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Global Financial and Economic Crises

Project: Global Financial and Economic Crisis 2007-Present
Open-Content project managed by KJF, mtuck

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State-owned British bank Northern Rock announces bigger-than-expected losses of £585.4 million (about $1.170 billion) for the first six months of the year. Much of the loss comes from the charges it takes to cover losses from struggling mortgage borrowers. However, it also managed to repay £9.4 billion (about $18.8 billion) of the emergency loan it had accepted from the Bank of England, reducing the amount owed to £17.5 billion (about $35 billion). The British government announces it will inject £3 billion (about $6 billion) to help the bank. [BBC, 8/5/2008]

Entity Tags: Northern Rock plc

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Northern Rock, Britain, Failing Companies

The stock price of troubled insurer AIG falls 18 percent, closing at $23.84, following the announcement of a third straight quarterly loss the previous day (see April-June 2008). This is the largest fall since the company’s 1969 initial public offering, although this record will be broken next month (see September 9, 2008). In addition, Chief Executive Officer Robert Willumstad refuses to rule out raising more capital to supplement the $112.2 billion AIG held as of June 30. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Robert Willumstad, AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

Talks between Lehman Brothers and the Korea Development Bank end. The Koreans had been thinking about investing in the bank, enabling it to raise needed capital. However, they decide not to go through with the investment. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008] Lehman Brothers files for liquidation five days later (see September 14, 2008).

Entity Tags: Lehman Brothers, Korea Development Bank

Category Tags: Failing Companies, Western Purchases by Asians, USA

Shares in the insurance giant AIG fall 19 percent to $18.37. This is the company’s worst day of trading ever, beating the previous record set only a few weeks ago (see August 7, 2008). [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008; Bloomberg, 3/5/2009] The fall is caused by the news that the Korea Development Bank has backed away from a deal to purchase the ailing bank Lehman Brothers (see September 9, 2008), as this causes investors to become nervous about AIG’s ability to raise capital. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

The XL Leisure Group, the third largest package holiday company in Britain, collapses and goes into administration. The company attributes the failure to volatile jet fuel prices, which had increased by over US$80 million year-on-year, the economic downturn, and its inability to acquire new funding. The group had 21 aircraft and transported 2.3 million passengers in 2007. The failure leaves 1,700 staff looking for new jobs and around ninety thousand British tourists stranded abroad, only some of whom are insured for return flights. Two of the group’s subsidiaries, in France and Germany, are saved from collapse by a late sale to Straumur Investment Bank, which intends to keep them running. [BBC, 9/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Straumur Investment Bank, XL Leisure Group

Category Tags: Failing Companies, Britain

Bank of America concludes an agreement to buy the troubled financial services company Merrill Lynch. Bank of America will pay Merrill Lynch’s shareholders in shares, offering stock worth $29 per one share in Merrill Lynch, which is 70 percent more than Merrill Lynch’s current market price. The sale follows a 68 percent decline in Merrill Lynch’s share price during the year amid writedowns and credit losses of $52bn. [Agency France-Presse, 9/15/2008; Bloomberg, 9/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Bank of America, Merrill Lynch

Category Tags: Other, USA

Lehman Brothers, the fourth largest investment bank in the US, files for liquidation after huge losses in the mortgage market, a crippling loss of investor confidence, and its inability to find a buyer. Lehman’s collapse began as the mortgage market crisis unfolded in summer 2007, when its stock began a steady fall from a peak of $82 a share. Fears were based on the fact that the firm was a major player in the market for subprime and prime mortgages, and that as the smallest of the major Wall Street firms, it faced a larger risk that large losses could be fatal. As its crisis deepened in 2007 and early 2008, the investment bank defied expectations more than once, as it had many times before, such as in 1998, when it teetered after a worldwide currency crisis, only to strongly rebound. Lehman managed to avoid the fate of fellow investment bank Bear Stearns, which was bought by JP Morgan Chase at a bargain basement price under the threat of bankruptcy in March 2008 (see March 15, 2008). By summer, however, Lehman’s roller-coaster ride began to have more downs than ups. A series of write-offs accompanied new offerings to seek capital to bolster its finances. [New York Times, 9/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA

The share price in the insurance giant AIG collapses to $4.76 amid fears over the company’s credit rating, which is subsequently cut by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. This means that the company needs additional capital, and it is given permission by New York State to access $20 billion in its subsidiaries. In addition, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase work to prepare a potential $75 billion lifeline. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008; Bloomberg, 3/5/2009] However, this is not enough, and the US government will be forced to seize control of AIG the next day (see September 16, 2008).

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.), Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

US taxpayers express their lack of support of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP—see October 3, 2008) bailout bill to members of Congress, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and the Senate and House budget committee chairs—Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Barney Frank (D-NY), respectively—with phone calls, emails, and faxes, initially rallying the power and the numbers to defeat the bill that some call “a historic swindle.” [The Nation, 9/19/2008] According to the Congressional Quarterly, “[Senator Lindsey] Graham (R-FL) said that the deluge of public e-mails and telephone calls was comparable to several of the most contentious issues of the last decade.” Graham adds: “It’s somewhere between impeachment and immigration.… This is intense, but I’ve seen worse.” [Congressional Quarterly, 9/28/2008]

Entity Tags: Harry Reid, Lindsey Graham, Nancy Pelosi, Troubled Asset Relief Program, Barney Frank, Christopher Dodd

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, USA

AIG logo.AIG logo. [Source: American International Group (AIG)]In an historic move, the federal government bails out insurance corporation AIG with an $85 billion loan, giving control of the firm to the US government. After resisting AIG’s overtures for an emergency loan or other intervention to prevent the insurer from falling into bankruptcy, the government decided AIG, like the now-defunct investment bank, Bear Stearns, was “too big to fail” (see March 15, 2008). The US government will lend up to $85 billion to AIG. In return, the government gets a 79.9 percent equity stake in warrants, called equity participation notes. The two-year loan will carry a LIBOR interest rate plus 8.5 percentage points. LIBOR, the London InterBank Offered Rate, is a common short-term lending benchmark. The bailout comes less than a week after the government allowed a large investment bank, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., to fold (see September 14, 2008). As part of the loan agreement, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson insists that AIG’s chief executive, Robert Willumstad, steps aside. Willumstad will be succeeded by Edward Liddy, the former head of insurer Allstate Corp (see September 18, 2008). [Wall Street Journal, 9/16/2008] Shares in AIG drop to $3.75 on the news. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Henry Paulson, AIG (American International Group, Inc.), Edward Liddy, Robert Willumstad, US Federal Reserve

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Failing Companies, USA, AIG

The insurance corporation AIG, which was recently bailed out by the US government (see September 16, 2008), makes $18.7 billion in payments to other world banks. The payments are related to credit default swaps, and are made in the three weeks after the bailout to institutions such as Goldman Sachs and Société Générale. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Société Générale, Goldman Sachs, AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

September 18, 2008: AIG Boss Replaced Again

Edward Liddy is approved by the board of insurance giant AIG as its chief executive officer. Liddy replaces former boss Robert Willumstad, who had only been in the job for a few months (see June 15, 2008). [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009; Reuters, 4/17/2009] Liddy tells employees he intends to repay a two-year Federal Reserve loan that recently bailed the company out (see September 16, 2008) sooner than scheduled. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.), Edward Liddy, Robert Willumstad

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

Mohammed bin Khalifa al-Thani, a member of the royal family of Qatar, pays $280.4 million for a 5% stake in the Icelandic Kaupthing Bank (see February 22, 2008). The bank’s shares have been falling on Iceland’s stock exchange, down 57% in the last twelve months, and the bank has been buying them back itself in an attempt to boost its stock price. The purchase makes al-Thani the third largest shareholder in the bank. [Forbes, 9/22/2008] Seventeen days later, the bank will be on the verge of collapse and will be seized by the government of Iceland. [Reuters, 10/9/2008]

Entity Tags: Kaupthing Bank, Mohammed bin Khalifa al-Thani

Category Tags: Western Purchases by Asians, Iceland

The government of Iceland takes a 75 percent stake in the country’s third-largest bank, Glitnir, after the bank runs into short-term funding problems. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Glitnir

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Iceland

The recently bailed-out insurance company AIG makes the largest quarterly loss ever in the history of business. The $61.7 billion loss follows four other extremely high losses and is more than double what the insurer lost in the previous quarter (see October-December 2007, January-March 2008, April-June 2008, and July-September 2008). The result will be announced in March 2009 (see March 2, 2009). [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009; Reuters, 4/17/2009]

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

China’s economic growth slumps to 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, down from 9 percent in the third quarter. The decline is due to the global financial crisis, but is close to market expectations of 7 percent. The National Bureau of Statistics comments, “The international financial crisis is deepening and spreading with continuing negative impacts on the domestic economy.” This means that China’s annual economic growth is only 9 percent, the lowest level for seven years. In the previous five years annual growth had been over 10 percent, making China the third-largest economy in the world. Following the release of the figures in early 2009, many economists, especially those at Western banks, believe China will expand by no more than 5-6 percent in 2009, which would be the weakest performance since 1990. “We expect growth of 6.0 percent for 2009 as a whole, with risks still skewed to the downside,” Royal Bank of Canada says in a commentary. Others agree the economy will remain weak in the first half but think Beijing will hit its target of 8 percent growth for all of 2009 as November’s 4 trillion yuan ($585 billion) stimulus package and much easier monetary policy kick in. “The government has realized the fact that the economy is declining and regards the 8 percent target as a political task. Therefore, I think we can achieve the goal,” says Jin Yanshi, chief economist at Sinolink Securities in Shanghai. [Reuters, 1/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Jin Yanshi, Royal Bank of Canada

Category Tags: Other

Edward Liddy, the recently installed chief executive officer of troubled insurer AIG, says the company soon plans to repay the bailout loan it received from the US Federal Reserve (see September 16, 2008). To do this, it intends to sell life insurance operations in the United States, Europe, Latin America, South Asia, and Japan. Liddy says AIG has been contacted by “numerous” potential bidders, adding, “The values that we will receive from the assets we intend to dispose will be more than enough to repay the Fed facility.” [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009; Reuters, 4/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Edward Liddy, AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

House of Representatives bill 1424, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), passes by a slim margin in both Congressional houses, and is immediately signed into law by President Bush. [White House, 10/3/2008]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Troubled Asset Relief Program

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, USA

The government of Iceland offers an unlimited guarantee for all savers in local banks. In addition, Iceland’s parliament passes emergency legislation enabling the government to intervene extensively in Iceland’s financial system. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Iceland

Trading in Iceland’s six biggest financial shares is suspended on the OMX Nordic Exchange Iceland. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: OMX Nordic Exchange Iceland

Category Tags: Other, Iceland

The government of Iceland takes control of the country’s second and third largest banks, Landsbanki and Glitnir; it already had a majority in Glitnir (see September 29, 2008). The financial crisis hit Icelandic banks so severely because they owe relatively more money than banks in other countries. When the crisis starts in earnest, they owe around six times the country’s total gross domestic product. Therefore, when the world’s credit markets dry up, they are unable to refinance their loans. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Landsbanki, Glitnir

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Iceland

October 8, 2008: Size of AIG Bailout Increased

The troubled insurer AIG, which was recently bailed out by the US government (see September 16, 2008), is given more money. In the additional bailout, the government enables AIG to borrow an extra $37.8 billion, on top of the originally provided $85 billion. This addition is provided after customers pull out of AIG’s securities-lending program. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Failing Companies, USA, AIG

Following the seizure of two Icelandic banks by that country’s government (see October 7, 2008), the British government invokes anti-terrorism legislation to seize Icelandic assets in Britain. Iceland’s Prime Minister Geir Haarde criticizes Britain, saying he is upset and shocked that it has used “hostile” anti-terrorism legislation to freeze Icelandic banks’ assets. However, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemns Iceland’s handling of the collapse of its banks and its failure to guarantee British savers’ deposits. He says Iceland’s policies are “effectively illegal” and “completely unacceptable.” Iceland will later threaten legal action against Britain. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Gordon Brown, Geir Haarde

Category Tags: Other, Britain, Iceland

Iceland’s government takes control of the country’s biggest bank, Kaupthing. This follows a decision by the British government to invoke anti-terrorism legislation to freeze Icelandic assets in Britain (see October 8, 2008). [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Kaupthing Bank

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Iceland

October 10, 2008: AIG Criticized over Spending

The insurance giant AIG, which was recently bailed out by the US government (see September 16, 2008), is criticized over post-bailout spending, on news it spent $200,000 on hotel rooms and $23,000 on spa services after it got the government loan. In addition, AIG says that, as of two days previously, it had borrowed $70.3 billion from the government. [Reuters, 4/17/2009]

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

Samuel Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. ‘Joe the Plumber.’Samuel Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. ‘Joe the Plumber.’ [Source: Orlando Sun-Sentinel]Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ)‘s running mate, Sarah Palin (R-AK), accuses Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) of advocating socialism as an economic plan. “[N]ow is no time to experiment with socialism,” Palin says, referring to Obama’s proposal to offer tax credits to those paying no income taxes. Palin echoes comments made by Pennsylvania resident Samuel Wurzelbacher, known to the media as “Joe the Plumber,” in which he said Obama’s tax plan sounded like socialism to him. Palin tells a crowd in New Mexico: “Senator Obama said he wants to quote ‘spread the wealth.’ What that means is he wants government to take your money and dole it out however a politician sees fit.” Referring to a man in the crowd holding up a sign identifying himself as “Ed the Dairy Man,” Palin adds, “But Joe the Plumber and Ed the Dairy Man, I believe that they think that it sounds more like socialism.” She continues: “Friends, now is no time to experiment with socialism. To me, our opponent plans sounds more like big government, which is the problem. Bigger government is not the solution.” She calls Obama’s tax plan “a government giveaway,” and says the plan will raise taxes on those who already pay taxes: “He claims that he’ll cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans, but the problem is, more than 40 percent of Americans pay no income taxes at all,” she says. “Since he can’t reduce taxes on those who pay zero, he wants the government to send them a check that’s called a tax credit. And where is he gonna get the money for all those checks that he will cut? By raising taxes on America’s hard-working families and our small businesses.” Later, at an airport in Colorado Springs, Palin tells a reporter, “There are socialist principles to [Obama’s tax plans], yes.” She continues, “Taking more from a small business or small business owners or from a hard-working families and then redistributing that money according to a politician’s priorities—there are hints of socialism in there and that’s why I don’t fault or discredit Joe the Plumber for bringing that up, asking if that is socialism.” Palin says that the $700 billion White House bailout of failing banks and other financial institutions is not socialism: “I believe that there are those measures that had to be taken by Congress to shore up not only the housing market but the credit markets, also to make sure that that’s not frozen, so that our small businesses have opportunities to borrow and that was the purpose, of course, of that part of the bailout and the shoring of the banks.” [ABC News, 10/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Samuel Wurzelbacher, Sarah Palin, John McCain

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

Category Tags: USA, Commentaries and Criticisms, Obama Policies and Actions

The Central Bank of Iceland cuts the country’s interest rate by 3.5 percent to 12 percent. Interest rates had previously been at a record high of 15.5 percent. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Bank of Iceland

Category Tags: Iceland

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says he is investigating what he calls “unwarranted and outrageous” spending by insurance giant AIG, which was recently bailed out by the US government (see September 16, 2008). Cuomo says he is seeking a full accounting of bonuses, stock options, and other perks. He wants AIG to either recover or rescind the payments. [Reuters, 4/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Andrew Cuomo, AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

John Fund.John Fund. [Source: Rightsideva]Fox News runs an interview with right-wing journalist and Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund, author of the book Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, in which Fund claims that ACORN was “at the heart of the subprime mortgage crisis,” and is planning to “overload the election system, to make it so there’s such chaos at the polls that they can bring a lot of voters there.” He also calls Barack Obama “radical” and suggests that he is working in concert with ACORN on a hidden agenda to expand government and “dramatically change American society,” in ways he does not specify. On the Fox website the video is posted under the headline, “Author of book on voter fraud explains how ACORN’s actions are detrimental to Democracy.” [Fox News, 10/19/2008]

Entity Tags: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, John Fund, Barack Obama, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Commentaries and Criticisms

October 20, 2008: New Banks Formed in Iceland

Iceland’s financial authorities formally announce the establishment of new Glitnir, Landsbanki, and Kaupthing banks. The old banks were taken over by the government two weeks previously as their condition had deteriorated due to the global credit crisis (see October 7, 2008 and October 8, 2008). [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Glitnir, Landsbanki, Kaupthing Bank

Category Tags: Other, Iceland

Edward Liddy, chief executive officer of the recently bailed-out insurance corporation AIG (see September 16, 2008), says that the $122.8 billion already offered by the government “may not be enough” to stabilize the company. The size of the bailout and favorability of the terms will be increased the next month (see November 10, 2008). [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Edward Liddy, AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

The Central Bank of Iceland raises its key interest rate to 18 percent from 12 percent due to problems in the country’s banking system. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Bank of Iceland

Category Tags: Other, Iceland

The US’s two most popular conservative radio hosts, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, are repeatedly labeling the current economic collapse the “Obama recession,” even though the recession has started already, and President-elect Barack Obama was only elected on November 4 and will not assume the presidency until January 20, 2009.
Blaming Obama for Wall Street Plunge - According to reports by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Hannity’s guest Dick Morris, a conservative political operative, tells a Fox News audience on November 6 that the stock market plunge is directly attributable to Obama’s election and his intention to “raise the capital gains tax.” Hannity calls the stock market plunge “the Obama tanking.” On the same day, Limbaugh says on his show: “We have the largest market plunge after an election in history. Thank you, man-child Barack Obama.” [Media Matters, 11/7/2008] Hannity says on November 11 that Obama’s election is directly responsible for plunging stock market performances, telling his listeners: “Wall Street keeps sinking. Could it be the Obama recession: The fear that taxes are gonna go up, forcing people to pull out of the market?” On November 12, Limbaugh echoes Hannity’s characterization, telling his listeners that, as reported by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, “the recession isn’t President Bush’s fault. It’s the fault, catch this, of the president who hasn’t yet taken office. It’s an ‘Obama recession’; that’s what he’s calling it.” Matthews, clearly impatient with Limbaugh’s characterization, calls the host’s statement an example of “the bitter sore loser’s rhetoric we are hearing from the right these days.” [Media Matters, 11/12/2008]
Experts Credit Obama with Wall Street Stabilization - Experts refute Limbaugh’s and Hannity’s attribution of the nation’s economic calamity to Obama, with the Wall Street Journal giving Obama credit for a post-election upturn in the stock market and blaming “lame economic data” and the continuing “drumbeat of bailouts, potential bailouts, and worries about other bailouts” for the stock market’s poor performance. [Wall Street Journal, 11/12/2008] Fox News business commentator Eric Bolling credits Obama’s election with stabilizing the stock market until a dismal national employment report caused the market to drop again. And Fox Business Channel’s vice president, Alexis Glick, tells her audience on November 7: “I so did not believe that the market reaction over the past two days was about Obama. Wednesday morning we walked in, we saw the Challenger and Gray [planned layoff] numbers, we saw the ADP numbers, the weekly jobless claim numbers—yeah, well, they were basically in line, but we knew two days ago that this was going to be a bloody number. Frankly, we probably knew several months ago that it was going to be a bloody number.” The Wall Street Journal and New York Times both agree with Glick’s assessment. [Media Matters, 11/7/2008; New York Times, 11/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Alexis Glick, Media Matters, Barack Obama, Fox Business Channel, Eric Bolling, Dick Morris, New York Times, Chris Matthews, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Wall Street Journal

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections, 2010 Elections

Category Tags: Commentaries on Economic Issues, USA, Commentaries and Criticisms, Bush Policies and Actions, Obama Policies and Actions

The troubled insurance giant AIG seeks a modification of a bailout it received from the US government in September (see September 16, 2008), according to reports. An additional loan following the initial bailout has already been made (see October 8, 2008). However, AIG now wants to alter the terms of the bailout, extending the duration and lowering the interest rate. Shares in the company close at $2.11. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009] AIG will obtain the modification within a few days (see November 10, 2008).

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

To facilitate AIG’s ability to complete its corporate restructuring, the New York Federal Reserve, as authorized by the US Federal Reserve, creates Maiden Lane II LLC and Maiden Lane III LLC to fund the purchase of certain multi-sector collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) from certain AIG Financial Products Corporation (AIGFP) counterparts. The Asset Portfolio purchase will be made in two stages, with Maiden Lane II LLC lending AIG $26.8 billion on November 25, 2008, and Maiden Lane III LLC lending AIGFP and its counterparties $2.5 billion on December 18, 2008 (see March, 2008). [Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 11/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Reserve Bank of New York, AIG (American International Group, Inc.), US Federal Reserve, Maiden Lane II, Maiden Lane III

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, USA, AIG, Failing Companies

The terms of the bailout given to troubled insurance giant AIG are modified, following calls from the insurer (see October 22, 2008 and November 7, 2008). The conditions of the government bailout were set in September (see September 16, 2008), but the interest rate is now lowered and the term is extended from two years to three. In addition, the rescue package grows to $150 billion, including a $60 billion loan, a $40 billion capital investment, and about $50 billion to buy mortgage-linked assets owned by AIG or guaranteed by it through credit default swaps. AIG also announces a record loss (see July-September 2008). [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

After President Bush and US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson push through a long-sought change in how bank mergers are taxed, Bloomberg News sues the Federal Reserve for failing to reveal loan recipients. The change will deprive US taxpayers of as much as $140 billion in tax revenue. As the economy continues its downward spiral into what is called the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression, sources say that a late September $700 billion bailout is “a quiet windfall for US banks.” [Washington Post, 11/10/2008] The legality of Treasury-negotiated equity deals for many US banks is questioned by tax attorneys, as well as nearly $2 trillion that Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve handed out in emergency loans before the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, was enacted (see October 3, 2008). The Fed refuses to reveal which corporations received loans, or what collateral has been presented. Sources say that this secrecy is a legal violation. The Federal Reserve’s lending is significant because the central bank has stepped into a rescue role that was also the purpose of the TARP bailout plan, although without safeguards put into the TARP legislation by Congress. Total Fed lending topped $2 trillion for the first time and has risen by 140 percent, or $1.172 trillion, in the weeks since Fed governors relaxed the collateral standards on September 14. The difference includes a $788 billion increase in loans to banks through the Fed and $474 billion in other lending, mostly through the central bank’s purchase of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds. [Bloomberg News, 11/10/2008; AlterNet, 11/14/2008]

Entity Tags: Henry Paulson, Troubled Asset Relief Program, Bloomberg News, Ben Bernanke, US Department of the Treasury, US Federal Reserve, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, USA

Detroit’s Big Three CEOs testify for more than two hours in a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, using dire language to describe the financial straits that are threatening to bankrupt their companies. Chrysler LLC CEO Robert Nardelli says that without immediate help, his company could be forced into bankruptcy. “We cannot be confident that we will be able to successfully emerge,” he says. General Motors (GM) Corporation’s CEO, Rick Wagoner, adds that the failure of the industry would be “catastrophic,” causing the loss of 3 million jobs. Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally tells the committee that if one of the automakers failed, the whole industry could be disrupted. “You’re here to get life support,” says ranking minority member Richard Shelby (R-AL). “Why aren’t you making money? How would you pay this money back?”
Financial Losses Worse than Originally Believed - The automakers say that their financial losses were worse than they at first thought, with Nardelli testifying that his company ran through $5 billion this year, including $3.3 billion in the third quarter, with only $6.1 billion on hand to last through the end of the year. Wagoner says that his firm would spend $15 billion by the end of 2008, and another $10 billion in 2009. Wagoner wants $10-$12 billion for GM, while Mulally and Nardelli want $7 billion for their respective corporations. Both Wagoner and Nardelli say that their companies will run out of money in a matter of months. One senator asks if the automakers would be willing to make monthly status reports on cash flow if the Senate agrees to the loan. Nardelli offers to take $1 a year as salary compensation; neither Mulally nor Wagoner did not make the same commitment. Nardelli also committed to Chrysler’s agreeing to consider new fuel efficiency standards. “We’d be open to any requirements,” he says.
Already Cut Costs, Moved to Restructure - The automakers testify how aggressively they have moved to cut costs, restructure, and revamp their product lines to be more competitive with foreign rivals, and say their companies were making progress until they were derailed by the credit crisis that has stalled the global economy and dried up consumer confidence. Auto sales are at their lowest level in at least 15 years, they say, dropping nearly 32 percent in October. As a testament to the seriousness of their financial crisis, the three automakers assure the committee that they would spend the requested $25 billion in the United States; however, they refuse to say that they would not come back for further bailout funding. Wagoner testifies that GM has cut $9 billion in costs since 2005. He touts labor agreements with the United Auto Workers that will further cut wage and health care expenses, and says that improvements in designing and manufacturing vehicles as well as developing fuel-saving technologies will also assist in reining in manufacturing costs. “As a result of these and other actions, we are now matching—or besting—foreign automakers in terms of productivity, quality and fuel economy,” he says. Wagoner assures the committee that the company was moving quickly to right its business. “We have more work to do in all aspects of our business,” Wagoner said. “This is hard stuff.” He said that GM would use some of the money to pay suppliers and pay for part of the Chevrolet Volt program.
UAW President Grilled - In his own testimony, United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger ranks the relative financial health of the Big Three as Ford being the most solvent, with Chrysler at number two, while General Motors may be at or near insolvency by the end of 2008. The UAW chief faces tough questions as well, as Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) pushes back on union work rules and the jobs bank. “I understand Mr. Gettelfinger has done a good job on behalf of all workers not working and being paid,” Corker says, calling the practice unacceptable in other businesses.
Disagreement among Democrats, Republicans - Democrats support a plan to subtract $25 billion from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package, known as the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP), while Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has joined the White House call to speed up money previously authorized for the automakers through an Energy Department loan program. “To basically change the qualifications of the money that we have already appropriated is a sound way to go forward,” said McConnell. House Democrats and many environmentalists oppose the use of the Energy Department loan, since it is approved only for projects that lead to significant fuel efficiency improvements. Carl Levin (D-MI) says that in order to get a bill, Republicans must write language that explains how they would quickly get $25 billion from the Energy Department program to automakers. But Levin is realistic about the long road they face. “Progress: No. Effort: Hell, yes. Big-time effort,” he says. “We haven’t seen progress and won’t see progress until we see the language from those who want to see the [Energy Department] funds.” Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) says she will “very reluctantly” agree to reworking the retooling loans if that was the only way to get help now. Other Senate allies of the auto industry, including Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Ken Salazar (D-CO), opposed the proposal to shift $25 billion from TARP. “I’m not sure we want to throw good money after bad,” Salazar says. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says it will be nearly impossible to make a deal before Congress adjourns for the year later this week. “Reading the tea leaves, I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” Baucus says. “There’s not enough time given the opposition of the White House and opposition of the other side of the aisle.” Corker echoes the belief that nothing would get done this year, calling the hearings “the first step in a loan application.”
Further Hearings Slated - The CEOs will return to Capitol Hill for a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday, November 25. [Detroit News, 11/19/2008]

Entity Tags: United Auto Workers, Ford Motor Company, Debbie Stabenow, Chrysler, Carl Levin, Alan Mulally, General Motors, Senate Banking Committee, Max Baucus, Rick Wagoner, Robert Nardelli

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, USA

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approves a $2.1 billion loan for Iceland, whose economy has been devastated by the global financial crisis. Iceland becomes the first Western European nation to get an IMF loan since Britain in 1976. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: International Monetary Fund

Category Tags: Other, Iceland

Recently bailed-out insurance giant AIG sets the salary of its Chief Executive Officer Edward Liddy at $1 for 2008/9. It also freezes pay and scraps bonuses for its seven most senior executives. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009] In addition, 50 more AIG executives will be locked out of pay rises in 2009. [Reuters, 4/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Edward Liddy, AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

The annual rate of inflation in Iceland rises to a record high of 17.1 percent. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Category Tags: Other, Iceland

The British retail chain Woolworths goes into administration with debts of £385m (about $580m). The administration was brought on by a cash crisis and a loss of backing by financial institutions that had lent it money, in particular Burdale and GMAC. It is the largest casualty of the global economic crisis in Britain so far, and its failure jeopardizes 30,000 jobs across the country. The British government had intervened to save the company, but only by encouraging last-minute talks between it and the lenders, which failed. No financial support from the taxpayer was offered. The administrator, the auditor Deloitte, appoints Hilco, a company specializing in reconstruction, to run the business. Hilco had been attempting to buy Woolworths before it went into administration. Deloitte says that stores will remain open during the Christmas period, and that it will attempt to find a new owner that can satisfy the company’s lenders. [Financial Times, 11/26/2008]

Entity Tags: GMAC, Deloitte, Hilco, Burdale, Woolworth Group PLC

Category Tags: Failing Companies, Britain

The British furniture retailer MFI goes into administration, as it is unable to pay rent on many its stores. This is because of falling sales of large items such as kitchens. The company has over 100 outlets throughout the country and has been in trouble for some months. Its failure jeopardizes thousands of jobs. [Daily Telegraph, 11/27/2008] The administrators are unable to find a buyer and the group’s stores close on December 19. Customers who have not yet received their furniture are told to apply to the administrator for a refund. The logistics company DHL, which had handled deliveries for MFI, says it will probably also lay off over 300 people as a result of the failure. [BBC, 12/19/2008]

Entity Tags: MFI Group Limited, DHL

Category Tags: Failing Companies, Britain

US government-seized mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suspend foreclosures from November 26, 2008 until January 9, 2009. The six-week suspension on both foreclosures and evictions will give loan servicers time to implement streamlined loan modifications for struggling borrowers. Since September 6, 2008, Fannie and Freddie have been federal government-controlled and sponsored entities that own or guarantee $5.2 billion of the $12 billion US home mortgage market. They offer borrowers who are 90 days or more delinquent with high loan-to-income ratios a chance to modify their mortgage terms to decrease their monthly mortgage payments by roughly 38 percent of the homeowner’s monthly pretax salary. The companies say they plan to reduce interest rates for up to 5 years while lengthening repayment terms as much as 40 years to trim monthly payments. [Bloomberg, 11/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, Federal National Mortgage Association

Category Tags: Other, USA

Recently bailed-out insurer AIG agrees to sell a bank unit serving clients in Asia and the Middle East for about $250 million. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009] This is part of a program to sell business units in order to repay the government (see September 18, 2008).

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

The financial industry may cut as much as $2 trillion in credit card account lines over the next 18 months, according to Oppenheimer & Co analyst Meredith Whitney. This is in an effort to reduce damage risks from increasing customer delinquencies and defaults. “[W]e expect available consumer liquidity in the form of credit-card lines to decline by 45 percent,” she adds. According to Whitney, all three remaining major banks—Bank of America, Citigroup, and JP Morgan Chase—are planning or considering reducing credit lines across the board. Credit cards are the second source of liquidity available to consumers, behind wages from work. She criticizes the banking industry for offering ever fewer choices at a time when consumers need credit more than ever: “Pulling credit when job losses are increasing by over 50 percent year-over-year in most key states is a dangerous and unprecedented combination, in our view.” [Consumer Affairs.com, 12/1/2008; Reuters, 12/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Meredith Whitney, Oppenheimer & Co.

Category Tags: Commentaries on Economic Issues, USA

The recently bailed-out insurer AIG and the US government say they have reached an agreement on toxic mortgage debt held by the company. The agreement will clear AIG of its obligations on about $53.5 billion in such debt. [Reuters, 4/17/2009]

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly and former Bush administration political director Karl Rove tell listeners that media journalists are “overstating” the current economic problems in order to help the incoming Obama administration. O’Reilly asks Rove, “All right, so you are agreeing with me then that there is a conscious effort on the part of the New York Times and other liberal media to basically paint as drastic a picture as possible, so that when Barack Obama takes office that anything is better than what we have now?” Rove’s response: “Yes.” O’Reilly says that the “plot” is to “blame everything on Bush for quite a long period of time.” Rove calls the economic reporting little more than “scare tactics.” O’Reilly concludes: “All I want is an honest press. I’m not hoping one way or the other.” Amanda Terkel of the Center for American Progress observes: “For years, in fact, the Bush administration has tried Rove and O’Reilly’s strategy of insisting that nothing is wrong. Although the United States has been in a recession since December 2007, the Bush administration has continued to insist that the economy was strong. The result? A government unprepared to deal with ‘the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.’” [Think Progress (.org), 12/9/2008]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Center for American Progress, Fox News, Amanda Terkel, Bill O’Reilly

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Category Tags: USA, Bush Policies and Actions, Obama Policies and Actions, Commentaries and Criticisms

Edward Liddy, chief executive officer of recently bailed-out insurer AIG, pledges to repay taxpayers “every single penny we owe them.” The company currently has around $150 billion of the taxpayers’ money (see November 10, 2008). However, Liddy adds that the company will get the money by selling business units, and the timetable of such sales could change. AIG shares close at $1.73. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Edward Liddy, AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

According to Jim Rogers, the co-founder of the Quantum Fund along with billionaire financier George Soros, the federal government’s efforts to fix the sector are “wrongheaded.” During a teleconference at the Reuters Investment Outlook 2009 Summit, Rogers says that the government’s $700 billion rescue package for the sector doesn’t address how banks manage their balance sheets, and rewards weaker lenders with new capital. More than two dozen banks have received infusions from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and some TARP funds are being used for acquisitions. [White House, 10/3/2008] “Without giving specific names, most of the significant American banks, the larger banks, are bankrupt, totally bankrupt,” says Rogers, now a private investor. “What is outrageous economically and is outrageous morally is that normally in times like this, people who are competent and who saw it coming and who kept their powder dry go and take over the assets from the incompetent,” he continues. “What’s happening this time is that the government is taking the assets from the competent people and giving them to the incompetent people and saying, now you can compete with the competent people. It is horrible economics.” [Reuters, 12/11/2008]

Entity Tags: Jim Rogers, Quantum Fund, George Soros

Category Tags: Commentaries on Economic Issues, USA

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says Iceland, which has been devastated by the global financial crisis, has taken the first important steps towards restoring financial stability. It says the key objective of stabilizing Iceland’s currency, the krona, is being met. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: International Monetary Fund

Category Tags: Other, Iceland

Recently bailed-out insurer AIG agrees to sell one of its insurance subsidiaries, Hartford Steam Boiler, for $742 million. However, this is about a third less than it paid for the unit eight years ago. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009] The unit is purchased by the German reinsurer Munich Re, which wants to expand its US business. [Reuters, 4/17/2009] This sale is part of a program to sell business units in order to repay AIG’s bailout loans to the government (see September 18, 2008).

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.), Hartford Steam Boiler, Munich Re

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

As more EU companies lay off workers, unemployment rises to its highest level in more than two years. The EU jobless rate rises from a revised 8.1 percent in December, and above the 7.3 percent figure in January 2008, according to a report from the BBC. Annualized inflation in the 16-nation area falls to 1.1 percent in January, its lowest in nearly a decade, down from 1.6 percent in the year to December 2008. According to EU officials, the EU has been in recession since September 2008. The latest unemployment and inflation figures increase pressure on the European Central Bank (ECB) to further cut interest rates in an effort to bolster the economy and bring inflation closer to its 2 percent target. The ECB trims rates by half a percentage point to 2 percent in January, the fourth reduction since September, when rates stood at 4.25 percent. “January’s rise in unemployment and further fall in core inflation support our view that ECB interest rates have much further to fall,” says Jennifer McKeown, an analyst at Capital Economics. “The downturn in the labor market, and indeed the wider economy, points to a further fall in core inflation in the coming months.” Unemployment among European Union nations is highest in Spain, at 14.8 percent, and lowest in the Netherlands, at 2.8 percent. [BBC, 2/27/2009]

Entity Tags: Capital Economics, Jennifer McKeown, European Central Bank

Category Tags: Other

According to a report published in February 2009 by the Japanese government, Japan’s economy—the world’s second largest—suffers the biggest monthly drop since records began more than half a century ago, with January marking the fourth successive month that factory output has fallen. Officials conclude that the country is in its worst recession in decades. The figures are published days after government reports that exports plunged nearly 46 percent in comparison to a year ago, reportedly suffering from a fall in foreign product demand. A preliminary report by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry predicts that output will further fall to 8.3 percent in February, but increase in March by 2.8 percent. The report concludes that a 17.3 percent production drop in transport equipment, including cars and trucks, had the largest negative impact on the overall output decline, and that electronic parts and devices was down 21.8 percent from December, followed next by general machinery and steel, with all 16 industrial areas cutting their output. According to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, the country’s car production plunges a record 41 percent in January and vehicle productions decrease by nearly 50 percent to 576,539 vehicles produced in January 2009 compared with 976,975 in January 2008. “Fearful of losing their jobs in the global turndown, consumers no longer want to buy Japanese electronic gadgets and cars,” says Roland Buerk of BBC Tokyo. “The Japanese are shopping less and average household spending fell 5.9 percent in January compared with the same month a year ago.” Jobs are also being slashed, with unemployment rising by more than 200,000 in January 2009. “Japan was once seen as relatively immune to the global crisis because its banks were not as exposed to bad loans as those in the US and Europe,” Buerk will say. “Their reliance on foreign markets to drive its economy out of a long slump in the 1990s has left it painfully exposed.” “The recession is having an increasing impact on the real economy,” Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano will say. [BBC, 2/27/2009; Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 2/27/2009]

Entity Tags: Roland Buerk, Kaoru Yosano, British Broadcasting Corporation, Japan Automobile Manufacturers’ Association

Category Tags: Commentaries on Economic Issues, Other

January 2009: New Home Sales Plunge in US

According to a Commerce Department report, in January, new home purchases drop 10 percent to an annual pace of 309,000, the lowest level since data tracking began in 1963. The report, published in February 2009, will attribute the fall to high unemployment and foreclosures. In addition, at 13.5 percent, the median home price falls the most in almost four decades. [Bloomberg, 2/26/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Commerce

Category Tags: Other, USA, Bush Policies and Actions

Washington Post economics columnist Steven Pearlstein criticizes Mary Schapiro, President-Elect Barack Obama’s pick to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a financial market regulator. Pearlstein says that the selection of Schapiro, who has a long background in regulating the industry, is “as safe and predictable as it is disappointing.” He adds that Schapiro has some good qualities and would be a sound pick at another time. However, “The problem is that there is nothing in her record to suggest that she is likely to clean house at the agency and launch a brutal and sustained assault on Wall Street culture.”
Unethical Practices - Pearlstein adds: “Remember the good old days when corporations would routinely manipulate earnings so that they came out just as the analysts expected? Or when analysts used to issue buy recommendations for stocks they knew were lousy just because it helped their firms win investment-banking business? Or when brokerage firms would routinely put clueless customers in mutual funds that offered high commissions, not the best results? Or when investment banks would put aside shares in the hottest IPOs for the personal accounts of corporate chief executives who steered underwriting business their way? These practices weren’t secrets—to anyone even vaguely familiar with the industry, they were hidden in plain view. And yet for years, no regulator, including Schapiro, was willing to risk being demonized by the industry, criticized by Congress and overturned by the courts to do what was necessary to stop these practices.”
'Show Trials' - He then sets out his vision for what the new chairman should do, what he thinks Schapiro will not do: “We need an SEC chairman who is willing to move beyond narrow enforcement actions and no-fault consent decrees to stage a series of regulatory show trials that will expose in graphic detail how people think and behave at all levels of Wall Street firms. We need a chairman who will use the commission’s broad powers to fine and debar from the industry big-name directors, top executives, ratings agency officials and other gatekeepers whose nonfeasance resulted in significant losses for investors, customers and taxpayers. We need a chairman who will make effective use of the bully pulpit to expose other well-known industry practices that put the interests of Wall Street ahead of those of its customers.” [Washington Post, 1/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Steven Pearlstein, Mary Schapiro, US Securities and Exchange Commission

Category Tags: Commentaries on Economic Issues, USA, Commentaries and Criticisms

Temasek Holdings, an arm of the government of Singapore, acquires shares in Bank of America. It does this by converting shares it had purchased in Merrill Lynch (see December 25, 2007 and July 29, 2008) into shares in Bank of America, which had recently purchased Merrill Lynch (see September 14, 2008). Temasek now owns 3.8 percent of Bank of America. [Reuters, 1/11/2009]

Entity Tags: Bank of America, Temasek Holdings

Category Tags: Western Purchases by Asians, USA

The Icelandic finance ministry says the country’s economy is forecast to shrink by 9.6 percent in 2009. In addition, it predicts no growth in 2010. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Category Tags: Other, Iceland

NYU Economics Professor Nouriel Roubini tells Bloomberg News that, following the $350 billion injection by the Bush Administration, President Barack Obama will have to use as much as $1 trillion of taxpayer funds to shore up capitalization of the banking sector. “The problems of Citi, Bank of America and others suggest the system is bankrupt,” Roubini said. “In Europe, it’s the same thing.” Roubini also predicts that oil prices will continue to trade between $30 to $40 a barrel all year. Regarding commodities, Roubini said, “I see commodities falling overall another 15-20%. This outlook for commodity prices is beneficial for oil importers, it’s going to imply that economic recovery might occur faster, but from the point of view of oil exporters, this will be very negative.” [Street Insider.com, 1/20/2009; Bloomberg, 1/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Citibank, Nouriel Roubini, Bank of America

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, USA, Bush Policies and Actions, Obama Policies and Actions

The rating of a plane leasing unit owned by recently bailed-out insurer AIG is downgraded by Standard & Poor’s. This prompts the US government to cut lending to the business through a bailout program for commercial paper. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Failing Companies, USA, AIG

Amid reports of a $15.4 billion loss, $1.2 million in office redecorations and earlier-than-usual million-dollar bonuses using TARP funds, John Thain resigns as CEO of troubled firm Merrill Lynch, recently purchased by Bank of America.
Investigating Bonuses - While Thain forgoes a 2008 bonus, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating bonuses paid to Merrill executives in late December, right before the deal closed. Merrill normally pays bonuses in January or February. Cuomo is investigating performance bonuses for Merrill’s CEO and other top executives, calling the bonuses an “oxymoron” during such an “abysmal year.” According to Merrill’s securities filings, Thain’s salary was $750,000 last year.
$837,000 for Redecoration - “Spending company money on a lavish redo at a time when Merrill’s finances were rocky sends the wrong message,” said Amy Borrus, deputy director at the Council of Institutional Investors in Washington. “Given the dire straits that so many financial institutions are in, redecorating the corner office should be way down on their to-do lists.” Someone familiar with Thain’s New York office redecoration claims that the CEO paid decorator Michael Smith $837,000 and his purchases included $87,000 for area rugs, $25,000 for a pedestal table and $68,000 for a 19th century credenza. Smith, a Santa Monica, California-based decorator, was recently commissioned by Michelle Obama to decorate the White House.
35,000 Job Losses - Thain, a former executive for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and the New York Stock Exchange, joins about 35,000 employees that Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis plans to eliminate over the next few years from the combined firms’ total of over 260,000 employees.
Abysmal Performance - Lewis’s credibility was undercut after Merrill reported a record fourth-quarter deficit. Lewis considered backing out of the deal after learning the extent of Merrill’s losses in December 2008, but went ahead with the buyout at the insistence of US regulators who provided a new $138 billion aid package. “There was a certain surprise that the Merrill losses were as steep as they were,” says James Post, a professor of corporate governance and business ethics at Boston University School of Management. “On top of that, I think Lewis didn’t think Thain was doing as much as he could to control the expenses and minimize the losses.” Shares in Bank of America, down 53 percent so far in 2008, slide another 14 percent to $5.71 by the close of New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Thain bought 84,600 shares in Bank of America, at $5.71 each, the day before his ouster, a filing showed. [Bloomberg, 1/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Andrew Cuomo, John Thain, Amy Borrus, Kenneth Lewis, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, USA

New York University economist Nouriel “Dr. Doom” Roubini and Western Europe Finance and Banking analyst Elisa Parisi-Capone of RGE Monitor release new estimates for expected loan losses and writedowns on US originated securitizations:
bullet Loan losses on a total of $12.37 trillion unsecuritized loans are expected to reach $1.6 trillion. Of these, US banks and brokers are expected to incur $1.1 trillion.
bullet Mark-to-market writedowns based on derivatives prices and cash bond indices on a further $10.84 trillion in securities reached $1.92 trillion. According to flow-of-funds data, about 40% of these securities (and losses) are foreign-held. US banks and broker dealers are assumed to incur a share of 30-35%, or $600-700 billion in securities writedowns.
bullet US-originated assets’ total loan losses and securities writedowns are expected to reach about $3.6 trillion. The US banking sector is exposed to half of this figure, or about $1.8 trillion (i.e. $1.1 trillion loan losses + $700bn writedowns).
bullet As of the third quarter of 2008, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-insured banks’ capitalization is $1.3 trillion; as of the same period, investment banks had $110bn in equity capital. Roubini and Parisi-Capone say that past recapitalization through the first release of the TARP funds for $230bn, and private capital of $200bn leaves the US banking system very nearly insolvent, should loss estimates materialize.
bullet In order to restore safe lending, additional private and/or public capital of approximately $1 to 1.4 trillion is needed, thus calling for a comprehensive solution along the lines of a “bad bank” proposed by policymakers, or an outright restructuring through a new resolution trust corporation (RTC).
bullet In September 2008, Roubini proposed a solution for the banking crisis that also addresses the root causes of the financial turmoil in the housing and the household sectors. The HOME (Home Owners’ Mortgage Enterprise) program combines an RTC to deal with toxic assets, a homeowners loan corporation to reduce homeowners’ debt, and a reconstruction finance corporation to recapitalize viable banks.
They concluded that total financial system losses will likely hit $3.6 trillion, half of which, according to Roubini, “will be borne by US firms,” and that the losses will overwhelm the US financial system which, in the third quarter of 2008, had a capitalization of $1.3 trillion in commercial banks and $110 billion in investment banks. [Bloomberg, 1/20/2009; AFP Reporter, 1/22/2009] Since September 7, 2006, Dr. Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, has been known as “Dr. Doom” after telling an audience of economists at the International Monetary Fund that an economic crisis was brewing in the coming months and years. He warned that the United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence and, ultimately, a deep recession, and laid out a bleak sequence of events: homeowners defaulting on mortgages, trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unraveling worldwide and the global financial system shuddering to a halt. These developments, he said, could cripple or destroy hedge funds, investment banks and other major financial institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. [New York Times Magazine, 8/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Nouriel Roubini, Elisa Parisi-Capone, RGE Monitor

Category Tags: USA, Commentaries on Economic Issues

Eric Cantor.Eric Cantor. [Source: Washington Post]House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) claims, falsely, that the Obama stimulus package would spend four times as much money on “lawn grass” as it allocates for small businesses. Cantor is referring to the plan’s $200 million allocation for renovating Washington’s National Mall, which fellow Republicans characterize as “earmarks” or “pork.” According to MSNBC and Fox News, Cantor claims: “When you’re seeing four times as much money spent on grass in Washington—that is actually lawn grass in Washington—than you do to help small businesses, that has your priorities backwards.… If you look at the bill that passed the ways and means committee yesterday, for every dollar spent to help small businesses, four dollars is being spent to help upkeep the grass on the lawns of Washington. Again, what does that have to do with a stimulus bill?” The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank, accuses Cantor of “completely invent[ing] the truth.” The draft version of the House stimulus plan allocates over four times as much money for “creating small business opportunity”—$880 million—than for renovating the National Mall. The figures also do not include the stimulus plan’s more than $20 billion in business tax cuts. CAP notes that spending money on infrastructure, such as the Mall renovations, is considered one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy, creating “twice as many jobs as tax cuts.” The tax cuts that Cantor champions—mostly for large businesses and wealthy Americans—are, CAP says, among the least efficient ways to grow the economy. Cantor is also wrong in characterizing the Mall spending as money for “lawn grass.” The money will be allocated for, among other projects, repairing the Tidal Basin’s seawall, adding restrooms to the Mall, and renovating buildings and monuments in Washington’s Capitol district. CAP notes that “all of [this] will require new workers and create jobs.” [Think Progress, 1/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Eric Cantor, Obama administration, Center for American Progress

Category Tags: Commentaries and Criticisms, Obama Policies and Actions

Prime Minister of Iceland Geir Haarde calls a general election for the spring, two years early. The decision to have early elections is triggered by the global financial crisis, which has hit Iceland particularly badly. Haarde adds that he will not stand again because he has throat cancer. Two days previously, protesters angry at the economic crisis had surrounded his car, banging on its windows and pelting it with eggs. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Geir Haarde

Category Tags: Other, Iceland

Conservatives and Congressional Republicans attack President Obama’s economic stimulus plan with a variety of claims centering on “earmarks” or “Democratic pork.” One claim is that the stimulus package wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on funding for contraceptives. “You know, I’m concerned about the size of the package.” says House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). “And I’m concerned about some of the spending that’s in there, [about]… how you can spend hundreds of millions on contraceptives. How does that stimulate the economy?” [New York Post, 1/26/2009]
Reduces Costs to State, Federal Budgets - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) explains the rationale behind the funding: “Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children’s health, education, and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those—one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.” [Think Progress, 1/26/2009]
Limbaugh's Suggestion - Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh retorts that if Pelosi “wants fewer births, I have the way to do this and it won’t require any contraception: You simply put pictures of Nancy Pelosi… in every cheap motel room.… That will keep birthrates down because that picture will keep a lot of things down.” [Media Matters, 1/26/2009]
Savings of $700 Million - The language of the stimulus bill reads: “Under current law, the secretary [of health and human services] has the authority under section 1115 of the Social Security Act to grant waivers to states to allow them to cover family planning services and supplies to low-income women who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. The bill would give states the option to provide such coverage without obtaining a waiver. States could continue to use the existing waiver authority if they preferred.” The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank, explains that this portion of the stimulus bill “would not only aid states, but also provide preventative, cost-saving health care to help low-income women support their families and keep working.” According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the measure would save the nation $200 million over five years and $700 million over 10 years. States that choose not to participate in the program are not required to do so. Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) notes, “I think that Mr. Boehner is looking for one little sound bite rather than looking at the total package here and seeing what it will do for the American people.” [Think Progress, 1/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, James Clyburn, Congressional Budget Office, Center for American Progress, John Boehner, US Department of Health and Human Services, Nancy Pelosi

Category Tags: Commentaries and Criticisms, Obama Policies and Actions

“The worst economic turmoil since the Great Depression is not a natural phenomenon but a man-made disaster in which we all played a part,” says Guardian City editor Julia Finch, who lists individuals who led the world into its current economic crisis (see June 2008). These individuals include:
bullet Alan Greenspan, US Federal Reserve chairman, 1987-2006: “[B]lamed for allowing the housing bubble to develop as a result of his low interest rates and lack of regulation in mortgage lending. Backed sub-prime lending; urged homebuyers to swap fixed-rate mortgages for variable rate deals, leaving borrowers unable to pay when interest rates rose. Defended the booming derivatives business, which barely existed when he took over the Fed, but which mushroomed from $100tn in 2002 to more than $500tn five years later.”
bullet Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England: “His ambition was that monetary policy decision-making should become ‘boring.’”
bullet Bill Clinton, former US president: “Beefed up the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act to force mortgage lenders to relax their rules to allow more socially disadvantaged borrowers to qualify for home loans. Repealed the 1999 Glass-Steagall Act, prompting the era of the superbank; the year before the repeal, sub-prime loans were just 5 percent of all mortgage lending. By the time the credit crunch blew up it was approaching 30 percent.” [Guardian, 1/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Mervyn King, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Alan Greenspan, The Guardian, Julia Finch

Category Tags: Commentaries on Economic Issues, Britain, USA, Pre-2001 Policies and Actions, Bush Policies and Actions

Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde announces the immediate resignation of the country’s government. The government became unstable when Iceland was hit particularly hard by the global financial crisis and the government had to take over three major banks. Haarde had already called an early election in Iceland (see January 23, 2009), but could have remained in office until voting. However, talks about continuing until the election with his coalition partner, the Social Democratic Alliance, break down and he leaves office. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Geir Haarde, Social Democratic Alliance

Category Tags: Other, Iceland

Recently bailed-out insurer AIG says that it is looking for a buyer for a fund management unit. This is part of a program to sell business units in order to repay the government (see September 18, 2008). The fund manager operates 15 funds that had more than $12.4 billion in assets under management as of September 30, 2008. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch are helping AIG to find a buyer. [Reuters, 4/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

Depending on the extent and length of the economic crisis, the International Labor Organization (ILO) predicts in its annual Global Employment Trends Report that global unemployment could increase from 33 million to 51 million people, up 18 million from 2007 figures. The ILO urges global governments to emphasize job creation in their fiscal stimulus packages and improve social protection systems for the unemployed and the employed. “We are now facing a global jobs crisis,” Juan Somavia, ILO director general says. “Progress in poverty reduction is unraveling, and middle classes worldwide are weakening. The political and security implications are daunting.” The ILO is a United Nations organization that has painted three 2009 global unemployment scenarios, ranging from bad to worst. “In all scenarios, there will be a global unemployment rate increase in 2009, particularly the developed economies,” the ILO report says. Its most optimistic scenario is based on the International Monetary Fund’s November 2008 world economic growth projection, which indicates that there would be a global unemployment rate at 6.1 percent. This scenario has 18 million more people unemployed by the end of 2009, in comparison to the end of 2007, with a global unemployment rate of 6.1 percent. Under the ILO’s second and third scenarios, the numbers could rise by 30 million or even 51 million, with a much slower economic recovery, with unemployment reaching higher levels in developed countries. Under the ILO’s third scenario, approximately 200 million workers could be pushed into extreme poverty with incomes as low as $1.25 a day; 140 million would be in Asia. “The world is facing an unprecedented crisis that calls for creative solutions,” the organization says. [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 1/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Juan Somavia, International Labor Organization (ILO), International Monetary Fund

Category Tags: Other, Commentaries on Economic Issues

Yale economist Robert Schiller reflects on the genesis of the economic recession, tracing it back in part to policies pursued by the Bush administration for the 2004 presidential election effort. At that time, Schiller warned of a “housing bubble” caused by a plethora of bad loans and toxic debt, and called for re-regulation of the housing markets. His warnings were ignored. Schiller says: “The Bush strategists were aware of the public enthusiasm for housing, and they dealt with it brilliantly in the 2004 election by making the theme of the campaign the ownership society. Part of the ownership society seemed to be that the government would encourage home ownership and, therefore, boost the market. And so Bush was playing along with the bubble in some subtle sense. I don’t mean to accuse him of any—I think it probably sounded right to him, and the political strategists knew what was a good winning combination. I don’t think that he was in any mode to entertain the possibility that this was a bubble. Why should he do that? Attention wasn’t even focused on this. If you go back to 2004, most people were just—they thought that we had discovered a law of nature: that housing, because of the fixity of land and the growing economy and the greater prosperity, that it’s inevitable that this would be a great investment. It was taken for granted.” John C. Dugan, the comptroller of the currency since 2005, says he believes a lack of regulation caused the “housing bubble.” Dugan says: “A lot of mortgages got made to people who could not afford them and on terms that would get progressively worse over time, and that created the seeds of an even bigger problem. As the whole market became even more dependent on house-price appreciation, when house prices flattened and then started to decline the whole situation began to unravel. The question you have to ask yourself: Why did credit become so easy? Why would lenders make mortgages that became increasingly less likely to be repaid? Part of the answer is that there was a huge chunk of the mortgage market that was not regulated to any significant extent. The overwhelming proportion of subprime loans were being done in entities that were not banks and not regulated as banks—I’m talking here about mortgage brokers and non-bank mortgage lenders that could originate these mortgages and then sell them to Wall Street firms that could package them into new kinds of mortgage securities, which arguably could take into account the lower credit risks and still be salable to investors worldwide. Unfortunately, the theory was not in accord with the reality. Although they thought they had accurately gauged that risk, they too were in fact depending—when you get to the bottom of it—on house prices continuing to go up and up and up. And they did not.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Robert Schiller, Bush administration (43), John C. Dugan

Category Tags: Commentaries on Economic Issues, Bush Policies and Actions

Henry Paulson, the former secretary of the treasury, explains how the recession and market destruction came about on his watch. Part of his problem was his admitted lack of knowledge about regulation and regulatory authorities. “I easily could imagine and expected there to be financial turmoil,” he says. “But the extent of it, okay, I was naive in terms of—I knew a lot about regulation but not nearly as much as I needed to know, and I knew very little about regulatory powers and authorities. I just had not gone into it in that kind of detail. This’ll be the longest we’ve gone in recent history without there being turmoil, and given all the innovation in the private pools of capital and the over-the-counter derivatives and the excesses around the world, we figured that when there was turmoil, and these things were tested for the first time by stress, it would be more significant than anything else. I said at the time, I have a concern that every rally we’re going to have in the financial markets will be a false rally until we break the back of the price correction in real estate. And these things are never over until you have a couple of institutions go that surprise everyone. Bear Stearns can hardly be a shock (see March 15, 2008). But having said that, it’s one thing to see it intellectually and it’s another to see where we are.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Bear Stearns, Henry Paulson, US Department of the Treasury, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Commentaries on Economic Issues, USA, Bush Policies and Actions

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invests $90 billion in clean energy projects for the next 10 years via loan guarantees, tax incentives, and grants. $38 billion of this is government spending and $20 billion is tax incentives. Symbolically, President Obama signs the bill into law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where he takes a tour of the museum’s solar panel installation. He says he hopes the bill will inspire Americans to get involved in “green” energy the same way that President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon inspired Americans in the 1960s. “I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Obama says before signing the bill. The bill includes:
bullet A three-year extension to the tax credit for wind, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. The credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
bullet $4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
bullet $6.3 billion in state energy-efficient and clean-energy grants, and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
bullet $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
bullet $2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
bullet $5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
bullet $3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as storing carbon dioxide underground at coal power plants.
bullet A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.
Most companies in the green-tech field hail the new focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the bill, contrasting it with the Bush administration’s support for fossil fuel energy production and its disdain for clean energy programs. Investors and analysts say the new law is a step towards a comprehensive energy policy based on sustained commitment to renewable energy and efficiency. Michael Liebriech of New Energy Finance says: “For years, US policymakers’ support for clean energy has been uneven. No longer… the US will have a great chance to be the growth engine for our industry over the next several years.” The spending should have an almost-immediate impact, especially in areas such as smart grid technology and energy efficiency, says venture capitalist Dennis Costello. However, even this influx of government funding does not solve all the financial problems facing energy technology firms. The recession continues to grip the economy, he notes, damping demand and making financing of new projects difficult. “It’s kind of refreshing to see at least beginnings of a real energy policy, some sort of unified approach to our energy problems,” he says. “But it isn’t going to solve our energy problems. There are a lot of countervailing factors to give pause to being over-exuberant on the future of energy sector and clean tech.” [CNET News, 2/17/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Michael Liebriech, Dennis Costello, Obama administration, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Obama Policies and Actions

Following the resignation of the previous cabinet (see January 26, 2009), a new government is formed in Iceland by the Left-Green Movement and the Social Democratic Alliance. The new government will be in office for only a few months, until fresh elections in the spring. New Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir sets out her government’s plan to deal with the financial crisis. She says her priority will be to replace the central bank’s board, which failed to prevent the collapse of the country’s banking system. She also says she will ask a parliamentary committee to look into joining the EU. [BBC, 2/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Social Democratic Alliance, Left-Green Movement, Johanna Sigurdardottir

Category Tags: Other, Iceland

FedUpUSA, a group of investors in Troy, Michigan, issues a call for people to send tea bags to Congress as a sign of their disapproval of Democratic economic policies. The group calls the event a “Commemorative Tea Party.” This will become one of the earliest events in the history of the “tea party” movement. [Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 8/24/2010] Nineteen days later, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli will launch what he calls an unplanned, “impromptu” rant against the Obama administration’s economic policies, in which he will call for a “tea party” protest (see February 19, 2009).

Entity Tags: Rick Santelli, Obama administration, FedUpUSA

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Category Tags: Commentaries and Criticisms

Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore, appearing as a guest on Fox News host Glenn Beck’s show, compares Social Security to “a big Ponzi scheme.” Moore and Beck are discussing the issue of the US debt, and Moore compares the cycle of different government agencies buying and selling portions of the debt to one another to Social Security, saying: “It’s very much like the way Social Security works. It’s a big Ponzi scheme. It’s like a big vault of IOUs.” [Media Matters, 2/2/2009; Media Matters, 9/7/2010] Beck will later call Social Security a “Stalinist” program designed to forcibly redistribute wealth to poorer citizens (see January 27, 2010).

Entity Tags: Glenn Beck, Stephen Moore, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: USA, Commentaries and Criticisms

Pete Sessions.Pete Sessions. [Source: Washington Post]Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, says that House Republicans should become political “insurgents” to oppose and undermine the Obama administration, specifically its economic proposals, and says the GOP can learn from the example of the Taliban. “Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban,” he tells editors of the conservative National Journal. “And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes. And these Taliban—I’m not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban. No, that’s not what we’re saying. I’m saying an example of how you go about [sic] is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with.” Sessions complains that neither President Obama nor House Democrats have attempted to work with Republicans in a truly bipartisan fashion. “If they do not give us those options or opportunities then we will then become insurgency of a nature to where we do those things that are necessary to making sure the American public knows what we think the correct answer is. So we either work together, or we’re going to find a way to get our message out.” Sessions says he is not comparing House Republicans to the Taliban: “I simply said one can see that there’s a model out there for insurgency.” Sessions is interrupted by an aide, who explains that Sessions is merely trying to express the need for Republicans to start thinking about how to act strategically as the minority party. Sessions blames House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for the Republicans’ new approach: “I think insurgency is a mindset and an attitude that we’re going to have to search for and find ways to get our message out and to be prepared to see things for what they are, rather than trying to do something about them. I think what’s happened is that the line was drawn in the sand” by Pelosi. [National Journal, 2/5/2009] At a House Republicans’ retreat the week before, Sessions told fellow Republicans that they “need to get over the idea that they’re participating in legislation and ought to start thinking of themselves as ‘an insurgency’ instead.” [Think Progress, 2/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Barack Obama, National Republican Congressional Committee, Pete Sessions, Nancy Pelosi

Category Tags: USA, Commentaries and Criticisms

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announces a much bigger plan to rescue the US financial system than previously predicted or envisioned, including a much greater government role in markets and banks since the 1930s (see March 15, 2008). Although the administration provides few details, one central portion of the plan that investors most desired to learn about creates bad banks that rely on taxpayer and private investor funds to purchase and hold bad assets racked up by the banks from subprime mortgages, derivatives, and credit defaults. An additional focal point of the plan stretches the final $350 billion that the Treasury may use for the bailout, relying on the Fed’s capability to create money. This last tranche of funding allows the government to be involved in the management of markets and banks. For example, with the credit markets, the administration and the Fed propose to expand a lending program that spends as much as $1 trillion as a replacement for the $1.2 trillion decline between 2006 and 2008 for the issuance of securities backed primarily by consumer loans. The third component of the plan gives banks new capital to lend, but banks that receive new government assistance will have to cut the salaries and perks of their executives and limit dividends and corporate acquisitions. Banks must also publicly declare more information about their lending practices. With the newly proposed Treasury requirements, banks will have to give monthly statements on how many new loans they make, yet the plan stops short of ordering banks to issue new loans or requiring them to account in detail for the federal money. The Obama administration’s commitment to flood the banking system with funds will combine the $350 billion left in the bailout fund; the rest of the money will be from private investors and the Federal Reserve. Some market observers, along with some federal legislators and economists, criticize the plan for its lack of details. [New York Times, 2/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, US Federal Reserve, US Department of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, USA, Obama Policies and Actions

The salt marsh harvest mouse, currently receiving no funding from the Obama stimulus package.The salt marsh harvest mouse, currently receiving no funding from the Obama stimulus package. [Source: Environmental Protection Agency]Conservative opponents of the new stimulus package claim that the legislation allocates $30 million for saving the endangered salt marsh mouse, and would be spent entirely in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) district. The claim is part of a larger set of claims that the bill is “stuffed with Democratic pork” or “earmarks” (see January 23, 2009 and January 25-26, 2009). The claim is false, with Pelosi’s office calling it a “total fabrication” and examination of the bill finding no mention of any such funding allocation. The claim begins with an e-mail from an unidentified House Republican staff member, who claims that he was told by an unidentified federal agency source that if that agency were to receive stimulus money, it would spend “thirty million dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area—including work to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse.” The e-mail identifies neither the agency nor the source, nor does it claim that the money is actually in the package. However, the story is quickly picked up and echoed by Republicans such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Representative Mike Pence (R-IN), both of whom appear on Fox News stating the claim as unvarnished fact. Representative Dan Lundgren (R-CA) calls the supposed spending “absurd.” And House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) asks how $30 million “for some salt marsh mouse in San Francisco is going to help a struggling auto worker in Ohio?” The Drudge Report makes the same claim. And the Washington Times runs an article entitled “Pelosi’s mouse slated for $30m slice of cheese.” The House staffer who circulates the e-mail later acknowledges that the claim, as stated by Huckabee, Lundgren, and others, is erroneous. “There is not specific language in the legislation for this project,” he admits. However, the staffer claims: “If the bill passes, the project will be funded according to what the relevant agency told our staff. The bottom line is, if this bill becomes law, taxpayers will spend 30 million on the mouse.” Pelosi’s staff says that the $30 million is for federal wetland restoration projects such as the California State Coastal Conservancy, none of which will be spent on the salt marsh mouse or even in Pelosi’s district. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill says: “There are no federal wetland restoration projects in line to get funded in San Francisco. Neither the Speaker nor her staff have had any involvement in this initiative. The idea that $30 million will be spent to save mice is a total fabrication.… This is yet another contrived partisan attack. Restoration is key to economic activity, including farming, fisheries, recreation, and clean water.” [Washington Times, 2/12/2009; Plum Line, 2/12/2009; Associated Content, 2/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Fox News, California State Coastal Conservancy, Dan Lundgren, Drudge Report, Mike Pence, Drew Hammill, Washington Times, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Mike Huckabee

Category Tags: Obama Policies and Actions, Commentaries and Criticisms

The new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Dennis Blair, tells the Senate Intelligence Committee that the economic crisis, not global terrorism, is the biggest national security issue facing the US today. “The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” Blair says. If the crisis continues for more than two years, Blair says, governments could topple, with all the unrest that would entail. About 25 percent of the world’s governments, mostly in Europe and among former Soviet Union client states, have already experienced “low-level instability,” including government changes, because of the economic climate (see February 1, 2009). Blair also warns of “high levels of violent extremism” as seen during the downturn in the 1920s and 1930s, along with “regime-threatening instability.” He explains, “Besides increased economic nationalism, the most likely political fallout for US interests will involve allies and friends not being able to fully meet their defense and humanitarian obligations.” US allies in Europe are angry over the Obama stimulus bill’s provision to “Buy American,” Blair notes, and says the provision is being used to question the US’s leadership in shoring up the global economy and international financial structure. The biggest beneficiary of this global chaos, Blair says, could be China, if that nation’s government can “exert a stabilizing influence by maintaining strong import growth and not letting its currency slide.” Global coordination is essential to rebuild trust in the financial system and to ensure that the crisis does “not spiral into broader geopolitical tensions,” Blair recommends. [EUObserver, 2/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Dennis C. Blair, Senate Intelligence Committee

Category Tags: Commentaries on Economic Issues, USA

According to economists and other finance experts, most of the major US banks are broke, awash in losses from bad bets that overwhelm the banks’ assets. [Link TV, 2/10/2009; Financial Times, 2/10/2009] None of the experts focus on individual banks, and there are exceptions among the 50 largest banks in the country. Consumers and businesses do not need to fret about their federally insured deposits, and even banks that are technically insolvent can continue operating, and could recover their financial health once the economy improves. Until there is a cure for banks’ bad assets, the credit crisis that is dragging down the economy will linger, since banks cannot resume the lending needed to restart commerce.
Suggested Response - Economists and experts say that the answer is a larger, more direct government role than the recently-unveiled Treasury Department plan. The Obama-Geithner plan leans heavily on sketchy public-private investment funding to buy up the banks’ troubled mortgage-backed securities. Experts say that the government needs to delve in, weed out the weakest banks, inject capital into surviving banks and sell off bad assets. “The historical record shows that you have to do it eventually,” said Adam Posen, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Putting it off only brings more troubles and higher costs in the long run.” The Obama administration’s recovery plan could help spur a timely economic spurt, and the value of the banks’ assets could begin to rise. Absent that, the prescription would not be easy or cheap. Estimates of the capital injection needed range from $1 trillion and beyond. By contrast, the commitment of taxpayer money is the $350 billion remaining in the financial bailout approved by Congress last fall.
Pessimism - In a new report Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University, estimates that total losses on loans by American financial firms and the fall in the market value of the assets they hold will reach $3.6 trillion, up from his previous estimate of $2 trillion. [Global Economic Monitor, 2/10/2009] Of the total, he calculates that American banks face half that risk, or $1.8 trillion, with the rest borne by other financial institutions in the United States and abroad. “The United States banking system is effectively insolvent,” Roubini says. [International Herald Tribune, 2/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Peterson Institute for International Economics, James K. Galbraith, Nouriel Roubini

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, USA, Commentaries on Economic Issues

Recently bailed-out insurer AIG says that it has sold interests in two contracts tied to natural gas and oil for $60.5 million. This brings the total amount raised through a program of sales to repay the bailout money to the government (see September 18, 2008) to $2.4 billion. AIG shares close at 85 cents. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Category Tags: Failing Companies, USA, AIG

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) accuses the Obama administration of colluding with Democrats to include a “high-speed rail system” from “Las Vegas [Nevada] to Disneyland” in the administration’s economic stimulus package. “Tell me how spending $8 billion in this bill to have a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is going to help the construction worker in my district,” he demands. [US House of Representatives, 2/13/2009]
Claim at Odds with Facts - Boehner is joined in the claim by several of his House Republican colleagues, including Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), and Candice Miller (R-MI), as well as Republican Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jim DeMint (R-SC). Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) includes the claim in his response to President Obama’s address to Congress regarding the stimulus package. Many of these lawmakers add the accusation that the supposed rail line, which they call a “levitating train,” is an earmark inserted for Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-NV), whose state would benefit from the rail line. In reality, the stimulus bill does not set aside any money at all for a train of any kind between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The bill does provide $8 billion for unspecified high-speed rail projects, which includes “magnetic levitation,” or maglev, train systems. The money will be allocated by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, one of two Republican holdovers from the Bush administration in President Obama’s cabinet. A Department of Transportation spokesperson says it is “premature to speculate” about what exactly will be funded; the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense says there is “no way that this provision is an earmark for Senator Reid.” The governors of Nevada and California—both Republicans—have indicated they would support such a maglev line between those two cities. The nonpartisan site FactCheck.org writes: “We can’t predict the future, and it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the Republican who is Obama’s transportation secretary will decide to devote the entire $8 billion to a project that is nowhere near shovel-ready and that the Federal Railroad Administration says is not cost-effective—all for the benefit of the Democratic majority leader. But we wouldn’t bet on it.” [FactCheck (.org), 2/25/2009; New York Times, 2/25/2009] The Center for American Progress notes that Republicans mock the idea of “levitating trains” because, apparently, “they [think] the term sounds funny.” FactCheck observes, “In truth, ‘levitating’ trains really do exist—but they are properly called maglev trains, and they are high-tech marvels” employed in Japan, among other places. [FactCheck (.org), 2/25/2009; Think Progress, 3/2/2009]
Plans Include Ohio Lines - While there are no plans for a train line of any kind between California and Nevada in the stimulus package, there are at least two proposals for rail lines in and out of Ohio, Boehner’s state. The plans under consideration include a Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago line and a Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati-Indianapolis line. [Think Progress, 2/13/2009]
Train to Las Vegas Brothel? - In March, a Republican House member will claim that the supposed “levitating train” will not just go to Las Vegas, but to a brothel. The claim is entirely false (see March 2, 2009).

Entity Tags: John McCain, Ray LaHood, Taxpayers for Common Sense, John Boehner, US Department of Transportation, Thaddeus McCotter, Jim DeMint, Patrick McHenry, Federal Railroad Administration, Bobby Jindal, Candice Miller, FactCheck (.org), Center for American Progress, Harry Reid

Category Tags: Commentaries and Criticisms, Obama Policies and Actions

Some of the protesters at the ‘Porkulus’ rally in Seattle.Some of the protesters at the ‘Porkulus’ rally in Seattle. [Source: American Typo / Michelle Malkin]A rally in Seattle called “Porkulus,” a term popularized by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, draws about 100 participants. The rally is to protest the Obama administration’s economic policies. It is organized by area math teacher Keli Carender, who blogs under the moniker “Liberty Belle.” During the rally, Carender shouts, “We don’t want this country to go down the path to socialism!” eliciting “Hear, hear!” responses. She calls the government’s economic stimulus package (which Limbaugh has dubbed “porkulus”) “the reason we’re in this mess.” She also plays an audiotape of a speech by former President Ronald Reagan. Rally participant Connie White tells a reporter that Congressional Democrats are “ramming things through for their liberal agenda. I’m one of the poor. I used to be middle class. But I don’t want the government helping me.” Carender will become one of the area’s more prominent “tea party” organizers, and after she is brought to Washington, DC, for training by the lobbying group FreedomWorks, becomes part of the nationwide Tea Party Patriots organization. The next day, the day President Obama signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, another “Porkulus” rally occurs in Denver, hours after Obama visits another site in the city to promote the bill. The Denver “Porkulus” rally is sponsored by Americans for Prosperity and the Independence Institute. The next day, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli performs his five-minute “impromptu” rant against the legislation, and calls for “tea party” protests to oppose it (see February 19, 2009). [Publicola, 2/17/2009; Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 8/24/2010]

Entity Tags: Tea Party Patriots, Rush Limbaugh, Independence Institute, Keli Carender, Americans for Prosperity, Barack Obama, Rick Santelli, Connie White, FreedomWorks

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Category Tags: Commentaries and Criticisms

Less than one month after his inauguration, President Barack Obama signs into law a $787 billion recovery package, stating that this will “set our economy on a firmer foundation.” However, Obama reiterates during the bill’s signing ceremony at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science that he will not pretend “that today marks the end of our economic problems, nor does it constitute all of what we have to do to turn our economy around. Today marks the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs.” The legislative battle on the bill ended with only three Republican votes in the Senate and none in the House. As president-elect, Obama initially expected to spend between $675 billion and $775 billion on the recovery package, and the final number is almost exactly that. However, Congress included $70 billion worth of tax cuts in the bill they approved, although more than a few economists say $70 billion in tax cuts won’t create as many new jobs as $70 billion in spending would. According to the government’s Recovery (.gov) Web site, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:
bullet Saves and creates more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years;
bullet Takes a big step toward computerizing Americans’ health records, reducing medical errors, and saving billions in health care costs;
bullet Revives the renewable energy industry and provides the capital over the next three years to eventually double domestic renewable energy capacity;
bullet Undertakes the largest weatherization program in history by modernizing 75 percent of federal building space and more than one million homes;
bullet Increases college affordability for seven million students by funding the shortfall in Pell Grants, increasing the maximum award level by $500, and providing a new higher education tax cut to nearly four million students;
bullet Enacts the largest increase in funding of the nation’s roads, bridges, and mass transit systems since the creation of the national highway system in the 1950s;
bullet Provides an $800 “Making Work Pay” tax credit for 129 million working households, and cuts taxes for the families of millions of children through an expansion of the Child Tax Credit;
bullet Requires unprecedented levels of transparency, oversight, and accountability.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says Obama will seek additional stimulus/recovery funding if needed. [New York Times, 2/17/2009; recovery.gov, 2/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Commentaries on Economic Issues, USA, Obama Policies and Actions

Conservative syndicated columnist Cal Thomas uses a recent editorial by health care industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009) to accuse the Obama administration of planning a “euthanasia” program to exterminate hapless Americans. President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, Thomas writes, “means the government will decide who gets life-saving treatment and who doesn’t. It is survival of the fittest in practice.” Thomas then writes that the Obama administration’s support of legal abortions will inevitably lead to “euthanasia” of older and less productive citizens. He quotes a 1979 book by theologian Francis Schaeffer and future Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? as saying, “Will a society which has assumed the right to kill infants in the womb—because they are unwanted, imperfect, or merely inconvenient—have difficulty in assuming the right to kill other human beings, especially older adults who are judged unwanted, deemed imperfect physically or mentally, or considered a possible social nuisance?” Thomas then writes, “No one should be surprised at the coming embrace of euthanasia.” Schaeffer and Koop’s prediction that “the next candidates for arbitrary reclassification as nonpersons are the elderly” now “seems to be coming true,” Thomas writes. He also repeats a claim from the 92-year-old Koop that in 1988, he had suffered from an ailment that temporarily paralyzed him. Under Britain’s government-run health care, Koop claims, “I would have been nine years too old to have the surgery that saved my life and gave me another 21 years.” Soon, Thomas writes, “dying will become a patriotic duty when the patient’s balance sheet shows a deficit.” [Tribune Media Services, 2/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, Francis Schaeffer, C. Everett Koop, Cal Thomas

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Category Tags: USA, Commentaries and Criticisms

CNBC commentator Rick Santelli ‘rants’ about the Obama economic policies.CNBC commentator Rick Santelli ‘rants’ about the Obama economic policies. [Source: CNBC / Media Matters]In what is purportedly an impromptu on-air “rant,” CNBC financial commentator Rick Santelli exhorts viewers to join in what he calls a “Chicago tea party” to oppose the Obama administration’s plans to bail out several large financial institutions. Santelli’s rant comes during CNBC’s Squawk Box broadcast. [CNBC, 2/19/2009; CNBC, 2/19/2009] Santelli’s “impromptu rant” is actually preceded by a number of “tea party” protests and activities, and some of the protests’ organizers claim to have given Santelli the idea for his on-air “tea party” statement (see After November 7, 2008, February 1, 2009, and February 16-17, 2009).
'It's Time for Another Tea Party' - Broadcasting from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Santelli tells viewers in part: “The government is promoting bad behavior. We certainly don’t want to put stimulus pork and give people a whopping $8 or $10 in their check and think that they ought to save it.… I have an idea. The new administration is big on computers and technology. How about this, Mr. President and new administration. Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages? Or would they like to at least buy buy cars, buy a house that is in foreclosure… give it to people who might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that can carry the water instead of drink the water? This is America! How many people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgages that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand! President Obama, are you listening?… It’s time for another tea party. What we are doing in this country will make Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin roll over in their graves.” Santelli also compares the US to Cuba: “Cuba used to have mansions and a relatively decent economy,” he says. “They moved from the individual to the collective. Now they’re driving ‘54 Chevys.” [RightPundits, 2/19/2009] Santelli’s “tea party” metaphor is in reference to the Boston Tea Party, a Revolutionary War protest against taxation by America’s British rulers. [New York Daily News, 2/20/2009]
Financial Traders Are the 'Real Americans' - Santelli tells viewers that the “real” Americans are not the working-class citizens trying to pay mortgages larger than they can handle, but the stock traders and other members of the Chicago Mercantile, New York Stock Exchange, and other members of the financial industry. [Business Insider, 2/19/2009] Santelli says, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July (see After November 7, 2008), all you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” [Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 8/24/2010]
Cheers and Applause - Behind Santelli, traders erupt in cheers and applause at his comments. [College News, 2/20/2009]
Active Promotion of the Video - Within hours, CNBC begins promoting the video of Santelli’s comments, calling it “the rant of the year” and posting it on YouTube and its own website. [CNBC, 2/20/2009]
Protests, Organizations Begin Forming - Within minutes of Santelli’s broadcast, “tea party” organizations and groups begin forming (see February 19, 2009 and After).
More Studied Response - Three days later, Santelli will explain the thinking behind his comments, saying: “America is a great country and we will overcome our current economic setbacks. The issues that currently face us and the solutions to correct them need to be debated, vetted, and openly studied. This should not be an issue about the political left or right. This is an issue of discourse on a topic that affects the foundation and principles that make our country great… free speech, contract law, freedom of the press, and most of all the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren.” [CNBC, 2/22/2009]
Human Rights Organization: 'Racial' Component to Santelli's Rhetoric - In 2010, a report by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) will say that “[a]n unstated racial element colored Santelli’s outrage over the Obama administration’s home mortgage rescue plan.” The report will explain that many of the “losers” responsible for the “bad loans” Santelli is criticizing were made by banks that “disproportionately targeted communities of color for subprime loans.” Santelli’s “losers” are largely African-American or Hispanic borrowers who had “been oversold by lenders cashing in on the subprime market. Their situations were worsened by derivatives traders, like Santelli, who packaged and re-packaged those loans until they were unrecognizable and untenable.” [Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 8/24/2010]

Entity Tags: CNBC, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Barack Obama, Rick Santelli, Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, New York Stock Exchange, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Commentaries on Economic Issues, Commentaries and Criticisms

The media responds strongly to CNBC commentator Rick Santelli’s call for a “tea party” to oppose the Obama economic stimulus. [CNBC, 2/20/2009]
Santelli 'Equally Complicit' in Economic Crisis - Writing for College News, Jon Graef notes that Santelli has opposed virtually all of the Obama economic policies, including all the bailouts of the mortgage and automobile industries. He lauds Santelli for “embracing the democratic possibilities that the Internet allows,” but says that “Santelli and his ilk are equally complicit in the housing/finance crises as those who refused to live responsibly within their means. If Santelli doesn’t like the details of the mortgage bailout, then why is continuing to work in conjunction with an industry that received its own government bailout—and promptly spent it on press releases and product placement?” [College News, 2/20/2009]
'Mad as Hell' - Writer Jerome Corsi, who penned a lurid and highly inaccurate “biography” of President Obama before the 2008 election (see August 1, 2008 and After), notes that some are comparing Santelli’s rant to that of fictional news anchor Howard Beale in the movie Network, where Beale screams, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!” [WorldNetDaily, 2/19/2009]
'Investors Have It All Figured Out' - Market analyst Donald Luskin writes that Santelli “went a little bit berserk in his broadcast… warning that all the bailouts, programs, rescues, stabilizations, and stimuli are turning our capitalist nation into Cuba. He got the floor traders so stirred up it seemed for a minute there that an armed revolution was going to start at any moment.” Luskin continues, with at least some sarcasm: “Santelli is right. This country is being rescued to death. The voters may be fooled, for a while at least. But obviously investors have it all figured out.” [Smart Money, 2/20/2009]
'Santelli Hates Poor People' - The avant-garde Washington political gossip blog Wonkette calls Santelli “unlikable” for calling Americans forced to default on their mortgage “losers,” and calls his on-air rant “apesh_t.” Commentator Jim Newell continues, “Maybe Obama’s plan isn’t so great, who knows, but one thing is clear, and that’s that Rick Santelli hates poor people—and by poor people we mean the bottom 50-90 percent of per capita income earners.” [Jim Newell, 2/20/2009]
'Speaking Truth to Ego and the Far Left' - Financial blogger Thomas Smicklas writes that Santelli “sp[oke] truth to ego and the far left.… It is becoming more apparent each day of the new administration those who work hard, save, and are responsible citizens are getting hosed by the practice of class warfare.… Ladies and gentlemen, the politics of vote buying, legal extortion, and the re-distribution of wealth to the lazy and ill-educated has begun in earnest. And we haven’t even touched upon a deteriorating foreign policy. Thanks to CNBC’s Rick Santelli and the workers in the pit that deal in commodities who finally expressed it. We can all be grateful for the lesson.” [Thomas Smicklas, 2/20/2009]
Rewarding Those Who Caused the Bad Lending - The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins writes that right-wing media figures such as Matt Drudge are “freaking out” over Santelli’s rant, “fomentin’ a revolution on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He’s assembled a small army of half-hearted, floor-trading broheims to cheer and hoot as he rails against President Obama’s plan to not immediately foreclose on everybody and kick them out into the streets, because that rewards ‘bad behavior,’ and clearly what we should be doing is rewarding people who incentivized all the risky lending, because until the house of cards collapsed, things were looking pretty for everybody!” [Huffington Post, 3/22/2009]
'Hysteria a la Fox News' - Columnist Mary McNamara calls Santelli’s rant “colorful,” but says Santelli’s “rhetoric/hysteria a la Fox News is damaging to national discourse.” The financial crisis has hit hardest, not in the businesses and mansions of the people Santelli works with, but in the working-poor and lower-middle class families. “They work hard,” she writes. “They weren’t buying luxury homes. Sure, there were a few speculators. But mostly, they just wanted a little piece of the American dream, especially good schools for their kids and closer proximity to their work.” [MultiChannel (.com), 2/19/2009]
'Money for Idiots' - Conservative columnist David Brooks refers to Santelli’s “lustily” delivered rant in defending the necessity for the government to stabilize an economy sliding into chaos. [New York Times, 2/19/2009]
'Pretty Awesome' - New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler writes that she finds Santelli’s “call for revolution… pretty awesome.” She writes, “Santelli is pissed off about the Obama administration’s bailout measures so far, in particular the housing plan the administration announced yesterday, and he wants America to stand up and revolt before we turn into some kind of not-even-tropical version of Cuba.” [New York Magazine, 2/19/2009]
Favorable Coverage from Limbaugh, Hannity, Drudge - Associated Content’s Mark Whittington notes that Santelli’s rant is garnering tremendous coverage from conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Drudge. “More importantly,” he writes, “Santelli’s attack on the Obama mortgage bailout scheme seems to reflect a growing disquiet over President Obama’s spending schemes, which started with the stimulus package, and will now not only include a bailout for mortgages but also a new bailout for the car companies and perhaps even a second stimulus.” [Associated Content, 2/19/2009]
'Almost Inciting a Riot' - Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal observes: “CNBC’s RIck Santelli is always pugnacious, but he outdid himself today, almost inciting a riot among the traders in Chicago when talking about Obama’s housing plan. Suffice to say, the capitalists on the floor do not want to pay for anyone else’s mortgage. Neither do we. That being said, his insistence that these guys represent the ‘real America’ won’t ultimately play that well among most people.” [Business Insider, 2/19/2009] Progressive columnist and blogger John Amato calls himself “disgusted” at Santelli’s “embarrassing diatribe at the expense of the American people,” and writes that watching Santelli “made me realize that these Wall Street frat boys still don’t get it. America is sick and tired of the riches they have manipulated out of the system and then be lectured by people who make more money than 100 middle class workers put together.” Referring to Santelli’s experience as a trader in the high-risk derivative market, an area that many have blamed for causing much of the economic downturn, Amato writes sarcastically, “The next time I want advice on how to live I’ll be sure to ask a man who was deeply involved in ‘derivatives.’” He concludes: “Don’t blame the crooked mortgage lenders who were having bidding wars to acquire their next mansion, but blame first time buyers or average Americans, the lifeblood of our society and call them ‘losers.’ Santelli needs to own that he is the loser and if it wasn’t for the gasbag insider crowd that gives his words a modicum of respect, crowds would gather outside his home with torches and pitchforks.” [John Amato, 2/21/2009]
'Voice of the Silent Majority' - Progressive author and blogger Jane Hamsher writes: “Rick Santelli is just the explosive id of CNBC, saying what everyone else thinks. Somehow it’s not the pervasive institutional rot, the criminal malfeasance at the highest levels, or the chairman of the Federal Reserve telling Americans over and over again that housing prices would never go down. They have convinced themselves that the real problem is once again people at the absolute bottom of the economic scale. If they’d only used appropriate ‘judgment’ and lived within their means, we’d all be fine. Santelli is now being promoted by CNBC as a truth teller, a voice of the… ‘silent majority.’ ‘Would you join Santelli’s “Chicago Tea Party?”’ they want to know. With 170,000 respondents, 93 percent say yes! I guess it was only a matter of time before a hero emerged.” [Jane Hamsher, 2/20/2009; CNBC, 2/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Jessica Pressler, Thomas Smicklas, Sean Hannity, David Brooks, Jane Hamsher, Jerome Corsi, Donald Luskin, Rush Limbaugh, Jason Linkins, Obama administration, Jim Newell, Joe Weisenthal, Jon Graef, Rick Santelli, Mark Whittington, Matt Drudge, Mary McNamara, John Amato

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Commentaries and Criticisms

A day after CNBC’s Rick Santelli engaged in a “rant” against President Obama’s economic policies, and called for a modern-day “tea party” to protest those policies (see February 19, 2009), White House press secretary Robert Gibbs invites Santelli to the White House for coffee and to discuss Obama’s plan to help homeowners. “I’d be happy to buy him a cup of coffee,” Gibbs says. “Decaf.” Gibbs has said that Santelli needs to learn more about the economic bailout before engaging in such sharp criticism. “I’ve watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so,” he says. “I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives or in what house he lives but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgages, stay in their jobs, pay their bills, send their kids to school.… Mr. Santelli has argued, I think quite wrongly, that this plan won’t help everyone. This plan helps people who have been playing by the rules.… I would encourage him to read the president’s plan.… It’s tremendously important for people who rant on cable TV to be responsible and understand what it is they’re talking about. I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Santelli, who has admitted to not reading the White House’s bailout proposals, tells CNBC viewers he “would love to accept” the invitation, but—holding a tea bag to the cameras—says he prefers “tea” to coffee. [CNBC, 2/20/2009; Politico, 2/20/2009; Think Progress, 2/23/2009; New York Times, 2/23/2009; Associated Press, 3/2/2009] Shortly thereafter, Santelli will say that he felt “threatened” by Gibbs’s reference to not knowing where he lives (see February 23, 2009).

Entity Tags: CNBC, Barack Obama, Obama administration, Rick Santelli, Robert Gibbs

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Commentaries and Criticisms, Obama Policies and Actions

President Obama names Earl Devaney to head the new Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, a new agency designed to oversee the allocation and spending of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan. Devaney is a former Secret Service agent who, as the inspector general of the Department of the Interior, helped expose lobbyist corruption there; he will work closely with Vice President Joseph Biden, who will coordinate oversight of the stimulus spending. Devaney helped expose Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s dealings with the Interior Department, and helped finger former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles, who later pled guilty to charges of lying to Congress over his acceptance of bribes. Devaney also led an investigation of workers at the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, where he discovered what he called a “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” at the Denver and Washington offices of the service. [Associated Press, 2/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Minerals Management Service, Barack Obama, Earl Devaney, Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, J. Steven Griles, US Department of the Interior, Joseph Biden

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Obama Policies and Actions

Global recession fears deepen as uncertainty regarding bank bailout plans drives negative investor sentiment on Wall Street. The Dow Jones index closes down 196.01 points, or 2.7% at 7169.66, the lowest since October 1997. The S&P 500 index loses 2.9% to 747.94, below its lowest close since April 1997. Investors initially welcomed reports that the Feds would convert an earlier investment in Citigroup into a large common stock holding, but enthusiasm faded as long-standing uncertainty about the government’s ultimate plan for banks resurfaced to pull indexes lower. European stocks also retreat, sending the Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index to a new six-year low. It slides 0.9% to 175.29, dropping for a second straight day and closing at its lowest level since March 13, 2008. National benchmark indexes dropped in 15 of the 18 western European markets. [National Business Review, 2/23/2009]

Category Tags: USA

Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit is in talks with the US government to increase the amount of public ownership of the bank in a move both politicians and bank bosses hope will avert the need for the ailing corporation to be taken into FDIC receivership (see March 15, 2008). Talks commenced after Citigroup shares dropped more than 20 percent in late trading on Friday, leaving the business with a share value of $10.6 billion, with balance sheet assets of $1.95 trillion. Government receivership of Citigroup is seen as politically unpalatable, and US taxpayers could conceivably own up to 40 percent of Citigroup. Economists see government takeover of the corporation as evidence of other major banks struggling with insolvency. The failure of major banks will have calamitous repercussions. The US treasury says it remains committed to helping the banking industry recover without taking complete control. “Because our economy functions better when financial institutions are well managed in the private ­sector, the strong presumption… is that banks should remain in private hands,” the Treasury Department said in a joint statement with the Federal Reserve. Speculation that a major Wall Street institution could be taken into public ownership toppled the market on Friday, February 20; likely targets were heavily rumored to be Citigroup and Bank of America. Bank of America lost nearly half its share value in three days before rallying late Friday afternoon. The latest talks center on a Treasury Department proposal to convert preference shares in Citigroup into new ordinary shares. This move would not involve additional taxpayer funds, but taxpayers would surrender the guaranteed dividends that come with preference stock, as well as some degree of protection in the event of a corporate collapse. Serious questions remain, such as the price at which new shares are issued. Estimates of the size of the government’s eventual stake range from 25 percent to 40 percent. With this move, Barack Obama’s administration would become a major presence on Citigroup’s ordinary share register, thus diluting the interests of existing investors, and heightening fears of political pressure being brought on US banks. Some analysts suggest that banks relying on taxpayer bail-outs are being encouraged to focus lending and liquidity on the national US market. [Guardian, 2/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Citigroup, Vikram Pandit, US Department of the Treasury, US Federal Reserve

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, USA, Obama Policies and Actions

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), banks and thrifts issued reports of a fourth quarter 2008 net loss totaling $26.2 billion as well as a $27.8 billion decline from the $575 million earned in fourth quarter 2007; it is the first quarterly loss since 1990. Rising loan-loss provisions, losses from trading activities, and goodwill write-downs also contributed to the loss as banks continue to repair their balance sheets in order to return to future profitability. While more than two-thirds of all insured institutions were profitable, earnings were diluted by large losses at a number of big banks. “Public confidence in the banking system and deposit insurance is demonstrated by the increase in domestic deposits during the fourth quarter,” FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair says. “Clearly, people see an FDIC-insured account as a safe haven for their money in difficult times.” FDIC-insured lenders reported net income of $16.1 billion in 2008, down from $100 billion in 2007 and the lowest since the $11.3 billion reported in 1990, the agency says. Regulators shuttered 25 banks last year, including Washington Mutual Inc., the biggest bank failure in US history. Regulators have so far seized 14 lenders this year, including eight in February. [Bloomberg, 2/26/2009; Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 2/26/2009; FDIC News and Events, 2/26/2009, pp. Press Releases]

Entity Tags: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Sheila Bair

Category Tags: USA

The European Commission announces that an index of euro-region executive and consumer sentiment has dropped to 65.4 from 67.2. This is a record low and is caused by the global economic crisis. Responding to this and other bad news Jacques Cailloux, chief euro area economist at Royal Bank of Scotland in London, says, “Today’s data has dashed any hope of a tentative stabilization” in the economy. He also predicts a change in policy by the European Central Bank (ECB): “Any sense that the ECB may pause after a March rate cut can be thrown out the window. They will go very low and they will have to start embarking on additional measures.” [Bloomberg, 2/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Royal Bank of Scotland, Jacques Cailloux

Category Tags: Commentaries on Economic Issues, Britain

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the World Bank pledge to invest €24.5 billion in countries such as Latvia and Hungary that have been hit by the global economic slump. In a joint statement, the three groups announce that the two-year joint initiative will include equity and debt financing, and access to credit and risk insurance aimed at encouraging lending, on top of the countries’ national government responses. The bailout is designed to “deploy rapid, large-scale and coordinated financial assistance… to support lending to the real economy through private banking groups, in particular to small-and medium-sized enterprises.… The response takes into account the different macroeconomic circumstances in, and financial pressures on countries in Eastern Europe, acknowledging the diversity of challenges stemming from the global financial retrenchment,” the groups add. The EBRD was founded in 1991 to assist the transition of former communist nations to market economies—investing across 30 countries including Ukraine, Moldova, and Russia. “The institutions are working together to find practical, efficient and timely solutions to the crisis in eastern Europe,” says EBRD President Thomas Mirow. [BBC, 2/27/2009]

Entity Tags: European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Thomas Mirow, World Bank, European Investment Bank

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid

Official numbers released today show that the US economy fell by 6.2 percent during the fourth quarter of 2008. The decline was much worse than analysts initially predicted, sending US stocks spiraling lower. “Plunging exports and the biggest fall in consumer spending in 28 years dragged the annualized figure down from the preliminary estimate of 3.8 percent,” the BBC reports. As a whole, in 2008, the economy grew at its slowest pace since 2001, posting a mere 1.1 percent growth. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average dropped 119.15 points, or 1.66 percent, to 7,062.93. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 2.36 percent to 735.09, a 12-year low. US consumer spending accounts for nearly two-thirds of domestic economic activity, but fell by a rate of 4.3 percent in the final quarter—the biggest fall since the second quarter of 1980. This was a revision of the earlier figure of 3.5 percent. Rising unemployment, sliding home values, increasing numbers of repossessions, and the slumping value of investments indicate that many US consumers are hanging on to disposable cash. US exports fell at the sharpest rate since 1970 at an annual rate of 23.6 percent, down from 19.7 percent. Prior to the current economic crunch, exports supported the economy. “It shows the weak state of the world’s largest economy,” says Matt Esteve, a currency trader at Tempus Consulting. “Latest GDP figures are just awful and illustrates the weak state of the world’s largest economy.” Boris Schlossberg, director of currency research at GFT Forex, adds, “There is doom all over,” but predicts that the dollar would not weaken too much against the euro since “there’s no good news on the other side of the Atlantic, either.” [BBC, 2/27/2009]

Entity Tags: GFT Forex, Dow Jones Industrial Average, Matt Esteve, Standard & Poor’s, Tempus Consulting, Boris Schlossberg

Category Tags: USA, Bush Policies and Actions

Representative Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) expresses her outrage over the so-called “Disneyland to Las Vegas” train (see February 13, 2009 and After), saying she cannot believe President Obama’s economic stimulus plan has ”$1 billion wasted on a magnetic-levitation train from LA to Sin City.” When challenged by reporter Dick Spotswood over the disproven claim, Mack sends a staff member to “get him the bill, it’s right there, show him.” As Spotswood later reports, “A few minutes later, a staffer emerges with a copy and quietly says ‘it’s not in the bill.’” [Marin Independent Journal, 3/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Mary Bono Mack, Dick Spotswood

Category Tags: USA, Commentaries and Criticisms, Obama Policies and Actions

Citigroup logo.Citigroup logo. [Source: Citigroup]The latest government bailout gives Citigroup bond holders excellent terms and doesn’t provide the bank with new money. Instead, Citigroup cut expenses with the elimination of preferred stock dividends, and also converted shares into common equity at an above-market-value of $3.25, positioning itself to take the first hit if it encounters additional losses. Analysts are predicting that the company’s losses will continue to increase. Since the beginning of 2009, Citigroup’s stock has fallen 78 percent. “Debt holders could eventually be required to participate in further government-led restructuring actions,” Standard and Poor’s says. [Bloomberg, 3/2/2009] Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit tells investors that increasing the bank’s “tangible” common equity from $29.7 billion to as much as $81 billion should “take confidence issues off the table,” about the bank’s loss absorption ability. The bank lost $27.7 billion in 2008, and is predicted to lose $1.24 billion during the first six months of 2009. “There’s no difference here,” says Christopher Whalen, co-founder of Institutional Risk Analytics, a Torrance, California risk-advisory firm. “It won’t fix revenue, and you’re still going to see loss rates.” Whalen says that the government’s efforts are mainly protecting other financial institutions and foreign goverments that are Citigroup bonds holders. “The taxpayer is funding the operating loss and protecting the bondholders,” Whalen notes. “The subsidy for the banks will become one of the biggest lines in Washington’s budget.”
Government Should Organize Citigroup, AIG Bondholders - Whalen also says it would be better if the government organized Citigroup and insurer American International Group Inc. bondholders, since the insurer received a $150 billion US bailout, and also made a deal with the government to convert some of its debt to equity. US government investment fell by more than 50 percent, and the government plans to convert up to $25 billion of its preferred stock to common shares, gaining a 36 percent stake in the bank. At Friday’s closing price of $1.50, government investment is worth approximately $11.5 billion. The bank itself has a stock market value of $8.2 billion as of market closing on February 27.
Analyst: Investors Should Avoid Citigroup Shares - Richard Ramsden, head of a group of analysts at Goldman Sachs Group, recommends that investors avoid investing in Citigroup shares: “It is unclear whether this is the last round of capital restructuring, which means that existing equity may be further diluted in the future.” The bank’s move to convert preferred shares to common equity led Moody’s Investors Service to adjust its senior debt rating for the bank from A3 to A2. Standard and Poor’s also changed its outlook on the bank’s debt from negative to stable. “Citi will face a tough credit cycle in the next two years, which will likely result in weak and volatile earnings,” S&P analyst Scott Sprinzen says. “We cannot rule out the possibility that further government support may prove necessary.” With the first two Citigroup rescue bailouts, the US Treasury bought $45 billion of preferred stock, and the Federal Reserve and FDIC guaranteed the bank against all but $29 billion of losses on a $301 billion portfolio of assets. With the third bailout, the Treasury, the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and other preferred stockholders, agreed to take common stock at $3.25 a share, giving up dividends. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel (D-NY), says: “The administration and the past administration have tried so many different ways that we can only hope and pray that this time they get it right. It seems like with the banks it is a never-ending thing.” [Bloomberg, 2/28/2009]
Third US Rescue Forces Citigroup Board Changes - The Obama administration demonstrated its willingness to force changes on executives at top banks that receive taxpayer-funded rescue packages by pressing Citigroup to reorganize its 15-member board with new, more independent members. The move sends a message to Wall Street that there are consequences when taxpayer dollars are used to save them. “The government is the new boss, and the new executive committee is no longer on Park Avenue,” says Michael Holland who, as chairman and founder of New York’s Holland & Co., manages nearly $4 billion in investments. [Bloomberg, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, Christopher Whalen, Charles Rangel, Alwaleed bin Talal, AIG (American International Group, Inc.), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Vikram Pandit, US Department of the Treasury, Citigroup, Richard Ramsden, Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s, Michael Holland, Institutional Risk Analytics, Scott Sprinzen, US Federal Reserve

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, USA, AIG, Failing Companies, Obama Policies and Actions

European Union Leaders hold an emergency summit in Brussels, saying they are determined to avoid protectionist moves in response to the economic crisis that might cause a rift between nations in the East and West. The summit comes on the heels of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pledge to help his nation’s car industry, if jobs were safeguarded in France. Sarkozy’s pledge raised fears that national protectionism could scuttle hopes of a Eurozone recovery. Speaking after their meeting, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso says, “There was consensus on the need to avoid any unilateral protectionist measures.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that the newest EU member states that are former communist countries were not all in the same situation. Czech Republic Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, the current EU president who also chairs the talks, condemns Sarkozy’s comments, saying: “We need a Europe without barriers but also a just and fair Europe. I think that it was perfectly clear that the European Union isn’t going to leave anybody in the lurch.” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown adds: “Today was the start of a European consensus on all these major issues that are facing the world community, including ‘no’ to protectionism. Bold global action, a global grand bargain, is not now just necessary, but it is vitally urgent.” President Sarkozy denies accusations of protectionism levied at his €6 billion (approximately $8 billion) bail-out plan to keep French carmakers manufacturing in France, but says that if the US defended its own industries, perhaps Europe should do the same. There is no announcement of a new EU aid package for the badly-hit economies of Central and Eastern Europe. The summit comes a week after the same EU leaders met to discuss reforming the EU’s financial system. Brown says the G20 talks next month represent an opportunity to agree on a new deal. “Only by working together will we deliver the EU and international recovery we need,” he says. This week, Brown will become the first European leader to hold talks with President Obama, who is also expected to visit Prague in April. [BBC, 3/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, European Parliament, Gordon Brown, Mirek Topolanek, Jose Manuel Barroso

Category Tags: Other, Britain

On the same day AIG announces the biggest loss ever in corporate history (see October-November 2008), the bailout of the troubled insurer is again increased and its terms eased. First, the US Treasury and Federal Reserve announce a plan to spend up to $30 billion more on preferred shares. However, the Treasury says the dividend on preferred stock, previously 10 percent, might fall. In addition, the bailout’s terms and conditions are altered to give the insurer a billion-dollar-a-year break on interest and dividend payments. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009; Reuters, 4/17/2009] The size of the bailout, initially $85 billion, has now more than doubled, and the terms have been eased repeatedly (see September 16, 2008, October 8, 2008, and November 10, 2008).

Entity Tags: US Federal Reserve, AIG (American International Group, Inc.), US Department of the Treasury

Category Tags: Bailouts and Other Government Aid, Failing Companies, USA, AIG

Fox’s Megyn Kelly.Fox’s Megyn Kelly. [Source: Huffington Post / 236 (.com)]Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) builds on the false claim that Democrats want to build a “levitating train” from Los Angeles to Las Vegas as a favor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV—see February 13, 2009 and After). Franks tells a credulous Fox News anchor that the train will not only go to Las Vegas, but to the door of Nevada’s most famous brothel, the Moonlight Bunny Ranch. Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, repeating Franks’s claim, says: “It’s a super railroad, of sorts—a line that will deliver customers straight from Disney, we kid you not, to the doorstep of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada. I say, to the Moonlight Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada. So should your tax dollars be paying for these kinds of projects?” Franks continues: “The majority leader of the US Senate, Harry Reid, has fought for this publicly and is committed to this project, even in the face of criticism.… If this is something that is truly the priority of the majority leader of the US senate, it’s pretty late in the day, Megyn.” No such earmark exists in either the stimulus package or Congress’s omnibus spending bill; when the Center for American Progress (CAP) asks Franks’s office to prove the claim, his staff refuses, and tells CAP to contact Reid’s office. There is a proposal to refurbish a historical rail line between Gold Hill, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada, a substantially different proposal than the “levitating brothel train” Franks claims is being proposed. (The Moonlight Bunny Ranch is actually in Carson City, which may explain the genesis of Franks’s claim.) Kelly asks Franks how politicians can be held accountable for such actions, and he responds, “Fortunately, people like yourself and Fox News are a tremendous help in that regard because they tell the people—you know, sunlight has a way of being an accountability all by itself” (see October 13, 2009). [Think Progress, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Moonlight Bunny Ranch, Harry Reid, Trent Franks, Megyn Kelly, Center for American Progress, Fox News

Category Tags: Obama Policies and Actions, Commentaries and Criticisms

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