31 January 2010

The First Year of Obama's Failed Economic Policies: The Worst May Yet Be Avoided

"The banks must be restrained, the financial system reformed, and balance restored to the economy before there can be any sustained recovery."

We have been saying this for some time. The report below from Neil Barofsky says essentially the same thing.
"Even if TARP saved our financial system from driving off a cliff back in 2008, absent meaningful reform, we are still driving on the same winding mountain road, but this time in a faster car," Barofsky wrote.

The US is heading towards a double dip recession, and the next leg down may be more fundamentally damaging than before.

The reason for the decline will be the abject failure of the Obama Administration to address the roots of the problem, instead wasting trillions to prop up a banking system that is a useless distortion.

Worse than useless really, because it actually presents a huge negative influence by stifling the recovery, channeling funds to the crony capitalists and non-producing wealth extraction sector, who tax the people like feudal lords under license of a corrupt government.

So far, Obama has failed the people, but preserved the banks. A source of his failure has been his weakness in listening to Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, the Rubin-Clinton wing of Democrats, who have well established their incompetence and inability to act at a level suitable to their positions. They are captive to special interests, locked into the ways of thinking that brought the world to the point of crisis.

In response to the next leg down, Bernanke will monetize debt at an even more furious and clever pace, perhaps in alliance with the Bank of England and Bank of Japan. The ECB resists, and all who balk will be chastised by the monied powers and their demimonde, the ratings agencies and global banks. This is modern warfare of a sort.

We do not expect the corruption of the world's reserves to be so blatant that the inflation will immediately appear, except in more subtle manner. At some point it may explode, especially if Ben is particularly good at concealing its subtle growth.

Monetary inflation is the growth of the money supply in excess of the demands of the real economy, not nominal growth of the supply. The US has been shifting its growth into the reserves of other central banks for the past twenty years or so, and those eurodollar present an overhang that will egulf the Treasury should they come home to roost too quickly. The great nations see the US problem, most surely. The question is how to handle it, gracefully, since the US is still the world's sole superpower, and given to covert pre-emptive action when it feels threatened.

It is not a pretty picture. We had high hopes for Obama, because he was capable of rising to the challenge. He had the backing of his people. And he is choosing failure, for whatever reason. That is certainly is the template of a modern tragedy.
“Given the same amount of intelligence, timidity will do a thousand times more damage than audacity.” Karl von Clausewitz

Watchdog: Bailouts created more risk in system

AP Business Writers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government's response to the financial meltdown has made it more likely the United States will face a deeper crisis in the future, an independent watchdog at the Treasury Department warned.

The problems that led to the last crisis have not yet been addressed, and in some cases have grown worse, says Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the trouble asset relief program, or TARP. The quarterly report to Congress was released Sunday.

"Even if TARP saved our financial system from driving off a cliff back in 2008, absent meaningful reform, we are still driving on the same winding mountain road, but this time in a faster car," Barofsky wrote.

Since Congress passed $700 billion financial bailout, the remaining institutions considered "too big to fail" have grown larger and failed to restrain the lavish pay for their executives, Barofsky wrote. He said the banks still have an incentive to take on risk because they know the government will save them rather than bring down the financial system.

Barofsky also said his office is investigating 77 cases of possible criminal and civil fraud, including crimes of tax evasion, insider trading, mortgage lending and payment collection, false statements and public corruption.

One case concerns apparent self-dealing by one of the private fund managers Treasury picked to buy bad assets from banks at discounted prices. A portfolio manager at the firm apparently sold a bond out of a private fund, then repurchased it at a higher price for a government-backed fund. A rating agency had just downgraded the bond, so it likely was worth less, not more, when the government fund bought it. The company is not being named pending the outcome of Barofsky's investigation.

Barofsky renewed a call for Treasury to enact clearer walls so that such apparent conflicts are less likely.

Treasury said it welcomed Barofsky's oversight but resisted the call to erect new barriers against conflicts of interest. The new rules "would be detrimental to the program," Treasury spokeswoman Meg Reilly said in a statement. The existing compliance rules "are a rigorous and effective method of protecting taxpayers," she said.

Much of Barofsky's report focused on the government's growing role in the housing market, which he said has increased the risk of another housing bubble.

Over the past year, the federal government has spent hundreds of billions propping up the housing market. About 90 percent of home loans are backed by government controlled entities, mainly Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration.

The Federal Reserve is spending $1.25 trillion to hold down mortgage rates, and millions of homeowners have refinanced at lower rates.

"The government has stepped in where the private players have gone away," Barofsky said in an interview. "If we take government resources and replace that market without addressing the serious (underlying) concerns, there really is a risk of" artificially pushing up home prices in the coming years.

The report warned that these supports mean the government "has done more than simply support the mortgage market, in many ways it has become the mortgage market, with the taxpayer shouldering the risk that had once been borne by the private investor."

Barofsky's report echoed concerns raised by housing experts in recent months, as home sales and prices rebounded. They warn that the primary reason for the turnaround last year has been billions of dollars in federal spending to lower mortgage rates and prop up demand.

Once that spigot of cash is turned off, they caution, the market will be vulnerable to a dramatic turn for the worse. Daniel Alpert, managing partner of investment bank Westwood Capital, wrote in a report that national home prices are bound to fall 8 to 10 percent below the lows of last spring.

"The lion's share of the remaining decline will occur in markets that saw sizable bubbles but have not yet retrenched," he wrote.

Officials from the Obama administration counter that massive federal intervention has helped the housing market stabilize and prevented more dire consequences.

Barofsky's report also disclosed that, while the Obama administration has pledged to spend $75 billion to prevent foreclosures, only a tiny fraction - just over $15 million - has been spent so far. Under the Making Home Affordable program, only about 66,500 borrowers, or 7 percent of those who signed up, had completed the process as of December.

He said the key to preventing future crises is to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, create and improve loan underwriting and supervision of banks. He stopped short of endorsing specific proposals for overhauling financial regulation, but said many of the proposals would go far to improving the system.