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Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, tells a conference of intelligence officials that the government needs new rules about how to balance privacy rights and investigative needs. Since many people routinely post details of their lives on social-networking sites such as MySpace, he says, their identity should not require the same protection as in the past. Instead, only their “essential privacy,” or “what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs,” should be veiled. Commenting on the speech, the Wall Street Journal will say that this is part of a project by intelligence agencies “to change traditional definitions of how to balance privacy rights against investigative needs.” [Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 10/23/2007 ; Wall Street Journal, 3/10/2008] According to some accounts, the prime repository of information about US citizens that the government has is a database known as Main Core, so if the government collected more information about citizens, the information would be placed in or accessed through this database (see 1980s or Before).
A fire erupts in Vice President Dick Cheney’s ceremonial offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building while White House press secretary Dana Perino is answering questions about the destruction of CIA interrogation videos, at approximately 9:15 in the morning, next door at the White House. White House spokesperson Emily Lawrimore says she is unaware of any documents or artwork lost in the fire. DC fire department spokesman Alan Etter says that smoke came from an electrical closet on the second floor, which may have been the location of the fire’s cause. Perino says the fire may have originated in the electrical closet or a phone bank. The vice president’s working office is located in the West Wing of the White House, whereas the Eisenhower Executive Office Building houses the Office of Management and Budget, staff of the National Security Council, other agencies, and the ceremonial offices of the vice president. The adjacent office of the vice president’s political director Amy Whitelaw is heavily damaged in the fire, according to Cheney spokesperson Lea Anne McBride. [CBS News, 12/19/2007; Associated Press, 12/19/2007; Los Angeles Times, 12/20/2007]
National security lawyer Suzanne Spaulding says that the constitutional question of whether the US government can examine a large array of information about citizens contained in its databases (see 1980s or Before) without violating an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy “has never really been resolved.” She adds that it is “extremely questionable” to assume Americans do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for data such as the subject-header of an e-mail or a Web address from an Internet search, because those are more like the content of a communication than a phone number. “These are questions that require discussion and debate,” she says. “This is one of the problems with doing it all [collecting data on citizens] in secret.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/10/2008]
To assist in the merger of Bear Stearns Companies, Inc. and JP Morgan Chase & Co., the US Federal Reserve authorizes the New York Fed to form Maiden Lane LLC, a Delaware limited liability company. Once established, Maiden Lane is extended credit by the Fed to acquire certain Bear Stearns assets. Maiden Lane funds the purchase of the Bear Stearns asset portfolio of mortgage related securities, residential and commercial mortgage loans, and associated hedges through senior and subordinate loans of approximately $29 billion from the New York Fed, and a much smaller amount, approximately $1.15 billion, from JP Morgan Chase. As of March 14, 2008, the asset portfolio has an estimated fair value of approximately $30 billion. [Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 3/2008]
A new investigation modeled on the Church Committee, which investigated government spying (see April, 1976) and led to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA - see 1978) in the 1970s, is proposed. The proposal follows an amendment to wiretapping laws that immunizes telecommunications companies from prosecution for illegally co-operating with the NSA. A detailed seven-page memo is drafted outlining the proposed inquiry by a former senior member of the original Church Committee.
Congressional Investigative Body Proposed - The idea is to have Congress appoint an investigative body to discover the full extent of what the Bush White House did in the war on terror that may have been illegal and then to implement reforms aimed at preventing future abuses—and perhaps to bring accountability for wrongdoing by Bush officials. Key issues to investigate include:
The NSA’s domestic surveillance activities;
The CIA’s use of rendition and torture against terrorist suspects;
The U.S. government’s use of military assets—including satellites, Pentagon intelligence agencies, and U2 surveillance planes—for a spying apparatus that could be used against people in the US; and
The NSA’s use of databases and how its databases, such as the Main Core list of enemies, mesh with other government lists, such as the no-fly list. A deeper investigation should focus on how these lists feed on each other, as well as the government’s “inexorable trend towards treating everyone as a suspect,” says Barry Steinhardt, the director of the Program on Technology and Liberty for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Proposers - The proposal is a product of talks between civil liberties advocates and aides to Democratic leaders in Congress. People consulted about the committee include aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI). The civil liberties organizations include the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Common Cause. However, some Democrats, such as Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), and former House Intelligence chairwoman Jane Harman (D-CA), approved the Bush administration’s operations and would be made to look bad by such investigation.
Investigating Bush, Clinton Administrations - In order that the inquiry not be called partisan, it is to have a scope going back beyond the start of the Bush administration to include the administrations of Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. The memo states that “[t]he rise of the ‘surveillance state’ driven by new technologies and the demands of counter-terrorism did not begin with this administration.” However, the author later says in interviews that the scope of abuse under George W. Bush would likely be an order of magnitude greater than under preceding presidents.
'Imagine What We Don't Know' - Some of the people involved in the discussions comment on the rationale. “If we know this much about torture, rendition, secret prisons, and warrantless wiretapping despite the administration’s attempts to stonewall, then imagine what we don’t know,” says a senior Democratic congressional aide who is familiar with the proposal. Steinhardt says: “You have to go back to the McCarthy era to find this level of abuse. Because the Bush administration has been so opaque, we don’t know [the extent of] what laws have been violated.” “It’s not just the ‘Terrorist Surveillance Program,’” says Gregory Nojeim from the Center for Democracy and Technology. “We need a broad investigation on the way all the moving parts fit together. It seems like we’re always looking at little chunks and missing the big picture.”
Effect on Presidential Race Unknown - It is unknown how the 2008 presidential race may affect whether the investigation ever begins, although some think that Democratic candidate Barack Obama (D-IL), said to favor open government, might be more cooperative with Congress than his Republican opponent John McCain (R-AZ). However, a participant in the discussions casts doubt on this: “It may be the last thing a new president would want to do.” [Salon, 7/23/2008]
The United States Federal Reserve has lent Wall Street’s largest investment bank billions of dollars, as the credit crisis threatens to spiral into a full-blown banking crisis. In developments currently rocking the world’s financial markets, the Fed and rival Wall Street bank, JP Morgan Chase, are funneling emergency loans to Bear Stearns, whose exposure to battered credit markets has led to a crisis of confidence in its ability to continue trading. In accelerating numbers, clients and trading partners are pulling business from Bear Stearns, after rumors of its solvency began circulating. During a last-minute conference call with investors, management at the investment bank warned that its emergency lending facility with the Federal Reserve has failed to staunch the bleeding. “We have been subject to a significant amount of rumor and innuendo in the past week,” says Bear Stearns chief executive Alan Schwartz. “We attempted to provide some facts but, in the market environment, the rumors intensified and a lot of people wanted to act to protect themselves first from the possibility that the rumors were true, and wait till later for the facts.” Bear Stearns appears most fragile of Wall Street’s major investment banks, since the July 2007 collapse of two internal hedge funds, providing initial clues about the scale of the unfolding credit crisis. Shares across the banking sector plunge as analysts fear that the Fed’s willingness to intervene suggests that Bear’s future is pivotal to the banking system, and that its failure precipitates losses that may cascade through its trading partners. Bear Stearns stocks are in freefall, closing down 47 percent. Pierre Ellis at New York’s Decision Economics said, “Clearly the Fed is addressing what they feel is a systemic risk very aggressively.” [Belfast Telegraph, 3/15/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney, on a trip to the Middle East, meets with Saudi King Abdullah on Abdullah’s horse farm for about four hours. Cheney also meets with his long-time friend, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi. The conversations between the men are not reported in any depth; a senior US official says the discussions are “confidential and private.” Cheney will then leave for discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. [Agence France-Presse, 3/22/2008] Interestingly, after Cheney’s meeting with the Saudi leaders, the Saudi Shura Council, the governmental group that implements the decisions of the Saudi leadership, plans to secretly meet to discuss “national plans to deal with any sudden nuclear and radioactive hazards that may affect the kingdom following experts’ warnings of possible attacks on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactors,” according to the Saudi newspaper Okaz. A leading Saudi agency, the King Abdul-Aziz City for Science and Technology, has prepared a plan to deal with the probability of radiation hazards in case of any unexpected nuclear attacks on Iran. [Deutche Presse-Agentur, 3/22/2008] Certainly a swift and massively destructive US strike against Iran is possible. Author and military expert William Arkin wrote in 2005 that the US could strike Iranian targets within about 12 hours from the time President Bush gave the final order (see January 25, 2005). Arkin quoted Lieutenant General Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, as saying that his fleet of B-2 and B-52 bombers were on, essentially, perpetual alert: “We have the capacity to plan and execute global strikes,” Carlson said. He added that his forces were the US Strategic Command’s “focal point for global strike” and could execute an attack “in half a day or less.” [Washington Post, 5/15/2005] And in 2006, reporter Seymour Hersh noted that US Air Force planning groups had drawn up detailed lists of Iranian targets as part of the military’s plan to launch major air attacks against Iran. Teams of US combat troops had clandestinely entered Iran to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic minority groups; US warplanes were making repeated practice “nuclear delivery” runs near the Iranian border in preparation for air strikes. [New Yorker, 4/17/2006]
Constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, formerly an associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, says that the legality of the Main Core database, which contains a list of enemies primarily for use in national emergencies (see 1980s or Before), is murky: “In the event of a national emergency, the executive branch simply assumes these powers”—the powers to collect domestic intelligence and draw up detention lists, for example—“if Congress doesn’t explicitly prohibit it. It’s really up to Congress to put these things to rest, and Congress has not done so.” Fein adds that it is virtually impossible to contest the legality of these kinds of data collection and spy programs in court “when there are no criminal prosecutions and [there is] no notice to persons on the president’s ‘enemies list.’ That means if Congress remains invertebrate, the law will be whatever the president says it is—even in secret. He will be the judge on his own powers and invariably rule in his own favor.” [Radar, 5/2008]
Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi is interviewed by journalist Christopher Ketcham about the Main Core database, which apparently contains a list of potential enemies of the US state. Giraldi does not know any definite information about the database, but he speculates that it must be contained within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): “If a master list is being compiled, it would have to be in a place where there are no legal issues”—the CIA and FBI would be restricted by oversight and accountability laws—“so I suspect it is at DHS, which as far as I know operates with no such restraints.” Giraldi notes that the DHS already maintains a central list of suspected terrorists and says it has been freely adding people who pose no reasonable threat to domestic security. “It’s clear that DHS has the mandate for controlling and owning master lists. The process is not transparent, and the criteria for getting on the list are not clear.” Giraldi continues, “I am certain that the content of such a master list [as Main Core] would not be carefully vetted, and there would be many names on it for many reasons—quite likely including the two of us.” [Radar, 5/2008]
Former national security official Norman Bailey admits publicly and on the record that the PROMIS database and search application has been given to the NSA. As Salon magazine points out: “His admission is the first public acknowledgement by a former US intelligence official that the NSA used the PROMIS software.” Bailey also says that the application was given to the Treasury Department for a financial tracking project in the early 1980s that also involved the National Security Council (see 1982-1984). Bailey worked for US governments from the Ronald Reagan era until the George W. Bush administration and, in addition to the 1980s tracking program, he headed a special unit within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence focused on financial intelligence on Cuba and Venezuela in 2006 and 2007. [Salon, 7/23/2008]
What Radar magazine describes as a “knowledgeable source” claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in the Main Core database as potentially suspect. Main Core is a database of enemies of the state established several decades before as a part of the Continuity of Government (COG) program (see 1980s or Before). In the event of a national emergency, the suspects could be subject to, for example, heightened surveillance, tracking, direct questioning, or even detention. [Radar, 5/2008]
In his last full year in office, President Bush announces that he is again renewing the national emergency he proclaimed in response to the 9/11 attacks (see September 14, 2001). Bush issues a notice that states: “Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001, and the powers and authorities adopted to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond September 14, 2008. Therefore, I am continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency I declared on September 14, 2001, with respect to the terrorist threat.” [White House, 8/28/2008] The national emergency has been renewed on a yearly basis since 2001. [US President, 9/16/2002; White House, 9/10/2004; White House, 9/8/2005; White House, 9/5/2006; White House, 9/12/2007]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
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]
The Bush administration updates the secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government during disasters. Federal emergency responsibilities are consolidated within the White House Military Office, a move designed to simplify the government’s response procedures. Under the changes, the Department of Defense and the Bush administration take over parts of the program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to the New York Times, “Under the revamped structure, the White House Military Office, which reports to the office of the White House chief of staff, has assumed a more central role in setting up a temporary ‘shadow government’ in a crisis.” According to the Times, the move comes after “months of heated internal debate about the balance of power and the role of the military” in a time of crisis. “Supporters of the plan inside the Bush White House, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, saw the erratic response to the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a mandate for streamlining an emergency response process they considered clunky because it involved too many agencies.” Officials opposed to the plan argue the new structure places “too much power in the hands of too few people.” They also perceive the changes to be “part of the Bush administration’s broader efforts to enhance the power of the White House.” Supporters of the plan originally wanted to take the changes further, but according to the Times, “concerns about the perception of growing military influence in the emergency process set off an internal struggle, and the White House decided not to move ahead with a more ambitious proposal to give the power of the purse to the military arm, rather than FEMA, for budgeting the emergency operations, one official said.” A spokesman for the Pentagon will later describe the changes as a “minor tweaking” of the system. The changes are authorized by President Bush’s National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51), which was signed in May 2007 (see May 9, 2007). [New York Times, 7/27/2009]
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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]
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]
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]
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]
Regulatory reports on Bank of America, Citibank, HSBC Bank USA, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo indicate that, as loan defaults of every kind soar, the institutions face “catastrophic losses” should economic conditions “substantially worsen.” Already suffering as a result of what the banks term “exotic investments,” the reports disclose that, as of December 31, 2008, current net loss risks from derivatives—quasi-insurance bets tied to loans or other underlying assets—have swelled to $587 billion. According to McClatchy journalists Greg Gordon and Kevin G. Hall, obscured in the year-end regulatory reports that they reviewed were figures reflecting a jump of 49 percent net loss in just 90 days.
Bailout Money Shoring Up Reserves - Taxpayer bailout money has already shored up four of the five banks’ reserves, with Citibank receiving $50 billion and Bank of America $45 billion, in addition to a $100 billion loan guarantee. According to their quarterly financial reports as of December 31:
JP Morgan had potential current derivatives losses of $241.2 billion, overrunning its $144 billion in reserves, and future exposure of $299 billion.
Citibank had potential current losses of $140.3 billion, outstripping its $108 billion in reserves, and future losses of $161.2 billion.
Bank of America reported $80.4 billion in current exposure, lower than its $122.4 billion reserve, but $218 billion in total exposure.
HSBC Bank USA had current potential losses of $62 billion, over three times its reserves, and potential total exposure of $95 billion.
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which took over Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia in October 2008, reported current potential losses totaling almost $64 billion, below the banks’ combined reserves of $104 billion, but total future risks of about $109 billion. [McClatchy Newspapers, 3/9/2009; Idaho Statesman.com, 3/9/2009]
President Barack Obama implements a home mortgage rescue plan that he says will prevent as many as 9 million Americans from losing their homes to foreclosure. Obama says that turning around the battered economy requires stemming the continuing tide of foreclosures. He says that the housing crisis that began last year set many other factors in motion and helped lead to the current, widening recession. “In the end, all of us are paying a price for this home mortgage crisis,” Obama says. “All of us will pay an even steeper price if we allow this crisis to deepen. The American dream is being tested by a home mortgage crisis that not only threatens the stability of our economy but also the stability of families and neighborhoods. While this crisis is vast, it begins just one house and one family at a time.” Of the nearly 52 million US homeowners with a mortgage, about 13.8 million, or nearly 27 percent, owe more on their mortgage than their home is currently worth. Obama’s plan contains three initiatives:
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac homeowners owing between 80 and 105 percent of what their homes are worth can refinance their mortgage. Prior to implementation of the rescue plan, only those borrowers with at least 20 percent home equity could refinance. Refinancing at a lower rate may save borrowers thousands of dollars yearly on their mortgage payments.
Banks will be encouraged to work with homeowners to modify existing mortgages, which is different from refinancing. The Bush administration plan, “Hope for Homeowners,” passed late in 2008, tried to do what Obama has now accomplished, but, since banks were not eager to modify terms to help people stay in their houses, the Bush plan is considered a failure. Under Obama’s plan, banks who received TARP funding will have to participate and, if they do not, Obama may request that the Congress allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage terms. Before Obama’s new plan, judges already had the power to modify mortgage terms on a homeowner’s second and third homes, although not on their primary residences.
Interest rates will be kept low by having the Treasury Department buy up mortgage-backed securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in the hope of re-inflating the market for mortgage-related products, even if Treasury may be overpaying for toxic assets in a market with few, if any, other buyers. [Mother Jones, 2/18/2009; CNN, 4/16/2009]
Silverton Bank, a commercial bank that provided major wholesale banking services to client banks, is shuttered by regulators, making it the 30th US bank to fail in 2009. Based in Atlanta, it is the sixth Georgia bank to close this year and is taken over by the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which appoints the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) as receiver. Silverton was a correspondent bank that did not take public deposits or make consumer loans, but provided credit card operations, investments, and loan purchases to client banks. At its closure, the bank’s total assets are approximately $4.1 million and total deposits are about $3.3 billion. The FDIC says it has created Silverton Bridge Bank N.A. to manage bank business and minimize disruption to customers over the next 60 days; the FDIC estimates it will cost the Deposit Insurance Fund $1.3 billion.
Consequences of Collapse - The failure’s impact is expected to ripple through the banking industry and industry experts believe it will have catastrophic consequences for banks across the Sun Belt, potentially impacting hundreds of bank balance sheets. Founded in the mid-1980s, Silverton provided credit and deposit services for other banks, acting as a middleman for fiduciary services for 1,500 small US banks in 44 states. Services included federal funds repayments, a check clearinghouse, and loans to bank holding companies, directors, and executives. Local bank attorneys describe Silverton as a mini-Federal Reserve for community banks.
Other Banks Also Closing - As the deepening recession makes it more difficult for consumers and businesses to pay their loans, local banks have closed in droves. So far, on nearly every Friday this year, there has been at least one bank failure. During the third week in April, while banks prepared for the Obama administration’s ‘stress tests,’ four regional banks closed. Despite federal commitment of amounts in the trillions to increase liquidity as well as jumpstart the economy, the speed of bank failures has accelerated. In 2008, a total of 25 banks failed, yet, in the first four months of 2009, 30 banks have failed. Prior to Silverton’s closure, American Southern Bank in Kennesaw, Georgia, was the last FDIC-insured bank to fail; it was shut down on April 24. [Marketwatch, 5/1/2009; CNN, 5/1/2009; Associated Press, 5/1/2009]
Wells Fargo & Co. confirms that it is not one of the 10 megabanks that will repay TARP capital and also says it is not hastening to repay the money. There had been rumors, perhaps because it had objected to the TARP funding in 2008, that Wells was prepared to write a check to repay its $25-billion TARP infusion—at any given moment—to escape government restrictions on executive pay, dividends, etc., but these rumors are now found to be false. The San Francisco-based bank bought Wachovia Corporation last year when it was on the verge of collapse and in its statement Wells cites its need to focus on assimilating loss-ridden Wachovia. “We want to pay back the government’s investment on behalf of the US taxpayer at the earliest practical date, but we haven’t applied yet to our regulators to repay the investment,” the statement says. From the beginning, Wells Chairman Richard Kovacevich stoked anti-TARP sentiment and opposed his bank’s inclusion in the program. Mr. Kovacevich said then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson “forced” the money on the bank because Mr. Paulson believed that all of the nation’s largest banks should have been TARP participants so that none appeared to be singled out for federal involvement. Mr. Kovacevich also attacked the government’s “stress test” of the 19 major banks to determine whether they had enough capital to survive a worse-than-expected economy over the next two years. “We do stress tests all the time on all of our portfolios,” Kovacevich said, according to Bloomberg News. “We share those stress tests with our regulators. It is absolutely asinine that somebody would announce we’re going to do stress tests for banks and we’ll give you the answer in 12 weeks.” On May 7, the Federal Reserve judged Wells and nine other major banks short of capital and Wells was ordered to raise $13.7 billion in additional capital by November 2009. The following day, Wells quickly raised $8.6 billion in a stock sale. Wells says it will “work closely with our regulators to determine the appropriate time to repay the TARP funds while maintaining strong capital levels.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2009]
The US Treasury Department concludes that financial firms American Express, Bank of New York Mellon, Branch Banking & Trust (BB&T), Capital One Financial, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Northern Trust, State Street, and US Bancorp can return $68.3 billion in emergency bailout funds to government coffers although some of the banks have assets that are still government-controlled, with warrants worth approximately $4.6 billion. Twenty-two smaller banks already returned $1.9 billion. Morgan Stanley receives Treasury permission to return its TARP funding despite bank stress test details released early last May ordering the bank to increase its capital cushion fund by raising $1.8 billion. In a Treasury release, Secretary Timothy Geithner explains, “These repayments are an encouraging sign of financial repair, but we still have work to do.” President Obama comments that the ability of companies to repay the government does not detract from the need for reform. “The return of these funds does not provide forgiveness for past excesses or permission for future misdeeds,” he says. “This is not a sign that our troubles are over. Far from it.” [United Press International, 6/9/2009; New York Times, 6/9/2009]
Entity Tags: Capital One Financial, Bank of New York Mellon, American Express, Branch Banking & Trust (BB&T), US Bancorp, US Department of the Treasury, State Street, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Northern Trust, Barack Obama, Timothy Geithner
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
On his website “Roubini Global Economics (RGE) Monitor,” New York University economics professor Nouriel Roubini interprets June’s unemployment report as a strong indication that any economic recovery indicators are “alleged green shoots” that are “mostly yellow weeds that may eventually turn into brown manure.” Known as “Dr. Doom” for his prescient 2006 speech to the International Monetary Fund warning fellow economists that the housing bubble would eventually lead to major global recession, Roubini analyzed June’s loss of 460,000 jobs as a strong indication that conditions in the labor market remain “extremely weak.” He also predicts that unemployment could reach 10 percent by the end of summer and that, by the end of 2009, the jobless rate “may well be at 10.5 if not 11 percent.” Roubini cites numerous reasons that an economic recovery, stumped by record high joblessness, is not likely to occur until unemployment falls below 8.5 percent in late 2013.
Roubini June 2009 Jobs Report Analysis -
Details of the unemployment report are worse than reported since, not only are there presently large job losses, but firms are inducing workers to reduce their hours and their hourly wages. According to Roubini, when observing the effect of the labor market on labor income, include three important elements in the total value of labor income—jobs, hours, and average hourly wages. Roubini says all three elements are currently falling, making their effects on labor income much more significant than job losses alone.
Job losses continue to exceed those in the last two recessions, and the unemployment rate has been rising steadily in the current cycle.
Rising unemployment will raise default on consumer loans and further pressure bank balance sheets.
Without home equity or easy credit, ongoing job losses and slower income growth will also keep up the pressure on consumer spending.
Large unemployment, underutilization of labor, and sharp slowdown in wages will add to deflationary pressures in the coming quarters.
Bank losses and tight lending are impacting households who already face wealth losses from housing and equity markets.
Impact of financial sector problems on the real economy are intensifying job losses and leading to lower work hours and wage growth. This puts further pressure on consumer spending while raising mortgage, credit card, and other debt defaults (the unemployment rate is highly correlated with delinquencies on credit cards and auto loans), also putting additional pressure on financial and corporate sector balance sheets.
US labor market aspects are worsening. Factor discouraged and partially-employed workers into jobless statistics, and the true and current unemployment rate is above 16 percent.
Temporary jobs are falling sharply, also an indicator that labor market conditions are becoming worse.
The average unemployment duration is at an all-time high, indicating that people are not only losing jobs, they’re finding it much more difficult to find new jobs.
Based on the birth/death model, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) continues to add approximately 150,000 to 200,000 jobs, distorting downward the number of job losses. However, based on the initial claims for unemployment benefits, job losses are closer to 600,000 per month rather than officially reported figures such as the 467,000 in the June report.
Should unemployment rates peak at or around 11 percent in 2010, expected bank loans and securities losses will be much higher than estimated in recent stress tests.
While there was a retail sales boost and a boost in real consumer spending during January and February 2009, the numbers from April, May, and now June remain extremely weak in real terms.
The significant increase in real personal income in April and May occurred only because of tax rebates and unemployment benefits.
There was a sharp fall in real personal spending in April, with only a marginal increase in May, suggesting that, just as in 2008, most tax rebates were saved rather than spent. In 2008, people expected the tax rebate to stimulate consumption through September, yet the personal spending increase in April, May, and June 2008 fizzled out by July.
Expect further significant reduction in consumer spending in the fall after the effects of the tax rebates fade since, according to Roubini, 2009 households are much more worried about jobs, income, credit cards, and mortgages than they are in personal consumption and spending. Roubini suggests that only approximately 20 cents on the dollar—rather than the 30 cents of 2008—is going to be spent in the fall of 2009.
By the end of 2010 and in 2011, large budgets and their monetization will eventually increase expected inflation, leading to a further increase in 10-year treasuries, long-term government bond yields, and mortgage and private-market rates. Combined with higher oil prices partly driven to increase by the treasuries, bonds, mortgage, and private market wall of liquidity, as opposed to fundamentals alone, this “could produce a double whammy that could push the economy into a double-dip or W-shaped recession by late 2010 or 2011, so the outlook ahead for the US and global economy remains extremely weak.”
The unemployment rate is already over 10 percent in approximately 13 states—and steadily rising. The ISM Employment Index for manufacturing and non-manufacturing has been contracting at a slower pace in recent months. Manpower Survey shows most employers plan to hold head count steady in the third quarter of 2009 relative to the second quarter of 2009. Online job vacancies fell in June, but have shown some improvement since March. JOLTS: The job openings level in April was at its lowest point since the series began in 2001. The hiring and job openings rates were unchanged and remained low
(see June 9, 2009).
Nobel Laureate Agrees - Economist Paul Krugman, 2008 Nobel laureate, comments: “Workers at any one company can help save their jobs by accepting lower wages and helping make the company more competitive. But when employers across the economy cut wages at the same time, the result is higher unemployment and lower wages in the economy. This will keep pressure on paying off debt and on consumer spending and the real economy.” [RGE Monitor, 7/2/2009]
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) spent $314.3 million to shut down 16 banks in June 2009, according to reports released today. The federal insurer closed seven banks on June 25, pushing the number of bank failures for 2009 to 52, more than double the failures for all of 2008. The late June closures included six Illinois regional banks, all controlled by one family whose bank business model, according to the FDIC, “created concentrated exposure in each institution.” The FDIC says that the failure of the six family-owned banks is due to the banks’ investments in collateralized debt obligations and other losses. The failures and subsequent government takeover of the Illinois banks brought total 2009 Illinois bank failures to 12. Local and regional banks have been especially hard hit by plummeting home values that devalued mortgage-backed assets, while rising unemployment rates forced increased numbers of consumers to default on their loans.
June 2009 Bank Failures FDIC Update through July 2, 2009 -
Founders Bank, Worth, Illinois, with approximately $962.5 million in assets, closed. The PrivateBank and Trust Company, Chicago, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximatedly $848.9 million.
Millennium State Bank of Texas, Dallas, Texas, approximately $118 million in assets, closed. State Bank of Texas, Irving, Texas, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $115 million.
The First National Bank of Danville, Danville, Illinois, approximately $166 million in assets, closed. First Financial Bank, N. A., Terre Haute, Indiana, assumed all deposits, approximately $147 million.
The Elizabeth State Bank, Elizabeth, Illinois, approximately $55.5 million in assets, closed. Galena State Bank and Trust Company, Galena, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $50.4 million.
Rock River Bank, Oregon, Illinois, approximately $77 million in assets, closed. The Harvard State Bank, Harvard, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $75.8 million.
The First State Bank of Winchester, Winchester, Illinois, approximately $36 million in assets, closed. The First National Bank of Beardstown, Beardstown, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $34 million.
The John Warner Bank, Clinton, Illinois, with approximately $70 million in assets, was closed. State Bank of Lincoln, Lincoln, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximaedly $64 million.
Mirae Bank, Los Angeles, California, approximately $456 million in assets, closed. Wilshire State Bank, Los Angeles, California, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $362 million.
MetroPacific Bank, Irvine, California, approximately $80 million in assets, closed. Sunwest Bank, Tustin, California, agreed to assume all non-brokered deposits, approximately $73 million.
Horizon Bank, Pine City, Minnesota, approximately $87.6 million in assets, closed. Stearns Bank N. A., St. Cloud, Minnesota, agreed to assume all deposits, excluding certain brokered deposits, approximately $69.4 million.
Neighbor Community Bank, Newnan, Georgia, approximately $221.6 million in assets, closed. CharterBank, West Point, Georgia, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $191.3 million.
Community Bank of West Georgia, Villa Rica, Georgia, approximately $199.4 million in assets and approximately $182.5 million in deposits, approved for payout by the FDIC board of directors.
First National Bank of Anthony, Anthony, Kansas, approximately $156.9 million in assets, closed. Bank of Kansas, South Hutchinson, Kansas, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $142.5 million.
Cooperative Bank, Wilmington, North Carolina, approximately $970 million in assets, closed. First Bank, Troy, North Carolina, agreed to assume all deposits, excluding certain brokered deposits, approximately $774 million.
Southern Community Bank, Fayetteville, Georgia, approximately $377 million in assets, closed. United Community Bank, Blairsville, Georgia, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $307 million.
Bank of Lincolnwood, Lincolnwood, Illinois, approximately $214 million in assets, closed. Republic Bank of Chicago, Oak Brook, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $202 million. [CNN, 7/2/2009; FDIC.gov, 7/2/2009]
While California grapples with budget problems as a result of the havoc wreaked by the global recession, a collection of banks—Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan Chase among them—say that commencing Friday, July 10, they will not accept state IOUs, adding pressure for the state to close its $26.3 billion budget gap.
IOUs Result of Credit Crisis - The banks initially made a commitment to accept IOU payments when the economically devastated state announced that it would issue more than $3 billion in IOUs beginning on or around July 1. Since the beginning of the year, state leaders have tried and failed to agree on a budget, and Governor Arnold Swarzenegger imposed monthly one to three-day monthly furloughs on at least 200,000 state employees; the furloughs are still in effect. The state began issuing IOUs—‘individual registered warrants’—to hundreds of thousands of creditors one day after the end of the 2009 fiscal year. John Chiang, California state controller, said, “Without IOUs, California will run out of cash by the end of July.” California’s annual budget is the eighth largest in the world. If the state continues issuing warrants, creditors will be forced to hold them until their maturity on October 2 or find other banks willing to honor them before maturity. The maturity of the IOUs will allow the state to pay back creditors directly at a 3.75 percent annual interest rate.
Response by California Bankers Association - California Bankers Association spokeswoman Beth Mills says that some banks might work with creditors to develop a short-term resolution, such as extending lines of credit to creditors. Mills says the banks were concerned that there aren’t processes in place to accept IOUs; she said that some of the banks were also worried about fraud issues, and notes that the July 10 deadline was not set by all banks. She adds that dozens of state credit unions would continue to accept IOUs.
Significance of California's Problems - Twelve percent of the nation’s gross domestic product comes from California and the state has the largest share of retail sales of any state. Retail consultant Burt P. Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, explains, “California is the key catalyst for US retail sales, and if California falls further you will see the US economy suffer significantly.” Flickinger warns of more national retail chain and brand suppliers bankruptcies. At one dollar for every 80 cents, the state sends more in tax revenues to the federal government than it receives in return. Although California’s deep recession primarily only affects the state itself, it could make it harder for a national economic recovery since, because of its size—38.3 million people—it affects businesses from Texas to Michigan. Even if lawmakers solve the state’s deficit swiftly, there will likely be more government furloughs and layoffs with tens of billions of dollars more in spending cuts. This could cause a ripple effect throughout the state’s economy and fear of even more job losses. Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center for the University of the Pacific at Stockton, predicts that one million jobs are expected to be lost in the state in two years, with unemployment estimated to peak at 12.3 percent in early 2010. In 2008, for the first time since the Great Depression, personal income of Californians declined. Income revenue fell 34 percent for the first five months of 2009. [Associated Press, 6/29/2009; Wall Street Journal, 7/7/2009]
Entity Tags: California Bankers Association, Bank of America, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Beth Mills, California, John Chiang, JP Morgan Chase, Jeff Michael, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Burt P. Flickinger, Citigroup, Strategic Resource Group
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
Group of 8 (G-8) leaders from across the globe release a statement from their meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, saying that economic recovery from the worst recession since World War II is too frail for them to consider repealing efforts to infuse money into the economy. US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, European Commission President Jose Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev assembled for the annual gathering where Obama pressed to maintain an open door for additional stimulus actions. A new drop in stocks generated global concern that, to date, the $2 trillion already sunk into economies had not provided the economic bump that would bring consumers and businesses back to life. “The G-8 needed to sound a second wakeup call for the world economy,” Brown told reporters after the gathering’s opening sessions. “There are warning signals about the world economy that we cannot ignore.” A G-8 statement embraces options ranging from a second US stimulus package—advocated by some lawmakers and economists—to an emphasis by Germany on shifting the focus to deficit reduction.
What Next? - Disagreements over what to do next, as well as calls from developing nations to do more to counteract the slump, emphasize that the Group of 8 has little if any room to maneuver, since the largest borrowing binge in 60 years has, so far, failed to stop rising unemployment and has left investors doubting the potency of the recovery. Even as G-8 leaders held their first meeting, the Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) World Index of stocks continued a five-day slide, and the 23-nation index had dropped 8 percent since its three-month rally that ended on June 2. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) upgraded its 2010 growth forecast, saying the rebound would be “sluggish,” and urged governments to stay the course with economic stimuli. The IMF also said that emerging countries such as China would lead the way, with an expansion of 4.7 percent in 2010, up from their April prediction of 4 percent. “It’s a very volatile situation,” said European Commission President Barroso in a Bloomberg Television interview from L’Aquila. “We are not yet out of the crisis, but it seems now that the free fall is over.”
Exit Strategems Discussion - “Exit strategies will vary from country to country depending on domestic economic conditions and public finances,” the leaders conclude, but deputy US National Security Adviser Mike Froman tells reporters, “There is still uncertainty and risk in the system.” Froman says that although exit strategies should be drawn up, it’s not “time to put them into place.” The IMF forecasts that, in 2014, the debt of advanced economies will explode to at least 114 percent of US gross domestic product because of bank bailouts and recession-battling measures. German Chancellor Merkel, campaigning for re-election in September and the leading opponent of additional stimulus, warned against burgeoning budget deficits, which the IMF has predicted will rise to an average of 6 percent of the EU’s 2009 gross domestic product, from 2.3 percent in 2008. At last month’s European Union summit, Merkel pushed through a statement that called for “a reliable and credible exit strategy,” and insisted, “We have to get back on course with a sustainable budget, but with the emphasis on when the crisis is over.” [G8 Summit 2009, 7/2/2009; Bloomberg, 7/9/2009]
Entity Tags: Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) World Index, Mike Froman, Jose Manuel Barroso, International Monetary Fund, Taro Aso, National Security Council, Nicolas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi, Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown, Barack Obama, Standard & Poor’s, Stephen Harper, Dmitriy Medvedev
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
The New York Times reports that the ultra-secretive Continuity of Government program, which was activated and expanded by the Bush administration following the 9/11 attacks, is kept in tact by the new administration of Barrack Obama. According to the Times, White House officials draw “no distance between their own policies and those left behind by the Bush administration.” Officials refuse to discuss details of the continuity plans, but say the current policy is “settled.” [New York Times, 7/27/2009] Shortly before leaving office, Bush officials updated the plans and increased the role of the White House and the military (see January 2009).
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) regulators take over real estate lender Colonial BancGroup Inc. in the biggest US bank failure this year. Regulators also close four banks in Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania. This increases to 77 the number of federally insured banks that have failed in 2009. The FDIC is appointed receiver of Colonial BancGroup, based in Montgomery, Alabama; Community Bank of Arizona, based in Phoenix; Union Bank, based in Gilbert, Arizona; Community Bank of Nevada, based in Las Vegas; and Dwelling House Savings and Loan Association, located in Pittsburgh. The FDIC approves the sale of Colonial’s $20 billion in deposits and about $22 billion of its assets to BB&T Corp., which is based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. According to the FDIC, the failed bank’s 346 branches in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Texas will reopen at normal times starting on Saturday as BB&T offices. A temporary government bank is established by the FDIC for Community Bank of Nevada to give depositors approximately 30 days to open accounts at other financial institutions. As of June 30, Community Bank of Nevada had assets of $1.52 billion and deposits of $1.38 billion; Community Bank of Arizona had assets of $158.5 million and deposits of $143.8 million; Union Bank had assets of $124 million and deposits of $112 million as of June 12. MidFirst Bank, based in Oklahoma City, agrees to assume all the deposits and $125.5 million of the assets of Community Bank of Arizona, as well as about $24 million of the deposits and $11 million of the assets of Union Bank, with the FDIC retaining what’s left for eventual sale. Dwelling House had $13.4 million in assets and $13.8 million in deposits as of March 31. PNC Bank, part of Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group Inc., agrees to assume all of Dwelling House’s deposits and about $3 million of its assets; the FDIC will hold the rest for eventual sale. The FDIC expects Colonial BancGroup’s failure to cost it an estimated $2.8 billion and that of Community Bank of Nevada, $781.5 million; Union Bank, $61 million; Community Bank of Arizona, $25.5 million; and Dwelling House, $6.8 million. The 77 bank failures nationwide this year compare with 25 last year and three in 2007. As the economy spiraled downward, bank failures increased seismically, siphoning billions out of the FDIC which, at $13 billion as of the first quarter, is at its lowest level since 1993. While losses on home mortgages may be leveling, commercial real estate loan delinquencies remain a potential trouble spot, say FDIC officials. The FDIC’s list of problem institutions soared to 305 in first quarter 2009—the highest since the savings and loan crisis in 1994—increasing from 252 in fourth quarter 2008. Regulators anticipate US bank failures will cost the FDIC about $70 billion through 2013. The shutdown in May of Florida thrift BankUnited is expected to cost the federal insurer $4.9 billion, the second-largest hit since the financial crisis commenced. So far, the costliest is the seizure of big California lender IndyMac Bank in 2008, where it is estimated that the FDIC lost $10.7 billion. In September 2008, the largest US bank failure was the failure of Seattle-based Washington Mutual Inc. (WAMU), with about $307 billion in assets. In a deal brokered by the FDIC, JP Morgan Chase and Co. purchased WAMU for $1.9 billion. [fdic.gov, 8/2009; ABC News, 8/14/2009]
In their new report, “The State of Working America 2008-2009,” two economists at leading US think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI) issue warnings that US workers will face harsh challenges as what they term “the Great Recession of 2007” draws to a close.
Unemployment - Heidi Shierholz and Lawrence Mishel, co-authors of the report, say that the extent of the huge global crash would have been much worse without President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. “The disaster would have been even worse without the stimulus law President Obama pushed through earlier this year,” Shierholz says. “Job losses would have been so high that the July unemployment figures would have been 9.6 percent or 9.7 percent, not 9.4 percent. We expect a steady climb in the unemployment rate up and over 10 percent by the end of the year. And it’ll rise slightly above 10 percent for a few months in 2010 before turning downwards. Until the economy is adding 122,000 jobs per month to take care of the people coming into the job market, unemployment will stay high. We still have a long way to go.”
Human Cost - Both economists speak of the human penalty. “This is more than a bunch of dry numbers,” Mishel declares. “One-third of the jobless—a record—have been out of work at least six months. Many have exhausted their unemployment benefits, which translate into bankruptcies, lost homes, no medical care, and more ills afflicting workers—even employed workers. This recession is much more than just the numbers of unemployed and underemployed, which is also setting a record,” he says. “Employed workers are seeing their hours cut, there’s an implosion in wage growth, and about 17 percent of large private employers have resorted to unpaid furloughs to save money.” Mishel explains that a one-week furlough is the equivalent of a 2 percent pay cut for a worker and his or her family.
Media Coverage Poor - In their report, the economists also criticize major media’s coverage of the crisis, urging workers not to fall for the usual chatter that things will automatically improve once productivity rises. “In the popular media, economic experts endlessly debate dynamics and causes of the downturn but most of these debates have very little to do with the real economic challenges facing working families today. The men and women of the workforce have worked harder and smarter to make the US a world-class economy and the mantra among economists and policy makers is that ‘as grows productivity, so shall living standards improve.’ Would that it was so.”
'YOYO Economics' - Prior to the crash, the report says, workers faced “rising inequality and lower real incomes for all but the richest 5 percent, diminished bargaining power, less health coverage, riskier pensions if any at all, income constraints that prevent workers’ kids from getting college educations to better themselves, and fewer high-paying jobs for those college grads, due to off-shoring and outsourcing.” The report nicknames it “YOYO (‘You’re on your own’) economics.” “We are in a unique position to judge the results of this experiment in reduced worker bargaining power and YOYO economics,” write the two economists. “The macro-economy is in serious disrepair and policymakers must move beyond temporary patches to fundamentally remake the economy so that it works for workers.”
Effect of Stimulus - The two offer praise for the Obama administration’s move to correct economic imbalances with the $787 billion stimulus package, the “cash for clunkers” program, initiatives to help the Detroit auto industry, and the $500 million “green jobs” initiative that have “partially staunched the bleeding.” Mishel predicts that, in conjunction with these programs, Congress will pass a second federal extension of unemployment benefits. They also argue that there should be fundamental restructuring away from “free market” policies that give corporations and financiers free sovereignty while the masses are forced to tighten their belts. [People's Weekly World Newspaper, 9/4/2009]
Following the furloughs of nearly 8,000 workers in May, Puerto Rico announces that it will lay off an additional 16,970 public workers to prevent a government shutdown as well as to prevent damage to the island’s credit. Government officials are hoping that the layoffs will assist in allaying a $32 billion deficit. Cuts in contract spending, a freeze on hiring, and temporary taxes have already been implemented. The island is in the third year of a recession and the unemployment rate is at 15 percent. Says Carlos Garcia, president of the Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico, “Today is an extremely difficult day for all Puerto Ricans.” Garcia adds that, as a result of the layoffs, the island’s unemployment rate will rise to 17 percent, higher than any US state. Some of the workers will be contracted by the US Treasury to assist in collecting outstanding debts of over $3.6 billion owed by residents, private companies, and other entities. Others will be hired for jobs in education. Most workers will be laid off on or around November 6. According to Garcia, the move could save the island $386 million. “The layoffs are unavoidable,” Governor Luis Fortuno tells Puerto Ricans in a recorded news media event. “Not doing anything would have been devastating to our economy, your pocketbook, your family, and our society,” he says. “It would have meant more increases, more taxes, and another government shutdown.” Organized labor leaders have announced an October 15 protest to be held all over the island. [Huliq News, 9/25/2009; Associated Press, 9/26/2009]
Instead of releasing €12 billion ($17.2 billion) to help the Greek government’s worsening economic and political crises, EU leaders assembling in Luxembourg for seven hours, from Sunday night into Monday morning, place more pressure on the Greek government after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) required Europe to guarantee Greece’s finances for the next 12 months. Rather than act with a sense of urgency, EU finance ministers expect the Greek Parliament and President George Papandreou to pass an austerity bill. Greece’s crises threaten to topple the euro and EU financial markets. [New York Times, 6/20/2011]
Eurozone policymakers fail to reach an agreement over the weekend on financial aid to bail out Greece, resulting in a sharp market drop on Monday morning as disappointed traders react to the leaders’ failure to guarantee the next €12 billion installment of Greece’s original bailout. Widespread speculation is that a disorganized Greek default will send Eurozone single-currency nations, as well as nations around the globe, into another panic. [Guardian, 6/20/2011]
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