policies which improve wages and working conditions. And, policies which make education and training affordable.

Breaking up the big banks will not assist in establishing fair trade with the rest of the world. What we DO need are policies which promote the interests of American manufacturing, by American workers, in American plants.  We need policies which affirm our support for environmental responsibility.  We need policies implemented which promote modern technology and modern energy sources; with American ingenuity and labor.

Breaking up the big banks will not reform a financial system which too often rewards its components for short term gambling as contrasted with long term financial vision.  It will not replace the transformed and corrupted Shareholder Theory of Value among managers.  What we DO need is a system which rewards investment and replaces the fantasy of “Trickle Down” economics.

Perhaps it’s time to find a new bandwagon?  One that’s going in the desired direction, and not merely headed toward a successful election day performance?

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Filed under banking, Economy, financial regulation